Woodstove Revival in Umbria
“L’Italia si riscalda a legna e brucia il caro bolletta” (“Italy is heating with wood – burning up the costly bill” – i.e, heating bill), a local Umbrian paper reported recently. Yes, as fuel costs soar, wood is back, fire has been re-discovered. Although we have propane gas heating – methane heats many a home, too – we hardly ever use it: our woodstove is used not only for all our cooking and baking but also heats our water and warms the house (circulating heat through the floors).
Many an Italian home is woodstove-warmed today: since early 2012, the importation of legna da ardere (literally, “wood to burn”) is up 26% and the consumption of gas oli has dropped nearly 50% over the last twenty years. Over six million wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have been lit as cold weather moves in: an all-time record. Italy is now the world’s lead importer of firewood notwithstanding our 10. 4 million hectares of forest.
The boom took off in 2006 with the skyrocketing of gas oil and methane gas prices and woodstoves fed by pellets (made of pressed, dried sawdust – first introduced into Italy at the end of the 1990’s) or cippato (woodchips) became popular, too,. Italy’s enormous technological advances in woodstove design has made this country the European leader both in production of woodstoves and in acquisition.
Stroll a medieval hilltown and note the terracotta roofs: chimneys are often flanked by woodstove pipes.
The kitchen – the only room with any heat – was once the heart of any rural home (kitchen, storeroom and bedrooms – that was it) and woodstove and fireplace were the soul of the kitchen.
On the woodstove top, farmwomen baked the Umbrian flatbread, la torta, toasted bruschetta, put sauces and soups to simmer and roasted chestnuts; succulent geese, chickens , guinea fowls, and rabbits roasted in the woodstove oven.
Hanging off the spokes of a wire contraption encircling the woodstove pipe, rain-soaked jackets could dry – and small family laundry items.
On one of those spokes over our woodstove, a rudimentary candle-holder dangled: Pino had made it out of a tin can, cutting one side off, so that our woodstove was illuminated (more or less!). On rainy winter days years ago, that improvised clothes dryer was strung with the cloth diapers of our first-born (a January baby, our Keegan).
Below the oven door, there was a warm space where wet boots or shoes dried – or newborn orphaned chicks or baby rabbits dozed in a box.
A pot of boiling water was always on the stovetop (and in a cauldron hanging in the fireplace): none of us had running hot water in our homes.
Times have changed but la stufa a legna will always be the soul of our kitchen.
Read more about Peppa and her woodstove-roasted chestnuts
Read about winter nights around the woodstove and the fireplace
Click here to read about – and see – the chimney wonders of Assisi
Read about our rural life and rural friends