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15 Oct 2009 - 7:28 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

I have a cooker. A woodfired, cast iron, cream country farmhouse cooker. It’s a bloody beauty, all old fashioned technology matched with robust doors, a flat top for cooking on and all the hot water I can split the wood for (so long as rain continues to fall from the sky).

My Rayburn sits in the centre of the house, framed by a stone fireplace. The kitchen was designed with something like this in mind. A very handsome piece of equipment that is as demanding as a child and as unforgiving as a bride. It heats in less than an hour, a new type of heat. At 200°C it’s not as hot as a fan forced or even conventional electric oven. It’s all radiant heat, brilliant for cakes and roasts and fairly fine for bread. Most things I’ve cooked in it taste better, from chocolate cake to dark roasted onions.

Cooking using wood has long been a dream of mine. The interaction of the fire, the cooker and the cook. The pace and rhythm of the heat source meaning that once you’ve lit the fire, it’s best to have plenty of food to put in the oven. I’ve been braising beef shin for ten hours in red wine and a lamb shoulder with tomato and capers. I’m baking biscuits and cupcakes. There is a drawer at the bottom that is a great temperature for setting yoghurt. I’m playing with dishes that are just thrown in a pot and let the cooker do the work. I’m making sourdough bread with a starter I cultured on the kitchen bench. It’s easy cooking.

If you don’t count the time invested in the Rayburn.

First, I need to source wood. To start I’ve got a mate who has a mate who has brilliant firewood. Then I need to cut it, to split it. To gather kindling and lynwood (bigger than kindling). To stack it all and try to dry it when there’s not much warmth left in the Tasmanian sun at this time of year. One day soon I’ll get a chainsaw and cut wood from the farm, fallen trees from both the paddock and bush blocks.

Then I need to fire the cooker, and keep an eye and ear on it. Sometimes I can feel it cooling from another room, or hear the fire die down. Other times I get distracted by the chores outside and come in to find few embers and an oven too cool to bake in. They say you get married to a cooker. I’ve never been married, but I gather from the Rayburn that it takes constant attention, some seriously hard manual work, and a devotion that you rarely have to give in life. And sometimes you get splinters.

Getting the water connected wasn’t easy. Or cheap. The man who installed the cooker was here for four days. Full days, putting in a new low pressure water tank, overflow trays, a header tank (whatever that is) and brand new one inch copper pipes. The cooker wasn’t cheap. In fact, they’re quite pricey compared to most electric ovens. But when I joked that I was probably the poorest person to buy a Rayburn the installer said if I wasn’t the poorest before I got his bill, I certainly would be afterwards.

He, however, wasn’t joking.