Powering Down: Wood Heater vs Microwave

Fire is nature's microwave. Steven Universe

Who remembers life pre-1980 when everyone washed their dishes by hand and heated food in a saucepan? As far as I remember, nobody died of it. The first time I remember a microwave was circa 1985 when my boyfriend's mother bought one and cooked every last thing in it, because she was so excited by her new gadget. It was awful. She even made cups of tea in it.

I left my combination convection oven/microwave in the old house because it was built-in above the oven. I didn't buy a new one, because buying new gadgets is not part of my powering down plan. Also, I decided I valued my limited bench space. Also, it seems silly to buy all that technology just to melt butter and reheat soup, which is mostly what we used the microwave for. Oh, and the girls made porridge and cake-in-a-mug in it, both of which are travesties of real food, in my opinion.

Now we heat up food in a saucepan on the wood heater which so far has been alight all winter long. It is great for melting butter and keeping a stack of pancakes warm. It cooks the soup and reheats it later.

The only downside is I end up washing a lot of saucepans, and I would like a couple of very small saucepans to reheat one serving of soup. Fellow Tasmanians, did you know you can buy Tasmanian-made copper saucepans?? Be still my beating heart. I want the tiny milk pan, or maybe the sugar melter. I am saving up. While I love thrifty and second-hand, I also love hand-made, expensive, last-forever-beautiful.

Of course, microwaves are a very power-efficient option if you don't have an oven. The Girl has a microwave and a hot-plate as her only food-heating options in the small cupboard she calls home as a student in a big city. I would find a way to cook with a microwave and like it if that was all I had. Or maybe I would become a raw-foodist.

But I love my wood heater:) And when I use it to cook food, it is doubly fine, due to its multitasking wonderfulness. In the summer I may need to resort to the stovetop for reheating purposes. It will be useful, but lacks the romance..

Would you buy a microwave again? Does anyone out there dabble in other low-energy cooking options? I want to try a sun-oven, thermal cooker or hay box one day. Has anyone given these a go?


Hazel said…
We do have a dishwasher that I would happily lose but I think the rest of the family may rebel! I do run it as efficiently as possible.

No microwave. We did have a very basic one but only used it for pre cooking jacket potatoes (and cake in a mugs- I share your view!) but we never unpacked it when we moved and I gave it away on freegle to a lady with 3 young children. I haven't missed it once.
Hay box cooking is on my to do list, and I'd love to do sun cooking, but in the UK it's hot enough about twice a year. I cook on a wood stove in the winter and have plans for a rocket stove in the garden...
Anonymous said…
I should have posted last week to tell you that I do have a dryer(that I seldom use).

I will confess this week that I have a microwave which we use every day. We cook once or twice a week and then eat leftovers, and leftovers dry up when reheated in the oven. I also make Oriental Beef in the microwave....like a stir fry but faster.
I do a lot of baking, and melting chocolate is great in a microwave, instead of in a double boiler (which I don't have)
Microwaves use less power than stoves and that is a good thing when the temps are in the 30's with 99% humidity, and I'm running an air conditioner and trying to do it as efficiently as possible.
I pick and choose what appliances I buy, and it's ones that we will use.
Linda said…
I have never had a microwave and never wished to have one! Firstly I didn't see the reason for owning one and secondly, my husband is very against them and their dangers. Our daughter had one, very infrequently used, but when they moved house, it was left behind and never replaced. Thank goodness! I like the idea of you cooking on your wood burner.
Unknown said…
For those of us that are not lucky enough to have a wood heater, a microwave certainly saves on power. So guilty as charged. I am a microwaver. I do however use my slow cooker as well so that makes me what?

Would you believe they are trying to ban outdoor heaters (fire pits and chimneas) in Melb. Apparently they cause air pollution and complaints are made. I also went home to the bush on the weekend and family members were complaining that they now need to pay to pick up wood off the road and forest floor and they can only do it on certain days between this time and that. Goodness, what happened to cleaning up before fire season.
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Jennifer Lawrence the actor did a great skit on the film American Hustle on microwaves. It was hysterical... ... the internet is sometimes quite useful (but watch out for the potty mouth) American Hustle - "J Law Starts A Fire (Science Oven)"!

Call me cyncial, but I often suspect that dish-washing machines are used as an additional cupboard. Anyway, I don't own one, never used one. And the glasses and plates feel strange to me after having gone through a cycle. What chemical could possibly do that? Would that make it a science washer? :-)!

Well done with cooking using the wood fire. I find that the heat from the wood oven (or stove top) is less intense for cooking than either gas or electric. Do you notice that the butter melts slower and is less likely to burn?

We cook a lot of stuff and so there are all manner of cooking pots and pans. Hey, if you get a chance, check out how crazy cheap pyrex dishes are in op-shops? The things that get thrown out are just wrong as they are so expensive to purchase when new.

I've never used those items, although I do run an electric oven outdoors in summer plus the Fowlers Vacola food dehydrator... What a tool!


Jo said…
Hazel, ooh, a rocket stove! I have looked at plans for them, and they seem like such an intelligent design. Do let me know when you build one!

Isn't it great when you get to connect your old stuff with people who wants it. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy:)

Marieann, I had a dryer for years that I hardly ever used - such a faff to get it off the wall! It is only because we moved that I organised to get it down and gave it away.

And I do agree that it is important to work out what is important - microwaves ARE efficient, and also save water in cooking, and if they work for you, that's great. Lucky for me, because I hate the heat, it rarely gets too hot to cook here, and when it does I prefer to use a gas ring/bbq outside. For me, it's a No to the microwave, but I respect other choices too. It's the thought that goes in to the picking and choosing that counts:)

Linda, I never used plastic in the microwave, because hot plastic leaks toxins like nobody's business. That's why I love the wood heater for cooking. 10,000 years of safety testing..

Lynda, I am not the microwave Nazi, feel free to continue microwaving. And have a good laugh at me when I forget to defrost dinner and we have boiled eggs or cheese on toast instead:)

Chris, I must admit to missing my dishwasher a little. But not the weird smell when you open it up after a cycle. Or the cloudy glasses that feel wrong to the touch..

Where are all these Pyrex dishes at the opshops? Clearly I am going to the wrong ones, or just not paying attention..

Unknown said…
Hi, Jo

I have a microwave/convection oven, which gets a lot of use. My son works night shifts, so it allows him to cook something like pizza or pies which really don't work in microwaves. I also use it for small amounts of baking, because my main oven is HUGE! It takes forever to preheat, and I hate to think how much energy it uses. Its main use is when I'm feeding hordes of visitors, and it's stacked full of roasts and veggies.

I'd love to cook on a wood stove, but in Canberra we are strongly encouraged not to use them. The government has even set up a scheme to pay people to change to gas or electric heating. Because our winter days are often windless, we tend to get inversions, and the emergency wards fill with people suffering asthma attacks. I do have a wood fire, mostly as a precaution in case of power failures, but I think it must be too big for the room, as it becomes unbearably hot unless it's below 0C outside.

You should visit Canberra - our op shops are also full of Pyrex dishes!
Anonymous said…

One of my many early careers was as a microwave demonstrator for Microwave Cuisine Cooking School. Yes, they completely un-ironically used microwave *and* cuisine in the same sentence. This is where I discovered that it was possible to cook an entire roast dinner in a microwave. Mmm mm. Boiled meat. I also discovered a microwave was effectively an electric saucepan and should be treated as such. Boiled meat is gross.

When we did the kitchen renovation two years ago, a new microwave was on the list of new appliances we need/wanted. Ours was 12 years old and a bit variable with the temperature, the little window that shows the timer was a bit hit and miss with whether you could see it or not, and in the new down low position in the new kitchem, you couldn't actually tell if you'd popped your bread in to defrost for 20 seconds or 20 minutes (pro-tip...bread in to defrost for 20 minutes will start smoking around the three minute mark). So, we got a bit more serious about getting a new one. BUT as it only gets used to warm milk, melt chocolate, defrost bread and cook potatoes and that's about it, and replacing it with a half way decent one was $2-300. Lots of loot for an electric saucepan. I stuck a bit of velcro on the ten minute button and voila. No more setting fire to bread! And it's still doing what we want it to do.

I am a massive fan of my dishwasher. I loathe and despise dishes with a passion and I've now delegated dishwasher stackage to Chaos because I really really hate dishes. If only I could convince him to unpack it as well.
Anonymous said…
And as a not completely unrelated aside after your last post about dryers - this winter, concerted effort to *not* use it. This winter 6% reduction in electricity use. It's not enormous and would be better if I didn't have to use it at all, but hey. Good start!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

That is a fair question. The mainland does have its little advantages! As a suggestion have a search on ebay "used" listings (click on the Advanced blue click thingee for that option screen) for pyrex. I just did that and there are 715 listings. Obviously, there is postage involved, but still, it is another option for rescuing pre-loved stuff. The pyrex stuff is very good.

Cheers. Chris
Jo said…
Hazel, what is it about HUGE ovens? I say this as someone who installed one myself in my old house. It used enormous amounts of power. In my new house I have a range with a small oven and a larger one. I use the small one all the time, and the large one, like you, for roasts with all the trimmings.

Miss Maudy, microwave cuisine, that's fantastic! Kudos to you for making do with what you have, and reducing dryer use - it is rather tempting in winter, so good for you. 6% is 6%. Honestly, I would still have my dryer if I hadn't moved and had to make a decision about it. We are fine without it, although I could be more organised - tonight I am writing whilst also turning the girls' sports tops from back to front every few minutes in front of the fire in the hope they will dry for school tomorrow...

Chris, my enthusiasm for Pyrex dishes is probably higher than my need for more dishes of any kind in my kitchen:)
GretchenJoanna said…
I also would be happy to do without the dishwasher - loading the dishes efficiently is a challenging puzzle and I don't like those. And when I take the dishes out, always it has failed to do a perfect job.

I have a microwave and am grateful for it, but I find it easier to heat soup and many other things on the stovetop where I can monitor them constantly. My microwave has a convection oven, too, and I really should learn to use it, because it's wasteful to use my big oven for some of the small bakings I do.....

My woodstove has a nice wide top; we chose it for that because I wanted to be able to heat food on it in case of power outage. And I did do that a couple of times! You are inspiring me to try using it as a cookstove more often this coming winter.

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