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January... the month of the stove 


     The stove was a bargain.  Ten years ago, someone chucked it out as being too old and battered for further use, and the local garde brought it round to me.  I suppose I must have been a pathetic object - scratching about in the kitchen over a single electric ring with a sluggish fire in the hearth and a baby on my hip.

     “I brung you a stove,” he said.  “It’s in the pickup.  D’you want it?”

     I stood on the doorstep, clutching the baby and gazed at the stove.  It was large and white with rusty patches on the bent bits.  “Er, I don’t know,” I said.  “Do I want it?”

     “Course you do,” he said, shaking his head.  “Everyone in the village has one of these.  I’ll get the guys to come and unload it.”

     Which he did.  Apologising profusely for not taking their boots off, Jean-Pierre, Jean-Paul and Jean-Pierre Two heaved the stove into my kitchen, hauled the iron base out of the hearth and inserted the stove.

     “Just hafter get that chimney closed up...” he said.  “And a pipe.  Three metres should do it.”

     And he was right.  About everything.  Although I didn’t know it then, I seriously needed my stove.  My antique Coste stove doesn’t only heat the house, it’s the best thing I’ve ever cooked on, because apart from having a large oven, the entire top plate heats so there’s room to juggle half a dozen saucepans round the hot spots.

     It’s hard work, though, keeping the beastie going.  It has to be riddled and encouraged, and the hot ashes have to be tipped into a metal bucket to cool (and subsequently toshed into the river), not to mention the wood-chopping and coal-hauling. 

     And in January, rather than my slightly dilettante autumn efforts, we’re into major stoking, because if the stove goes out house temperatures plummet.  Which is why I fill it up with coal last thing at night.  So however cold the rest of the house is, at least the kitchen is nice and warm in the morning. 

     The cats worship it.  They’ve got a large cushion beside the stove and spend most days there, sprawling in hedonistic comfort, waiting for me to stop stoking and get the casserole out.

     I bought a lovely yellow Le Creuset dish years ago in Emmaüs for 10FF and I use it all the time.  The thick bottom doesn’t burn or distort, even if you leave it on the stove all day, and it’s child’s play to wash up.

     Just one sight of it and the cats start purring because they know that meat follows onions into it, as sure as cat follows mouse.  And this month there’s plenty of meat because the local supermarket had a promo on pork and we all filled our freezers up with it.

     Well now, the free stove was already a bargain, but add the cheap casserole and the promo pork - and you’re in the Cevennes.  Couldn’t be anywhere else.

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