The Aprovecho “rocket stove” I tested last evening in my yard exceeded all expectations. I wrote about this stove before, in my May 25 post, but now I’ve finally tried cooking with it. Two of the volunteers for our our upcoming trip to Tanzania—we leave on August 1, only fifteen days away—joined Marianne and me at our home yesterday, at around seven-thirty, for some outdoor cooking. The heat of the day had left our poorly insulated house still pretty uncomfortable by that time, but the outside temperature felt ideal.
Faren Clum, a former high school student of Marianne’s and soon a medical school student, arrived first and then Dr. Susan Hughmanick showed up with the stove she had bought from Stovetec of Cottage Grove, Oregon. My own Stovetec stove, a recent birthday and Father’s Day gift from my older daughter, continues to sit in its box on my dresser. I guess I haven’t unpacked it because I had worried it would disappoint me, so Susan’s superior bravery proved useful.
As did Faren’s habitual dependence on her iPhone once we unpacked Susan’s stove and saw that it came without instructions. The Aprovecho Research Center engineers designed the rocket stove partly to lower emissions and thus combat respiratory disease in poor countries and partly to reduce firewood burning, thereby combating deforestation in those places. So it makes sense that they chose to save even more trees by not printing a sheet with operating instructions, which Faren easily found online, anyway. (This morning, looking at the carton Susan left behind, I see visual instructions on the outside of it, but I don’t know that we could have decoded them.)
I hate camping, although I try hard in other ways to be a good American. My first reason to hate camping: typically I need to get up to pee maybe four times per night, and who knows when I might encounter a bear or a mountain lion or a Sasquatch outside my tent? My second reason: traumatic memories, from the early years of my marriage, of spending half of our camping vacations extracting fallen small children from the dirt in order to minimize their accumulated filth. Stovetec’s rocket stove can’t refute these objections, yet it has forced me to abandon my third reason to hate camping: getting a cooking fire going takes too long for someone exhausted, hence famished, by the hard work of cleaning and of worrying about bear attacks. However, Faren’s iPhone claimed—correctly—that a single match, a few scraps of paper, and a handful of sticks would have the rocket stove boiling water within minutes. I don’t quite understand how the rocket stove does this; if I did, I would be smart enough to be an engineer and to make a lot more money than I do. I only understand that from now on I shall always believe everything I read on an iPhone.
We cooked the quinoa and crookneck squash Susan had brought, unseasoned and unspiced like the food eaten by the villagers of Bacho and Dareda, and not so different from the maize or rice and beans they would cook. Okay, we cheated: we don’t expect to see brie and a baguette, pork sausage, pomegranate Italian soda, strawberries, and blood-orange sorbet consumed anytime soon in the villages. (Or even in Ohio, come to think of it; maybe only in California.) But the quinoa and squash cooked fast and also smokelessly, as long as I kept nudging the sticks of firewood along their conveyor into the combustion chamber so that it captured their flames. The stability of the rocket stove, which Faren and I tested, underlined the care that Aprovecho’s engineers have taken to develop a safe cooker.
The stove is eleven to twelve inches tall, ten to eleven inches in diameter, and weighs just over fifteen pounds, so we can probably carry Susan’s and mine onto the airplanes to avoid the possibility of rough baggage-handling. My July 13 post announced Karimu’s success in finding enough money to supply all of Bacho with mosquito nets. Next, if the villagers like cooking with the rocket stove as much as Susan, Faren, Marianne, and I did, Karimu can start looking for the funds to buy a couple of hundred stoves and prevent still more death.—Don Stoll