Escaping Old Man Winter

I’m traveling from Poland to NC today, and from the feel of things I’m getting out of town right in the nick of time. After what was an unusually mild start to the season, winter arrived with a vengeance this past week, with the mercury hitting -17 Celsius at one point (and not budging much since).

Ceramic Heating OvenMinus 17 Celsius (right around 1 degree Fahrenheit) would be pretty unheard of in central NC.  So I’m expecting to feel like I’m in the tropics when I touch down late this afternoon (don’t let me down Carolina!).

When I’m in Poland, I have electric heating, and also an old ceramic oven that burns coal or wood. I hadn’t had a great reason to use it this season, unfortunately, but it’s a treat to burn a few logs on frosty days.

The ceramic oven (called “piec kaflowy” in Polish, pronounced pyets kaff-loh-vih) is an old technology that was once very common in buildings in Poland (my building dates to 1930).

You don’t see them much nowadays, and many people tear them out when renovating, seeing them as space-eaters.  Some are quite ornate, but mine is fairly plain, as you can notice by these photos.

Polish Ceramic OvenLast month we had a brief look at the various ways Amish keep warm, which includes heating stoves, kerosene heaters, and propane and natural gas heat.

While thoughts are on the thermostat I also wanted to point your attention to “The Life of a Coal Stove“, an amusing article by Viola at the Amish Workshops site, written from the perspective of, well, a coal stove:

Sometimes though they forget to empty my ash pan and then I can hardly breathe, much less heat any amount of space. At other times they forget to adjust my so-called thermostat properly and boy do I get mad! All that air rushing into my head gets me riled! I release huge amounts of heat and all the human beings around me start shedding their layers of clothing and are busy opening windows.

Amish Workshops CoalOf the more conventional methods of heating, be it running a coal stove, kerosene heater, or central heating, every degree up on the thermometer means burning more $.  So putting on an extra sweater and making a mug of something warm can be a good way of getting through cold shocks without shocking the pocketbook.

Come to think of it, I guess there are lots of ways to keep warm.  We still haven’t mentioned treadmill running, eating habanero peppers, or moving to Florida, for that matter.  Although I think I’d enjoy all three of those, I don’t know how practical they’d be over the long haul.

So how has your winter been?  And how do you keep your toes from freezing?

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    1. Carolyn B

      Well, Erik, I’m up early or late so I get to be the first post of your latest article. Missouri is having a mild winter so far.
      Being a cold-natured person, I learned early to dress in layers. My favorite source of heat is a gas furnace because of the whooshing sound as it comes on & its roar when running.
      After a particularly bad ice storm in 2007 I was introduced to gas fireplaces by a friend who rescued me as my power was out (gas furnace but electric thermostat, go figure, huh?) Her electric blower wouldn’t run but we were able to keep the home’s interior to 55 degrees until the power was restored.
      Hope you have a lovely time back in NC.

      1. I am having one Carolyn, thank you! Couldn’t ask for a nicer February day today.

    2. Jessica M

      Or you can move to Texas. 😀

      I live in an apartment so I just crank on the central heat when it gets a bit chilly. Also a nice warm fuzzy blanket or a hot bath are also good options. 🙂

      1. Of course, Texas too. Does it ever snow? As much as I might bellyache I do like the change of seasons.

        1. OldKat

          Depends upon WHERE in Texas you are. Up until about two weeks ago parts of West Texas had measured more snow this season than most of the northern most parts of the Mid-West. Crazy.

          Speaking of crazy, it was 80 degrees where I live on Wednesday. Roses and Camelias are in full bloom, Azaleas are just about ready to burst into bloom and we actually have decent soil moisture for the time in about two years. A couple of more weeks of this sort of weather and we will be in full out Spring … in mid-February no less.

    3. Roberta

      Old man winter

      Fortunately, we have been having a mild winter but our stone house is never warm, even in the summer, so we layer and have a wardrobe of hoodies.

      Now we heat our house with an oil burner and forced air but I grew up in a house with “ambient” heat provided by a coal furnace which means that upstairs was kept warm only because the furnace was in the basement and warm air rises. It was a big event in the fall when the truck delivered coal for the winter. Nobody now days would let their kids stand in the basement watching 1000 pounds of rock pour down a chute! On ash day (Wednesday) the city truck came around and collected ashes that we put out at the curb. Our kitchen stove was a half-n-half gas and coal or wood that gave us a little extra warmth in the kitchen. It made the left side of the oven hotter than the right side so I knew about turning food so that it would cook evenly on both sides well before there were microwave ovens. That coal scuttle looks familiar.

      Now our kitchen stove is propane but has an electric starter. The first time the power went out my husband (a city boy who grew up with an electric stove) complained that he couldn’t get a hot breakfast until I came to his rescue and Voila! lit the stove with a match.

    4. Winter in Amishland and beyond

      I grew up in New England and lived in cold dark Europe many years, the subject of winter is dear to my heart.

      I used to love living in Boston’s Beacon Hill in what was John Hancock’s old house (really) and imagine what winter was like in the times when you did not have anything but wood to heat your home. It was romantic but also cold.

      In Europe I dreamed of vacations in the Mediterranean

      I think winter has an influence on your mind, it makes you dreamy and imaginative as you are longing for spring or need to escape in your mind to endure.

      The Amish live in Northern places. I would be curious to know more about how the Amish communities in Canada or upstate NY pass the long winter months.

    5. John Stoltzfus

      Welcome Home

      Can’t wait to get together,


    6. Richard from Amish Stories

      As a side bar id like to see American auto makers sell natural gas models to the general public

      Moving back to the northeast from Florida has been made much easier mostly because of the last 2 mild winters we have had, with the 2nd one for me being even milder than the first one so far. I’m not complaining now but considering I’ve adjusted fairly well mostly because i was excited about moving back to the north maybe, and there’s nothing like a fireplace which a few do have in Florida but is really used mostly as a decoration for the room and to set the mood. I’m really big on natural gas which thankfully i have for my own heat, sadly i have electric for the stove and washer and dryer so i wish those were natural gas including the water heater. But i can convert those to natural gas but that is pricey but is something i may do later on. As a side note the only car that you can buy from an automaker in the United States is from Honda being the Civic, so most of the 3 domestic car makers do make natural gas vehicles but they are for fleet sales. So id really like to see Ford, General motors and Chrysler make some natural gas models available for the general public because its American and its clean! Richard

      1. OldKat

        @Richard from Amish Stories: as a 30 year veteran of the natural gas industry I like the way you think! BTW: We were having THE EXACT SAME discussion about natural gas powered cars yesterday at work. It makes far more sense than going to electric cars. If we add a bunch of electric cars to the nations fleet where are we going to get the electricity to power them? From new generating stations that are yet to be built. From new generating stations that are yet to be built.

        Since it is unlikely that any more nuclear powered generating stations will ever be built in the US and coal powered stations are apparently on the governments “hit list” as well, it makes sense that any new generation capacity will be natural gas fired … just as it has been for most of the past 15 to 20 years. So why not just skip that step altogether and go straight to natural gas in the cat itself? I guess becaus it makes too much sense.

    7. ramblinjodie

      Carolyn, I also remember the ice storm of 2007. We had just moved from the country where we had a wonderful wood stove. Moved to town where we had a gas fireplace. But it also kept our house warm, also we hung blankets at the doors, That way we kept the heat in two rooms.
      Welcome back Erik, I love North Carolina. Go there every summer for a couple weeks.
      We have snow predicted for this week.

    8. heat

      Our house, here in eastern Canada, is an Amish built Baker’s Choice, from Aylmer, Ontario, made by Suppertime Stoves. The house had oil heat but it costs four tiems as much to ehat the hosue with oil as wood. We still have electric heaters, but only resort to them occasionally in the bathrooms.

      Heating with wood means being home, and it means sometimes the house dips to about 50 degrees fahrenheit. We’ve been having “Polish” winter this month, so it has been cold!

      1. I mean “Heated with a”…I got up to put wood ont he stove and lost my thought!

      2. Heating with wood means being home. Never thought of it that way but, yes I guess it does.

    9. Naomi Wilson

      Welcome back to the US

      What a day nice, balmy day to touch down in NC! Enjoy! We live in VA and our oil furnace got too expensive, so now we use our wood stove exclusively. The bedrooms stay frigid, but the living room and kitchen are comfortable, and on the coldest days we layer and wear wool sweaters. It seems like we get fewer colds, sleeping in chilly rooms. We also try to remember to use the top of the wood stove for cooking, so that saves a bit more ($$) energy.

      1. Thanks Naomi. Maybe even better than the warmth of a wood fire is the smell. Why can some burning things (cigarettes, tires) smell so horrible, and others so good?

        1. Naomi Wilson

          Smell of wood smoke

          True, Erik! The smell of wood smoke is somehow very comforting. Although at one point last winter our stove pipe really needed cleaning, so the smoke wasn’t venting well. The inside of our house was a bit hazy. I only realized how bad it was when I went to church, and realized that I was giving off the odor of a freshly smoked ham.

          1. Naomi, hilarious. In some religions that might get you in trouble! 🙂

    10. Alice Mary

      Welcome back!

      Welcome back, Erik!

      This has been a pretty mild (and nearly snow-less) winter here in Northern Illinois where I reside. The heating bill (we use natural gas, and I like using our wood burning fireplace in the evenings) has been quite a bit lower this year. We’ve had a little snow (a dusting the week before Christmas, so it wasn’t a “white” Christmas, and about 5 inches two weeks ago). But today, as I type this, looking out on my backyard, the sun is shining, and the snow is almost completely gone. It’s supposed to be 60 degrees today!!! That’s NUTS!It should only be in the low 30’s! I’m afraid the lack of snow cover will be bad for trees and plants that need the moisture (some critters, too). I can only wonder how hot summer will be (I HATE summer heat and humidity—cooler weather energizes me, though not sub-zero!) I tell people that I could probably fare well without electricity, like the Amish, except for cooling—I need air conditioning and/or fans in the summer. I don’t handle heat well.

      Growing up in Chicago, Busia, who lived upstairs (we had a two-flat, frame house) heated her flat with a pot bellied stove (coal) in the dining room, & a coal/wood-fired cookstove in the kitchen. As was the custom, the “sitting room” (living room, before TV)was closed off during the winter to conserve heat. In the 50’s, Mom and Dad converted her flat to have gas space heaters like we had in our flat (one in the dining room, one in the kitchen of a 2-bedroom flat). Mom cooked and baked a lot, so the oven helped heat the place. Bathrooms weren’t heated, though, so you took quick showers!

      Erik, is the ceramic heater very efficient at putting out heat? Do the ceramic bricks get warm and THAT’s what heats the room, or what? My fireplace doesn’t really “warm” the place very well, as most heat goes up the chimney (it’s full masonry with a 2-story brick chimney, and glass doors which I open or close to stoke/regulate the fire). I’m thinking of adding a heat deflector in the back to radiate heat into the room. I’d really like a wood burning stove (which would keep most of the heat INSIDE), but it’s too late for that option.

      It’s good to have you back in the U.S.A., Erik!

      Alice Mary

      1. Ceramic oven radiates heat

        Alice Mary, thank you. The ceramic contraption does hold heat pretty well. The “bricks” will warm up, and if you get it going, can radiate heat for 24 hours or more.

        I’ve never really gotten them that warm via a fire, but what some people do is put an electric “wkladka” which is like an insert that actually converts it to an electric heater of sorts. I’ve lived in a place with one of those adaptations, and you had to project your heating needs in advance, b/c when you turn it off, it essentially keeps heating for a day (also warms up slow).

    11. Suzanne M

      Hello Eric, and welcome from the foothills of North Carolina where it is a beautiful sunny 60 degrees at lunchtime. We also exclusively heat with a woodstove and absolutely love its bone warming heat. We are not having our typical winter here at all ! Tulips are showing their heads and a few daffodils and dandelions are blooming. But glad to hear you are coming when it is this warm after being in Poland!

      1. I heard about the flowers popping up around here today. My brother asked me what happens if they die off again in the next frost. I guess it depends on the flower?

        1. Suzanne M

          Golly I hope not Eric – I think the tulips and daffodils and hyacynths will be ok if we have a good frost or snow – they are a hearty flower. Can’t imagine a spring without them !

    12. Debbie Welsh

      In England, where my husband is from, every home had wood or coal burning fireplaces, and in later years some have been switched to electric or gas. But even with the advent of centralized heating, which England started much later than us, most homes still have a fireplace, which my husband sorely misses.

      Several years ago when we went up to explore Scotland for a few days we stayed in a self-catering cottage where they used ” peat ” in the fireplace. For those who don’t know, it’s thick black clumps of earth that is formed when plants begin to decay in wet ground which they call bogs. It’s very clean burning and has a rich, earthy smell that’s really quite nice.

      Here in our home in South Jersey we have natural gas heat, but it’s been so mild thus far that we haven’t had to crank it up much! BTW, I was quite surprised to see a new scribe in the Budget last week – the Stoltzfus’ from Salem County Mennonite Church in Bridgeton, NJ – which is not that far from where we live and I never knew existed. They mentioned about a new family moving in, the Beilers, and how they will be making several trips back and forth to New York until the cows and everything are moved here, so they must have purchased some farmland. I did read not too long ago about a new Amish market being built in Bridgeton, which is not far from the Delaware Memorial Bridge that most of us use as the gateway to Lancaster. So it will be interesting to check out this new market and see what other things they might offer.

      1. Debbie I would love to try a peat fire. It just sounds Scottish to me. Just need to find some bogs in my neighborhood…

    13. Just checking in

      Well, I just landed, and I walked up the drive in bare feet. If I tried that 2 days ago I’d be missing toes 🙂

    14. sarah

      fortunately for us, our winter has been very mild here in central new york:) good thing too! we had a chimney fire last year and never had a chance to repair the chimney over the summer. it was just one thing after another… so, we heating with baseboard electric heat this year and supplementing it with one of the infrared heaters. while it certainly isn’t as warm as i’m used to, it is comfortable… (btw… it is 55 degrees outside, which is extremely unusual for this time of year)

    15. Diane Paulson

      Keeping Warm

      Always remember wool socks. I’ve also got some down slippers with lambs wool liners. And all this in California. I don’t like to be cold.

    16. Mona (Kentucky Lady).

      Moving to Florida would be the ideal thing to do 🙂 But the weather here in Ohio was 61 today and about the same tomorrow with some rain…Had very little snow as of yet…but I am sure we with get it and it will be like yours in Poland…..come in with a vengeance ……
      We used a coal bucket just like the one pictured in your article….we heated with coal also and my dad was a coal miner…so I know all about coal heating…….nothing to brag about that’s for sure…..

      Glady you’re back in the states… what’s next on your agenda ?
      Hey, Erik why don’t you do a POLISH COOKBOOK…..get your recipes from your mom 🙂 I think that would be great and give us some info on the polish people…..some pictures, etc would be nice…..

      1. My most-used Polish recipe

        Thanks Mona, hey, Polish recipes, why not.

        Here is one of my favorites:

        1. Buy bag of frozen Polish pierogies
        2. Heat up pot of water
        3. Open bag and dump into water
        4. Wait 5 minutes
        5. Eat

        There are some variations on this classic, but it is a reliable favorite in my household 😉

        That said, yes, Polish recipes would be nice. I’ve seen Amish or “semi-Amish” companies selling Polish type stuff. I think Mrs. Miller’s sells kluski which are doughy Polish noodles.

      2. Suzanne M

        I agree with you Mona about the Polish recipes. I grew up in Northern Indiana and we had a lot of polish families and friends that cooked the most delicious foods. North Carolina does not have any Polish restaurants that I have found – so a few recipes would be fantastic. How I miss good Polish Sausage and Sour Kraut.

        1. Polish restaurant

          Suzanne there used to be at least 2 Polish restaurants in the Triangle area. I worked as a waiter at one of them during college–Halina’s in Chapel Hill. The other was called Cracovia. Both are defunct. I found a site for a place in Raleigh called J. Betski’s–seems they do some pierogies and kielbasa, though it looks to be on the fancier side:

          1. Suzanne M

            Oh thank-you Erik for that info. I will definately look this up when I am next in that area. Hot Dog !!!!!!!

        2. Mona (Kentucky Lady).

          Hi Suzanne,
          You can make your own sauerkraut and kielbasa…read my other message….very easy to make and it’s really good….I have a recipe for LAZY MAN’S PIEROGI’S if you’re intereted in it, let me know…..this would be one for Erik too… 🙂

          1. Suzanne M

            Mona – I am definately interested in your recipe. I don’t get up north very often now and if I had a good recipe – well I would just sit there and gloat with happiness !! Thanks.

    17. Rachel Ward

      Take a hot potato and wrap it up in a towel and hold it in your hands when going out in cold weather! Works wonders and then you can eat it for lunch!

    18. Lee Ann

      Not to cold here in AZ. We have very nice winters. Just hate the heat in the summer. Growing up in Utah, it was cold and snowy there. Dad had the old coal burning furnace in the basement and yes, we had the coal bucket like the one you pictured.

      I remember watching the coal truck put the coal in through the window and watching the coal room fill up. Smelly stuff, but kept the house warm.

    19. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      From a Golden Horseshoe point of view (Toronto to Niagara Falls) the winter of 2011-12 has been quite mild. My father often says that if there was no snow in December you’ll find there’ll be a lot of it in January, to a degree he was right this year, but it melted away quite quickly. Last week I spoke to my Aunt in Manitoba about the winter and she quite frankly but jokingly said “you’ve got nothing to complain about”
      A friend of my family’s hadn’t complained about her relatives’ Polish winter, I recall she said that 2010-11 was a wild one for them, but I don’t know what part of the country she’s from (she herself is an immigrant), she also thought the summer was quite unusual there, maybe not as fatal and stifling as the Paris summer heat-waves of the last couple of summers but still quite noteworthy.

      1. The coldest part of Poland is the northeast, near Lithuania. They can actually be a lot colder than the rest of the country. The coldest I’ve ever experienced there is about -28 Celsius (about -18 F).

    20. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Food and weather (always connected topics)

      Erik, isn’t that odd how that works, that parts of Poland are colder than other parts of the same country. Its geography as much as anything I think. Where I live the Great Lakes decidedly affects our weather.

      This is a Ukrainian recipe, too.
      1. Buy bag of frozen Polish pierogies
      2. Heat up pot of water
      3. Open bag and dump into water
      4. Wait 5 minutes
      5. Eat

      Another simple recipe is:
      1. Buy coil of kielbasa (your choice in “heatedness”).
      2. Cut into medallions.
      3. Repeat step 2 until one finishes coil.

      Sliced up kielbasa also is a good substitute for bacon in any given bacon and eggs recipe.

      1. Ukrainian pierogi recipe

        Wow Shom, these two countries really do share a culinary heritage! 😉

    21. Mona (Kentucky Lady).

      Funny Erik & Slightly-handled-Order-man….is this the only way you know how to cook ? I will agree with you tho, I buy the frozen PIEROGI ‘S too….I like them all…. first I saute some onion, then add the kraut and then the pierogi’s after they are boiled….just simmer a few minutes…I also will do the kraut the same way and slice up the kielbasa and add to the kraut and simmer for several mins.This is a couple of fast meals….and really good too…..but coming from you Erik, I figured you’d make your own pierogi’s like your mom…..I think you should still do the cookbook 🙂

    22. Valerie

      Mrs. Yoder's German Saturday

      Just passing on that Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mt. Hope Ohio is having their German Smorgasbord this Saturday, and it is FANTASTIC.
      They only do this 2 x, in the winter-they have an Alpine accordian player strolling around during the dinner and it is worth the drive if you have to, weather Sat. is free of ice & snow-

    23. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      From the SHOM cook book

      Mona. Over the last year the perogie references seem to be a running gag between Erik and I, don’t they?
      There is a baked chicken recipe which is a little different than “Shake ‘n’ Bake” style that I do, that I like, but S’N”B is less labor intensive. Lets see if I have it in my head’s memory:

      In a “Zip-lock Bag” combine:
      Flour, free flowing table salt (that’s what it says on the box, I checked),
      celery powder,
      garlic powder,
      onion powder, all spice,
      (sometimes my family adds paprika),
      Add some water to make it sticky,
      Individually coat chicken (thighs or legs or whichever you like)
      Place chicken on non-stick-sprayed tinfoil covered cooking tray
      Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour (if you do it like we’ve been doing it lately turn oven off after 45 minutes and let continue cooking), enjoy.

      A lot of this is to taste of course.
      It won’t turn out quite like S’N’B, but it does have a nice crunchy crust.

      1. Shom we do have a pierogi gag going. For some reason my frozen pierogi intake skyrocketed this winter. I just always wanted to eat them for some reason. Not while I’m in the US though 🙂

      2. Mona (Kentucky Lady).

        Thanks SHOM…just may give this a try….easy enough….and that’s what I like, easy recipes….once made meatloaf from one of Paula Deen’s sons recipes….and seems like it had at least 15 ingredients…..and it was terrible LOL will not make that again….but your chicken recipe sounds good….I only like white meat tho….so will have to try it…..
        I don’t really cook a lot….and when I do it is usually a one dish meal…been wanting some salmon patties…..bought a can of salmon….that’s as close as I am to making them tho 🙂
        I will cook a pot of pinto beans or northern beans and make a pan of cornbread and open a can or pkg. of some kind of greens, like collard, etc….and with an onion, it’s yummy….I don’t really care for KALE, but was reading on a site , where they sprinkle the kale with oil and salt and bake in the oven and it’s crunchy….may have to try that…..

    24. GreyCatz

      Investment Opportunity?

      Hello, Erik:

      When I saw your pictures of the ‘piec kaflowy’, I was immediately reminded of the Swedish ovens used up until the late 1960s, primarily in the rural and wooded parts of Sweden.

      Although clearly similar in ‘technology’, the Swedish oven is shaped like a small silo that goes from floor to ceiling. They typically feature brightly coloured tiles with very ornate motifs.

      As in Poland, people in Sweden had been tearing down these heaters for decades until Danish vacationers arrived in the early ’70s and instantly fell in love with these structures.

      Today, such an oven in half-decent shape sells at EUR 10,000 all over Europe (especially in Germany), and the individual tiles are traded as investment objects.

      So maybe you should hang on to your ‘piec kaflowy’ – it could turn out to be the best investment object available in Poland today! 🙂

      1. Greycatz, thanks a lot for the info. 10K Euro would be quite a price! Prices for these in PL are quite lower I believe. Maybe I need to find an interested Dane! I am pretty attached to it though.

    25. Paula McConnell

      Stay close to the wood stove!

      Hello Erik,

      Come north to New York State. We are having an uncharacteristically warm winter. I do believe there are pierogis in the freezer, too. We have 3 Amish communities for you to visit in my county. 🙂


    26. I'm old school

      We have a wood stove in out house, simply because I think its cool and like the smell. Not to mention I enjoy chopping wood.