One of my favorite dishes growing up was French toast but when I left home I found that my French toast never tasted as good as my dad’s. It took years for me to discover that the secret was — drum roll, please — black pepper! Yep, visiting home one time I realized that the warm, subtle notes of heat and complex flavor that I loved about French toast growing up came from a liberal sprinkling of black pepper that my dad added to the egg mixture. It was so simple but for me it transformed this dish.
Living on a homestead with eggs in abundance, French toast is a no-brainer way to deal with lots of eggs and a family that ignores the ends of bread and stale bread left in the breadbasket. We have also discovered that leftover French toast heats up beautifully in the toaster for a quick snack. Perfect French toast also needs to fry up quick and turn lovely crisp golden brown and to do that a good stove is a big help.
Comparing Electric Stoves to Gas Cooking Ranges
I grew up cooking on an electric range. Back then I was known for two things when it came to cooking. The first was the ability to invent amazing dishes that I could never replicate and the second was burning things on a regular basis especially the last few pancakes. Electric stoves take awhile to heat up and a long time to cool down (thus the charred pancakes). When I went away to college, the apartments all had electric burners as well; crusty, sad, hard to clean, low rent electric burners. I made bland French toast, continued to burn pancakes and agonized over how long it took my pasta water to boil.
Fast-forward to my marriage and my husband who had only ever cooked on gas. Our first apartment had a groovy retro gas stove. I loved it. My husband showed me the ropes, I learned all about pilot lights, super fast stir-fry and the ease of cooking on the gas range. Over the next 20 years, each subsequent house had access to natural gas. Meanwhile, my parents had graduated to a glass top electric stove which I tried and disliked only slightly less than the electric burner since the heating elements didn’t cook with the direct and controllable heat of a gas stove. I was committed to cooking with gas in spite of its less than stellar environmental score. That is until we moved to our farm.
First Experience with Induction Cooking
Our farm is situated in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Most of our neighbors have gas wells on their properties and we had hopes that we might find a place with a source of “free” heat and fuel too. But alas, our dream property does not have access to natural gas and so we had to do some research on just how we were going to cook our food since I was NOT going back to electric burners. This was in 2015 and induction stoves were just moving mainstream. We were able to find a new stove with an induction cooktop at a department store that is now out of business. I was hesitant, but our options were limited to electric or propane. I was hesitant about propane and had read that propane stoves did not have the same cooking power of natural gas and with all the canning, home cooking, and food preparing I was planning on doing on our homestead I did not want a wimpy cooktop. We investigated induction stoves, but could not find anyone who had one to ask or try out their stove, so we took a risk and jumped in.
The biggest concern was all my primary cookware was stainless with aluminum core bottoms except for my cast iron frying pans and a smallish dutch oven, what would I do for cookware? Well, I got lucky and my super awesome mother-in-law decided to buy me a set of induction pots and pans for Christmas that year. Today, most cookware is induction ready and you can see if your pans will work by checking to see if a magnet will stick to the bottom. We discovered we had a few other pots and pans including my canning pots that would also work. Once we got the stove installed it was time for this technology to prove itself to me.
I discovered that the pans heated as quickly on the induction stovetop as they did on the gas stove. The heat control was comparable to the gas cooktop. I often forget that I am not cooking on a gas range. The real difference is in the absence of the heat that wraps up the sides of the pan or pot when using a gas range. This does change what part of the pot or pan gets hot, so that really big pots and pans tend to have hot spots in the middle with the sides being less hot, similar to an electric stove. However, this also has an unexpected upside: while only the bottom of the pans and pots became hot enough to cook on, it meant that any spills or spatters did not cook to the pans or the cooktop. This made clean up a breeze. It is also safer as the handles and surrounding areas do not get superheated either.
Five years into using our cooktop with heavy cast iron pans, it still looks good as new. The burners do make a distinctive buzzing noise if two or more are on simultaneously but the vent fan drowns it out. If anyone has any lingering concerns about the health and safety of this technology I found this article by Rational Kitchen to be useful for explaining how induction stoves work and why they are safe. They are also environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient and fun to cook on and you can make some really fabulous French toast.
Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who raises heritage-breed livestock on her 22-acre, restored Singing Wren Farm. Connect with Nicole at Smoldering Wick, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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