The Russian wood stove

The Russian wood stove
31 January 2017

The wood stove forms the center of a traditional Russian house. This type of stove is very expansive in size, but very efficient when it comes to energy. Because of its design, heat can be retained for a long time. A good stove requires fueling only twice a day. This significant element of household often can be found in literature and anecdotes. I will give some examples below.

Besides a heater, cooker and smoking chamber for food, the stove was also a doctor, healing family members from any colds. Moreover, a Russian stove could serve as a substitute for a steam bath. People could sweat the illness out of their bodies or just relax. To turn a wood stove into a steam bath, some things needed to be done. First, the stove was heated to a very high temperature. When it got a little cooler, coal and food were removed out of the stove. Subsequently, the walls would be splashed with water or kvas – this beverage is made from rye bread – to fill the steam bath with dense bread vapor. The bather would lie down on a wooden shelf and be pushed into the glowing center of the stove. Last, the entrance to the stove would be closed tightly, leaving behind the bather to sweat for a while.

The Russian stove is also used as a place to sleep on. On the stove or between a wall and the stove, a shelve provided a warm place to read a book or to sleep. This way to use the stove occurs in Oblomov, a famous novel, written by Ivan Goncharov. Zachar, the servant of main character Oblomov, lies on the stove all day long. Every time Oblomov needs something, he calls Zachar. In the other room he then hears the dull sound of his servant jumping of the stove.

One of my teachers at the institute told me another interesting story about Russian wood stoves. Her grandmother had told her, that during the Great Patriotic War, she and her family, used to wash themselves inside the stove. The wood stove was large enough for a human to fit inside it. Standing up straight was not possible. Every time, someone wanted to wash himself, he needed to crawl through the entrance of the stove, walk around the fire and take water, which had been heated inside the stove. Afterwards, you had to crawl out of the stove, getting all dirty again.

Written by Luuk Winkelmolen, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Saint-Petersburg

Posted by Luuk Winkelmolen

Hello, my name is Luuk Winkelmolen. I am a Dutch Human Geography student from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I am currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Language Centre in Saint-Petersburg. Some years ago I started to get interested in Russian history and culture, and after that I started to get familiar with the Russian language. In 2015 I studied Russian at the Dutch Institute in Saint-Petersburg. This was the first time I actually lived and studied in Russia. This was a great experience, so I decided to return to Russia and especially to the city of Saint-Petersburg, in order to live there again for a few months and to feel myself a little bit Russian again.

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