So, I talked about building a hobo stove last time. This time let's talk about how to use that stove.
It's a portable campfire, that you can control. So it's a fire, meaning you need oxygen, fuel, and heat to make it work.
There are, of course, a lot of ways to fuel a stove -- not all of them are intuitive. For example, there's sunlight. This presupposes you're either stationary or able to return to an undisturbed cooker in a few hours. For many people that is a workable solution; but what if you're a couch-surfer or a car-sleeper, and you have to stay (at least partly) mobile? That's a big drawback to a solar cooker IMO.
A stove can be fueled with alcohol, or olive oil, or butter (I can think of better uses for those, and more on that later). There's coal, if you can get it, and wood, when you can get it, and wastepaper. Wood comes in several forms -- charcoal, pellets, sawdust, twigs, gas ... and then there's the big question. How do you Start the fire to cook the food on the hobo stove?? Hop over the spark generator with me ...
and let's talk about starting a fire, sustaining it, and using its heat.
The common firestarting method available to most of us would be matches. I don't know if bars still give away matchbook. I know matches are fairly cheap, but they're kind of fragile -- you don't want them to get wet, and you need a striker. An old emery board is a good start, if your matches didn't come with a striker on the box; otherwise a rough pebble or a bit of sandpaper is a handy thing to have. If you need to keep matches dry, try an empty medicine bottle; in a pinch you can make do with a twist of plastic -- two or three thicknesses of one of those throwaway plastic bags from the grocery store, for example. Don't put hot matches in here; wrap a string or rubber band around the outside layer to hold it shut.
A disposable lighter is also cheap; and if you can find a discarded one you can sometimes save the striker, which is a modern take on flint-and-steel. There are heavy-duty versions sold for metal-work at places like Harbor Freight, too.
If these are all too old-school try the batteries-and-steel-wool method, and if that's too hi-tech, try a firebow.
What you want are sparks or smoulders. Then you need tinder, and then you need kindling, and then you need fuel (or if you're using a liquid fuel stove, you need to fill the stove, set the primer, and wait for a flame, which is usually not a long wait at all).
Tinder's easy -- fine bits of dry grass, an old bird's nest, a paper spill or some wadding, maybe a bit of char cloth or some bits of rag or cotton balls anointed with beeswax or vaseline. Think of it as a bed for the spark, which will want a little added air -- blow gently or it'll go out like a birthday-cake candle (bad if you need fire). Over the bed, build a little shelter -- the kindling. Start with something the size of a toothpick, work up to the size of a sturdy pencil. At that point, you've got a fire.
So, um, now what?
Well ... if you built a hobo stove, and you have another double-handful of pencil-size sticks, you can boil a cupful or so of water ... or heat a can of soup or beans, or, if you're watchful, simmer something like a scratch-made stew. To simmer on a hobo stove, close the damper almost all the way, lowering the fire. To cook fast, open the damper (and even fan the opening or face it to catch the breeze).
But you need tools ...
Cooking gear. If you're dependent on food stamps this takes some ingenuity.
You'll want a few luxury items in that first cache of food -- jelly in a jar you can turn into a drinking mug or glass once the jelly's gone, for instance; the ones with screw-thread tops let you store things, too ... a cup of fruit from the cold case, with its own spoon you can save and reuse; a jar of pimento cheese or dry beef, to have an exact one-cup measure (8 oz) once you've eaten what's inside. If you can deal with vienna sausages (I can't, now that they're all chicken-based; something in the mix just ... upsets my digestion), you can have the equivalent of a small cookpot. Need a bigger pot? Try a baked-beans can ... which is big enough for boiling chicken skin and bones to make a broth, which makes those instant mashed potatoes or that cheap macaroni taste a lot better.
Strain the broth, add a little salt, some onion powder, and a small can of mixed veggies, and once it boils, you have soup. If you can afford the soup-base in the really heavy glass jar, and a slim bottle of olives, you'll have a mortar-and-pestle, once you're done with the soup base and olives. Matter of fact, that's how I got the molcajete in my kitchen ... flat pans are harder (cheap frozen pot pies come in decent ones) but those ready-to-heat-and-eat meals in the nuke-safe oval pull-top dishes will provide you eating-out-of recyclables. Not cooking-in, unless you really can get the use of a microwave, though.
Oh, and cleaning tools ... baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil (not the killer-rich evoo, for this. You're making a soft soap, not a gourmet sauce. An 8-oz bottle should last several months), a bit of herb or spice. If you're cooking on a wood fire, you'll have ashes, and out of those you can leach lye for a stronger soap. Those are subjects for another diary, though.