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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Hot Stuff! An Ancient Cooker Takes the Paddling World by Storm

December 30, 2008
Updated on October 30, 2012

The Samovar in Action

A lot of water has cascaded over the falls on The River since the last "Our Readers Write" aired in September. With the waning year now drawing to a close, the days are about as short as they ever get in Canoe Country, and the nights are long and cold. It's the season when a fire in the hearth is really welcome. Maybe that's why Tamia's recent article celebrating the virtues of the samovar, drew so much mail. Or maybe it was just our collective fascination with exotic gear. Whatever the reason, a lot of readers had something to say about these ingenious cookers. So we've decided to devote the year's final column to your comments and questions about that one article. We hope you'll find other readers' insights as thought‑provoking and informative as we did.

As always, our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone whose letter appears here, and to all the other folks who took the time to write to us. We'll reprint more of your letters in the next "Our Readers Write." Now, though, we're going to fire up the samovar for a cup of tea and get ready to toast the new year in. Here's hoping that it's a good one!

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Sounds Good to Me, But Where Can I Buy One?

Good afternoon, Tamia.

Thank you for the nice articles. I have saved most of them. After reading about the wonderful little stove in your article, I didn't see where to buy one. Sunday afternoon we were fishing in the rain in Montana, and a hot cup of honey tea sure sounded good. When you find time, please let me know where I can buy a [samovar].

Weather today? Snow this afternoon and rain, and the brown trout are doing their thing. Sunday I got a big rainbow and two walleyes. And, yes, I came home and my wife had a wonderful soup and cornbread, with a fire in the wood stove. Nice.

Fred Crandell

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm delighted that you enjoyed "Tempest in a Teapot," Fred, and it's good to know that you find our articles useful. The Eydon STORM Kettle, the Ghillie Kettle, and the Kelly Kettle can all be purchased directly from their makers, or through a growing number of retail outlets in the States. I'd suggest you do a Web search using the name of whichever brand catches your eye. One caveat: Traveler's samovars come in many different sizes; be sure you order the one that's right for you. (Our Kelly Kettle is the model now labeled the "Trekker," and Farwell and I have found it to be a little on the small side for two hearty tea‑drinkers.)

Changing tack a bit… It sounds like the fish are biting up your way, and your note brought back some pleasant memories. When I first accompanied my grandfather to some of his favorite fishing holes, it was brookies we were after, not rainbows or browns. They weren't lunkers — an eight‑inch brookie was good‑sized in those days (well below the legal minimum in many New York waters today) — and they didn't show fight like brown trout. But they sure tasted good, particularly when only a few minutes elapsed between landing net and skillet.

Thanks for starting me off on this trip down memory lane. Enjoy your new cooker!

The Russian Connection

Hi, Tamia!

I try to catch your articles on pretty often. Your recent one was interesting, but it seemed oddly familiar. Then it hit me. Nearly 40 years ago I was in Russia on a cultural‑exchange tour and encountered tabletop samovars. These were large, charcoal‑fired boilers, and some of them were quite ornate. The principle of the central chimney inside a water jacket, with a pot‑stand on top, is identical to the much smaller boilers you describe. [As your article notes,] samovars been popular in Russia since the late 1700s, though I would guess that the design is much older and an import from elsewhere — the Middle East, perhaps? Good basic designs, in boats or teapots, are timeless.

David Kolar

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for a fascinating letter, David. You're right, of course: Good design is timeless. The canoe, the kayak, and the samovar all attest to that.

The TrailStove Alternative

Hi, Tamia!

I have just read your article on the modern incarnation of the traveler's samovar. We used to be able to get them over here in the UK fairly easily. The other stove that I have found comes from Stratus on your side of the Ditch [the company's located in Atlanta, Georgia – Editor] and is called the TrailStove. It also is a wood‑burner, about the size of a tall jar of coffee, and it's very good. It takes up a lot less space than other stoves, and it's made from stainless steel sheet, so it's very light.

I would also like to add that Stratus is very good to deal with. When I ordered the TrailStove, it took a while to come. I e‑mailed them and got a reply next day. When I asked them when it should arrive, they said that it had been posted, but they would send another one. When the first one came, I telephoned them and said that it had arrived, and asked if they would like me to send back the second one. They said that I was to keep it, and regard it as an early Christmas present. Service like that deserves to be supported.

Cheers for now,

Iain Brockie

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'm a little surprised that modern traveler's samovars aren't easier to find in the UK, Iain, given that both the Eydon STORM Kettle and the Ghillie Kettle are made there. (As the name suggests, the Kelly Kettle hails from Ireland.) Or have I read too much into the words "used to be able to get them"? In any case, the TrailStove looks like an interesting alternative, even if it lacks an integral boiler. This should make it more versatile, of course, though it might also be a little less efficient when it comes to heating water. Why not write up a review of the TrailStove for Good gear always warrants a good word!

And Another, From Near Down Under — the Thermette

Dear Tamia,

I bought an almost identical device, using the same principle. Mine is called the Thermette. It has an interesting history that can be read elsewhere [PDF – Editor]. I have yet to use mine to heat water, but it is now packed with my emergency gear. [It] comes in any size you want — as long as it is a half‑gallon [Imperial measure – Editor].

James Stone

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for letting me know about the Thermette, James. Unfortunately, as of the date of this revision, Thermette seems to have vanished from the US market, though it's apparently being sold by a New Zealand retailer. I hope the Thermette becomes more widely available. It seems ideal for large parties, and the fixed grip is a big improvement on the pivoting bail handles of most other traveler's samovars.

And Now for Something Just a Little Bit Different —
A Reader Springs for the "Steamboat"

Dear Tamia,

Love your articles on!

I'd like to introduce you to the "hot pot" or "steamboat," an age‑old cooking system that truly rivals the samovars you describe. India has been using these kinds of cookers for thousands of years, and you can buy similar pots at almost any Chinese grocery store for cheap (I've seen them for USD15). They're lightweight, simple, and efficient, and they pack very well. I've seen them for sale firsthand in Los Angeles and Fresno, California, as well as in Oklahoma City. They're also sold in Pier 1 stores in San Luis Obispo, California, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The first ones were made from clay many, many years ago and they have been found in digs all over the Middle East. The modern version is aluminum, of course. These are simply wonderful cookers and work very well on just a handful of dry grass — or even animal dung if that's all that's available. (Yes, dung is a traditional cooking fuel.)

Keep the great articles coming!


• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for letting us know about steamboats, Timothy — and thanks, too, for the kind words. A quick Web search yielded several images of steamboat cookers, and as you rightly observe, they, too, embody the samovar principle. Or should I say that the samovar embodies the steamboat principle? Either way, the modern steamboat looks to be a dead ringer for the ur‑samovar recently unearthed in Azerbaijan, which I mentioned in passing in my article. It's obvious that the enclosed‑chimney cooker has a long and distinguished lineage.

Their modern counterparts ought to be right at home in Canoe Country base camps, too, with the added advantage (if dung‑fired, at any rate) of nearly total recycling. In all seriousness — and as you note in your letter — dung has long been used as a fuel in many places where wood is scarce or costly. In fact, sun‑dried bison dung was widely used in cooking fires on the American Plains, by both Native peoples and homesteaders. So if you make your backcountry home where the buffalo roam…


Shore Lunch


Though few of us are likely to fuel our cookers with dung — bison are never around when you need them, are they? — it's obvious that the samovar, in all its contemporary incarnations, is experiencing a welcome renaissance. You could even say it's taking the paddling world by storm. And it's certainly won a place in our packs. How about you? Do you use one of these little boilers? If so, drop us a line and tell us about it. We'd like to hear from you. Or maybe you've gone in an entirely different direction in your search for the perfect cooker. Then tell us about that, too. After all, it's "Our Readers Write." We can't do this without you!

A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to double‑check, we'll assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Simply put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address on‑line unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.

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