The hot topic of conversation this morning as the usual waifs and strays gathered round our kitchen table to put the world to rights was the avoidance of chimney fires, especially with woodburning stoves. Not that any of us have had a recent chimney fire (touch wood), and I can hear you all saying "sweep your chimney regularly etc etc etc", but if you're a woodburning stove owner you'll know that it's like having another member of the family with all the associated quirks, foibles and tantrums. We have had a couple of chimney fires in the past which were quite frightening and on one occasion we called the fire brigade in the end as we couldn't stop the burning in the T-piece pipe at the back of the stove and it was glowing red hot! Now, as well as cleaning the chimney regularly, we dismantle the chimney at the back of the stove and scrape it out thoroughly. We only burn hard wood, but we still get that sticky, treacle toffee-like substance forming and it's not easy to remove. We even took a hoe to the blacksmith to have it re-shaped into a made to measure, curved, scraping tool!
The exciting news from the front this morning is that burning potato peelings can combat the formation of this black stuff and reduce the likelihood of fires caused by it igniting. Much discussion followed and we decided that the peelings should be dried first rather than dump a heap of damp matter on the fire. They could be laid out on a tray on the stovetop overnight and added to the fire in the morning. I consulted various books including the wonderful Cooley's Encyclopaedia of Practical Receipts (published in 1880) but could find no reference to such a practice. However, I remember my mother recommending boiling up potato skins to remove the black deposits from a burnt saucepan. I have done this once or twice and it seemed to work but I have no intention of deliberately burning a pan just to try this out again!
I can only assume that some compound in the potato must react with the carbon or whatever has stuck to the chimney (or saucepan) and break it down or perhaps it's just an old wife's tale. Anyway, from now on potato peelings will be dried and added to the stove - just in case!