Thursday, 16 July 2009

Campfires...Revisiting an old friend

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

For millennia humans have had a romance with fire. For most of human history we've lived by the flame to some degree or another. Whether it was to cook food, heat ourselves or light our way in the dark, Fire has been there for us. So...what happened?

You may be thinking to yourself, "Well I still use fire don't I? I have a gas stove and furnace." and yeah, your right, to a great degree we still do use fire for many of our needs. There's really no way we could do with out it is there? My wife and I got to thinking last year "Why can't we use our backyard fire pit more often? We couldn't think of a good reason. I thought today I'd go through a couple of my previously posted pieces about some of the ways we use our fire pit and share them with you. I should mention at this time too that before you build a fire pit in your backyard that you should check with the codes and laws in your local area. Also, always make sure you have a hose or fire extinguisher available. Fire is safe when we're careful with it, but proper respect for it is essential.

One of the first things I tried was baking.I made sure that since this was a food product that was going to be exposed somewhat directly to the smoke from the fire, to use clean wood and not OSB or other treated woods for this. I burnt down a good deal of coals, and placed our large cast iron stove on them to preheat. After prepping the loaf and coating the bottom with cornmeal (to reduce sticking and allow me to slide it off the cutting board) I dropped it into the pot and placed a few coals on top. And here's the finished product. You can see that the pot was a little too hot by the thick, blackened bottom, and the little too-dark top crust. All in all though I'd say it wasn't an all out loss. The texture and crumb of the bread was very good. The best part was that we managed to cook this bread in the middle of August heat without heating up our kitchen. That is, by the way, one of the best and most frugal benefits of using a campfire; it keeps you from heating up your house in the summer time. This reduces the need for A/C or other cooling means.

And speaking of that, one of the biggest things that we do during the hot parts of the year that really hinders our ability to keep our house cool is canning. Boiling those jars in the hot water bath for 20 minutes or so adds a lot of unneeded heat to the kitchen. Hmm, why not use the campfire?Using this little setup of a couple of pieces of rebar and a portable grill cover, we were able to get the water boiling and keep it boiling by simply adding a few pre-cut pieces of wood at a time to keep the flame up. NOTE: ONLY DO THIS WITH WATER BATH CANNING. Pressure canning requires much more control of the heat and cool down times and needs to be consistent during the process.

Last summer we went to one of our local you-pick-it farms and harvested a huge number of chilis. We decided to can green chilis and freeze chipolte peppers (fire roasted jalapenos) for the year. Both of these require fire to remove the skins from them. Perfect excuse to enjoy the smell of local grown chilis roasting over an open fire with a cold beer!So you can see, there's a lot of great and very easy things you can do with your fire pit to save some energy, reduce the heat in the house and cook great foods. There was one other thing I wanted to mention though. Entertainment.

Few uses of the fire brought us as much joy as spending time outside together around it. A few candles, some Christmas lights and a fire pit and you can have a great night outside with the family. Cooking almost anything over a fire is an adventure for kids and playing a game of lawn bowling by fire light is a great way to spend the evening.So then, if you have a fire pit available give it another look. It can be for more than roasting hot dogs or burning off old wood. If your a little creative, cautious and safe, you can really have a great time and get things done to boot!

All the best to you all till next time.


Brenda Campbell said...

makes me think so much about camping and we got out bush recently to camp. the fire is so soothing and mesmerising. Just loved it.

Eilleen said...

oooh you know I'm starting to seriously think I *need* a fire pit in my backyard. :)

One thing I've missed so much from my old life is the wood oven and being able to have bon fires.

One thing to add about cooking outside - especially when using a fire pit - I've found that a rectangular shaped fire works best. One side is for "fire tending" and the other side is for raking hot coals on to and you regulate the temp for your camp oven that way.

Anyway, its winter here at the moment in Oz..its actually the best time to cooking outside because there are no fire restrictions at the moment!

Kathryn said...

Well, you don't live in a fire-restricted area!

We're in the mountains, DRY mountains, & this kind of back yard burning is illegal.

Looks like you're having a good time with it, tho. :)

eatclosetohome said...

How much pollution do you suppose is created by open burning of wood, compared to a gas oven or electricity? Are there outdoor, wood-fired options that are more fuel-efficient and/or less polluting?

Green Bean said...

As the first commentor write, it reminds me of camping. Great for hot evenings too when you don't want to heat up the house though I do know some urban areas have restrictions for wood burning due to air pollution. Fun though.

P~ said...

I can't really think of any other practical fuels that could be used, with the obvious exception of a solar oven, which wouldn't allow for the canning I did, but I have looked into what are called "Rocket stoves". They are used in a lot of the developing nations to cook over and are supposedly very easy to build and incredibly fuel efficient. Good question. Thanks

Joanne said...

We have a little brazier that we fill with wood every now and then and even though its too small to cook on, we have a great evening outside. On a clear night, the boys and I sit around the fire, watch the stars and talk for hours. They love it!
Burning well seasoned wood, rather than green will reduce smoke. I've visited rural areas where wood stoves and wood heating are the norm and their air quality is much better than town where everyone uses gas and electricity. Driving in from the rural areas, you can smell my town before you see it! I know that has to do with industry and vehicles but all of that gas and electricity is produced at an environmental cost as well.
Indoor combustion stoves can burn quite cleanly and can radiate a lot of heat well after the last wood is added, whereas when our gas and electric heaters are turned off, it goes cold quite quickly.