Fireplace cooking may be a lost skill, but it’s one you can regain with a little practice | Mt Kisco Homes


Except for Scouts toasting  marshmallows or hotdogs on a stick over a camp  fire, the skills of open  fire cooking that fed our forebears for millennia are  largely forgotten. The wrought iron tools and cast-iron utensils that baked many  a venison stew, harbor-pollack chowder, or mess of ham and beans are relegated  to antique shops. But much of the terminology lives on in the names of  items  still found on the kitchen shelves of today, and much of the old  ironware is  still cast — more for its curio value than for use. In the  frantic hassle that  passes for modern life, it is good on a chilly fall  evening to light a grate  fire and take the time to try your hand at fireplace cooking the way  great-great-great-grandmother did. If the spit-roasted haunch turns out  cold  in the middle and the Yorkshire pudding burns you can always send  out for a  pizza or get some fish sticks out of the freezer and pop them  into the  microwave.

Any fireplace will happily cook while it heats — persuading your wood to do  double duty. You can wrap sweet corn,  potatoes, fresh-caught trout, and apples  in tinfoil and bury it in the  ash bank just as you would in a camp fire. But  there’s no timer or  automatic thermostat to regulate a live fire for more  complex recipes.

It takes constant attention to bake bread in a Dutch oven that is sitting  in  coals, with more coals shoveled into its dished top so the loaf cooks through  and browns on top but doesn’t come out raw in the middle and  burnt to a char on  the bottom. To maintain a simmer in the stew pot  which is hanging by its bail  from the trammel hook, the crane must be  moved back and forth and the pot  adjusted up and down while hot coals  are continually moved around with a  scuttle and ash rake.

You can  have a crane that fits your fireplace wrought by a blacksmith or  welded  by a metal-working job shop. You can still find small stamped-steel coal  scuttles for sale, but you’ll have to fashion your own rake; they  haven’t been  manufactured for a hundred years and more. Some companies like Skilled Welding can make something simular to a rake as a special request but they can be expensive. You can make your own by brazing a 1/4″ x 2″ x 4″ plate of iron or ribbon  steel to a handle made from  a 2′ steel rod with a loop fashioned at the  end to hang it by. However, a small  hand hoe from the garden will do  fine so long as you don’t let the wooden  handle ignite.

Be sure to have on hand a more than ample supply of cooking wood: quarter and  eighth splits of extra-well-dried, dense hardwood sticks for a long fire and a  long-lived coal bed, plus plenty of shavings, splinters, and  small  kindling-size splits to liven the fire quickly if the biscuits  threaten to  fall. Best is a mixture of quick-igniting and hot-burning  softwoods such as  pine, and long-burning hardwoods such as hickory or  oak.

Open the windows so you don’t roast yourself along with  supper, and perk up  a banked or low, heating-type, hardwood-log fire  until it’s brisk enough to  maintain a deep bed of live coals. For  roasting on a spit, maintain a skirt of  live coals under the burning  logs so you can keep raking them out and under the  roast. For frying on a gridiron or skillet, simmering beans in a footed pot, or  baking in a  Dutch oven, you’ll also want to rake coals out onto the hearth and  keep  them replenished.

Roast Haunch of Beef and Yorkshire Pudding

You will need a spit: a revolving horizontal wrought iron rod with a pair  of  sliding meat keepers that is rigged to be raised and lowered over the fire or  fixed in place so you must continually replenish a coal bed  beneath it. The  motorized spits sold for charcoal grills are ready-made  for the use, though you  can have one made of wrought iron to the old  patterns by a blacksmith.

Skewer a whole beef loin or rack of  prime rib — bone in — and set in front  of a hot fire with a good skirt  of glowing coals. Keep the coal bed red. Place  a long, narrow pan  underneath to catch drippings or the fat in the roast will  melt, fall  into the coals, catch fire, and char the roast. Worse, some will  vaporize and rise up the flue with smoke, to accumulate and increase  danger of  a flue fire. Plus, your hearth will develop a permanent grease spot. Turn the  spit frequently and cook the meat to taste. (I cheat and use a meat thermometer,  cooking until it shows 130°F — rare, but not  still mooing, inside.) When the  roast is nearly done, rake coals out  around the pan to cook the Yorkshire  pudding. When grease is sizzling  brightly, add batter and cook until it rises  and browns on top. Turn the pan occasionally to even out the cooking. If you  have a reflector,  place it in front of the meat and the pudding pan if you  like. It will  distribute the heat and reduce need for turning.

 

 

 

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