Enjoying this cold wet weekend? I am. Probably because I have a fire and a cold wet day gives me a good excuse to sit in front of it. Last winter Mum suggested I write about how I cook on the fire during the cold months. I suggested people will think I’m a hillbilly. She suggested people think that already, so here goes nothing.
We have a log burning fire whose primary job in life, after giving me somewhere to sit on cold wet days, is to heat our hot water, dry our clothes when it’s raining outside, and heat the house. But it is surprisingly useful for cooking too. The solid metal top is big enough to fit a couple of large pots on and winter will see soups, stocks, casseroles and steamed puddings bubbling away on the top while wet socks hang on the drying rail behind it. Lids stay on the pots to avoid sock soup.
Breadcrumbs are another favourite use for the gentle heat of the fire. Leftover rye bread dries to the consistency of concrete pavers on top of the fire. Ground up into breadcrumbs in the mixer and stored in a glass jar, you achieve a best by date of “until hell freezes over”.
A collection of trivets gives you low, medium and high temperatures to expand your fire cooking repertoire. Once your soup has boiled, turn it down by putting it on a high trivet and it will stay warm enough all day to dish up to those silly enough not to be in front of the fire when they arrive in from the cold.
An old school coffee percolator or kettle is a good addition to your fire cooking kit and will boil surprisingly quickly when stoked along by a log of gum or manuka! And your options aren’t limited to the top of the wood burner. Who remembers jiffy pies? (jaffles if you’re Aussie). Those wonderful disguisers of leftover anything – mostly mince with peas in it. A jiffy iron makes two bits of buttered bread and some mince into a mouth burningly hot and proper pie in minutes (or in a jiffy).
You will find jiffy irons, a double one if you’re lucky, in most good junk shops, cast aside by our unfathomable preference for electric toasted sandwich makers which are impossible to clean and generally seem to be an excuse to melt cheese into an oily mess. No the jiffy pie is definitely ready to make a gourmet comeback. Leftover venison and red wine casserole jiffy pie anyone?
The final two treasures in my fire cooking collection are fire toast and baked potatoes. These two are ember cookers. Either will be charcoal in minutes if you attempt to cook them in a full fire. Hot buttered fire toast is about as good as it gets and often accompanies the soup heated on top. Use a good heavy bread, cheap white bread is full of sugar and will burn before it cooks.
Tuck a couple of spuds wrapped in tinfoil in the edge of the firebox and by the time you’ve cooked the rest of dinner they will be ready – or if you stuff them with enough toppings they are dinner. The fire also defrosts blocks of (chicken stock / plums / casseroles) from the freezer, softens butter for baking, warms honey that’s gone crystalised to make it runny again and sets a pot of yogurt left on the hearth overnight.
I wouldn’t dream of leaving something on the electric stove overnight, or while I’m out in the garden, but I’ll quite happily sit something (with plenty of liquid in it) on the top of the fire to do its thing without my presence. This nice gentle cooking is what appeals to me about the fire.
So that is how we roll here in winter. One last thing – I’ve noticed disclosure statements recently on a few blogs so here goes – you should know dear readers that I don’t own an electric clothes dryer and I don’t own a microwave. I don’t own a banjo either but I do own a Metro fire and although they haven’t paid me to write this article I am sure that when they read it they will. Perhaps they’d like me to write them a recipe book to give away with their fires? Perhaps you’d all like to help me by sharing your favourite fire cooking recipes?