Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Proper Fire

I always left my shutters open so that the first light should wake me. But this was commonly at five and there was no need to get up at that hour. My firewood was stacked ready to hand and I kept a piece of dry plank hidden to start the flame. If it was not hidden someone was certain to burn it. The others only desired a large fire with plenty of flame and smoke -- a fire as easy to cook over as it would be to tow a baby's perambulator with a ten-coupled engine.

When I had made a neat clean fire with a red heart, a small bright flame, and so composed that there was always a foot or two of spare dry faggot to be urged in, with a proper proportion of good burning wood, say olive and oak, and a fair inmixture of bad, perhaps vine and fig, then, should I go to the spring for a pail of water or out on the balcony to throw a bone down the hill, either Cap or Lauder was sure to fling my pile on it.

When I came back it would be a mere blaze, very pleasant to look at, and making fine lights and shadows on the roof, but no good for dixies or a frying pan.

"Cookee's so mean about his wood," was the notion that supported them in this madness.
Joyce Cary, Memoir of the Bobotes,
U of Texas Press 1960, pg 94-5
Control of heat is the essence of the cook's technique. Turning a gas valve or electric knob is too easy to qualify as more than simple technique, however. If there is just a bit of familiarity with the particular beast, only inattention accounts for a burned or under-cooked item in a modern stove. But try getting the wood stove set well to bake a light cake. Or make a drift wood fire between two logs on a sandy beach to fry bacon and eggs, toast a fresh rusk to make a sandwich of them (the grit of sand in the sandwich is but a condiment to the very best of summer breakfasts.) and boil the coffee. The highest form of the cook's art comes in the control of a wood fire.

-- ml

Powell's Books - Memoir of the Bobotes by Joyce Cary
The renowned novelist and author of The Horse's Mouth was 23 at the start of the Balkan War (1912). A romantic idealist, he recorded and illustrated (pen and ink sketches) his experiences (as a cook and dresser for a British Red Cross unit).

Joyce Cary
Joyce Cary Quotes
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