Fireplace Cooking and heating by PrivateLabelArticles

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									Fireplace cooking and heating

Philosophy

While rewarding in so many other ways, authentic fireplace
cooking (where entire meals are cooked in the fireplace), truth
be known, is a tedious, time consuming, physically demanding,
dirty, and somewhat dangerous endeavor. I say this as an ex-
restaurant chef who has spent countless hours cooking under
demanding and stressful conditions. Even before you begin
cooking, you must skillfully build and maintain a very hot fire
using heavy hardwood. Then you must continuously poke about
it, shoveling hot embers to and fro. The pans are heavy and the
handles always very hot and all the while you are stooped over
or squatting in front of the heat and the flames, dodging the
occasional flying spark. You will quickly understand (and
appreciate) why "American women readily abandoned their
kitchen fireplaces when the revolutionary wood-burning
cookstoves were introduced in the early 1800's".

Why bother then? Well, why bother making an "ambient" fire or
building a fireplace to begin with? We enjoy fires and we enjoy
cooking, even though both of them are arguably unnecessary in
today's modern world. As a professional cook I found it
fascinating to explore these origin methods of all the world's
great cuisines. Those with experience claim that "food prepared
[on modern cooking equipment]... simply doesn't taste as good."
For some it might seem fulfilling on some level, but hard to
explain. Others are just drawn to the "magic" of fire. So its not
rational and reasoned, but rather intuitive, and even primal
motivation that explains why people are now rediscovering the
basic pleasures and deep satisfaction of cooking in the fireplace.

I am not suggesting that you run out and by a crane and
trammel, trivet and Dutch oven, but I do encourage you to
consider buying "The Magic of Fire" and if possible, visit a living
museum such as Plimoth Plantation or Old Sturbridge Village to
discover what fireplace cooking was and is all about.

Spit roasting was just another cooking method back in the 18th
and 19th centuries and a mechanical jack was probably
considered fancy and progressive at the time. One could say that
modern outdoor grilling represents the remnants of fireplace
cooking. Not only that, it provides a precedent and convenient
reference for cooking with an indoor fire. It takes about the same
effort to prepare and maintain, carries similar danger and
provides variety in both method and flavor. While it is perhaps
impractical to conjure up a full-blown kitchen in your home
fireplace (the old ones were actually quite large and designed for
the purpose) the mechanical spit does provide a plausible
compromise and way to extend the pleasures of cooking directly
with fire to a "new" venue. _

The Cooking Fire

While it may seem like a simple, straightforward procedure, and
one at which you might feel quite proficient, building a proper
cooking fire is rarely done correctly (most efficiently) and is
arguably the most important element of the process.

Below are two examples of how to do it right; one from Charlie
van Over, a restaurateur, chef, author and fireplace cooking
enthusiast, and the other, an excerpt from one of the few good
books on fireplace cooking.

 _Rediscovering the Lost Art of Building a Fire

January 23, 2004_Charlie van Over

The folklore of the hearth, the wood burning fireplace of Colonial
times, permeates our psyche here in New England. A home
without a fireplace lacks warmth even when the thermostat is
turned up to the seventies. The colonial-era fireplace was the
center of every family’s universe regardless of social stature.
Heating, cooking, washing – both body and clothing – smoking,
curing all took place on the kitchen hearth. Building a heat-
sustaining fire meant the difference between death and survival.

Regrettably, the art of building a warming, long lasting fire has
disappeared. When the weather dips into the single digits, it is
time to build a fire for warmth not atmosphere. Throw out the
grate, push the andirons to the side and build a perfect fire.
The single most important thing to remember when building a
proper fire is not to allow any air to get underneath the logs. Air
creates a roaring fire, which will send most of the heat up the
chimney. Attractive and exciting, a blazing fire wastes wood and
needs constant tending. Only the embers in the fire throw out
heat into the room. When air gets under the fire, wood burns
quickly, brightly and on all sides. By preventing a draft of air
from passing through the fire only the top surface and face of the
wood will burn, creating a bed of glowing, hot embers which
radiates a huge amount of heat into the room not up the
chimney. Therefore, and this will probably drive some neat nicks
crazy, it is necessary to maintain a bed of ashes on the hearth of
the fireplace during the fire burning season.

As for those grates, touted as essential for a wood-burning
fireplace, they were actually designed for burning coal, which
needs air underneath to burn. Since few people burn coal any
longer, my advice is to sell them for scrap. Andirons were never
designed to function as grates but rather to prevent round logs
from tumbling out of the fireplace. Our andirons are handsome
so I leave them in the fireplace, pushed to the sides since most
firewood is split and doesn’t roll very well. If using andirons,
make sure to maintain the ash bed about an inch or two over the
andiron’s legs to keep air from getting under the burning log and
to prevent the iron legs from being destroyed by the intense heat
of the embers.

Once you have your ash bed, building a proper, long lasting fire
is quite simple. Begin by placing a large log to the very rear of
the fireplace. This log, appropriately called the backlog, should
measure eight to ten inches in diameter. (The traditional Yule log
was an especially large backlog, meant to burn throughout the
Holidays.) Since it rests against the rear wall of the fireplace and
burns only in the front, the back log protects the fireplace wall
from being burned out. A perfect backlog will burn for many
hours before having to be replaced. In our house we call
backlogs ‘all day suckers.’

Next, place a smaller log toward the front just behind the
andirons or placed where the andiron would traditionally be. This
fore log, should measure four to six inches in diameter and should
be pressed into the ash bed to prevent air from escaping
underneath. Crumple some newspaper and place it in the trough
created between the two logs. Then pile kindling on top of the
paper. Depending on the quantity and the quality of my kindling I
often cheat by using chunks of those Duraflame logs. One
Duraflame log will help light twenty to thirty fires. Use a sharp
knife to cut off two-ounce chunks. These are easily and safely
lighten with a match. Place a few lighted chunks on the
newspaper then top with the kindling then some smaller logs.
This usually will get any fire going. When it comes to kindling get
creative. Everything from shards from the bottom of the wood
pile, twigs from my lawn, wine corks, spent candle nubs, broken
up wooden crates, to waxed cardboard boxes which are used to
ship wet vegetables will work. (Restaurants and grocers are
happy to get rid of them.)

Don’t skimp with the wood when starting the fire. Skimp later
once your perfect fire gets going and all you need to do is to
maintain the heat that produced by the accumulation of the red-
hot embers on the ash bed. (A rip roaring initial fire will produce
a sufficient amount of embers to really start heating up most
rooms.) At this early stage there will be some spectacular flames
shooting up as though a house were burning down. These high
flames may look great but they actually throw out very little
heat. Once the ember bed is established the flames will calm
down, rising no more than a few inches above the logs.

To maintain a proper fire, feed it from both the front and the
back. The largest log, always placed against the back wall, will
burn the longest. When it is burned down in size, pull it toward
the front and replace it with another large log. The rest of the
time your feed replacement logs from the front. As the ember
mass begins to burn down simply push the fore log back over the
embers and replace it with another log or two depending on how
far the fire has burned down. A good pair of sturdy fireplace
tongs is indispensable for this work.

One way to judge the quality of your fire is to remember that, if
the flames are too high, air is probably getting underneath the
logs. To correct this simply give them a jab with your poker
knocking them downwards towards the ash bed which by this
time should be covered with burning embers. Always remember
to keep the backlog higher than the other logs because it is the
burning embers on the front surface of the backlog that throws
the heat out into the room.

By building the fire in this manner, you will be sending the heat
into the room not up the chimney.

If your fire is still going when you go to bed and you wish to have
a fire in the morning, you can dampen the fire by covering the
embers with ashes gathered from the sides of the fire. In the
morning, scrape the ashes back to the side and place new wood
on the preserved embers. This really works. I’ve done it a
hundred times.

And finally, some safety tips:

Safety Rule Number One: Never leave a fire unattended without
placing a screen in front of it.

Open fireplaces that burn wood are inherently dangerous. This is
because it is hard to judge how different logs will burn. Every
once in a while you will hear a crack or a pop accompanied by a
chunk of ember flying out beyond the safety of the stone hearth.
While these little embers are usually harmless and can be easily
brushed back on to the hearth they are capable of starting a
smoldering fire if they land on some flammable material and are
not immediately attended to.

Keep your chimney clean. Chimney fires, while rather infrequent,
can be frightening and even result in burning down your home.
Schedule an annual fireplace inspection with a chimney sweep.
They’re usually quite reasonable and can advise you on how
often you need a cleaning based on how frequently you build
fires.

Use the proper wood in your fireplace. Well-seasoned hard wood
such as oak, maple, walnut, birch and fruitwoods such as apple
and cherry throw out the most heat. Ask your fire wood guy.
They are usually very knowledgeable. Don’t burn evergreens
even if they are available and free for the taking. Pine creates
little heat and throws off creosote when burned, the number one
cause of chimney fires.

The joy of building a proper fire can be immense. You may even
find yourself mesmerized by its warm glow instead of the
television or computer screen.

 
New! Illustrated guide on how to build a cooking fire as described below ...

(The following is reprinted, in part, from Building the Cooking Fire
from The Open Hearth Cookbook. It is written primarily for
someone who is doing more than just spit roasting, but the
principals are still the same. This creates a very hot fire very
quickly if done correctly.)

"Here is a simple way of stacking wood for a cooking fire that we
have found most successful and that requires, for starters, only
six good-sized pieces of split and seasoned hardwood, kindling,
newspaper, matches, and a clear, clean hearth.

To lay your fire, begin by placing two of the logs on the hearth
floor with their ends at right angles to, and almost touching, the
rear wall of your fireplace. These first two logs will act as
supports or "andirons" for the remaining logs. [Note: as an alternative
you could use log dogs, cast iron supports that serve the same purpose.] Next,
lay lay the remaining four logs across the top of the bottom two,
parallel to the back wall of the fireplace, and leave some space
between them for the fire to breathe. Kindling (sticks, crumpled
paper, pinecones, wood shavings, etc.) should then be placed on
top of the logs and stuffed into the cracks between them, and
into the low tunnel formed by the stacking configuration. [Note:
you may need a different configuration of logs depending on the
thickness and length of the logs and the size your fireplace. I like
to add another layer on top.]

Ignite the kindling, [make sure your your flue is open and your
chimney has been recently serviced] with a makeshift torch of
twisted newspaper. Next, hold the torch up the open chimney
flue to encourage a healthy draft. The fire can also be fanned at
this point with a bellows, magazine, folded newspaper [or your
breath] to ensure a strong start.

Stacking your wood in this manner leaves a natural space for the
coals to accumulate in, and gives the cook easy access to them
as they are needed for baking, frying, and broiling without having
to disturb the fire's design.

It is most important to maintain the the fire's basic configuration
when adding new logs and until all of your cooking is completed.
About two hours and two generous armfuls of wood are needed
to prepare the average full-course meal. From our experience the
upper logs will burn with greater vigor than do the andiron logs.
They will need to be replenished sooner and more frequently.

The andiron logs will not need to be replaced as often, but, when
they do, substantial rebuilding and manipulating of the fire's hot
logs may be necessary in order to maintain the fire's basic shape.
Using green or unseasoned wood [or thicker logs] for the andiron
logs can delay and even eliminate the last step, especially when
preparing foods that cook quickly.


For roasting a large piece of meat such as a suckling pig, or for
cooking numerous smaller items simultaneously, like ducks,
chickens or Cornish hens, it will be necessary to build a wider or
double version of the basic cooking fire. If your fireplace is big
enough to accommodate cooking on this scale, a double cooking
fire should be adequate for the most ambitious of meals. to build
a fire of this design, use three andiron supports instead of two,
and proceed in the same way outlined above.

As a general rule, the length of the fire should equal the length of
the spitted food in order for the food to roast evenly. Another
important guideline to remember when building a cooking fire is
that its size should be governed by the standard length (about 18
inches) of most pieces of split and cut firewood, and not
necessarily by the size of one's fireplace. Should your fireplace be
very small, it may be necessary to have your logs cut shorter
than the 18 inch standard."

            Illustrated guide on how to build a cooking fire _

Fire Wood (reprinted from
http://www.wommackhardwoods.com )

Wood Quality:_High quality, well seasoned firewood greatly
influences fireplace efficiency and enjoyment. Well seasoned
firewood starts easier, burns cleaner, and generates more heat.
Green, wet wood can cause problems with smoke, odor, creosote
build-up and flu fires.

Choosing Firewood:_Freshly cut wood can contain up to 45% water.
Well-seasoned wood ranges from 20-25% moisture content.
Well-seasoned wood is easier to start, produces more heat, and
burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water
must be gone before the wood will burn. In general, it takes
about six months for wood to dry if stored uncovered, outside.
Three to four months may be sufficient if under roof, cut in short
lengths, and split for more air exposure. _NOTE: Wood exposed
to constant rain or snow absorbs large amounts of moisture, and
may rot. Store wood off the ground, protected from excess
moisture, such as under a roof or in a loose-sided shed which
allows for air circulation. But be aware: firewood attracts
termites. Limit the amount stored next to the house or garage to
just a one-week supply.

How can you tell if wood is seasoned?_Well-seasoned firewood
generally has darkened ends with visible cracks or splits. It is
relatively light weight, and makes a sharp, distinctive "clink"
when two pieces strike each other. Green wood feels heavier, the
ends look brighter and fresher, and they make more of a dull
"thud" when bumped together. But, these visual signs can be
tricky to detect. To be sure, buy your wood in the spring and
store it until the following fall and winter. _Test: If you're not
sure if your wood is dry enough, lay one piece in the fireplace
and try to light it with a piece of paper. If it doesn't ignite, it's
too wet. If it does light, but sizzles and requires constant stoking,
it is still too wet. A good dry piece of wood will fire easily and
burn nicely without much attention in a normal draft.

What type of wood is best?_Pound for pound, all wood has about the
same BTU, but hardwoods weigh more, and therefore have
higher heat potentials. Hardwoods also burn slower, which means
less trips to the wood pile! Hardwoods include oak, hickory, ash
and cherry. Some softer woods, such as elm or maple, are also
suitable for burning, but you should expect to pay considerably
less for them.

								
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