Anyone into cooking over live fires?
From the results of the Q&A with Steven Raichlen it's obvious that many---perhaps most---of us are into grilling. More to the point, it seems, live-fire cooking is all the rage at many restaurants.
I got to be thinking about this when the discussion on another thread turned towards hearth and open-fire cooking. Not camping, per se, but actually preparing daily meals over an open fire or on a hearth.
For those who missed it, Pannini posted this:
I still smoke meats regularly. I choose to eat them.
While I have you, I would like to know if you've done this.
30 yrs. ago we had the oportunity to stay with my wifes uncle in France.
We cooked most meats in or near an open fire. He had cast iron vessels under the meats to catch the drippings. He would then baste the meats with
the drippings. The one thing I will always remember is how we stuffed and trussed all the fowl. We then hung them from various hooks near
the flame. We then gave a twist and the birds would spin slowly in one direction then reverse it self and spin the other way. They continuously turned throught the cooking process.
I have never been able to get same results in the ofen. Ever done this?
To which I responded:
A variation of it, Jeff.
A fairly common practice, back in the 18th century, was to hang a trussed fowl from a string, in front of the fire. You'd twist the string tightly and let it go. It would untwist and retwist until needing to be retwisted again. Naturally there'd be a drip pan under the bird to catch the drippings. Ours are forged rather than cast, but samee-same.
When Friend Wife discusses this with visitors she usually ends by saying, "even better than Ron Popeil's four payments of $39.99 vertical roaster." That always gets a laugh.
Really well-to-do folks actually had things like clockwork spits which acted just like our present-day electric ones.
Hearth cooking utilizes all sorts of common and specialized utensils. Most cooking is not done in the fire, itself, but in front of it (as with the birds), or over coals that are raked out on the apron. That's why so many old-time cooking vessels have legs, so they can sit above the coals. In addition, as you note, there are all sorts of hangers---S hooks, trammels, rachets, even chains---for adjusting height when you do cook in the firebox. Flat-bottomed cooking vessels were also used, and came in two types. One had a swiveled bail, that could hang from one of those hooks. The others would be used with trivets of various heights. Nowadays we mostly use trivets to protect tables and counters from hot pots. Back then they were more often used as cooking tools.
Here's an interesting bit of trivia: If a shallow pan had legs, it was a skillet. If it had a flat bottom it was a frying pan. Oddly enough, there were no cast iron frying pans we can document. Instead they were made of other materials: copper, tin, hammered iron, etc. I have no idea why this was so.
A lot of cooking equipment was based on reflected heat, too. There were reflector ovens, to be sure. But also things like bird roasters. We have one, for instance, that's about 16 inches square. Mounted to it are ten hooks, from which you hung small birds like quail and pigeons. This sat in front of the fire, and cooked from both sides. Ours has a built-in drip pan, including a pour spout so you could easily transfer the drippings to a saucepan to make gravy.
When cabins are first built they'd use a lug pole that rested in recesses in the chimney walls. The first labor-saving device would be a crane, that rotated in sockets attached to a sidewall. With it you could swing pots and kettles out of the fire, instead of having to reach in and lift a hot, heavy container.
Well, you've gotten me to hijack this thread big time. Maybe we should start a different one, if others are interested?
So, I'm curious as to how many others may be involved in this sort of thing, and how far that interest goes. While the old-time methods certainly are fun, as well as effective, let's not stop there. I'd like to see a discussion about all sorts of live-fire cooking.