Hearth Cooking

January 23rd, 2010

I remember the ice storm of 1978. Michael, our son, was two months old. We went to bed with the sound of the howling winds and ice pellets pinging at our windows. In the middle of the night we were awakened by crashing noises on our roof as large limbs fell from our sweet gum tree which shaded our house lovingly during the hot summer months. Michael was also awake. Who could sleep through that racket. When I went to get him from his crib I realized the power was out. Thus began a week of deprivation. We had no heat, no water, and no electricity. But what we did have was a wood stove. You would be surprised at how well you can function with a source of heat to keep you warm and allow you to cook. We bought bottled water, stretched our sleeping bags in front of the fire and cooked all of our meals either on top of the stove or in the ashes. We even had neighbors join us on several occasions. I have never forgotten the value of having an independent backup plan when community utilities fail you.

Our Lake Lure cottage was built with several backup options, the first being energy efficient insulation that has be done by the First Defense Insulation – Certified Insulation Experts. We also have a gas stove for cooking, using a large propane tank which also supplies the gas for our living room fireplace logs. This past December the temperatures dropped to the teens and the winds were blowing steadily at 20 miles an hour. We discovered that our new untested heat pump was not wired properly to allow the auxilary heat strip to come on, so it could not keep up with the demand. We stayed toasty warm with just the gas logs and the kitchen fireplace. Plus we love to cook in the fireplace because it is such a gratifying process. I posted earlier about the hearth grill that was my Christmas present. We also bought a spider which is a dutch oven with legs. You place the spider directly in the coals and you can braise anything from roasts to stews. We tried a pork roast and vegetables.

David browned the meat in the spider over the coals.

He then added the vegetables and some liquid. Wine is good here. Wine is always good. We also added fresh rosemary and thyme. The lid is then placed on top. The lid also has little legs on the top so you can invert it and use it as a griddle if you want.

To maintain even cooking you can put ashes on top of the lid so that the food is surrounded by heat.

The above picture was taken with the flash, but I thought it was very atmospheric.

After cooking slowly in the embers for two hours you have a pot full of goodness.

What a satisfying meal.

I wish you had all been there. . . . We are back in sunny Florida now, but I miss our hearth cooking. We had a small fire in the kitchen fireplace right before we left and David said “I feel like I should be cooking something in it”. It is a primal urge to cook over fire.
We bought our dutch oven spider through Amazon. Here is a link.

23 responses to “Hearth Cooking”

  1. Toni says:

    This reminds me of New Mexico. We used to cook things like potatoes and squash in the fireplace, even when we weren’t suffering a blackout. (We had a gas stove anyway). We just liked the taste. We also had wood stoves to heat the house (as well as gas wall heaters), and we would often put a pot on top and cook either a soup or stew.

    My friend Julie, who built her own house in New Mexico, used to have an old wood cook stove, and I learned how to slide the pots around on top to adjust the cooking temperature. I miss that way of cooking here in the city!

  2. That looks so good and I bet it smelled amazing while it was roasting!

  3. A very interesting post, Penny. Although you were inconvenienced by the power outage, you made the best of a bad situation and had a great time doing it.

    I bought my husband a cast iron pot for he wants to learn how to cook in the fireplace and in our wood stove. It is not a spider, but I hope it serves the purpose as well. He is so excited to get up to the lake and try it!! By the way…where did you get the spider?

    Enjoy the sunshine, you lucky snowbird!!


  4. Penny says:

    Jane, I just posted a link to the Amazon site where we bought it. Hope your husband has as much fun cooking with fire as mine does.

  5. Susan says:

    There is something so safe and comforting about wood stove in a kitchen. I remember my mother-in-law had one and in the winter, her kitchen was the best place to be. Of course, she was also baking something too, so that made it even a sweeter place to be.

  6. Kate says:

    Oh Penny, how fun. Our knowledge of pioneer cooking “modernized”! Glad you were able to keep warm and had a great meal!

  7. ARLENE says:

    While I wouldn’t want to cook there on a steady basis, the hearth cooking would be great fun once in a while. The result looks magnificent.

  8. Penny, this is such a wonderful post on the practicalities of learning and knowing how to hearth cook. You pork roast looks sensational, hearty and satisfying, especially on days when ice pellets are violently crashing into your house.

  9. That definately looks like a pot full of goodness – and how satisfying to know you can be self sufficient. Reminds me of the Chuckwagon cooking we used to do years ago (not out of necessity – just a bunch of Cowboys around a fire)!

  10. Julie says:

    What a wonderful way to cook. I’ll bet it tastes just amazing cooking over the coals like that 🙂

  11. katiez says:

    Seeing that reminds me that we have a pot hook in our big fireplace. I have no idea what it’s hanging from but when we cleaned out the flue we left it – we can actually put a ladder inside and climb up – not that I would…
    So… I need to go to the DIY and get a cast iron pot!
    I bet that roast was to die for….

  12. Penny, just the mental imagery of cooking in this method makes my mouth watering. But then you lift the lid of your “spider pot” and we see your incredible results.

    Eating is one part hunger, two parts ingredients and one trillion part sight & smell. You have captured all that and more…

  13. Karen says:

    Oh, this looks like so much fun! I bet the meal was wonderful!

  14. You are just too cool! Is there still a house available near the cottage???

  15. Lynn says:

    What a lovely post. We live in the mountains and lose power often, but rarely think to cook over the fire. This looks nice and cozy.

  16. Mary says:

    It looks like a wonderful meal. I’m amazed that you were able to do that. I’m really impressed.

  17. Wow, that must have been scary.
    I love that you cook in your hearth!
    I remember the Quebec ice storm about 10 years ago. Very scary indeed.

  18. Robin Sue says:

    I would love to have a fireplace built in my kitchen so that I could cook in it too and heat our very cold kitchen. What a nice roast that turned out to be. We have a wood burning insert in our fireplace in the family room and have cooked hotdogs and roasted marshmallow in it. Well it looks like you are making great memories with that fireplace- So fun!

  19. You are one fortunate lady to live where you do and have nature living with you.

    I remember, in our last house, we had a simple fireplace and it brought us such comfort and joy. Reading your experiences, I can get a taste of what it is like, from that plain ole fireplace.

    Enjoy it.

  20. Katy ~ says:

    Penny, this post stirs up a lot of feelings of nostalgia for a time I never knew. I have to agree, it must be the primal urge to cook and huddle near an open fire, a time of communing and community. Your meal looks fantastic. LOVE it!

  21. EOlivas says:

    I love your kitchen! and wonderful pics of the meal, it’s inviting.


  22. I love this! Super cool! Perfect man toy and the result looks wonderful!

  23. Barbara says:

    I’ve rewritten this comment three times, Penny. I don’t know what my problem is today! I am way too serious regarding storms and backup plans.

    So I am just going to say I love your spider and hearth cooking looks fun and delicious.

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