I imagine, fires have always attracted humans and inspired them to gather round. From thoughts of cave dwellers roasting game communally to visions of hobos surrounding old kettledrums for warmth, there has always been an element in mankind that loves to share a fire.
Tavern hearths of old, drew folks like magnets. Storytellers met at gypsy fires to spin ancient tales. Remember the pictures of the proverbial old men around the potbelly stove in the general store, puffing away on corncob pipes?
Have you noticed the proliferation of chimineas and fire pits commercially available recently? Something for nearly everyone it seems.
At our home at Thanksgiving, we usually have a crowd. It’s a time for friends and family to join and celebrate being together and good harvest food. It’s autumn tradition at its finest. There are never too many of us on that holiday and there’s always an extra chair and plate.
Even though we move furniture in other rooms, out of the way to accommodate lots of folks, it seems the old cast iron cook stove in the kitchen is where everyone wants to congregate. It doesn’t deter anyone, that the kitchen’s the busiest place in the house or the hottest. It’s just where people want to be, only instinct I think. And once there’s a crowd around that stove, it’s almost like a cacoon has formed. The occupants share memories and stories of old, oblivious to the chaos surrounding them.
There’s something nearly hypnotic about the scent of a wood fire in the evening air.It’s deeply ingrained in our natures it seems, to pull up to the fire. We are drawn like moths to the flame, no pun intended.
Home is where the hearth is.
When we moved to our present home, we did a lot of digging and other earth moving to accommodate plants and structural things. In the process, we dug up many old bricks, apparently used as fill in various areas of the yard over the years. We made a pile and in time there was enough for a project I’d been planning.
We had some concrete blocks left from another venture and combined with the bricks; we were able to construct a mortar-free outdoor fireplace. We had some old racks from a discarded electric stove (my father long ago warned me never to use old refrigerator shelves as they emit a toxic substance when heated) that fit inside nicely. I wanted a fireplace that could be enjoyable to sit around as well as practical for cooking on and in. It is both. And thanks to the brick, it’s not an eyesore either.
Our outdoor fireplace is a handy place to burn old branches that come down in storms and pieces of the occasional tree that must sadly be removed for one reason or another. It makes a painful process like tree removal, into something with a sense of giving back, not just a loss. I hate so see anything go to waste.
When there’s a tang in the air in autumn but it’s not yet cold enough to start a fire inside, it’s very comforting to start a fire outside and enjoy the warmth for an hour or two. In the spring when the stars are falling from the sky, there’s no more pleasant way to spend an evening than gazing upwards and tossing on an occasional log to keep the flames dancing and the damp away.
In summer, when the fire’s been burning for a while, and coals are glowing, it’s time to grill chicken or other main dishes on the racks. Potatoes and corn, soaked first and well wrapped in foil, roast to a wonderful smoked sweetness when nestled into the coals. Such a meal brings a sense of satisfying pioneer-like accomplishment when cooked entirely outdoors. The perfect ending is s’mores with the marshmallows roasted to a golden crispness without, and a molten smoothness within. Paired with dark chocolate bar squares and graham crackers, it transports me back to childhood.
It’s interesting, when there’s a group around the fire, how much reminiscing goes on.
It’s the latent storyteller in us all I think, inspired by the primal combination of fire and companionship, we reach beyond ourselves to share more than the fire.
Home truly is where the hearth is.