Bucket List #3

Metal Bucket

This is a galvanized bucket.  Light and portable and fairly sturdy.  The real benefit of this bucket it its ability not to melt if you put some hot ashes into it by accident.

You can carry coal into the sitting room for your fire in this bucket, so it doubles as a coal scuttle.  In the morning you can clean out the ashes in your grate.  Sometimes when you think the ashes are cold there are a couple of hot coals hiding in there just waiting for their chance to heat up again.  The disturbance  of cleaning out the fireplace gives them air, and they heat up again.  Anyone who has used a plastic bucket to clean out fires has come across this problem.  With this metal bucket you have no such worries.

I grew up in a house without a fire.  I suppose my parents were being ultra modern, rejecting the primitive technologies of the past.  When they built our house in Pinewood in 1966 they installed a piped gas fueled hot air ventilation heating system.  This is called a ducted warm air heating system.  Underfloor ducting carries the heated air around the house and blows it out through floor ventilators.  Instead of standing in front of a fire to warm up in winter we would sit on the ventilator.

Before going to bed as kids we would hold our pajamas over the vents and the air would blow them up and warm them.

Growing up in a house with no fireplaces has advantages.  We had the use of all four walls in every room.  We did not have to set and clean fires.  We did not have the need to clean chimneys and the problem of dealing with ash.

On the down side a fire is a very powerfully comforting feature.  There is a love of the fire programmed into our human DNA.  Mastery of the fire appears to be the skill that set man apart from all other animals.

Heat:  The fire gives you warmth.  Having a fire to keep them warm enabled humans to inhabit alpine and tundra environments.  The ability to exploit a wider range of environments helped the spread of humans and protected the species from local famines and disasters.

Safety:  Most animals fear fire.  The ability to command fire gave humans an advantage over large and dangerous predators.  On a smaller scale the smoke from fires helps drive away biting insects, offering some protection from diseases such as malaria.  On a psychological level it provides a comforting illusion of safety, and sometimes that in itself is enough for people to get by.

Food:  Once you have a fire you also have the ability to cook.  Cooking food allows you to extract more energy from a given amount of raw ingredients.  In certain circumstances cooking converts something that is poisonous into an edible and nutritious food.  Boiling can make water safe to drink and has a sterilizing effect on foods.  This ability to convert food more safely and more efficiently gave man an important advantage over other animals.

Light:  As early cave art demonstrates, primitive man used the ability to command fire to explore dark caves that were inaccessible without some form of artificial light.  A torch or a camp fire extends the day and provides more time for activities that make life easier, such as sewing clothing, flint knapping, basket making etc.

Quality of life:  A fire is also a dynamic piece of furniture.  Fire is mutable, the flames dance and change.  Long before we had television families would sit and gaze into the fire, and talk and sing and recite.  Home is the hearth as the saying goes.

Now I live in an old house, built in the 1840’s.  Originally there would have been a fireplace in every room, including the bedrooms.  It was the only way to heat a home in those days.  Over the years the fires have been replaced by central heating, and there are radiators in every room.  The only fireplace that remains is in the sitting room.

The kitchen is the beating heart of our house.  It is a place of fun and energy, noise and bustle, where all the action happens.  At a certain stage in the evening you want to begin the process of winding down, cooling down mental energy, preparing for sleep.  This transition involves the family focus moving from the kitchen to the sitting room.  Like primitive hominids we retreat to our cave and light the fire.

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Home Made

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This jar contains some Chutney I made yesterday.  It is probably the most home made thing I have ever made.  It is a subtle blend of Ireland, Morocco and India, which would place it physically somewhere around Turkey.  Here is the recipe.

1. Plant Onions and Tomatoes in the Spring.

2.  Buy some organic un-waxed lemons some time around July.  Pickle the lemons in Salt and lemon juice with a selection of spices such as mustard seed, whole black pepper, coriander, cumin and whole red chiles.  There are lots of recipes for “Moroccan preserved lemon” on the internet.  I got mine from Casa Moro:  The second cookbook.  http://www.amazon.com/Casa-Moro-The-Second-Cookbook/dp/0091894492

3.  Harvest plums and apples from your garden.

4.  Buy 1 red chili, some white balsamic vinegar and some sugar.  ( we just don’t have the climate in Ireland to grow grapes for vinegar, cane for sugar, chilies and lemons).

5.  In a pot mix a good glug of the vinegar with sugar.  Fiddle with the proportions to your taste.  Some people like more vinegary pickle, I like it sweeter.

Chop up lots of bruised windfall cooking apples, discard the brown bits and use only firm fresh white apple.  Mix the apple well into the vinegar and sugar to stop it browning.

Add sliced onions from your garden, ditto sliced tomato – green is fine.  Add chopped plum, finely sliced fresh red chile.

Remove a lemon from your pickle jar, scrape off the flesh with a spoon, discard, and wash the skin well in fresh water.  Slice the skin finely and add to the chutney.

Add a good spoon of well ground Panchphoran. (this is an Indian 5 spice mix of onion seed, cumin, mustard seed, fenugreek and fennel which brings out vegetable flavours very well)

6.  Boil the chutney until the apple is pureé and then stick it in a sterilised jar.  (OK I didn’t make the jar either – but I reused an old one, so that is environmentally friendly)

The red chili gives this chutney a kick.  If you prefer mild chutney you can leave it out.

It got the ultimate vote of confidence from my 18 year old son who said, and I quote verbatim “well, it’s not completely disgusting“.  Children have such confidence in their parents culinary arts.

On a historical note, Chutney achieved fame because of the British Navy.  In the search for prophylactics against scurvy the British Navy experimented with various foodstuffs, many of them pickles such as sauerkraut (used by Captain Cook on his voyages to good effect).  Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries various foods and drinks were experimented with, including lime chutney and lime cordial.  In reality neither was effective in treatment of scurvy and it is the availability of fresh food that cures scurvy.  However, chutney gained in popularity among the British in the Caribbean,  in India and ultimately at home in England.  In the Victorian era fortunes were made in the production of sauces which owe their origin to chutney, such as Ketchup and Brown Sauce.