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The Open Fire Henry van Dyke

The Cooking-Fire

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Of course such a fire as I have been describing can be used for cooking, when it has burned down a little, and there is a bed of hot embers in front of the backlog. But a correct kitchen fire should be constructed after another fashion. What you want now is not blaze, but heat, and that not diffused, but concentrated. You must be able to get close to your fire without burning your boots or scorching your face.

If you have time and the material, make a fireplace of big stones. But not of granite, for that will split with the heat, and perhaps fly in your face.

If you are in a hurry and there are no suitable stones at hand, lay two good logs nearly parallel with each other, a foot or so apart, and build your fire between them. For a cooking-fire, use split wood in short sticks. Let the first supply burn to glowing coals before you begin. A frying-pan that is lukewarm one minute and red-hot the next is the abomination of desolation. If you want black toast, have it made before a fresh, sputtering, blazing heap of wood.

In fires, as in men, an excess of energy is a lack of usefulness. The best work is done without many sparks. Just enough is the right kind of a fire and a feast.

To know how to cook is not a very elegant accomplishment. Yet there are times and seasons when it seems to come in better than familiarity with the dead languages, or much skill upon the lute.

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You cannot always rely on your guides for a tasteful preparation of food. Many of them are ignorant of the difference between frying and broiling, and their notion of boiling a potato or a fish is to reduce it to a pulp. Now and then you find a man who has a natural inclination to the culinary art, and who does very well within familiar limits.

Old Edouard, the Montaignais Indian who cooked for my friends H. E. G. and C. S. D. last summer on the STE. MARGUERITE EN BAS, was such a man. But Edouard could not read, and the only way he could tell the nature of the canned provisions was by the pictures on the cans. If the picture was strange to him, there was no guessing what he would do with the contents of the can. He was capable of roasting strawberries, and serving green peas cold for dessert. One day a can of mullagatawny soup and a can of apricots were handed out to him simultaneously and without explanations. Edouard solved the problem by opening both cans and cooking them together. We had a new soup that day, MULLAGATAWNY AUX APRICOTS. It was not as bad as it sounds. It tasted somewhat like chutney.

The real reason why food that is cooked over an open fire tastes so good to us is because we are really hungry when we get it. The man who puts up provisions for camp has a great advantage over the dealers who must satisfy the pampered appetite of people in houses. I never can get any bacon in New York like that which I buy at a little shop in Quebec to take into the woods. If I ever set up in the grocery business, I shall try to get a good trade among anglers. It will be easy to please my customers.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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