Thursday, October 25, 2007

Le Menu

Here it is. Yet another masterpiece from Camp Cookie and The Pot Wrassler. All we have to do is get them to the gravel bar with a few hours of daylight left to start a kitchen fire.

The kitchen fire is an art:

Goodbye to a River, pp. 163-164

Wood . . . I went roaming with the honed ax among the piles of drift, searching out solid timber. Bleached and unbarked as much of it is, you have a hard time seeing what it may be, but a two-lick notch with the ax usually bares its grain enough to name it. Cottonwood and willow slice soft and white before the first blow, and unless you're hard up you move on to try your luck on another piece; they're not serious fuel:

The fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burnt. Is it meet for any work?

But the river is prodigal of its trees, and better stuff is usually near.

If food is to sit in the fire's smoke as it cooks, any of the elms will give it a bad taste, though they last and give good heat. Cedar's oil eats up its wood in no time, and stinks food, too, but the tinge of it on the air after supper is worth smelling if you want to cut a stick or so of it just for that. Rockhard bodark - Osage orange if you want; bois d'arc if you're etymological - sears a savory crust on meat and burns a long time, if you don't mind losing a flake out of your ax's edge when you hit it wrong. For that matter, not much of it grows close enough to the river to become drift. Nor does much mesquite - a pasture tree and the only thing a conscientious Mexican cook will barbecue kid over. Ash is all right but, as dry drift anyhow, burns fast. The white oaks are prime, the red oaks less so, and one of the finest of aromatic fuels is a twisted, wave-grained branch of live oak, common in the limestone country farther down the river.

Maybe though, the nutwoods are best and sweetest, kind to food and long in their burning. In the third tangle I nicked a huge branch of walnut, purple-brown an inch inside its sapwood's whitened skin. It rots slowly; this piece was sound enough for furniture making - straight-grained enough, too, for that matter. I chopped it into long pieces. The swing and the chocking bite of the ax were pleasant; the pup chased chips as they flew, and I kept cutting until I had twice as many billets as I would need. Then I stacked them for later hauling and went to camp to use up the afternoon puttering with broken tent loops and ripped tarps and sprung hinges on boxes, throwing sticks for the passenger, looking in a book for the differences among small finches, airing my bed, sweeping with a willow branch the sandy gravel all through a camp I'd leave the next day . . . .

But the social fire is performance art:

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