It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age and in this new country, a value more permanent and universal than that of gold. After all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
One of the purposes of this blog is to explore how food can reconnect us with nature, and what better way to do it than to cook over a fire? Gathering wood from the surrounding area adds a dimension of intimacy, involving the body and senses in the process. It fosters an appreciation of the outdoors and the alchemy of natural materials.
Cutting and burning wood is an act of destruction used for creation. It creates heat to warm us and cook our food, light to drive away the dark, and homey, primal smells that lift the spirits: all with wood from trees that grew from the earth. The burning of wood was the first form of cooking, and smoke has historically been used to preserve food and keep away animals. How fortunate that smoke adds new flavors as well!
It’s been unseasonably cold here in Vermont, and the ground has long been covered with a hard rind of snow. The crisp, frigid evenings are perfect for fires of any kind, and condusive to grilling. On the property we have an abundance of versatile cherry wood, which lends a subtly sweet flavor to food. If “smoked” is wood’s flavor, then wood can be considered an ingredient in itself.
My partner and I have smoked many types of meat and vegetables over the years, but this weekend we tried something different: we experimented with cool smoking grass-fed beef liver. We used smoldering cherry wood and set the liver away from the heat so it would not begin to cook. The liver reddened beautifully from the smoke and we finished it with a sweet, charcoal-infused dry rub and a quick pan sear. It was one of those wild successes you never forget.
We recently purchased a hefty new charcoal grill with an attached smoker, a considerable upgrade from our trusty little Smokey Joe that has served us well on many beach days. We also got a metal fire pit to replace the older Smokey Joe we’d been cramming full of logs as a makeshift firepit. Many delicious smoked and grilled dishes are sure to follow.
Woodfire cooking, grilling, and smoking are solid ways to get hands-on experience with nature, and there is something spiritual about it that cooking indoors, in a kitchen, can’t match. What are you waiting for? Get out there and burn some wood!