Friday, September 9, 2016

Cooking Outdoors

Nothing enables a vigorous stir-fry like working in the open air.

I spent a number of months preparing meals on the porch of a modest cabin. The wall to the left of the entry was lined with open shelves. To the right was a short length of L-shaped Formica-covered counter with a sink that faced a pleasant view. The view wall was glazed to fend off the wind, and the whole arrangement sat under an extension of the simple roof line.

I turned out many meals for twenty on my favorite stove ever, an expedition-sized Primus field stove. If parts were easier to come by, I'd still be using it on my own back porch. When the weather was clear, I shifted the stove to a Forest Service-style picnic table that stood nearby. 

An Olympic peninsula log cabin from the early twentieth century heyday of the timber industry based its kitchen on the same concept. The porch was a milled wood lean-to attached over the entry door. The house was a year-round residence, and the porch was enclosed and glazed on the road and driveway sides. A charming nineteenth century door with ornamental frosted glass and a lock that a field mouse could pick attested to local security conditions.

On this porch, a wall of coat hooks stood to the right of the inner door, and an enameled cast-iron wood stove took pride of place under a double-hung window on the log wall of the main room of the cabin. The climate in this small part of the state is bitterly cold and damp in the winter. Fired up, the stove dried field clothing while it cooked stew and held a pot of coffee ready for a returning logger. Although it was the essence of elegance, the arrangement was not gracious living: it was essential for survival in a remote area where the nearest medical facility is an hour away unless the road is iced up. See Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion" for details on the lifestyle.

The outer windows and door of this kitchen could be opened to clear the air, while the upper sash over the stove could be opened to warm the main room. A massive field stone hearth anchored one wall of the cabin. No doubt it was the original cooking place and could serve as a spot to grill meat.

Today, most of my cooking happens on the back porch, where light breezes carry fumes away from the kitchen more effectively than the fan. I use semi-automated small appliances for long simmers and a portable oven for baking. Years can pass between washings of the walls and cupboards.  -30-

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