Fire Pit/Outdoor Hearth

Dutch oven and “Camp” Dutch oven in the Outdoor Hearth Hybrid

This mammoth version of a fire pit actually doubles as an outside hearth, which can be used like a similar arrangement in many colonial kitchens. The key to the set up is the crane from which that dutch oven is hanging.

A Multi-tasking Fire Pit

The crane, like those in colonial kitchen open hearth fireplaces, makes all the difference. The cook can’t immediately control the temperature of a wood fire, but they can control the amount of heat that reaches a pot, by swinging it from side to side, or raising and lowering it up and down via an s-hook. Additionally, the rebar grid at the bottom allows the cook to sit a dutch oven directly over the fire, as in the first photo.

The Holes Drilled in the Bottom are Not Visible

So there are at least three ways to cook here–on the fire, close to the fire, or swinging in the air. And if you just want to use it as a fire pit, the crane is on a hinge, and can swing completely behind the pit.

This was made from an old industrial grade propane tank, so it is recycled as well. An oak fell on it once, and I mean a big one, and it knocked the pit into the ground up to the top of the legs. The only damage was to bend the crane support slightly. We pulled it out of the ground, moved it, and I twisted the support slightly around, and put it back to work. Now that’s rustic.

Brick Oven Tools–Pizza Peels

Traditional Peel–Sort Of

Pizza peels are handy things, if you want to keep the hair from being burned off your arms. The one above is the traditional wooden variety. It was too short, so I added a handle made from a broken hickory axe handle, making this possibly the sturdiest peel in the world.

Metal Peel

These aluminum peels are popular in the pizza industry, and they are light, thin, and durable. Not as long as my wooden one, but can live outside at the brick oven. Note the straight, not curved, front, which makes it easier to scoop up a pie.

Round Peel

These little round peels are surprisingly useful. I use mine to move pizzas around inside the brick oven, though a welding glove is a good idea if you go that route.

Peels are also good inside the house, especially if you have a pizza brick of some kind. I use one of those giant Lodge cast iron pizza pans as a hearth, and turn up my oven as far as I dare. Wait a few minutes for it to reach temperature, then use a peel to throw a pizza on it. The results are surprisingly good. And, of course, bakers use these for sourdough loaves, and other concoctions.

Red Flour Paint

Red Flour Paint on Top of a Red Cabinet

Cook some paint! Or not, as this really doesn’t have to be cooked. Cooking changes the consistency of the starch used, so do some chemistry experiments, or just throw the ingredients into a jar and shake.

Ingredients

Flour (Rye or Wheat)

Water

Red Iron Oxide

Linseed Oil

I left off proportions, because everyone wants a different consistency with paint. Rye is the traditional choice for flour, but wheat is less expensive. Cook those with the water, then add the pigment–there are tons of natural pigments to choose from, and a very little goes a long ways. My advice is to stick with the mineral ones, as they are fade proof. I use food grade linseed oil for interior paint, and nasty boiled linseed oil for exterior paint. It just dries faster.

Once you get into the natural paint deal, you may never buy prepared paint again. To steal a comparison from Wendell Berry, it’s like the difference between real food and industrial food, industrial food being like industrial sex.

The Geese Who Ate Edna Henke’s Yard

My 6′ 7″ tall Baseball Manager Great Grandfather John W., My Grandfather Earnie, My Wife’s Grandfather Alfred, and Bill Henke, who couldn’t be bothered to look at the camera.

If it had not been for baseball, the New York Yankees, and good times down on the farm in Cullman, Alabama, Edna Henke, Bill Henke’s sister, would have not had her yard destroyed by my grandfather’s flock of Cotton Patch (weeder) geese. Strawberries, a raging bull, and German obscenities also have a role to play in this story of woman versus bull and bird.

So this whole thing started about a hundred years ago, when the New York Yankees tried to sign my shortstop playing grandfather to a major league baseball contract. It was a laughingly small offer, and my grandfather said no thanks–this is at the same time some Chicago White Sox players threw the World Series because they were so poorly paid–though my grandfather later would always say, “I could never play for a team called Yankees.”

My grandfather then became a hugely successful farmer, who grew two main crops–strawberries and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes practically grow by themselves. Strawberries need tons of labor, because they are small perennial plants that are easily crowded out by weeds. Hiring little old German ladies in the neighborhood to weed his strawberries became his main expense. That’s when he decided to replace his human labor with geese.

Edna Henke just happened to be one of those little old German ladies, and she wasn’t too pleased with the decision. She was even less pleased when my grandfather’s new flock of geese flew across the road from his strawberry field into her yard, ate every blade of grass in it, and then left her piles of souvenir droppings. She immediately decided to sue for damages.

There was one problem–she had no way of going to town to the lawyer’s office, as she had no vehicle. She put on her best “I’m going to town to sue somebody” dress anyway, and called my grandfather (he also owned the local phone company). She asked for a ride with him into Cullman, as she said she had some business to transact. My grandfather said, “Sure, why not. I’m going to town anyway.”

Edna high tailed it over toward my grandfather’s house, and took a short cut through his cow pasture. His prize bull didn’t much like that, and started chasing Edna. She escaped by climbing an oak tree that was in the middle of the pasture.

By now, Edna was sorely pissed off. Her yard had been eaten and crapped on by geese, and she had been chased and treed by a bull. My grandfather said he looked out his door, and saw her shaking her fist at the bull, and cursing a blue streak in German. My guess would be she said something like “Heilige fliegende kinderscheisse.” The polite translation of that would be, “Holy flying baby poop.”

After my grandfather fished her out of the tree, and they left for town, he asked Edna where she wanted to go.

Earnie: “Where do you want to go, Edna?”

Edna: “Lawyer’s.”

Earnie: “Why do you need to see the lawyer?”

Edna: “Sue you.”

My grandfather, silver tongued as usual, talked her out of it before they got close to the lawyers. He had her yard fixed, and sold most of the geese. A few of the worst offenders ended up in the pot. My guess would be that Edna got one or two for herself. Then he had to re-hire all his old workers, but eventually dumped strawberries in favor of growing watermelons, another low maintenance crop.

Moral of this story: I feel sorry for the geese.

Trangia 25–A Sustainable Outdoor Stove

Swedish Ingenuity

In my never ending quest for sustainable whatever, this one just about takes the prize. The Trangia “spirit” burner, which is the little brass thingy in the middle, will burn anything from denatured alcohol to Everclear. In short the fuel is completely renewable, especially as long as the world is populated by drinkers of bourbon.

A Kitchen in a Bag

And then it just disappears! Yes, all that stuff is in that little package. It may not be the hottest stove out there, but they are inexpensive enough to buy a couple or three, and they are still made in Sweden. Confession time–I own five Swedish made outdoor stoves.

I actually met the chief designer for the Optimus stove company, back when it was still Swedish owned, in Salt Lake City, of all places, at an outdoor trade show (I was in the industry). The young man asked me what stoves I used, and I told him I had three Optimus, and two Trangia. He was most impressed by the two Trangia, and took off on a typically European rant about Americans all being gear heads.

Stove Designer: “Every boy and girl scout in Sweden uses Trangia stoves. Here you give kids gas stoves that can explode. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

Technically, he was probably correct. If you can light a match, this stove is perfectly safe. Just don’t drink too much of the fuel.

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