Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Part Three, Recycled Fire Pit

The words Fire Pit and Outdoor Kitchen have become such a cliche when put together that CNN had one of their homepage top ten lists, just on Fire Pits, last week. Strangely, they left off my heavy steel pit in favor of a bunch that were made from sheet metal. It could be that because you have to be related to the guy who makes these in order to get one–I am.

My best estimate is that this was made from the end of a 150 gallon propane tank, as they are usually 30″ in diameter, as this is. The handles and rim are made of rebar, and the legs and cooking crane are heavy steel bar and pipe. The crane works like a crane found in Colonial kitchens, so this is made to cook.

How tough is this thingie? A dead and quite large oak tree blew over in a storm, and made a direct hit on this pit. The impact was so hard that the tree mashed the pit into the ground to the top of the legs. After I cut the tree off, the only damage was that it bent the crane slightly, which had no impact on the performance of the pit.

Further evidence that it was designed to be a fire pit and a cooking machine:

Great Grate

The rebar grate can be used to stack logs on, or sit a pot on, or taken out so the things can be cleaned or used only as a fire pit. Likewise, the crane has a swivel hinge which means it can be moved completely out of the way. or even taken off altogether.

I did drill four holes in the bottom for drainage and to add a little air circulation. I will drill more eventually, but drilling through this steel just about destroys a drill bit. At least the thing isn’t full of water and mosquito larvae. This state was originally nicknamed “The Yellow State” because of the prevalence of malaria. A case of that will definitely ruin your meal.

Woven White Oak Wood Baskets

A Complete Masterpiece

That’s a white oak basket, made by an elderly Black gentleman from Montgomery county, Alabama. We purchased this back in the 1980’s. The oak splints are finely split and woven. We honor his incomparable craftsmanship and legacy by storing all our veg seeds in it. No one else that we know has ever seen a hinged handle like that.

Another masterwork from an equally elderly Black gentleman named John Reeves, which we bought in the eighties in the town of Gay, Georgia (population: 92.).

Sturdy Basket

This thing could haul an orchard full of apples. However, it can’t touch our mac Daddy basket, when it comes to payload.

Quilt Heaven

That’s a cotton basket, once common everywhere in the South. I get to add that I am one of the last generation to pick cotton by hand. It would take a good long while to fill up this thing. Made in my home county of Cullman, Al.

My Handiwork

An earring rack for MJ to house just a few of her immense stash of earrings. It’s what to do with dead Mountain Laurel.

Cracking the Code on Tempera Paint

When the temps hit freezing here in the South, many people go into semi-hibernation. Not me–I’m as busy as a porcupine sticking spines into the mouth of a fox. I think I have a paint recipe that doesn’t require ten coats to cover something. It may take even only one.

New Tempera

2/3 cup Boiled Linseed Oil

1 Egg

1/3 cup Water

3 tablespoons Pigment

Mix them together in that order. The extra oil and pigment make this is a nice thick paint. I must have been channeling my hero Sandro Botticelli. My covid mask has a print of the Birth of Venus on it. Thus far, no one has objected to the nudity–on the mask, that is.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Three–The Storage Wars

This is how the Kitchen always Wins

The shelf under my baking bench was meant for baking equipment, but guess again. Three cast iron pots and a brass/ceramic beauty walked in and said–out of the way, jokers.

So we now have three Dutch ovens and a French/ American double boiler ruling the shelf. One Dutch oven is an eight quart Lodge model, and as heavy as a sea anchor. The other is a Franken Oven, made of a Dutch oven bottom and a skillet lid top. An old Creuset enameled Dutch oven hides in the back. The best, however, is the double boiler.

The Bazar Francais double boiler is a gem, with a French made copper body and a lining from Hall Pottery in the USA. I had a brain infarction, and decided today this would be perfect for keeping mulled wine hot during Xmas.

Wait, there’s still wall space.

Yes!

What, actual baking equipment? These dudes are serious. The cherry French style pin was made in Kentuck, and the bad mother Dogwood one made in my basement, though everyone thinks it is Walnut. I know Walnut, and this is no Walnut.

A fifty/fifty split. The pins are used more often than the interlopers. But I can’t get that mulled wine off of my mind.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Two–If the Preacher had not Fallen through the Porch, We would not have this Cupboard

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Seriously

I really wish I could make this stuff up, but Pastor Fiedler fell through this porch. Actually, these are just some of the surviving boards of the porch that the hefty pastor fell through. Read on.

Fiedler was one really funny pastor, and I witnessed his take down of one of MJ’s most repulsive in-laws–at a wedding, no less. With that said, he was also quite large, and he never once missed a free meal cooked by Agnes Olga, MJ’s mother. However, he almost missed one meal when he fell through the porch.

Background info. When MJ’s parents built their house, they did it right. Oak floors throughout, and even oak boards as the floor to the porch. To preserve the porch, they used green lead paint to keep it from rotting. Bad news–nothing will keep wood from rotting in this hot humid climate.

A couple of decades later, the fateful day arrived, and it could have been karma, as he was the first pastor of the church who could not speak German (the church was even founded by Col. Johannes Gottfried Cullman). Fiedler showed up as hungry as usual, but no lighter than before. He hit the one really weak board on the porch, and boom! Down he went, about three feet.

No harm was done to the man of God, but the porch received a death sentence. Here’s where I come in. I happened to be there while my in laws were tearing up the oak boards, and replacing them with cheap pressure treated pine. I asked them what they were going to do with them, and the answer was that they were going to be burned. There is nothing as healthy as burning boards painted with lead paint.

I offered to take a few boards off of their hands, and the result is above, a cabinet I made using only hand tools. I even saved some of the green paint. Hey, nostalgia, and a great story.

Fiesta Ware not Included

As my man Brecht wrote ( sorta plagiarizing Villon), where are the snows of yesteryear? I at least I saved a few of the oak boards.

Kitchen Invasion

What a Great Wall–Richard Nixon

It happens. This is not a kitchen intervention or a kitchen rescue, this is about when your kitchen begins to invade the rest of your house. We have at least three living spaces where the kitchen is slowly creeping in. I will mention two, but describe one in detail.

In detail–I made this dough bench intending that it be used strictly for bread making. The USA made maple butcher block top is oversized to accommodate clamped on tools–too bad it’s too thick for any of them that we have. Instead, I have a clamped down meat grinder, an Enterprise #22. Which leads to the four tasks this unit now performs.

Meat Grinding/Sausage Making

The #22 grinder is such a beast that it requires a bolted down installation. The clamp on version is much less common, and less useful. This will grind pounds of meat in a matter of minutes, and in a variety of grinding thicknesses/textures. It’s clamped on with a giant c-clamp.

The sausage making tools are stowed beneath the butcher block. Essentially, these consist of a sausage plate and three sausage stuffing tubes of different diameters to accommodate different sized casings. The world of sausage is infinite, and worth the trouble, for as Bismarck reportedly said “The less you know about how laws and sausages are made, the happier you are.” He was reffering to bought sausages and purchased politicians.

Wine Storage

It’s far better to have good drinkable wine than fancy wine storage. Jacques Pepin once showed off his homemade wine storage, and it was essentially plywood boxes in his basement.

Our little portable rack is all we need, what with our regular trips to the good wine selection at our local Publix supermarket. Most of our wine is Italian, French, or German, as all three countries have strict wine regulations.

Pecan Cracker

An antique but portable item, this old pecan cracker that belonged to MJ’s grandparents has a definite 1900 industrial look. The only thing it won’t crack are hickory nuts, but I have a 23 ounce framing hammer for those. Not too many people have a Pecan cracker in their living room, but sometimes nuts need to be cracked.

Dough Station

And it sometimes is even used for what it was intended! Everything ensconced on the top can be removed quickly. If I am making my usual Creole French bread, there is not even the need to do that. Even the French baguette pan is housed directly under the butcher block top.

The last two invasions: our dining room literally has an entire wall covered with dishes and glassware. Even the bookcase next to the dough bench is being invaded, as it is now 1/8 food books. In amongst my two first edition works by Henry James are food autobiographies by Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and Barbara Kingsolver, and sausage making books, which are handy for task #1. I should also add that MJ’s corporate home office is overseen by two shelves of cookbooks, stacked in various configurations, one of which is a strong 19″ high.

And then there is the rolling pin hanging on the wall, which is soon to be joined by another. Every living room needs a couple of those.

Food Safe Wood Finishes

Make it Shine

Instead of using toxic chemicals, I use finishes on wooden cooking utensils made from plants and bugs. This is great, as long as you don’t mind eating bug juice. Here are the four best, from right to left, Chinese style.

  1. Linseed Oil. Flaxseed oil, which is usually heat treated to decrease drying time. (That’s an old Elijah Craig bourbon bottle, by the way.) I use the brand Tried and True, who makes a great “Danish Oil,” which dries quickly. That big Walnut scoop turned that color with just one coat.
  2. Shellac. Essentially bug secretions which are dissolved in denatured alcohol. Comes in a variety of shades, and is easily homemade. Those two mason jars in the middle are dark amber and blonde, and made by yours truly. It leaves a very shiny finish.
  3. Wax Finishes. The most durable is Carnauba wax, which is what that Liberon turner’s wax is made from. The carver’s mallet on the end is covered in that wax, which gives it a good bit of shine. Beeswax polish is made from beeswax and a combination of either an oil and/or turpentine. Terps can be a little sketchy on cooking utensils, so I go with linseed oil.
  4. Nothing. My favorite finish, which is on most of my personal utensils. As woodworkers like to say, it’s free, and available everywhere. If you really cook, your wood will soak up a nice finish in no time.

As the great food writer Michael Pollan says, don’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce. The same goes for food safe wood finishes. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t put that finish on your spatula.

Making Kitchen Tools

Limitless Possibilities

Wooden kitchen tools can be made with just a few carving tools, or you can go in whole hog like I have done, and have a dozen or more tools to use. After all, the person who dies with the most tools, wins. Even though you’re still dead.

The bottom one, painted with some homemade iron oxide Swedish Red paint, is a traditional Swedish butter knife, though we mostly use those as jam spreaders. Multi-tasking is fine.

The middle one is my version of a butter knife, made from walnut. The finish is blonde shellac, which I also made, with the help of the bugs who laid the resin.

The spoon at the top is also walnut, with a food grade linseed oil finish. I made the distinction between the heartwood and sap wood part of the design. It came out nicely.

This is just part of a large set I am making for in-laws, as they gave me a stack of logs. MJ also has a niece who is renovating a house, and has a kitchen with nothing in it. That won’t last much longer.

Time to give a shout out to a great US tool company. Flexcut tools in PA make some great carving tools. These would have been much harder to make without their tools.

The folding carving knife was a present from MJ, and it has two blades of different lengths, but it insures her that she will have spoons and spatulas for life. The small drawknife is a recent purchase, but I used it on all those items in the picture. That honking giant bowl gouge took some time to find, and naturally it was being sold by my favorite woodworking store in Atlanta, Highland Woodworking. It’s a full 2″ wide on the business end, and will take out a serious chunk of wood. Bowl carving is in the near future.

Mallet, Part I–Dogwood Root Club

Seriously Hard and Dangerous

At the University of Alabama, I lived at the Men’s Honors Dorm, a somewhat notorious institution called the Mallet Assembly. It was home for everything from high minded intellectuals to infamous perverts. I prefer to think that I was in the former category.

So now I have undertaken several projects of making mallets. My first is every traditional woodworker’s dream, a splitting club ( aka, a maul), made from unbelievably hard dogwood root. The club is used to strike the back of a froe (pictured), which is a wood splitting tool. Mine happened to be made by the Amish.

One of our many thunderstorms this year blew over one of our big dogwood trees, and actually uprooted it. All I had to do was cut the root off with my old double bitted axe, and shape it right there on my shaving horse (also pictured), with a drawknife and a spokeshave. This club is full of heavyosity.

The first trial run was that piece of walnut, which it split with only four whacks. The second run was on some hornbeam, which is impossible to split. I did it anyway–after cutting through ninety five percent of the hornbeam log.

Cookbook Bench

Let’s Cook

MJ wanted a bookstand for our cookbooks that can be moved around in the kitchen, so I dove into my scrap pile and came up with some goodies. My total cost for new components for this stand was 9 1/2 cents.

Most people make these out of plywood, but I had some 1/4″ thick poplar boards in the scrap pile, along with some cherry pieces parts, and I made just a very few saw cuts. The molding on the front is actually some crown molding, which I grooved with an old Stanley 45 combination plane. I used the same plane to cut the bead at the top.

My contribution to the design was to drill eight holes in the base, and use handmade French nails as a means of keeping the books open. There are actually sixteen possible arrangements for the nails, to accommodate different sized books.

Because there are three different varieties of wood used, I finished it with a dark amber shellac, which was also made by yours truly. I did have some help from the lac bugs, which is where shellac comes from. It is also used in making candy like Raisinettes and Jelly Beans, so there is another food connection. I doubt that people who eat those even know that they are eating bug parts.

That’s it in action with one of my favorite cookbooks. You have to like a book that has both a cow and chicken on the cover.