I love a campfire, and in my experience, so do kids (marshmallows at the ready).
It can be tempting to stay in and forsake the outdoors during this inclement month, I know that’s what I do most of the time, but nature always rewards you for bracing the cold. Whether it’s a genial robin coming in close to sing you a song or just an invigorating blast of fresh air, nature lifts your mood.
There are bound to be a few bits of wood around that need burning, if not you can always use some of the left-over fuel from summer barbecues. You can make a home-made brazier using the shell of a BBQ if you don’t have a purpose built one, or make a fire pit on bare ground (ensure there are no roots or vegetation underneath that could catch fire).
When enjoying the satisfaction of a bit of impromptu outdoor warmth and being careful to keep little ones safe, you can make double use of the heat by using it to cook some grub.
A seasonal snack
Sweet chestnuts – This is an iconic traditional foodstuff to cook at Christmas especially on an open fire. The sweet chestnuts in your local woodland have probably been harvested by wildlife, but they're available in most supermarkets at this time of year.
Get these going when the flames are starting to die down and there's a nice bed of embers, use a shelf from the oven propped up flat or simply put them in a frying pan resting on the burning logs. Be sure to pierce the skin first to stop them exploding.
Here's a video from my garden and the hands of a reluctant assistant to demonstrate the fruits of my labours:
Cooking up a feast
If you want to go a bit further and cook your tea outside. Here are some of my favourite, very simple but oddly delicious suggestions for bonfire cookery.
Jacket – Wrap your potato in tin foil and put it in the embers. About 30-40 mins should do it, depending on the heat of the fire. Sweet potatoes work well too but take about ten mins less.
Giant mushrooms – Turn them stem up and put slices of cheese over the gills. Wrap them in foil and stick them in the embers, 5-7 mins.
Sweet peppers – This is one you can cook in the flames. Put them in direct contact with the fire without the tin-foil. Keep turning them until the skin is pretty much black all over. Take them out, leave them to rest for a few mins then wash the skin off under the tap. This leaves lovely sweet, well cooked pepper. Best sliced and put in salad.
Bananas - Cook in the same way as the chestnuts until the skin is black. Have on their own or with ice-cream for a simple and delicious pudding.
These are just ideas, but I hope this has inspired you to try your own bonfire bits and enjoy this evocative and novel cooking experience.
More on sweet chestnut
Sweet chestnut leaves in autumn by Steve Slater Flickr CC
This attractive tree was brought over by the Romans, it was so useful as a back up source of food in places where other crops wouldn't grow, they were planted all over the Empire. Sweet chestnuts can simply be roasted (as above) or be ground into a sort of flour. Apparently Roman soldiers used to eat a porridge made from them before going into battle.
This tree originates from southern Europe where its nuts have been an important part of the diet and culture. In Corsica, sweet chestnuts were once used as currency and are still used in the local cuisine and to make beer.
Its wood also makes great timber for building too, and as living proof it was used as a core material in some of the most popular Grand Designs.
Although sometimes lumped in with the conker tree AKA horse chestnut, sweet chestnut is actually more closely related to our native beech. It's been here for hundreds of years now so is 'naturalised', meaning it's sort of an honorary native. Sweet chestnuts nuts are eaten by squirrels and jays both of which bury them or store them in a cache in autumn as a supply of food for the winter.
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