On Fire

A (Controlled) Fire


Happy New Year. Aunt Linda here this January 1st, to celebrate transformational fire.

When do you cook or bake with fire?  Like so much in life we can take fire, and it’s transformative power, for granted.

A recent National Geographic article, A Brief History of Cooking With Fire,  is thought provoking. In it Rebecca Rupp, introduces us to Harvard anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham, whose 2009 book Catching Fire; How cooking Made Us Human, suggests that the control of fire and the discovery of cooking may account for the dramatic changes in our ancestors physiology (reduction of large gut to a smaller one, and an increase in brain size). I encourage you to explore this on your own and come to your own conclusions. My personal  recommendation is Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, COOKED for a thorough and insightful perspective.

It is clear that fire was of critical importance to our ancestors. Rupp, in her article ) link below for full article,  writes:  ” Otzi, the 5000-year-old Iceman discovered in 1991 by hikers in the Italian Alps, cautiously carried his fire along with him, in the form of embers wrapped in maple leaves and stored in a birchbark box. As back-up, he was also equipped with a fire-starting kit, consisting of iron pyrites, flint, and tinder fungus. The Neolithic technique seems to have involved grinding the fungus until it was fine and fluffy, then piling it in a mollusk shell, and striking sparks with the flint and pyrite until the tinder ignited.” SEE: http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/02/a-brief-history-of-cooking-with-fire/

To return from our 5000 year old Otzi,  (who you can meet yourself in a small museum in the Alps; he is not the sole property of science, but available to all of us. I know this because I have seen him),  to January 1st, 2016, I encourage you to see fire with fresh eyes.

IMG_0882 (1)

Cooking empanadas with fire/embers above and below


This humble way of cooking requires a very sophisticated understanding of fire , embers, and heat. How cold or warm the ambient temperature around the oven is, affects the baking of the holiday cookies and empanadas.


Baking with fire also requires heat tolerance. The smoke imparts a flavor that I adore. It warms twice, once upon baking, then upon eating.


We cooked/baked into the night. As the temperature drops outside, the embers kept us warm.



We built this simple grill with a grate and some brick in the back yard. Marinated zucchini is steaming in the foil.



This is the same grill as the photo above, you can see that works well for vegetarians, meat eaters, or the general omnivore.


You do not need a hearth or grill like the ones above. You can use a fireplace to roast  marsh mellow for smores, or hot dogs (meat or vegan) or even wrap potatoes in foil and bake in the embers.


If you explore more about the nutrition of cooked food, youmay be surprised at how nutritious it is. One example: 90% of a cooked egg is digested; only 65% of a raw egg is digested. See footnote page 61, of COOKED.


This was sent by T who posted a comment but could not post the fire photo that she was “ignited” by – so here it is. (I could not figure out how to get it larger). Taken January 2nd, 2016. Thanks for your enthusiasm T!


Thank you!



Note: Last night, at New Years Eve dinner, the ceramicists at the table reminded me that clay needs fire to bake, as well. Good point! The making of pots, whether ancient or modern, functional or decorative, requires fires’ transformative quality to go from a raw to fired state.

There is a beautiful 20 minute video of Maria Martinez, of San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM which includes her building a firing mound/kiln. It was shot in 1972, when Maria was in her mid 80’s.  I include it here, though I know most modern folk wont have the patience for it. The reverence it shows, is an inspiration for me personally.

Maria Martinez: Indian Pottery of San Ildefonso (Documentary, 1972

8 thoughts on “On Fire

  1. What a nice post! I love the idea of enjoying a night outside in simplicity. Black bean burgers, grilled zucchini and bread cooking on the stove, then sitting back and enjoying the warm fire and night sky as the sun sets. Beautiful:) !


  2. Marvelous writing – I always look forward to your posts. As one who’s cooked/baked a lot in fires and wood stoves, it’s always interesting to see how someone has rigged their set-up. But beyond that, I appreciate your bringing the word “transformation” into the conversation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we say that “digestive fire” within the gut has to be adequate to digest well – and you give a companion illustration of why cooked food benefits our assimilation of nutrients – at some level, what cooking’s all about – one transformation after another. Macro and micro. 😉

    I will be one of those happy to watch the video of Maria Martinez. thanks! Have a blessed new year.


    • Christy – what a delightful comment! Thank you ! I almost delved into TCM, but I am no expert, so I am glad that YOU (expert that you are) did! I am glad that you got” the transformation theme – that was indeed my intention.
      Have a wonderful New Year as well!


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