I Learnt At An Early Age The Art Of Lighting A Real Fire And How To Keep It Burning

Charcoal BBQ

When I was a lad I became part of the Cub Scouts at the age of 8, and at 10 I went on my first camp as part of the preparation for promotion to the Scouts the following year. It was an eye-opener, I loved it and the best bit was that the site we went to, which wasn’t a long way from home but far enough away to appear remote and exotic, allowed open fires to be build by each tent.

The initial thing we had to do was to dig a large hole, a job for the junior campers, obviously, and then we had to go down into the woods to hunt around the surroundings for wood and other suitably burnable material to make the pyre. We were permitted to use matches (I can still hear Baden-Powell’s teeth gnashing) but nothing else and the cubs were delegated the job of trying to light it.

Naturally we just lobbed everything in and set about going through the matches we were provided with with no success at all, at which point the patrol leader (scout troops are split into patrols with a leader and an assistant) cleared everything away and showed us how to make a little pile of twigs and sticks which were stuffed with paper and other quick firing materials. The match was lit and as the fire took hold of the wood, bigger sticks were applied and the flames fanned quickly and that was it. Following that we were able to keep the fire burning for the whole weekend. We used it for boiling water for drinking and washing up but best of all, when it burnt down low, we put grills over it and cooked on it.

It was the first time I’d experienced a barbeque which these days sounds a bit silly, but in those days (in the mid 70’s) people didn’t really do cooking in the open air.

We were quite ahead of the game as soon after the camp, my dad had gone to America for the first time and had come back from California where he’d been invited to someone’s house for a weekend and they’d had a party which was focused around a charcoal barbeque.

Freshly enthused, it didn’t take long after he returned that he went and found one to buy, which was not an easy thing to do as they weren’t widely stocked and you couldn’t search for them via the Internet. But he got one, a charcoal barbeque in a particularly horrible shade of orange that was in vogue in the seventies, and with great pomp we built it in the garden. As the newly experienced fire starter, I was delegated with the task of getting the fire going and so began our first family barbeque.

It was used for many years as the charcoal barbeque was the only option, the variety came in terms of size and shape. They were all the same in terms of being essentially a rectangular pot on legs with slots for putting the grill across the top. Most didn’t even have a top but they did work as long as you could get the fire started in the first place. And that wasn’t easy because petrol stations didn’t have bags of coals, and the coals you could buy weren’t treated to make them easy to light or come in a bag that you put a match to. It all had to be done correctly using either heating coal or wood. You could get firelighters but the challenge with them was that they could linger and very often if one used too many, it could get into the smoke and spoil the taste of the food.

In later years, the old faithful charcoal barbeque was replaced, superseded with a gas version but it opened our eyes to the subject of cooking outside and we retained a little portable barbeque for picnics.

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