Inspired by having to prepare and cook meals in basic conditions on an open fire whilst on family camping excursions, university field trips or extended house building periods – this latter on Bruny during the construction of the shack and the boathouse – the importance of a good fire has always been evident as a necessary agent to create a successful meal, provide warmth, keep the mossies at bay and create a congenial social environment for family and friends.
Food is all about family – about sharing, generosity, celebration and sorrow. Nicole Mones uses a good line in her boook The Last Chinese Chef’ – that great food should never be taken alone. The height of great cuisine is therefore neither the eating or the cooking, but the giving and sharing of food.
Both food and pots require fire, which is the ultra living element. Fire is intimate and universal – rising from the deep to offer its warmth, or descending back to the depths as a latent force, pent up with wrath and vengeance.
In Gaston Bachelard’s book The Psychoanalysis Of Fire, Bachelard cites fire as the one phenomena ‘to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell.’ Hardly surprising then that in many mythologies, fire appears both as a creative, cleansing force, as well as a destructive and punitive one.
So vital has fire been to the development of mankind, that fire ecology is linked directly with human ecology – fire was to change the raw into the cooked, the poisonous to the palatable and marked humanity’s transition from nature to culture. Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire believes that ‘one of the great transitions for humanity in the history of life stemmed from the control of fire and the advent of cooked meals’.
Despite our obsession with food and our dependence on heat to transform and make palatable those staples required to sustain life, contemporary western civilization has lost sight of fire itself. Many a new home for example, has been constructed without the need for a kitchen (thanks to pre-prepared meals, a plethora of restaurants and the take-away) and home heating has become so discreet as to be untraceable.
The open hearth no longer represents the heart of the home, and to many of us, the naked flame has been designated to distant memory.
Till now. The following stories attempt to reclaim the fun of fire through playing with clay……..