Thursday, October 12, 2017

Outdoor Wood-Fire Cooking ~ Proverbs 31 Preparedness Series

"Nobody knows what will happen," Pa said. "Prepare for the worst and then you've some grounds to hope for the best, that's all you can do."
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie

Welcome to another edition of our Proverbs 31 Preparedness Series! One important aspect of preparedness is knowing how to feed your family creatively without electricity and gas should the need ever arise. The neat part about this is that it can be practiced now and it may even be quite enjoyable to have these little outdoor cooking excursions. What better fun is a campout in your own backyard? A friend from Down Under does this often and so I asked her to share some of her outdoor wood-fire cooking experiences with us! Without further adieu, may I present (in her own words and photographs) some practical information and inspiration by the kind Rachel Holt of Australia -- (I can just imagine her sweet Aussie accent as I read this!):

'Little Green Lemon Jam'! It's gently flavoursome, and can be cooked and preserved - via hot water bath - using the heat of, mainly, sticks on a simple outdoor fire! 

Allow me to escort you through the beauty of basic outdoor woodfired cooking. I will show you the simple set-up in use at our place, along with instructions for beginners. Further, I'd like to explore cooking possibilities, and push the boundaries in regards to making practical use of the energy produced by an outdoor woodfire.

Now, let's begin by finding any camping gear, tucked away, that may be suitable for outdoor woodfired cooking! I have had this little stainless steel, lidded cooking set for years, and it is the smallest piece that cooks the fastest! They are wonderful for frying eggs, making any variation of French toast, steam-roasting pumpkin for inclusion in pumpkin bread, cooking the minced/ground beef for a 'steak sandwich', and making gravy and sauces. They do bend temporarily with high heat, but are otherwise durable and easy to care for. (That is a jar of my 'baking berries' shown. Actually, I have many jars of them! They are mulberries, cooked last year on our outdoor woodfire. There they were sweetened a little, and thickened with what we Australians call cornflour. Maybe Americans call it corn starch? Once ladled into jars, they were then hot water bathed in an olive oil can over a gas flame, for convenience. Take a look at this batch...)

I have also kept a stainless steel billy can for many years. It has a small insert which sits in the top, and the billy can thus be used as a double boiler. I like to make a small quantity of cheese sauce using the insert on its own. You will see this billy soon!

Further, I have my long-time 'Eco Billy'. Here it is... Since it runs on leaves and sticks, it also fits into the outdoor woodfired cooking theme, and it is very useful for heating water as a contained fire!

Now let me introduce you to our basic outdoor woodfired cooking set-up...

Dad found this old cast iron barbecue plate. Although we do not barbecue on it, the cast iron makes it ideal for conducting heat through to the cooking! If one is interested in making good use of the heat from even a small wood fire, the lesson of cast iron is a good one to learn. This is a 'making do' set-up, using old steel fence pickets for the frame. Options are numerous. Just don't use river rocks that, I have read, can explode!

Beginners can see that it is important to BUILD a fire. Starting with newspaper, loosely scrunched, fine kindling is used first, with gradually larger sticks being added. So as not to smother the flame, sticks are placed in one direction for the first layer, then across the first sticks for the second layer. Alternatively, a tipi shape can be built! Most of my outdoor woodfired cooking is done using just large sticks. This we call 'quick heat'!

Here is my current work table. It shows two of my most important cooking tools - the camping handle for lifting hot cups, plates (cum lids) and camping cook wear; and egg rings - for sitting cooking pots on for slow cooking! The nylon egg lifter is for use with enamelled cast iron ware, to prevent damage to the enamelled surface.

Trees are useful for hanging dry towels/oven mitts for lifting hot pots, and for holding a wooden spoon!

In 'make do' style, I will be using odd pieces of sheet metal for wind protection around the sides of the cast iron plate. At one stage, a rather rugged piece will serve as a lid. This is the Aussie way!!

Now let's cook a hearty outdoor woodfired meal, and, for those new to cast iron, I will introduce you to French ovens - which are enamelled variations of Dutch ovens, and wonderful for picking up heat, even that from a weak fire!

Here is our hearty stew, the minced/ground beef hidden under an assortment of flavoursome vegetables and herbs. The thing is not to shock cast iron with extreme changes in temperature. In this case, the cold French oven will begin on the cold barbecue plate. This is good. Having water or oil/butter inside also helps balance the temperature of the pot. Alternatively, if the fire is already going, I would first sit the French oven on egg rings, over a cooler part of the fire, for a few minutes or until the French oven is hot and ready to sit down on the cooking surface.

Once steam is being released from under the lid, the French oven is ready to go into slower cooking mode - that is, up on egg rings*. This stew takes only twenty minutes to cook, after which time it is nice to add herb dumplings (I used fresh basil) to cook. Finally, the stew is thickened with a mixture of cornflour/corn starch and water.

*Note from JES: U.S. readers can use canning rings for the same result! :)

The stew can be served on toast, made by placing bread across egg rings over a considerably hot part of the cooking plate, like this...

Now, French ovens are an investment, which we afforded over a decade by buying at sales of at least forty percent reduction in price. These days, online purchases offer considerable value. Le Creuset is the first brand of French oven we bought. They are quality ovens, and do a wonderful job. Food tastes so much better cooked this way. Mind you, the old orange Le Creuset shown below is responsible for extra wonderful flavour, on account of the steam vent in the lid! (There's the billy can!!)

It cooked these potatoes to serve with pre-cooked meat and gravy made from Aussie Mite!

This red multi-function pot is also a Le Creuset, and very useful!

Chasseur is the second brand of French oven we bought. This gave better value for money. They use thicker cast iron, and are ahead in the aesthetics! The large, white French oven that I use for preserves is a Chasseur. (Just in case you're wondering, I found a recipe which calls for cooking the lemons whole to start a marmalade. I made my own version!)

Then there is the Staub French oven. It was an online purchase, and a good buy. It has a painted matte inside surface, with dimples under the lid to promote self-basting. I cook meat in this - roasts, corned beef, .... Apart from minced/ground beef, I tend to slow cook all meat in cast iron, even if it's a couple of lamb chops cooking in the steam on top of a winter barley soup. This way, the meat falls off the bone, and gelatine and nutrients collect in the meal being cooked! It is nutritious!

My outdoor woodfired cooking utilises a variety of other bits and pieces, too, and they each have their place.

An old oven rack, or cooling rack, makes wonderful 'tiger toast'!...

A kettle and tea strainer afford my husband his brew of tea, just as he likes it!!

An old aluminium saucepan, with only an inch of olive or rice bran oil can make superb hot potato chips! This way, once the oil is at 100 degrees Celsius/212 degrees Fahrenheit, the potato is added, and kept at this temperature until soft.

The oil bubbles up to cover the potato! 

I have found that I can then crisp up the potato by placing the saucepan directly onto the hot ashes (not coals!!)...

and they can crisp up into beautiful, sweet, roasted chips (at a reading of only 117 degrees Celsius/243 degrees Fahrenheit).

An olive oil can may contain simmering kitchen cloths...

...while an old-fashioned flat iron can be quite useful!

Even an op shop* sheepskin is proving useful. If I bring my billy of brown rice and water to steam, and then remove the billy from the fire and wrap it in a single layer of sheepskin, it will be beautifully cooked when I unwrap it a few hours later!

I intend to make an insulated billy bag for this purpose, using this sheepskin! This is what my trial looked like!....

*Note to U.S. Readers from JES: I believe an "op shop" is a second hand store. 

Now, what about cooking with the hot ashes? There are potatoes in their jackets (these ones were cooked indoors)...

I've tried breads, and am still working on that! A few hot ashes, and leaving overnight... gave these - the ones on the left of the pumpkin bread!...

Today, due to a delay, I had over-risen dough to work with. After time on the hot ashes, I had this light, dumpling-like... er... not what I had been aiming for!! It was supposed to be a plain artisan loaf, flanked by scrolls of 'little green lemon jam'.

But wait!! If I turn this over-risen dumpling up-side-down, I have this!... I find it delicious, and cut off the photo where I had tasted a bit! Yum!!

So, my dear readers, whilst outdoor woodfire cooking is a versatile occupation, it also requires that we be versatile users! Really, while the whole process is basic (even if challenging!), it is a wonderful option for beginners and experienced woodfire cooks, alike. I have shown you a little of my outdoor woodfired cooking world, and different ways in which I push boundaries to get more beauty from an outdoor wood-fire.

My woodfired cooking now moves indoors for the winter, where I can make another batch of beautiful 'little green lemon jam', and relish the efficiency of a sealed firebox!

Thank you Rachel for the variety of ideas and inspiration! There is much "food for thought" here!

Your homework for the month:
  • Prepare dinner outdoors a few nights each month (or more!) and see what you can make without using electricity and gas (i.e., without using your modern stove). 
Extra Credit:
  • Make up a few outdoor meal menus that your family would enjoy and add it to your Proverbs 31 Preparedness Binder. Make sure the ingredients you use are basic ones found in the pantry and/or garden in order to practice preparedness more honestly.
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  1. Dear Jes and Readers!!

    I thank my husband for introducing me to cooking in cast iron over a wood fire. He reminds me that his best winter lamb, vegetable and barley soups were made in his little old orange Le Creuset, with the steam vent in the lid! Also, the vegetables for this winter soup can be simply cut into chunks (rather than gratings!) & mashed with a nonscratch masher at the end of the cooking process!

    Yes, our 'op shops' are 'opportunity shops' - basically charitable thrift stores. I have also learnt that the USA has a quality 'Lodge' brand of Dutch ovens and other cast iron ware. Further, the care taken to prevent heat shock really pertains to the vitreous enamel coatings, rather than the cast iron, itself. The spun steel camp oven that I also use was made by Southern Metal Spinners in South Australia.

    On my ipad, here, half of the photos do not appear. I hope that you, readers, can see all the photos to complete the descriptions in the post!!

    Thank you, Jes! I am trusting that your time away is truly refreshing and restorative for your family!!

    Warm Regards,
    Rachel Holt

  2. I love this post!!
    Thank you for sharing :) What a lot of great information.

  3. I am so excited and proud of Rachel! She lives this so she knows what she is talking about. I also am missing a lot of the photos. I will see if this rectifies then post this everywhere and link to it on Monday. It is wonderful and valuable and we all need to be practicing these

  4. I love, love outdoor cooking, and this post is jam packed with information for helping us have a good experience outside when we need to or just want to do cook our meals in the open. Years ago when we were involved in living history presentations I learned colonial era outdoor cooking (which wasn't all that interesting, truthfully) so I have the pots and utensils and have done a bit of modern cooking outside at home, too. Love it.
    I so wish all the photos would load. Hope that can be corrected somehow as I'd love to see them. Thank you, Rachel and JES, for this super interesting post. :)

  5. I love, love outdoor cooking, and this post is jam packed with information for helping us have a good experience outside when we need to or just want to do cook our meals in the open. Years ago when we were involved in living history presentations I learned colonial era outdoor cooking (which wasn't all that interesting, truthfully) so I have the pots and utensils and have done a bit of modern cooking outside at home, too. Love it.
    I so wish all the photos would load. Hope that can be corrected somehow as I'd love to see them. Thank you, Rachel and JES, for this super interesting post. :)

  6. Wonderful post Rachel and Jes! It makes me think we should be utilising our fireplace for more than heating the home! Mimi xxx

  7. Is there a link to other writings or postings by Rachel? Or does she perhaps have a blog, etc?

    1. Hi there! I am glad you are interested in Rachel's writings! She really does offer helpful information and is a very kind woman! If you go to the preparedness link at the bottom of the post, you will find an article on lighting alternatives that she also contributed to. She doesn't have a blog that I am aware of but will often share at "Bluebirds are Nesting". There is a link on our bottom sidebar to that wonderful blog. Hope this helps!