Winter is lingering like a guest staying upon an expired welcome. The soft blanket of snow, that once gently covered the landscape, is now dingy and tattered. We must look within for inspiration and strength to endure the final harsh breaths of Old Man Winter. We can choose to see the vestiges of a departing winter or the coming of a fruitful spring.
As is often the case, Thoreau says it best, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” The Boar looks upon the ugliness of an aging winter but sees the coming birth of farmer’s markets brimming with fruits and vegetables of the season and the start of the most cherished time of the year —grilling season.
In upcoming posts, we are going to cook with fire. We will discuss equipment, techniques, and creations —but today a bit of grilling-philosophy.
I’m often asked “where did you learn to grill?” And followed up with something like, “is there a particular book or author that you would recommend to me for learning about grilling?” And, of course, there are entire aisles of big-box book stores touting such titles as “Grilling for Dummies,” “101 Grilling Secrets,” “The Diary of a Confessed Grill Offender”…you get the picture.
But since the question is posed to me, we can either conclude that the questioner does not know me or that they are looking for something other than the directions to that aisle. Let’s go with the latter, my friend.
We will begin our discussions of grilling with Thoreau —I see a new title coming to that aisle, “The Grill at Walden Pond.” All kidding aside, I would rather sit alone on a pumpkin than be crowded on a velvet cushion in that aisle —and I have a hunch Thoreau would feel likewise.
Here are some things that I believe Thoreau would say about grilling…
“Most grillers create dishes of quiet desperation and hang up their tongs with the song still in them.”
One belief that I hold with respect to mankind is that most of us want to cook with fire —and not just the bland and the processed but real creations of finesse and flare. But sadly, many of our grilling brethren are downtrodden and beholden to a menu of suffocating limitations. Yet in their hearts, a song of vibrant flavors and unique creations is written that goes unsung. Let’s hear that song, my friend.
“There are a thousand grillers hacking at the branches to every one striking at the root”
Put down the lighter fluid, let’s start our fire this grilling season with a flame of understanding. In our posts, we will explore the science of fire and how to deliberately focus it upon our creations.
“I went to the grill because I wished to create deliberately…”
I once had a friend whose idea of grilling was to douse some processed briquettes in fuel, set them on fire, dump a package of a meat-like substance on the grate, and then abandon his grill to consume a pale near-tasteless substance known as “light beer” until the smell of burning preservatives filled the air. I hope you never have to suffer such a disturbing scene.
Grilling is not a passive endeavor. The musical creations that exist in your heart require deliberate action. Focused preparations are required, and you must dance closely with the fire as you create.
Not to be misunderstood, I do not recommend grilling without beer, but it should be a coordinated part of your dance with the fire. I suggest a ceremonial drink or two in celebration of your feast-making fire and then a sip or two in the moments between the songs of your creations —and for goodness sake, choose a beer with depth and flavor, for I have a working theory that the flavors of feast-maker’s beer are reflected in his creations.
“If you have created your feasts in the air, your creations need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
If you can think and dream, you can create. Prepare your creations in the air, and then figure out the mechanics. Inspiration is key. Our world is full of checklists and how-to guides (remember that book store aisle), what you need is a vision.
“All good things are wild and free.”
What you put on the grill matters. Break away from the cartoon flames of grill-marked packages labeled “great for grilling” and move to fresh vegetables and fruits of the season and recognizable meats —wild game, for instance. Your creations will be enhanced by a multiplier of your appreciation for the ingredients.
“Our creations are frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
Focus on the essential and lose all else. Many a creation suffers because of needless detail. Cooking with fire is a primitive and simplistic process —don’t make it otherwise. Focus on displaying the flavors of your wild and free ingredients and let everything else fade away.
Season your grill with a dash of Thoreau, my friend.