Bonfire dinner in the garden
For many, bonfire food is equal to twist bread, but many other dishes can be cooked over the fire. Not least your home-grown vegetables.
Photo: Lene Lund
All outdoor life has flared up in this strange Corona time. Shelters and food from bonfires in the garden are the families' new response to a different kind of quality time.
By Lars Lund
I think my grown children would agree with me that some of their best childhood memories were when we went outside in nature and lived primitive life, went on kayaking trips in Denmark and Sweden, and spent lots of our time cooking, in the most troublesome way. We found dry firewood and lit a bonfire so we could prepare the food, threw the unpeeled potatoes in the embers or wrapped a cleaned chicken with feathers in clay and cooked it in the fire. Once it had laid there for three hours, it was just a matter of smashing the clay, then removing the feathers and skin, and then the chicken tasted heavenly. Plaice were wrapped in baking paper with butter and a layer of tinfoil on the outside, and it was such a delicacy. When it got quieter, we made twist bread and put the kettle of hot chocolate in the embers.
Today, a garden without a bonfire in our family is completely unthinkable. Our two now-grown children got a bonfire in their gardens before they even got a lawn. Yes, my daughter even has a shelter in the garden. For her, bonfires and primitive accommodation evoke many memories, and she spends oceans of time around the bonfire and in the shelter. We use the bonfire all year round. When we have had a really busy period for a while, we go to the garden or go to the beach and make bonfire food. The calm subsides, and everything that comes with being busy disappears with the smoke. It happens, however, that we take a barbecue into nature, but that is only in places we are not allowed to make a real bonfire.
Bonfire vegetables are fantastic
Vegetables are considered a bit like thin beer when talking about bonfire food. But bonfire enthusiasts believe that that is completely wrong and quite the opposite. Vegetables can easily play a major role in cooking, also when it comes to flames and smouldering embers. They caramelize beautifully at high temperatures. The temperature in a fire is of course not something you go and measure, but in the case of flames and smoke, for example, the temperature is between 300 and 600 degrees. In the case of flames and embers, it is from 1000 - 12000 degrees, while embers and ashes lower it down to 500 degrees.
Four reasons why bonfire food is better
Bonfire food is affected by a chemical reaction called the Maillard-reaction, which in short is what creates aroma and taste in the food. The reaction occurs between amino acids and carbohydrates in our food when the food is heated up to more than 120 degrees. The reaction is also created in an oven, or a pan, as long as the temperature reaches above 120 degrees. In a fire, however, the reaction is more even and concentrated.
The smoke consists of different gases. When the juice from the food drips down on the embers, the smoke gets a more aroma-intensive taste, and when it comes in contact with the raw materials, the taste impression and the overall aroma are enhanced. The smoke gives the food a taste that cannot be created in a kitchen.
Psychology and senses
If you drink wine in Italy, it may taste better than if you drink Italian wine in Denmark. Moods are of great importance to our senses and thus to the taste experience. Bonfire food is also about sensuality and the feeling that something can go wrong. You force yourself and your guests out of a comfort zone and to where it can be tasted that something has been at stake. On the delicate line between barely black and burned, we often find the greatest taste.
The best bonfire
A bonfire can be built in several ways, but the pagoda bonfire is one of the nicer ones. The pagoda fire is built more or less like a game of Jenga, which lacks the middle sticks. This means there are good ventilation and oxygen where there are no sticks. The firewood is built up so that it alternates one way or the other. The flames can spread quickly, and it is easy to put kindling between the pieces.
Om Lars Lund
Danish horticulturist and journalist
Lars Lund has for many years engaged in the garden and greenhouse. Lars has published many books about greenhouses, and he has participated in many Danish horticultural TV shows. He is a walking garden encyclopaedia, and he has answers for most basic cultivation questions – also the more ambitious ones.