Issue 91 is out now
Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

16th July 2019

Ah, alfresco dining. Summer is truly here when we find ourselves munching outside to the sound of crickets and the feel of warm sun on our skin. Even given the vagaries of the British weather, there are always a few special meals outside that stand out in our memories of a particular summer.

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

16th July 2019

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

16th July 2019

When all the family are gathered around a fire with hot baked potatoes, or a lavish picnic is enjoyed in a secluded woodland spot.

According to the National Barbeque Association, Britain is barbeque capital of Europe but with that comes some serious ethical implications. A lot of the barbeques purchased are the disposable kind, with people snapping them up cheaply from supermarkets at the first hint of good weather, and these are obviously destined for landfill. Most of our charcoal is unsustainable with around 90% of it coming from forests in South America and South Africa where ancient forests are cut down and burnt to feed our desire. Much of the charcoal used is soaked in chemicals such as kerosene which then taints food with dirty fumes. So searching out clean, FSC certificated charcoal is a must. Bioregional offer home-grown charcoal, estimating that CO2 emissions are reduced by as much as 85% using their product rather than imported charcoal. The London Log Company pride themselves on home-grown and sustainable charcoal, a natural by-product of the management of historic woodland.

It is easy to create the BBQ experience without a disposable barbeque or firelighter-soaked charcoal. In fact, once you’ve mastered the simple art of making a fire in your garden and cooking on it, you’ll never want to go back to using shop-bought barbeques. Everyone can get involved in gathering wood on a trip to your local woodland – select dry, fallen branches and twigs and break or cut them to size. If you can find it in your local woodland (it lives on decaying ash trees), the cramp ball fungus is the traditional way to get a fire going and keep it burning. Just one fungi will keep your fire merrily smouldering for the length of time you’ll need to cook. A firepit is a great investment for your garden and will get plenty of use throughout the summer (and winter) if you enjoy cooking, talking and telling stories around a campfire. You can make your own firepit by digging a pit in your garden and surrounding it with bricks – there’s a good Instructables step-by-step here. Or, if you want to keep it really simple, just find a patch of bare earth and surround it with rocks before you build your fire. Lay the larger pieces of wood at the bottom and place your tinder (your quick-burning, thin, twiggy pieces) at the top, adding twists of rolled up newspaper to get your fire going. Once you’ve lit your fire, give it time to roar before letting it die back. You’ll be cooking your food on the smouldering wood rather than the flames. Shop-bought fire-pits often come with a detachable grill but if you’re doing a DIY BBQ, you can use a grill from the oven perched on two rocks over the smouldering wood. Grills can often be found at the tip after people have thrown out old and rusty BBQs – a quick scrub with some wire wool has them ready for action again.

Once you’ve got your barbeque ready, it’s time to enjoy some delicious alfresco treats. Children love baking their own potatoes – wrap them in foil and stick them in amongst the smouldering wood. Of course, marshmallows can be toasted on long sticks or skewers, as can all kinds of vegetables. Sweetcorn grilled on the barbeque and slathered in butter is one of the tastiest simple summer dishes. Barbequed halloumi is a fantastic salty, textured addition to your plate. Keeping it simple means everyone can have a go at cooking without heaps of preparation and there’s something deeply meditative about watching your meal slowly cook over the glowing embers of a fire.

And don’t forget the banana splits for pudding – happy fire-gazing!

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