Thursday, July 3, 2014

For the Love of a Good Fire Pit!

Alright...so we are mountain folk. In that term can be construed so many images. I've been to so many places out of these mountains but I absolutely love living in Appalachia. We have our ways and sometimes those ways may seem strange to the outside world, not fancy, not too creative but it works for us.

Since becoming disabled, I've had time to think about that. Since becoming disabled I've had time to remember old ways too. Appalachians are used to living boom to bust...that's also ingrained in us. This being disabled has been my bust. So when times are lean you design things to do that don't cost a whole lot but mean something.

Thus....the Fire Pit we built this spring.  When I was young, my family camped every spring, summer and fall. If my dad could convince us it would be winter too but my mother put her foot down on being outdoors and the snow flying.  So the camp fire pit was a staple and a job that my mother always took care of to construct and maintain. She cooked on the fire pit most of the time but also used a camp stove especially if it was raining.  So I was taught at a very young age to create and use a fire pit.

Working at Wolf Creek Indian Village we had many fire pits to maintain in the recreated village. For twelve years I worked around fire pits! I guess this spring I was just missing those times around a fire pit so I asked my brother to help me construct one in the back yard.  I owe him big time because in my shape I would have never been able to complete it. Now I wish I had this project YEARS ago completed. We've used it just about every weekend since we built it.

It's not really an art but just something we know. These types of fire pits are not fancy and we only use what we have on hand.  So I thought I would share that knowledge we have with you in a blog post. I wish I had taken pictures in the process but did not think about it.

My mother always liked her fire pits a little deep. Sometimes this caused some concern if we were in a campground but my dad would always assure whoever was over it that we would leave the campground as we found it. So he would save the dirt and remove the stones to put it back just about as we found it.

The first order of business was placement. Had to be in the open not too near trees that you didn't want to kill or could catch fire. If there were any high grasses my father would cut it away about 10 feet all around.

Second was digging it deep enough. The reason my mother always liked a deep pit was because when it was windy the ash and sparks would not fly out so easily and it held the heat.  After digging the depth, we put large rocks in the bottom of it. Mine is about a foot and a half deep above the base rocks.  My mother said the rocks in the bottom were to stop you from, "digging to China" when you cleaned it out and thus not making it any deeper.

If we were at a campground and not staying long, she would find rocks and just place them around the edge. If it was a more permanent pit, then they would take a mattock and a shovel and dig an edge all the way around the pit to place large stones.

In my area of Appalachia we have NO trouble finding stones. Several of the stones around the edge on my pit were found from digging the PIT!!

Another tip...don't use rocks from a river or creek! Where they are soaked through with water, they will explode when heated, like shrapnel. If you want to use them make sure they have been sitting above and on dry ground for several months.

The one thing my mother would do is to find a seam of clay.  She would gather it, wet it down in a bowl or bucket and would line sides of the pit with it. Sometimes the clay she would mix it with....well it's not really sand but the sandy silt you find at the side of a creek. It dried hard, very hard. The reason she did this she said was that you could use a smaller fire and if you lined it with clay it would cook much longer and faster with very little wood.

My father was a brown bean fanatic and we had brown beans cooked on the fire pit all day, using her method. She would not cook those beans on a pit not lined with clay. She said she wasn't gathering wood all day to keep them cooking. I have not lined my pit with clay....YET!

My mother would take rocks and actually dry them around the pit the first day and night. She would test them by slowing moving them in the fire to put into the pit to place her pots on. She would used two flat thick rocks. Moving hot coals in between the rocks under the pot or kettle.

My brother put an addition on my pit to serve this purpose. A small enclave to build a small fire in that has a grill across to put a coffee pot or pot of chili on. It works very well.

I had a tree that was taken down and in the process of being cut for fire wood. I had my brother cut it for seating stumps. Later this fall we will split those and burn them in the wood stoves.

My family has enjoyed this project so much on the weekends!  We have roasted marshmallows, made s'more's and roasted hot dogs. Sat around it watching the fire flies and the stars, talking about our day and telling stories. Should have done this YEARS ago.  I love a good fire PIT!!

NOTE: Remember fire safety!! If your area is under a red flag warning, don't assume just because your pit is deep the wind won't carry a spark out and start a fire. Even at Wolf Creek Indian Village, fires did not get built during red flag warning days.  I am sure our ancestors did not always worry about that as much but I'm also sure they stayed by the pits a lot longer under their watchful eyes than we would in our modern day life styles.  Always extinguish it when you are done. I have a bucket we carry water up for the purpose.

I welcome comments and questions anytime. If you make your own pit or have one already...send pictures!! I'd love to see it.