Ritual 02 / The fire

Image: Pinterest


Installing an open fireplace was one of the first tasks we tackled in this house. A hearth is the heart of any living space, a belief reinforced by the obsessive nature with which my parents would light the stove at any opportunity. I remember the heat that would belt out from that stove (the same ornate number as found at The Ethicurean) as it warmed my face, the creak of the doors opening, the little tool used to open the vents. The television was on a table to the left of the stove and our cheeks would redden on one side only.

But most of all, I remember the ritual of laying the fire, one I now follow in our house, with our fireplace, using the same black iron tongs and brass poker inherited from my parents. It's taken me a while to perfect a roaring fire, but I think I've finally managed it.



To lay the perfect fire, you will need (aside from the obvious hardware):
Newspaper
Kindling, and plenty of it
Fuel suitable for the kind of 'zone' in which you live; we use logs of varying sizes and smokeless coal
Matches
If you're unlucky: firelighters



Step one:
Sweep out the ashes of any previous fire.
Fold a sheet of newspaper in half along the diagonal. Fold up from the fold about 5cm and keep folding until you can fold no more; you should have a long, thin strip.
Wind the strip around your hand and tuck in the end, leaving you with a neat coil of paper.

Step two:
Bundle as many of these coils into the grate as will easily fit.
Begin stacking up kindling sticks along the back of the grate. I think this was a mistake I used to make, skimping on the kindling. You need a good, thick layer.

Step three:
Carefully light the newspaper coils, as many as you safely can reach with a lighter or matches.

Step four:
While the kindling is lit, find your coal and begin to place smaller pieces on top of the burning paper, making a thin layer over the top. If the kindling dies out, hold a sheet of newspaper (broadsheet) across as much of the grate opening as possible. It should whoosh back to life. If things are really not working, resort to a couple of firelighters, placed at the back alongside the kindling.

Step five:
Once everything's burning and glowing nicely, select a couple of small logs to place front-to-back, leaving a little room between logs and coal if you can. Bundle more coal into the grate.

Step six:
Monitor constantly. Fiddle about if things aren't looking too promising: move the good patches around, redistributing heat/flames to neglected areas.

Step seven:
When your fire is established, keep a close eye on it, adding more fuel all the time.

I should probably add some kind of disclaimer here about not being responsible if you don't have the right kind of fireplace or haven't had your chimney swept. I hope it goes without saying that fire is dangerous and that fires should be covered with appropriate guards, not left unattended, and fully extinguished before you go to bed.

But what I want to write is how mesmerising a fire can be, how restorative, how magical (particularly on a blowy/rainy/stormy, dark night - perfect for my Month of Light series). As a child, I had a 1950s book that featured a poem or story about flames. I can't recall much of it, I'm sad to say, but I do remember the illustration of flames with little faces and words describing their lick, unpredictability, and total attraction. One of winter's very finest rituals, perhaps with a crumpet or marshmallow toasting gently on the flames (I'm well and truly sold on RE's range of toasting forks).

If you have a tip or trick to ensure the perfect fire, leave it in the comments below.




7 comments:

  1. I'm just getting to grips with a woodburning stove and have been experimenting with all sorts of methods. Been making my own firelighters with leftover wax and lint from the tumble drier. I do find it all quite time consuming though and as soon as I've turned my back, it goes out. Must keep trying and will use your idea with the newspaper coils. Sam x

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  2. Such a lovely and nostalgic post. One day when I somehow afford to buy a place, it will be the first thing we'll invest in. I just feel sad that we haven't got one right now, so F can make magical memories like yours *huddles by the radiator* x

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    1. Come over! We'll warm you up. Actually, T has never been allowed to witness the fire in full flow - too dangerous x

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  3. Nice post lovely blog people will get attracted to see this.

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  4. Fluff from the dryer filter in egg boxes as a fire starter and pine cones as kindling. If you wrap a potato in foil and rest it on embers away from flames it will cook in about 50 mins too. I love my fire, always experiment with it in winter, gradually accumulating camp fire cooking tools from charity shops (a chestnut roaster!) to use on vile weather days to enetertain the kids x

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  5. You've reminded me of how I used to help my Granny lay her fireplace and twist newspaper into coils. Thanks for the memories.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment - I love hearing what you've got to say, and do my best to reply <3

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