Posted 24th Oct 2016 by Peter Byrne
Food Historian Seren Evans-Charrington talks us through the ancient art of slow cooking, a technique that has been long forgotten in our modern fast-paced lives. Here she explains the benefits of slowing down and rediscovering a time when cooking involved harnessing the power of wood and fire
"Long slow cooking techniques are something that we seem to have lost in our modern, fast paced society, however, there is something to be said for the flavour that can be achieved through slow-paced cooking. As humans we also derive great pleasure from the idea of getting back to basics and the concept of being ‘hunter gatherers’. It is true to say that traditional cooking techniques using earth, fire and wood have often been overlooked in mainstream cuisine, but being an outdoor gourmet has so much to offer.
For most of human history, cooking over an open fire was the one and only way to cook a meal. People started cooking in this fashion nearly two million years ago and there is something deeply satisfying for the soul about cooking in this manner. When we talk about fire pit cooking a lot of people don’t think of British cookery, instead they think of techniques such as the Maori hangi from New Zealand that involves cooking food slowly in an underground pit for up to 24 hours, however, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of pit ovens across the British Isles dating back to the Bronze Age.
What you have to consider is that until around 150 years ago when gas ranges came into common use every householder has a fireplace and everyone saw the fire as the heart of the home. Cooking on a range and harnessing the power of wood and fire for cooking was commonplace.
Any food that benefits from a long slow cook is suitable for fire-pit cooking, when I cook venison, lamb or pork I find wrapping it in hay or dough is really effective. Fish also benefits from being wrapped in herbs (foraged ones really give that getting back to the earth feel) and then a layer of dough before being placed in the pit to cook. Hunter-gatherers would originally have used river clay to bake fish but dough works fine and when you crack it open you find beautifully cooked meat with all the juices contained within the clay parcel."
Text and image courtesy of Leffe