Clyde: Home is where the hearth is

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

“For my days are consumed like smoke and my bones are burned as an hearth” (Psalm 102:3).

Not many homes have hearths, these days these days. One third of the house sold are sold to people who have no intention of living in them, whether they have a fireplace or not.

Sadly, once they “get in a home”, one in four live in fear. Other than chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the easiest way to sell a house is to put flowers at the front door and bake bread when the realtor “shows” the house to potential buyers. The warmth of a fireplace is always a plus. Even “gas logs” or a picture on the big screen remind us of the “blazing fire before us.”

Real candles and real “open” hearths have all but disappeared. Fireplaces are not big enough for a yule log. Be it ever so humble, the first thing homeowners do is to take out or put up an old mantle. That’s after chopping down all the century old boxwoods out front. A mantle was not a piece of a log but a wide board, often copied from an architectural pattern book. Several Owen Biddle mantle boards survive in the county. Maybe you own one. “Each example being fashioned according to the style and practice of the present day, it contained a complete development of the Grecian order of Architecture, methodized and arranged in such a simple, plain and comprehensive manner, as to be understood”

An iron fireback in the place of the “fireplace” would reflect the heat out into the room to be collected by a wooden settle bench. Like the Old Stone House, the great room was for everybody with sleeping chambers or lofts. No room service of private baths. A “betty lamp” hanging from the mantle would give light. “But if there was a pleasure in all this while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was all of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where, of course, no spectre dared to show its face” (from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, 1820).

Aladdin kerosene lamps came later so we could do handwork, write letters or read the Bible by a wick that had to be trimmed and globes washed daily. It’s a wonder we got this far without light switches.

People who make up their beds are more organized and get a lot more done during the day. There is nothing more warming than backing up to a wood stove on a crisp frosty morn. A good warm spot is enough to warm the hands and hearts and hush the hirsute habitual herniated hermit who harbors harsh hatreds heaped on herds of haunted hippopotamuses household habitats.

When cooking over a hardwood fire, Glascock from Greensboro cast-iron pots or a Dutch oven, which has legs and a lid with a lip designed to hold coals on top is all you need to imitate your foremothers. A pots crane and hooks would hang pots and long legged trivets could sit in the hot coals. Careful they don’t jump out from an unattended fire. A modern raised hearth made it worse.

At Old Salem, they make prune fritters, scalded lettuce and peas, gingerbread, potato pancakes and thin signature Moravian sugar cookies and cakes. The recipe begins with 3 sticks of butter, 4-1/2 cups of sugar and 5 eggs. How could that possibly taste bad? The best thing about open hearth cooking is the timing. No hurry, just sizzle. No fret, just bake. No rush, just tasting.

Ye Olde Food Lion makes it too simple and too affordable. Be careful, your relatives and in-laws will eat you out of house and home. “It tastes like homemade” is no excuse for the care and kindness put into every pot. Not because you have to, but you want to “prepare a way in the wilderness.”

Father Black says manna from heaven was not anything they knew and said “what is it?” “And Moses said unto Aaron, ‘take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up to be kept for your generations’” (Exodus 16:33).

And Lord knows, we keep recipes forever as witnessed by every church cookbook at every crossroads. Trading Ford Baptist Church cook Doris G. Barrier offers Barbecued Brisket:

“Add cloves, ketchup, vinegar, chili powder, salt, pepper and remaining water. Simmer, uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add ¼ tsp liquid smoke.” Yum, just like all natural flavors. The hand written additions and clippings between the cookbook pages are the best because they are tried and true and belonged to someone you know.

So, when you dig into that open-latticed sugar cinnamon Dutch apple pie, just know that you are following a tradition. It’s not the first or last pie. “Combine by chopping flour, brown sugar and butter into a crumbly mixture and place on top. Add rich cream and continue baking for another 35 minutes”. Keep watching until it browns. Pass it around.

Clyde is an artist in Salisbury.