Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Today is cold, wet, and gray in northwest Tennessee. We've been nursing a sulky fire all afternoon, but finally have the masonry in the fireplace heated enough to chase the chill out of the living room and a crackling flame to diminish the general gloom. With Reuben away at college, Benjamin is now the resident fire expert. Did you know there's a recipe for a really good fire? Different woods contribute different qualities to a well-tended hearth. Here's what I've learned so far from the fire keepers in my house....

Maple burns brightly - use this wood for a good quality, cheerful flame. Oak and hickory burn hot - add a little of one of these woods to generate more heat. Beech burns well in general, but not as brightly as maple or as hot as hickory. This makes a good "filler" wood for us, as the beech trees on the farm shed plenty of limbs each year and contribute greatly to the size of our woodpile. Locust burns slowly - one locust log will last a several hours, keeping the fire going for a long time. Elm is definitely not preferred at our house, because it's a booger to split - the wood is incredibly tough and stringy. Ash is probably the "king" of all the firewoods, because it seems to have the best features of all the other woods and it splits satisfyingly with a well-aimed axe.

I can tell one tree from another when I see them out on the farm, but can't yet identify one piece of dry, split wood from another....except for beech, which has a distinctive bark. Therefore, my efforts at fire-building are best spent gathering kindling, which only requires the ability to choose a dry twig instead of a green twig from the forest floor. Fortunately, the boys can tell the different wood types apart when they go out to the woodpile to bring in an armload of logs for the fireplace. Until I'm better educated, I'll just have to leave this kind of "cooking" up to the young men!

As for me, I'm making a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup, on the stove, for dinner tonight. There's more than one way to chase a chill away!

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