TGIFOOD

FORGED BY FIRE

How I beat the Load Shedding Blues

How I beat the Load Shedding Blues
(Photo: James Fitzgerald on Unsplash)

Cooking by fire is a big food craze around the world, and in our neck of the global woods, Eskom is feeding the rush to return to our ancestral roots. This story is as old as time. All we have to do is remember who we are and where we’ve come from. The rest comes naturally.

The communal pot. The glow of embers below, the heat coming off it onto hands rubbing together, folks huddled around the fire to warm themselves, appetites whetted by the aroma, the waft, the hope, the gratitude. We’re being fed this night. Life is good. 

Fire burn and cauldron bubble. It’s Shakespearian, but it’s far older than the 16th century. Our primaeval souls were forged in fire. Our species was changed forever when, after we’d learnt how to fell an animal and use its skin to keep us warm, we first understood that its meat represented nourishment for us. 

Our enjoyment of food found a new trajectory when we learnt to add heat to meat, and found that its flavour became a thousand times more delicious, and our health was the better for it.

Through ages and centuries, times of peace and all the great wars, we have eaten and been grateful, and the flame, the fire, the singe, the char, have been as much a part of our days and nights as the clothing that keeps us warm and the roofs over our heads we learnt to build for our comfort and survival. 

We have picked and gathered the fruits and legumes, the nuts and pulses. We have ground and pounded grain and seed in bowls crafted of wood from the trees around us, and we have stewed and stirred the fruits of tree and lowly plant, risking illness or even death to find out which is safe and which not. 

Collectively, we have survived.

We have owned, collectively and in the pockets of humanity of all the tribes and nations that have trodden the earth during every century since we first stood up, thousand upon thousand of cooking pots and implements of every shape and hue, created cooking methods and recipes, until the modern age when the whole world can find out all about every other cuisine on the planet, and even cuisines no longer known to most of us, at the click of a key on a computer or cellphone.

Until only a relatively short while ago, all of the cooking of every tribe and nation as far back as history can remember has been cooked without electrical energy. 

If we consider that a lifetime is somewhere around three score and 10 – if perhaps a little longer on average in our time – then 100 years is not much time at all. Anyone over 50 has lived half a century. Anyone who has reached 50 knows how fast the time flies. Where did that time go?

So, remove just one century, just one of all the centuries since we first raised ourselves onto two feet, and we’re only a few short years away from a time when the only heat we know came from flame. 

Electric ovens didn’t appear until the 1890s. This means it’s little more than 130 years ago that nobody, anywhere, had ever cooked by electricity; since anyone in history had ever relied on a power grid to help them cook.

And even then it was a really slow starter. Only in 1910 did a recipe book first appear specifically for cooking with these devices: Recipes for cooking by electricity, published by New York Edison. We had cooked on gas, and before that by fire, for as long as we had existed.

Yet here we are, adrift and bewildered, at having to once again cook, more often than we’d like, without electrical appliances, thanks to the despised phenomenon we call load shedding. Thanks to the inefficiency of those tasked to keep the grid alive and not plunge us all into disaster and even the fear of total grid collapse. And we all fear that.

We don’t know what will happen; how this will all finally play out. But we have another kind of power in our hands: the power to use our intellect, our resources and our commonsense to manage perfectly well when the lights go out and we’re all in the dark.

When there was no electrical power in the world, people lived their lives and had fun. Just as those of us over 50 didn’t know a world without personal computers in it until we were in our adult years. However did we manage? I look back on my first 30 years in newspapers and shake my head, trying to remember how I found out about anything without reaching for Google – how I ever managed without email. Yet we did, for decades.

So let’s explore the options we have for preparing meals when the lights are out. Click here to read more. DM/TGIFood

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