Pit Cooking

PIT-COOKING is perhaps the most glamorous of all primitive types because it is so largely associated with picturesque places, hearty group effort and holiday spirit. Pits may be small holes of just sufficient depth and width to take a bean pot, a three-legged kettle or a true braising pot with a depression on top for coals, as sketched in the chapter heading. Or the pit may be big enough to accommodate all the makings of a king-sized luau, replete with suckling pigs. In direct pit-fire cooking, hardwood embers are left in the pit, and steel rods are put across it, a few inches above the fire on rocks or logs set around its periphery; the rods, in turn, support a wire mesh grid on which the food is cooked.

A switch from direct pit-firing to fireless pit-cooking can achieve a completely different range of culinary effects. Fairly large-scale cookery of the latter type requires digging a pit not less than 2 feet deep, 3 feet across and 4 feet long. If pit-cooking is more than occasional and the locale does not vary, you may find it more convenient to build a surface pit by constructing a hollow rectangle of concrete blocks, about the same height as a true pit is deep.

The next step is to line the bottom and sides of the pit with medium-sized flat rocks, -> never with shale, which may explode when heated. Toss in enough additional rock to to approximate the area of the pit. Now spread over the rocks a substantial bonfire of hardwood deadfall or driftwood. Hickory, beech, maple or ironwood are prime for this purpose. And grapevine cuttings lend grilled food special distinction. The French, incidentally, regard food broiled over grape wood, or sarments de vigne, as extraordinarily choice. When the fire has completely burned down--this should take not less than 2 hours--rake out the red embers and the top rocks. Now sprinkle a quart or so of water over the hot rocks remaining and add a two-inch layer of fresh leaves--grape, beech, pawpaw, sassafras, cornhusks or seaweed for a shore dinner. If you have remembered to bring along some handfuls of aromatic herbs, add them too.

Work quickly at this point, so that the rocks do not lose their stored heat. On the bed of packed foliage, arrange the elements of your meal: fish, cuts of meat, green peppers, onions, corn in its husks, unpeeled potatoes, acorn squash. Pile over them a second layer of green leafage, then a second grouping of food, and finally a third layer of green leafage. Cap off the stratification with the remaining hot rocks, a tarpaulin or canvas cover, and four inches of earth or sand to weight things down and to keep heat and steam at work inside--cooking your meal. How long the will take depends, of course on what's cooking--maximum time will probably be required for a small pig; it should test 190 degrees F when done and takes about 20 minutes per pound. The whole pit-cookery operation, whether it is carried out on the beach or in the woods, has a distinctly adventurous character. And periodic tests for doneness performed on the foods closest to the edge of the pit are an essential part of the process. In lifting the tarp and in removing it altogether when you are ready to serve, be extremely careful not to get food fouled up with sand or earth.

From: Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.

Team Mumu Pit Cooking

Lynn Garry Salmon <>{