Post 223 – by Gautam Shah
Fire has been difficult to initiate, maintain, contain, handle and extinguish. A secure fire helps the process of domestication, just as sharing of food with the family was beginning of a home. Fire is a hazard but if controlled can provide warmth, light and security. It needs to be shielded from rain and wind. Fire is a change causing element in every aspect of living.
Fire can be sustained mainly with a built form and supply of combustible materials. Fire, however needs several handling technologies, such as:
- Fuel sizing, storage and charging,
- Aeration methods,
- Holding tools,
- Shielding and Insulation,
- Heat distribution,
- Emissions, odours and solid residues,
- Fire enclosures like hearths,
- Pots and vessels, supports,
- Fire dousing tools.
Collection of combustible materials was volumetrically very large, and sometimes even more difficult then procuring the foods. Fire fuels needed size reduction for transport, and storage for an entire season. A housed fire, however, fostered many other activities besides cooking. It was used for illumination, warmth, farm, craft and industrial conversion processes. Many technological innovations were supported by such a large scale need for fire. The main thrust areas were efficient fuels and effective ways of using them. Fuels must be dry, compact, easy to size and store, smoke free and with high thermal efficiency. Effective ways of handling fire included using fire for heat conduction, convection, radiation, latent heat of materials and the residual heat in emissions.
Open fires were dangerous and problematic, but men could not do without it. The first efficiency was achieved by arranging the fire inside a walled chamber, the hearth. A hearth allowed controlled rate of combustion, protection from random sparks and limited effects of radiation. The hearth was multi-purpose entity, and allowed use of converted fuels like chopped wood, broken twigs, animals’ excreta cakes, briquetted coals, and liquid fuels like lard, tallow and oils. These fuels had smaller mass, better storage system, and greater heat efficiency.
Smoke and soot were problems that were tackled by locating the hearth in appropriate place. Many fire-related lessons were learnt from craft and industrial processes like pottery firing, metal smelting, shaping and forging, farm produce dehydration and baking, sintering of minerals, lamps for illumination, etc. Metal smelting taught how to achieve high temperatures, whereas dehydration and smoking (of meats) helped on how to maintain low temperatures for longer period. First attempts to reduce the temperature involved distancing the pot or food from fire. Hearth design micro improvisations (learnt from ceramics firing) taught how to control air supply to the fire.
The local fuels, their quality and quantity, both affected the nature of food recipes. Different forms of direct-radiant, and indirect-reflected, heat applications created processes of simmering, stewing, boiling, smoking, charring, barbecuing, baking, roasting, etc. The hearths began to take different forms depending on the type of fuel available.
In colder climates the hearth was a warming fireplace. It became part of an alcove or a niche in the wall. The hearths were bulky to retain heat within the mass of body and use their delayed throw back of heat (re-radiation). Cooking procedures were long lasting (Stew-preparations), and dining close to the hearth. In warmer climates hearths were a source of heat and discomfort. Hearths as a result are placed in the corner of a room or outside of it. Hearths are thin bodied and to allow faster cooling after cooking. Cooking procedures involving use of fires are short and requiring lesser intervention. All non fire cooking procedures are conducted elsewhere, away from the hearth. Food preparation activities occur in other parts of the dwelling.