Whitefellah makes a big fire…
This IMBB6 turned from bewdy to bugger within the shakes of a dog’s hind leg.
Aussies and barbies. Australian’s use of fire predates Prometheus. We travel the world telling people it is our food. Visiting Presidents are hosted at them.
We don’t grill or barbecue, we pan-fry outdoors. Recent immobility combined with an ancient tradition of bushfires have meant you’ve as much chance seeing a burning bit of wood as a Landcruiser with mud on it. Prophylactic hotplates were the start, then the wood got replaced by gas, and then the a grill was placed over the gas as a nod to progress, wood shavings sit in the shop waiting for a few obsessives. Haven’t seen a Weber outside of a garage sale in years. True, things have advanced since the dark days of “the barbie pack” (sawdusty sausage, a pounded steak, and a chop that would be cooked to carbon), but only because somebody was bullied into buying a bit of fish by a TV show or a glossy mag. I’m 35 and my smell memory tells me it was different once, did I have tears at BBQs because of a sookier childhood or was there something else?
A clue was found in the Culinaria France with racks of snails and meat over glowing bits of wood. That was it, if the French could do it, then so could I. All I needed was a place on the fringes, away from the prying eyes of civillisation, where the nearest law was 30 miles away. I picked up the phone, asked the operator to put me through to Mick (yeah yeah little Tony, no, no, yes, not yet, maybe one day)…Dad, I’m coming up to Munty. Can you sort me out for some meat and wood?
EAST! Over the hills, the shops vanished, the earth flattened, people waved when they saw another car. Fresh road kill offered opportunies but did I want us to be known over the world as a land of Skippy munchers?
Three hours – radio was fuzzy and all talk, iPod on its fifth cycle, just one last dead straight stretch and I’d be there. My Dad wasn’t – forced North to tend his sheep. Instead, I met Gavin – giant of a man, from Corrigin. He’d help me get local food. His wife, Sally, had cooked on fire as a girl. Their daughter, not used to strangers, clung tight to her Mum.
The lamb was waiting for me in the freezer. Chops of on-site born, saltbush fed and dispatched Dorper. South African, rather than the traditional Spanish Merino. Inspired and latitudinally consistent, I bought an LP sized spiral of Boerewor sausages at Mondo Di Carne.
Yabbies, freshwater prawns/crayfish/lobster, were left to chance. With over a dozen dams spread over 15,000 acres, four traps, and yabbies in at least one of them – it’s your classic pea and thimble. That done, I went to the pub where, as an outsider, I was allowed to have full-strength beer on the condition that I told no-none and gave none away. The years meant no-one recognised me but I did stupidly show someone my licence – they laughed and said last we heard of Anthony Georgeff he’d run off to Asia. I laughed too and then went home to bed, hoping.
I needn’t have worried, second dam. Bingo! Not many, but big buggers said Gavin – I took his photo with them.
Third dam, a dozen more.
Next, the wood. Mallee roots were gnarly before skateboarders had even begun to tire of the word. They sit on the edge of paddocks, the trapped souls of land clearing, waiting to be released. A few Jam tree branches and that was done.
The final job was to make the racks. I drove up to the farm tip. Rumour has it that somwhere, under that huge pile of agricultural detrius, lie my Dead Kennedy albums – who knows. I salvaged some old oven racks and wire and that finished the getting.
I piled the wood, and then lit like all Aussies once did – a quart of petrol and a match. Shifted the jerry can and the ute and left it to reduce to coals and went back in to the kitchen.
The lamb chops were briefly marinated in olive oil pulverised with garlic. Sausage – just oil. Aoli made to have with the yabbies. The yabbies were sent to sleep in the freezer before removing their heads. Knife ready for the ikijimi at the slightest wriggle. Pooh tube removed with a twist of the middle tail and a yank. Tails in a bowl with some more olive oil. The oil was really just to prevent sticking. Nothing fancy – wanted to keep the number of flavour variables low.
Womenfolk prepared the vegetables while I chucked more wood on the the fire.
Back for the final prep. Placed the sausage on a rack, surrounded it with chops, placed the other rack on top and wired it up with fencing wire and a few twists with some pliers. Yabbies placed on one half of mesh, folded the other half over and wired that shut too.
Time for a beer and a think. This was rooted. How could the chops and sausages have the same cooking time? How would I control the temperature? What if someone wanted theirs well done? Who’d want yabbies coated in ash? F**k ‘em, I’d done worse, much worse.
First on were the veges in the camp oven. Coals underneath and on top.
Next a few bricks and the meat rack on top. Yep, yep and fhoooooof – up went the dripping oil and fat. Shit, shit – do I get water, can I start it again, did we even get any water this year? I looked for help – we grabbed more bricks. Up another level, the fire settled down. A bit of shovel work let me decrease and redistribute the heat. Chuck a glass of wine in the camp oven. Then we flipped the whole thing over. On went the yabbies, they were quick and the shells could go on the coals. Four minutes tops. Off they came. A little longer and a little faster and off came the meat.
That underutilised kitchen utensil, the bolt cutter, opened it all up.
I sliced the sausage up like a pizza. I popped a bit in my mouth. It was a little charred on one side but the centre was cooked through. I grabbed a few more bits – it was magnificent. I ditched my planned apology.
Defying my fears, the lamb chops had cooked perfectly – just ever so slightly rare and very juicy. The yabbies peeled easily and were done through – the shell imparted some sweetness and the muddiness had gone. Only the camp oven veges, neglected in all the hullaballoo, were overdone.
We left the cutlery on the table, and sat around the fire, eating silently, working through some red wine (some more than others), and chucking in the empty shells in the fire. I went back for more, but the cold had sucked the life out of the meat, it was the briefest of pleasures. Instead we continued our way through some bottles of red, keeping warm by the fire and laughing at those who tripped over in the darkness.
The fire was at my feet, the universe at my head.
Did you know the dark patches in the Milky Way are an emu? True.