Monday November 21, 2016
The apple spice and pine scented days are upon us. Along with your fuzzy blanket and mug of hot cider, add some unique accessories to your hearth to welcome the winter season.
In days gone by, the fireplace, whether indoor or outdoor, was a central feature in any room. Being the primary and sometimes only source of heat meant the fires had to keep burning. Many of the fire tools of yore have faded from most homes. Here are some old accessories and their new counterparts to help you recreate that traditional -or modern- winter scene by the fire.
There was a time when almost every house had a method for rolling up newspapers for the fire. Lengths of the local daily gazette were fed into cast iron contraptions, and with a crank of the handle, rolled into round cylinders like logs. Tied with string or just thrown right in, paper logs were a common starter for fires indoors and out.
The more modern version of the paper log roller is a paper brick maker. Daily newspaper delivery is waning, but the shredding of paper for security reasons is a common practice. Brick makers take pulped shredded paper and forms it into bricks. The bricks take a while to dry but will burn nicely when they do.
Characters in Victorian movies are often seen using a bellow to push air over embers to provide oxygen for reigniting the fire. An accordion-like chamber pulls in air as the bellow’s two handles are separated. The air is streamed out of a long tube as the handles are brought back together again. Two sides of the bellow are flat and are somewhat in the shape of ping-pong paddles. In olden days, this small but flat surface often was a canvas for art. Antique bellows with hand painted scenes can fetch high prices at auction, but you can find replicas for reasonable prices. You can also find well-made oak bellows and add your own decorative scene.
Modern fireplaces and fire pits are designed with airflow in mind. Usually a small puff of air under the grate is all that’s needed, if anything, to reignite embers. There are definitely newly manufactured, reasonably-priced bellows that are made in the traditional shape, but if you are looking for a modern twist, find a stainless steel version with long, sleek handles and paddles.
Toiling over a roaring fire isn’t the most efficient way to make dinner, but some cooking over the flames is fun. Marshmallows are a favorite, of course. But a very traditional hearth-cooked bite is old-fashioned popcorn. Popcorn is older than you may think. Archeologists believe to have found some popcorn pollen in ruins under Mexico City and in caves in central Mexico. These ancient peoples probably had a version of the popcorn popper, a cage-like box at the end of a long handle. Cast iron poppers were a common fireplace accessory in any 1800s house with kids.
The most modern version of this is the microwave, of course. Convenience comes in compact packages these days. But if you’d like to popcorn over the fire, you can find replicas of the traditional poppers. They aren’t as easy to find as other accessories but they can be found online or at camping or fireplace stores. It may take a while but you can find one to match a modern decor.
Remember to never use anything other than natural, untreated logs in a fire when you are cooking food. The chemicals from pressed sawdust flame starters and fire-starting liquids can be transferred onto the food. This can lead to immediate poisoning and longer-term ailments. Stick to the microwaved popcorn if you aren’t sure if your logs are food safe.
Old or new, traditional or modern, fireplace accessories add a special touch to your hearth’s decor. Have a little fun and paint in a few new ones into this year’s holiday scene.