Monday, January 29 2024 10:31

Brandywine Table: Food Around the Fire

Written by Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Making the most of the cooler seasons with outdoor cooking, socializing and fun

Courtney cooking outdoors in a wood-fired cob oven. Photo: Seneca Brand

I usually start having an itch to bundle up by an outdoor fire as early as October. That’s also when I’m craving apple fritters paired with the start of cooler nights and shared with extended family to join in on the fun.

For those fall outdoor fritters, my family sets up a large cooking tripod next to a big bonfire and gets a smaller fire going that’s just big enough for a cast iron skillet. Once the oil sizzles in the iron skillet, I begin adding the thick apple batter I’ve made in advance.

Fireside ambiance with wine and cheeseboard

As the fritters cook, the aroma of warming spices — cinnamon, mace, nutmeg — merged with apples wafts through the open country air. But it’s the taste of the fritters, along with the warming, crackling fire that feels like a celebration of the changing seasons.

For our November outings, we like to have friends over for a lantern walk, then a soup or chili potluck. Again, we get out the tripod, but this time we use it to hang a large metal pot to heat up apple cider. Adults gather round the fire to stay warm and talk, while kids are off running and playing. We set up a long table near the fire for crockpots filled with soup and chili, along with crusty bread and cornbread. One of my favorite recipes is a friend’s bulgur wheat-based vegetarian chili that includes lots of tasty topping options.

S’mores aren’t just for summer

This past December, a few weeks before Christmas, I got together with family and friends for a holiday bake at my sister-in-law’s farm, where there’s a bakehouse with a wood-fired brick oven. Everyone brought different things to cook, resulting in a potluck feast of focaccia, pizza, flatbreads and pies. As each item came out of the oven, we’d add it to the outdoor table so everyone could get a taste.

Come January and February, if we’re lucky enough to have snowy days, we invite friends and their kids over to sled and toboggan. In between downhill runs, we gather around the fire pit to snack on things like s’mores and maple popcorn, balanced with a hearty cheeseboard.

Read on for some of my favorite recipes to enjoy fireside, whether indoors by the fireplace or out by the fire pit. The outcome is just as good when cooked indoors, but there’s a whole other dimension of pleasure added when eating outdoors in the crisp air by the warmth of the blazing fire.

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