Pecan smoke spiraled from the old pit damper whilst the lone drake floated serenely on the pond. The cool spring breeze caressed the cottonwood buds, and the sun, man, how divine it felt to sprawl at the terminus of one of it’s golden shafts. In a word, decadent! I was what you might say, “settled in” and pit-side, with a lovely beverage in hand and the game playing softly through the little speaker of the pit radio. The day was point blank glorious. Another vintage spring day in Minnesota. One to savor fondly from the vantage of a pit keeper.
I love to cook out-of-doors. It’s largely what I do. There are times when I actually wonder if my stove in the kitchen even works, for I use it so seldom. At certain times of the year, not unlike most grill jockeys hard into their game, a passerby of my open garage door may spy a pallet’s worth of charcoal stacked in there. Hundred of pounds of beautiful black briquettes awaiting my call. My bidding for the smoke. A pit keeper must be prepared don’t you know. Same unto the freezer adequately stocked with all matter of bits and bobs, from turf to surf. It’s all because I love to cook outside, and I for one do not wish to miss the opportunity should the impulse arise. Or, if by chance, guests come over keen with hunger pangs.
They did the other day, and I was ready. They all had cheeseburger shaped hollows in their stomachs, and the Pond Side Pit was the remedy! So I preheated the old Craycort cast iron grate, and freshly oiled it. ( See our review of this modular grate system here) I also deployed the cast iron griddle insert for this cook to assist in frying up a little bacon there. This was going to be fun!
Slow it Down Partner!
I stayed calm however. This is the hallmark of good pit keepers. The ability to exercise patience in the face of slobber-slopping expectation. You want with all your might to dive in and get after it, but then you know if you do, the fun will be only shortly lived at best. The trick then is to stretch it out. To make the moment linger if but only for the moment’s sake. It’s a game we pit jockeys play with ourselves. And those who do not love to cook outside just won’t get it. And that’s OK.
So I paused momentarily, like deep thinkers do, relieved myself of a certain pending gas, and I lit another fire in the chiminea. A blaze just for show, really, and patron I believe to higher levels of pit ambiance. Nothing is quite so fine as dual fires in a spring time cook out. The aromas surround. The crackle and pop do too, port and starboard. It works. It also slowed me down to better savor the day, which was the whole point. Then, whence a heady blaze was kindled there, I finally put meat to flame and grunted semi-appropriately in that golden light.
You don’t need to be told how to grill a cheeseburger. We’ve discoursed on that art enough in a hundred other posts. I will say, however, and if possible, do your best to refrain from pressing the burger patty with your spatula or tong, like you see so many people do. The only thing this does is squirt flavor clear of your supper. I will also say, glory be to the pit jock who does up his bacon and onions also on the grill. These two ingredients truly made the feast. Bacon and onions done over the stove are good and all, but doing them over the grill, allowing the wood smoke to adhere to the greasy bacon and the fried onions, well, it’s enough to make a grown body weep. And top these comestibles on your pecan smoked cheddar cheese burger and toasted pretzel bun, and well, I don’t have to tell you that you have officially arrived. And all your supper guests will smile and burp aloud, with grease dripping off their chins, as they tarry there, plumply, from the vantage of a pit keeper. Amen.
The Modified Look
Well, it was one of those evenings where you waddle in through the front door tired and foot sore. It had been a long day afield, and all you want to do is procure a manly beverage and plant your prostate on your favorite man chair and watch some Clint Eastwood. But you can’t. Turns out your wife has had plans for you all day to grill her up some big, juicy cheeseburgers, patron to the pit.
“But darling”, you croak, “I haven’t but one ounce of energy, just let me tarry here in my chair a few hours more!”
Then she gives you a modified version of “the look”. Every man knows the look, but this one is slightly different. It’s the usual, you-better-obey kind of look, but then it’s modified somehow with a droopy, puppy dog face sort of thing going on, and it is all but impenetrable. And so you shrug your shoulders, pull your boots back on, and set off to work again. This, after all, is the life we pit masters have signed up for. And you got to take it in stride.
“Oh, can you make some ice cream too?” my wife said, batting her eyelashes.
Turns out her supper plans for me were borderline extravagant for a run of the mill weekday night. And before I knew it I had the ice cream maker sitting out at the pit with me, churning away in the dark. That accompanied by the soft, wispy plumes of smoke coming off the charcoal chimney, well, I started to get into my little ambiance there, dug out in the snow. I don’t think I have ever made homemade ice cream on a January evening in Minnesota before, but when your wife says she wants a chocolate shake with her cheeseburger, well a fellow ought to oblige if he can, right? And I could. So I did.
On the note of ice cream, and just to share with you guys, here is our secret ice cream recipe honed through the ages.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
1/2 gallon whole milk
2 cups sugar
1 carton of egg beaters
splash of vanilla extract
Yeah, it’s complicated stuff! Not really, but it surely is delicious, and would make a fine compliment to our cheeseburgers tonight. A brilliant stroke, really. But it gets even better. Two words…French Fries!
My bride had recently acquired one of these doodleboppers. A little french fry making technology sure to up our game, giving your normal, boring french fry, the crinkled edge often coveted by french fry connoisseurs, such as yours truly. Never used one of these before, but it seemed to do the trick. These spuds were then lowered into a bubbling vat of peanut oil, and deep fried there until golden brown. If you haven’t made your own homemade french fries before, you’re missing out people. And they are not that hard to do either. Anyways, back out to the pit.
The burgers sizzled away like burgers do. And I loitered out there some, I must admit. The night wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, and the companionship of the coals seemed particularly abiding this eve. Their orange glow, set in a field of frozen white seemed “just right”. And for while at least, I was glad I got up off the couch and made supper like I was told. This was nice. Good to be manning the faithful kettle grill again. Feels like it’s been a while. Near the end of the cook, I flipped the burgers over direct heat for a bit to form a modicum of crust, purely for textural appeal. I knew the fries were nearing their end game too, and the ice cream was ready. The culmination of an wintry evening’s efforts were soon at hand. It was just about time to head inside to our home diner.
The Home Diner Experience
My bride and I are creatures of nostalgia, in particular the 1950’s. Which is odd, because neither one of us even existed in the 50’s. Or the 60’s. Even so, we are smitten for the past. So much so, in point of fact, that we re-created this little 50’s style diner nook just inside the patio door. Purely for fun of it, of course. As much as I like to eat in my man chair by the TV, I knew it would be nostalgic blasphemy not to ingest this meal, “proper like” in the diner. And thus to this end, we did.
Toasted kaiser rolls, fresh tomato slices, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, hark, the works people! Sided with a lovely bouquet of homemade crinkle cut french fries, and a tall, homemade chocolate shake. Glory be! If eating a burger at home gets any better than this, I haven’t heard of it! A top notch culinary experience. And to think, I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch Clint Eastwood. Mercifully, my wife saw the better in me, and she was pleased. Come to think of it, so was I. Amen.
The rainy season continues to pummel our fair land that is Minnesota. Flash floods are common place. As are the seemingly daily thunder storms. Likewise the unruly uprooting of fallen trees, courtesy of the soften soils and stiff gales. It has been a decidedly sporty locale, here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes – most of them now, and in a word, satiated. The pit-side pond has also swollen to say the least, and between the tempests, I slipped into my water proof boots, and took a stroll down there. Slowly ambling alongside the tall grasses and flooded banks. My boots sucking into wet earth reminiscent of my bog romping days of youth, where if I was lucky, my ecology professor told me, I might find the rare and highly esteemed, Trailing Arbutus. A plant so rare, I was told, that it would have put a normal man of means into serious debt should he pick it and bring it home. Should the department of natural resources catch wind that is.
What I found along the pond’s edge was something not so rare, but beautiful to behold, and equally as unidentifiable to me. I’m guessing an Iris. That’s what my botanical gut says. I wish I knew wildflowers better. It is a gaping fissure in my knowledge I’d like to fill some day. I’d rather know wildflowers than know a second language, I think. This one was of a delicate nature, like all flowers are, yet charming, and independent in the same breath. About 15 inches in stalk I should wager, and violet flavored blooms the rough stature of overly soggy potato chips. A resident token of beauty and an act of small rebellion in a land wrought by the storms. It stood ever so proudly, doing what seemed like nothing at all other than looking lovely for the benefit of photographers. Anyways, I liked seeing it there at the water’s edge. It belonged. And if one of you might know it’s true identity, and I suspect you do, do let me know.
Now onto something I do know – cheeseburgers!
Six robust patties sizzled in one accord over a beautiful bed of coals. Light plumes of cherry wood smoke curled through the cast iron grate. And sunbeams washed over the lawn in a glorious golden light. Yes, the rains had ebbed long enough for that precious glowing orb of light to burn aloft in an endless blue sky. A reprieve well-earned, snatched from soddened battlefields, and for the evening at least, all the world was right again. And dry.
The burgers today were seasoned with one envelope of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, cobbled through-out the ground beef, then lightly dusted over with a bit of Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning. We placed them opposite the hot coals, or in-direct for you technical grill-smiths, put the lid on, dampers tweaked, and let the pit do it’s thing. In good time, flip thy meat according to your pit master instincts. You know how it works.
There is something very authentic that happens when the wood smoke curls. Every grill jockey knows it. Every pit keeper longs for it. An infallible sense of well-being and contentment seems to rise with those aromatic, wispy tendrils of smoke. It’s enough to move a man, or even a gaggle of women, to draw a lovely beverage and just sit. Legs crossed like ambassadors of high leisure, ice clinking in our glass, let us at once let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be. Like that showy flower down by the pond’s edge, may we revel in what is still. And just be. In a world detached with haste, rushing from one posture to another, oh what sweet respite we garner in the simple act of watching smoke taper into a blue, pastel sky. And for a while at least, it is all that we need. Amen.
Cherry Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers with all the fixings. Yum! Because when the sky stops falling we all need to eat. Nay we need to live.