Few things are more "summer" than an open fire and food cooked on a stick. When we were little (my siblings and me) we followed dad into the "woods" around the dugout to hunt for wiener sticks. We'd each choose a straight young sapling, which he would cut with his jackknife and whittle to a sharp point. Yes, we learned early in life not to poke an eye out.
While in the "woods" we'd gather up deadfall and dry twigs for the fire pit in the back yard. Mom set out a bowl of potato salad, a bag of buns and a passel of wieners, along with the three essential summer condiments: mustard, ketchup and her homemade relish. (Personally, if you ask me, the only essential condiment is mustard, but that's another story…)
Long before I was allowed to grill a grilled cheese or boil and egg, I was an old pro at roasting a wiener over an open fire, turning the stick just so, keeping an optimum distance from the lick of the flames, ever careful not to drop my dinner into the hot coals. My preference was dark and bubbling but not yet charred. It still is.
While wieners are a relatively new invention, cooking with a stick is as old as the hills. Long before there were cast iron pots and rotisserie gas barbeques, there was the simple combination of a fire and a stick. This is true all over the world, whether the skewer is made of bamboo, metal or a poplar sapling. Kabobs, yakitori, satay, souvlaki, brochettes and shashlik (which literally means skewered meat).
The first inhabitants of the great plains cooked bison meat by cutting it into thin strips and hanging it on a rack made of green saplings set over a smoky fire. Once the meat was dry, it was pounded to a pulp and mixed with suet and berries to make pemmican. When bannock became a staple of their diet, it was often baked in a frying pan by the fire or simply curled around a stick held over the heat of the flames.
I believe that somewhere deep in our genetic memory we are nostalgic for the smell of wood smoke, the aroma of seared food, the warmth of the communal fire and the self-sufficient satisfaction of cooking for ourselves in the great outdoors. And the cleanup is easy peasy. Just toss that cooking stick into the fire or "burn" it clean.
Years after our sapling adventures, my dad began making wiener sticks that served the role on a more permanent basis. These were made with doweling set with a two-pronged metal fork. He sold those wiener sticks at the regional park and other locations where campers congregate. We dubbed them the Ehman Weeny Wonder Wands. They were awesome. I often gave them as gifts.
Dad's not making the EWWW anymore but we still use them at every occasion that draws us together around the outdoor family hearth, er, fire pit.
Here's an easy recipe for cooking fruit on a stick, perhaps best done on the BBQ rather than an open fire. Plan to have two skewers of fruit and one skewer of cake per person. I've listed the fruit I like to use, but feel free to create your own combinations.
1-2 prepared pound cakes
1/2 cup liquid honey
juice of 1 1/2 limes
2 tbsp finely chopped mint
Cut fruit and cake into one-inch chunks. If strawberries are large, cut in two. Place 8 pieces of mixed fruit on each skewer. Place 8 cubes of cake on separate skewers. Blend together the honey, lime juice and mint. Brush onto kebabs before and during cooking. Cook until the fruit is soft and juicy and the cake is golden.
(This article first appeared in Grainews.)