Tuesday 24 March 2009

Impractically perfect in every way

When we were building a new kitchen onto the back of our Victorian house a couple of years ago, we planned to build a desk in the old, long-abandoned fireplace. How practical. The narrow alcove could be inexpensively adapted to house a writing surface for typing up recipes, paying bills and scribbling shopping lists. I’m bored just typing that.

One wintery afternoon, as I snaked along Oxford Street on the 73 bus, I realised that that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I wanted a proper fireplace, at waist height, like the ones I’d see in houses in France and Spain, one where we could grill a few steaks or sardines, roast some vegetables, cook a shish kebab or two. At great expense, the old chimney was lined. Supports were sunk into the heat-proof concrete to hold the grills.

If I’m honest, we don’t use it much to cook on. When the wind’s blowing in a certain direction, it smokes like it’s auditioning for a bit part in Shameless, staining the perfect white walls and ceiling with soot and stinging our eyes like a particularly vengeful onion. But I love it. The smell of it, the sight of it, the way it warms by back when I’m at the stove. Most of all, I love its wildly unruly and wilful presence in what would otherwise be a pristine steel and glass cube.

I’m all for recycling and one thing we have a lot of in this house is corks. I tip these into a jar filled with cheap brandy, a few cloves and a stick or two of cinnamon. They make great little firelighters tucked in among the crumpled newspaper and kindling, and they smell wonderful too.


  1. What a lovely photograph. Nice to see the Bishop Auckland pot - turn of the century Canny Hill Pottery (collectable) - filled with your cooking spoons.
    Also steaks and chops done on that fire are extra deliciously special.

  2. We built a waist high fireplace in our kitchen too. I have dreams of all kinds of hearth cooking, but haven't had the chance so far. I've enjoyed finding your blog.

  3. Hello Penny,

    I'd love to know what you eventually cook in your fireplace - perhaps you'll inspire me to use mine more for body- as well as soul-feeding possibilities!



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