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Cooking with a "Fogon"

The other day I had to laugh when a friend of mine told her husband to put his pants into the laundry basket because it looked like dona Tina’s dress after she finished cooking with the fire hearth. Indeed my mind immediately went to those good old days when the hearth was the sole mode of cooking in the village of San Pedro.

Cooking on a hearth meant the constant need of having firewood and charcoal and those two things can really get one’s clothes quite dirty. Cooking with the hearth meant that there was always smoke in one’s kitchen and that meant more dirty clothing. Furthermore smoke in every kitchen in the village meant red eyes for the housewives or whosoever was the chef in the household. Three times a day, in the morning, at lunch-time and in the evening there was smoke at every outdoor kitchen and a cloud of smoke veiled over the entire village of San Pedro. The smell of smoke hovered over our village so much that it became second nature and people rarely noticed that there was any smell except when something good was cooking.

I was raised for at least my first ten years with my mom using the hearth. People claim that food cooked over the hearth or “fogon” tasted better than any food cooked on an electric range or worse yet in a microwave oven. I truly believe it too. In fact, I am certain. Fish was not only fried over the hearth, but also with coconut oil and I am not so sure which one gave it that special flavor. Bread baked in the home-made oven over the “fogon” was absolutely delicious with that slight smoke flavor. Don’t talk about bread pudding or sweet potato pudding baked over the hearth. There is no bread or dessert today to which I can compare it. A fish that was properly seasoned with salt and black pepper and some onions and smoked over the hearth was out of this world. In fact most tourists guides who cook for their guests today at the beach do so over a small fire or in the barbecue pits and tourists claim that this is better then they can get at any restaurant. Isn’t this good reason for restaurants to smoke some good mullets, snapper or grouper for the experts at culinary arts and those with a distinctive palate?

A pot of beans stewed over the hearth is unbelievably out of this world and anyone who does not like beans would like it if prepared in the style of twenty five years ago. I mean, the longer the pot of beans lasted over the hearth, where it was kept warm for up to two days or as long as it lasted, the thicker and nicer it got. No wonder as soon as one pot was finished, another one was being prepared for stewing. That is why the folks of the fifties say that we were raised with beans, fish and corn tortillas. And yes, all were prepared over the fire hearth or “fogon”, a mode of cooking that I wouldn’t mind going back to. It is cheaper, it has more aroma, and it certainly is tastier. In San Pedro the Lions are keeping the tradition of 25 years ago with their weekly barbecues using some coconut husks as fuel. Celi is too at Holiday Hotel for she too was brought up with a “fogon”.

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