Boil The Billy
I’m typing this by the campfire in the backyard, balancing the laptop on my knees. It’s a cold winter’s night, but the glowing coals still give enough warmth to make me comfortable and heat one more billy of water for this Mumma’s evening cuppa. There have been bats sqeaking overhead and the frogs are loud behind the shed. The boy is asleep inside and the night is peaceful.
If you don’t know what a billy is, it’s a metal pot with a looped handle that you can suspend from a stick or hook to drag it off a campfire. A close fitting lid helps the water boil faster and stops ashes falling into the tea. It’s a traditional Aussie cooking implement. You can find them in Australia at camping stores, secondhand stores, or make them yourself with a large tin and a bit of fencing wire!
We’ve been beside the fire all afternoon. My son is obsessed with fire right now. He’s been collecting sticks, scrunching newspaper and eating all his meals sitting on a brick by the fire. Food always tastes better outside, and food cooked on an open fire is even more exciting! Today we’ve been toasting bread on a wire grill, cheese sandwiches in the jaffle iron, and making cups of peppermint tea in the billy. Only spilled it once. Sometimes we fry eggs in a cast iron pan, or wrap potatoes in foil and roast them in the coals, or fry damper in the frying pan. We usually roast an apple on a stick for dessert, rather than sugary marshmellows. Apples char on the outside and taste like rich stewed apple on the inside.
I bought the jaffle iron and the frying pan second hand. Next time I buy a billy I’ll spend more money and get a stainless steel one, because this one rusts very easily. I don’t have a hot plate, or any other fire utensils. Sticks are the most useful!
We set the fire directly on the grass, away from trees. I send my boy off to collect fallen sticks from beneath the karri trees, and pine cones nearby. Gathering them helps reduce bushfire hazards near the house. We pick up lumps of wood that hamper the mower, and with some newspaper and tiny twigs we’re all ready to light the fire. Feeding it takes all afternoon, which he loves. I keep it going with a few larger pieces of wood. One day I’ll make a rocket stove or two, which only need sticks rather than logs.
Watching the fire feels primal. We had smoke in our hair and ash in our food. It’s such an easy way to bring a bit of wonder into the everyday. Sometimes I just cook our evening meal inside and we sit by the fire to eat. Even a billy of smoky water with handpicked herbs tastes more vibrant than the usual electric kettle cuppa.
Now I’m going to enjoy my dandelion tea.