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.

4 thoughts on “Impractically perfect in every way

  1. 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! Debora


  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. 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


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