Monday, May 30, 2011

Fire and cooking; we are what we eat

Fire is a very important element of our life, like air, water and earth. It’s importance has been underlined from the very beginning of our civilization. It made us “humans”, as theories goes, by modifying our primitive state of being. First by changing the diet from raw food to cooked food, second, by providing heat, third then by allowing to acquire other skills. Fire was (and still is) used to make the first metal tools and burn ceramics.

Feeding the baby
Rudolf Epp, german painter, 1834 - 1910
Then, aside from being such indispensable element in our lives and because it is so important, fire has been integrated in religious and philosophical systems around the world: the four, or five, or sometimes seven elements (the our of them are water, air, fire, earth).

The oldest records of a fire dates back 420 million years ago. But it is said that humans started to make fire some 500.000 to 400.000 years ago.  This domesticated fire wasn’t used for cooking right away, more likely it was used to keep them warm. But the wild fires provided them with already cooked meat: the meat of the animals caught and burned in the fire. It must have tasted delicious. Then they started grilling. I imagine it wasn’t only meat that got cooked by wild fires but also some vegetables and fruits along with the edible parts of some plant roots.

Late on, in late paleolithic, they may have also started  to heat water by putting hot stones in a put or heating the water in animal belies over open fire. That was the beginning of cooking.

In neolithic people started to use earth ware pottery and this fact is seen today by the historians and archaeologists as being a food revolution. Using pottery for cooking allowed our ancestors to cook in boiling water, fact that change the tests, the nutrition balance and the eating habits. They would also grill, bake and braise.

There are lots of ways to start a fire and the primitive man must have known at list few. As they advanced and settled, they also preserved fire, which is much easier then starting it.
From this point, the cooking process and the food we ate only got better.