All about smoke (or almost.)

Joseph J Kozma

Would you like to see a smokehouse on the square? You can at times. Well, not quite, but something that will remind you of one. This treatise is all about “good smoke” that makes itself useful and makes our lives more colorful.

Beekeepers use smoke usually through a smoker to make bees dormant or just calm while collecting honey. That is a good use of smoke. I was exposed to that when I visited Grandfather’s apiary. The weather was warm though it was late September. I wore no shirt while my grandfather, wearing his protective suit and feeding a “smoker,” collected honey from the beehives. He did not have a “modern” smoker that injects puffs of smoke into the hive. He had a large wooden box that generated smoke. Every often he would throw some wet leaves into the smoldering fire. There was plenty of smoke around him and the bees around the periphery of his protective smoke shield, where I was. The bees, disturbed, descended upon me in countless numbers, or so it seemed. At that point the story is clear. It took me several days to get over it. One consolation — the honey tasted good.

Grandfather had two more good uses for smoke and one that was bad. First, he had a smoke house. It was a robust-looking building without a window that was made of bricks of dried, unfired clay. The wall was thick and the roof was thatch. On the inside everything was black from fairly continuous use year after year. Ropes were hanging from the roof equipped with iron hooks. “In-season” ham, bacon and sausages were hanging after they had been cured mostly in some sort of brine that was kept secret. Every family produced its own specialty taste when preserving meat. Now if you want to see a “smokehouse,” stop in front of Schiraz on some Friday and look at a black box emitting smoke on top, taking the place of the real thing. It is a smoker readily available in various forms and sizes, and believe me, it works.

I learned from him another good application of smoke. It was in October, the balmy smooth weather changed suddenly and drastically. Frost was expected over night, Illinois showed its face. It was my second year in Illinois. I had a nice little cactus garden next to the garage; frost upon it could not be allowed. In a situation like that my grandfather protected his late-harvest vegetables by building a fire and blanketing the garden with smoke. So, that is what I did; it worked. Then when the real cold moved in, the cactus garden wintered in the slightly heated garage.

His bad smoke was and is everybody’s “bad smoke.” He smoked a pipe. I was too young to know the damage tobacco smoke could do to the lungs. His burning tobacco smelled good; the smoke around him made him look mysterious. He was popular with the gypsies who wandered around and begged him for the black content of his pipe that accumulated after a number of fills. That was their chewing tobacco. His smoking and his regular morning schnapps on an empty stomach did him in – he was 65.

One does not think of it much but it seems that smoke penetrates our lives more than we think. Remember some of the Westerns when smoke signals were interpreted by the wagon masters or the sheriffs of the new communities? Remember “Gunsmoke?” Remember “Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes?” How about the “Smoky Mountain Rain?” There are at least 20 songs with “smoke” in the title.

Let’s stop here. Let’s not get into the culinary aspect of smoke. Just sit in front of the smokehouse and have some smoked Gouda.

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