Cooking "Clan of the Cave Bear" Style!

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Trial Five

Hot rock method using the ugly pot containing 3.5 litres of water. Again, I transferred the rock with a shovel, taking care not to bring along too much ash or coals. The ugly pot attachment thongs were connected to the ring with a single long thong wound through and amongst them and the ring with the intention of making the horizontal level of the pot more adjustable. While this worked for the most part, when I dropped in the rock, the whole pot shifted spilling much of the water. However, the water that was left boiled throughout (as opposed to bubbling in the immediate vicinity of the rock) with one rock in about a minute. This would be a fast method for making a quick cup of tea.

Trial Six

I decided to give the good pot, now ugly and misshapen, another trial with 4 litres of water. It took 2 rocks to get boiling throughout in six minutes, boiling petering out for four minutes after that to a complete non-boil.

boil image Trial Seven

The ugly pot, 3.5 litres of water. Three rocks to boiling throughout in four and half minutes. Four minutes after that to a non-boil.

Trial Eight

I decided I was going to get the over-the-fire method to work even if I had to destroy the pot in the process. Showing it no mercy, I lowered it directly into the flames. Twelve minutes later one of the support thongs burned through and the contents spilled onto the fire without it having achieved a boil.

In The Clan of the Cave Bear, Auel's Neandertals make sure the level of the water remains above the flames (Auel, 1980, page 81). Clearly I had not been as careful as they.

I considered repairing it and trying again, this time keeping a closer eye on the flames, perhaps pouring water on any area in danger of burning, but even in so considering it was already clear that, in comparison with the hot rock method, the leather pot-over-fire approach is a real non-method, or, at best, a grossly inefficient one. I could have boiled water twice in the time it had taken just to lose a support thong.


Cooking using the hot rock method would be more efficient than using leather pots over a fire.

Refinements for Future Attempts

If this experiment were to be done again, the first thing I would require would be more time. Ideal would be about a week in the summer when it could reasonably be expected not to rain in this part of the world. Two of three days of the first weekend at Rosewood Gardens in Hope were lost to rain. The second weekend I could only spend the Saturday (thankfully weather cooperated) due to the demands of school and end of semester crunch.

With more time, I would explore the optimum method of hot rock cooking. I find it interesting that in trial six two rocks got the water to boiling in six minutes, while in trial seven, three rocks had it boiling in four and a half. It raises the question of what is the optimum time to number of rocks to volume relationship. I successfully demonstrated that hot rock cooking is faster than cooking in a leather pot over the fire, but have yet to determine just how fast the hot rock method can be. Should people with fire pits put away their microwaves?

[Feb 21, 1997: Received an email from Bonnie (Dakona) Farner which calls into question my assumption that cooking by this method is 'quick'. While she is sceptical of the skin-pot-over-fire method, she notes from experience that cooking a stew with the hot rock method takes hours. She also includes the ingredients for a tried and tested hot rock stew! Full text of her message is included here.]

It would also be a good idea to make a special trip to a stream to collect unweathered igneous cobbles which could be reused over many trials without disintegrating. Better yet, send a geologist or someone experienced with construction and operation of sweat lodges, since exploding sedimentary rock is unwelcome in that situation as well.

In presentation of this project in tutorial, Michael Wilson observed that perhaps the reason the pots failed to boil over the flames is that the energy being released by steam was equivalent to that coming in from the flames, and that if the diameter of pot the were less this might be somewhat mitigated. TA Bob Muir wryly noted that perhaps it would be simpler to just put a lid on it, a point which was made again by Lloyd Bogart (and Bert Kamphuis) by email, along with other insightful comments [Aug 30, 1996, personal correspondence ~ Jean Auel as well thinks a lid would be a good idea].

damage image If I were to construct another leather pot, I would fold the edge of the leather over the rim towards the inside of the pot, so that they would be less exposed to flame. Overall the pots took the direct heat well, with the exception of the final trial where not only edge damage was a concern, but the flames charred off a thin bit off the bottom of the pot. Further trials with a better designed pot, carefully watched (never mind the proverb), could also determine how well the pot could stand up to direct flame before it was destroyed. Given the damage to the bottom of the pot from one trial of limited duration, I suspect that the pot overall would not last many trials.

(left) Damage to bottom of ugly pot: charred layer flaking off

(below) Edge damage to ugly pot: Had the ring been made of willow rather than metal it is likely that the structural integrity would have been compromised (though once shrinkage has occurred the rawhide, while becoming softer, does keep its shape even when containing boiling water)
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