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【40 Years of Reform and Opening-up】See the Chimney Smoke Rise again

Time:2018-10-26 17:22:00 Source: China Youth China Youth International

  After the old rice cooker that had been used for many years at home broke down, I bought a better one online which was claimed to be able to cook tasty rice like it was cooked with firewood. When it was delivered, I found it was not easy to hold the spherical inner pot for its weight, let alone the whole cooker. The rice cooked in this new cooker was so crystal-clear, sweet and delicious that children loved to eat. However, my father said, “The taste is still within a stone’s throw from that of rice cooked with firewood.” 

  The elder generation has a say for rice cooked with firewood. My father was born in Yiyang County, Jiangxi Province in the 1950s. At that time, every household was cooking on the stove with firewood. Comparatively speaking, small coal stoves were rare because coal was a relatively scarce substance which should be bought with coupons. Therefore, coal stoves were no match for wood stoves in terms of a strong flavor of life. My father lived near the train station. There was a small freight yard where a few coal cars entered and left occasionally. Sounds of cars gave “an assembling signal” to the children nearby to pick up cinders. However, in many cases, it was really hard to collect half dustpan of cinders in half a year due to short supplies. 

  Although there were few cinders, it was easier to collect firewood. Yiyang had a good ecological environment all the time. Verdant trees could be seen everywhere even in the county town. They were inexhaustible energy treasures. For many children in average families, they had no paddy field to work in and couldn’t eat the bread of idleness. It was necessary to help adults with trifles and collecting firewood was one of the representative activities. Every mealtime, wisps of smoke were curling up continuously from the chimneys. All they ate was entrusted to the wood stove on a corner of the kitchen and firewood burnt inside the wood stove contained children’s efforts. 

  My father said that wood stove cooking required patience and craft. Straw was usually used as the trigger for ignition. When the fire flared up, it would spread to the dry firewood that was already in position. As the fire was blazing with thick fumes, choked coughs in the kitchen could be heard from time to time. After the fire was stable, adults would shift their attention to that large iron pot. To cook a good meal, water was necessary. Since flames created by firewood would wave around which made it hard for rice to be cooked thoroughly, people could only depend on water to make a difference. The other reason was that rice left by every household was indeed “not much”. Those inexperienced young wives needed to stand by stoves all the time just to control the heat. When it was almost done, a trick could be used: poke a few holes in it with chopsticks in case it was “dry outside but thin inside”. Every time I heard these daily stories, I felt cooking a meal at that time was no easy task. 

  My father was brought up on rice cooked with firewood. In the early 1980s, he came to work in Guixi County (now it has been upgraded into Guixi City), not far from his hometown. At that time, the reform and opening up had already ushered in a grand journey and small cities had also made thriving changes. Liquefied gas had been used at home since I could remember. She thought it was one of the two great things that the unit leaders had done and often mentioned. The other one she thought was the closed-circuit television.  

  It was only by comparison that the gaps become visible. At that time, the wood stove could still be seen in my grandmother’s home who lived in the same county town. Although the liquefied gas stove was used, I had no idea why the old wood stove had not been “retired” all the time. In my childhood memory, the kitchen was blackened by smoke and fire. Sometimes, my grandmother would bring me several burned rice crusts to eat which were the “by-products” of cooking with firewood. Some people would particularly cook rice to that burnt and dry degree. But when I ate them, I was always wondering why their tastes were different from the ones bought from a snack bar. A few years later, the doubt that “they were not the same” was cleared up. 

  When I began to cook as the head of family, it had already entered the gas era. For the elder generation, the taste of rice cooked with firewood has been distant but familiar in their memories. To be precise, I, as one of those born in 1980s, have strong feelings, too. In recent years, the economic development gives birth to recreational demands. Farm stays have become popular, almost all of which highlight rice cooked with firewood. Seeing the chimney smoke rise again makes us remember the rice all the time. However, neither my father nor I have tasted it. Perhaps the pure aftertastes of life exist in such kind of sweetness after bitterness with sputters of fire under the stove in the old house and familiar smells spilling over the wooden lid. 

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