By Joanie Stiers
Fall-time wiener roasts rank second for my favorite casual meal. Only a meal in the field during the corn and soybean harvest can top it.
My family likes to dine out – in the outside sense of the word. In fact, I met my husband at a wiener roast. We exchanged our first words near the fire. Three years later, we exchanged vows and began to weave wiener roasts into our marital journey.
The attraction remains the casual outdoor attire, family nature and hearty, home-cooked food, including baked beans, cheesy potato casserole, apple salad and a darkened hot dog topped with two spoonfuls of my aunt’s homemade relish.
I especially love that I can drop the garden hoe or park the lawn mower and attend a planned or impromptu roast with a five-minute prep time and grass clippings in my hair. No need to bathe, change clothes or put on makeup. The roasts are as inviting as our church’s annual Come-As-You-Are Luncheon. The difference is you leave smellier than you arrived. The smoke permeates your hair and hooded sweatshirt with the scent of burnt wood and the occasional flame-raising paper plate.
Like most farm activities, farm-based wiener roasts have evolved. Twenty years ago, Dad would pile logs bigger than fence posts in the barnyard or a grassy space away from the house. With matches, a little diesel fuel and some time to burn down, the fire was ready for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows with an 8-foot-long willow stick. Anything shorter would singe the eyebrows.
In general, preparation was more extensive. We took the pickup truck to the wet spot of the cattle pasture to cut willows and whittle them into points for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. We pulled straw bales from the barn for seating.
Now, we roll out the fire pit, grab some pre-cut firewood from the pile, unsack the camping chairs and wipe off the two-pronged metal hot dog sticks. Yet even with the changes, I still love wiener roasts, and the convenience means we experience them more often. Before the kids were born, my husband and I would pull out the fire pit on many late summer and early fall evenings for the ambiance and s’mores. We would talk about the day and wave at Farmer Don, whose truck sound and speed identified him before his style of wave. We look forward to these unplanned evening roasts again now that our youngest nears school age, old enough to respect the fireside rules.
Over the years, wiener roasts have become the central theme for birthday parties, fishing trips, Fourth of July celebrations and our church’s Sunday School kickoff. The local 4-H club still has an annual one to start its membership year. I remember those gatherings. The 4-H leader presented the annual willow-stick safety speech, teaching 4- to 5-foot-tall kids how to carry the towering things and not fling flaming marshmallows.
Speaking of the gooey delights, I keep marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers on hand year round in s’more-designated containers. I’ve been known to crave even the chewier, microwavable version in winter for a flavor of crisp, fall days.