I've known for years that
the finest fire starters for use in our wood stove are cones from the White
Pine. These are the large, long cones with plenty of sticky pitch on them.
Sometimes this pitch is so thick that the cones look like they've been
frosted and it is this flammable pitch along with the thin, woody scales,
that make the cone a great fire starter. One or two under some dry fire
logs, plus a match, and you have a satisfying fire to watch while it warms
In autumn, when the air turns wonderfully crisp and clear, the cones begin to fall with each gust of wind. The pine seeds have been dropped long ago and the fallen cones are only the husks, discarded by the tree now that their purpose has been fulfilled.
This is the time to get to work collecting bags full of these wonderful starters and the bags themselves are where the chance for snobbery comes in. The perfect bag for collecting White Pine cones is a paper shopping bag, the kind with handles. The paper lets any residual moisture escape and the handles make it easy to hang on a hook in the garage and to carry to the hearth.
I should note here that the sticky pitch on the cones is easy to remove from your fingers if you use, would you believe, peanut butter. Don't use smelly paint thinner or gasoline, just rub some peanut butter on your hands and then wash with soap and water. Apparently the oil in peanut butter does the trick.
In my mind, small as the woman I married sometimes believes it to be, the name printed on the cone storage bag is as important as the cones inside. Since they are so common, it is simply too easy to use non-handled bags from the grocery store. No, a Cub or Red Owl or Schafer's bag just won't do. What are needed are bags with some character, and if possible, some evident age for a nostalgic touch.
My own cones (some of which just may have been purloined in the dark of night from under a neighbor's ancient White Pines) reside in bags that carry high-class and sometimes nostalgic names. My favorite is a sturdy, dark green bag with the store name boldly emblazoned on both sides. It does not say Macy's or even Marshall Field's but a clearly nostalgic Dayton's. I allow only those I wish to impress to view the Dayton's shopping bag and it's cargo of fine White Pine cones. Bankers, Stockbrokers and Grandchildren fall into this category.
Some of my other bags are from Nordstrom's, an admittedly high-end store but without the nostalgia factor of Dayton's. And those of you who have shopped various other parts of the United States might recognize my shopping bag from Peppercorn in Boulder, Colorado, a high-end store that is like a William's Sonoma store on steroids (and a "must visit" if you're in Boulder).
I've used no bags from outside of the U.S. although I did consider one from Senior Frog's in Mazatlan until I realized that it was made of plastic. Now that so many of you will know about the snob appeal of pine cone bags, I may have to do some international travel to stay ahead of my Lake Hubert neighbors. Until then I am content to know that I have a Dayton's bag and other's don't. Na na na NA na na!
Written by someone who wishes
to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from his neighbors who have
White Pine trees.