In all the years that I have spent traveling the world I have on many occasions seen the smoking fires made by the Charcoal Men but up to just recently I had never seen the full process of just how it is made.
Just a couple of weeks ago we employed 3 young lads who were cousins from up in the mountains, these boys were recommended by the DSWD so we gave them work.
They were very busy trimming the trees, they are like monkeys especially getting the coconuts for a Copra Harvest and working in the garden when one of the boys asked my wife if she wanted Charcoal, if so he could make it for her. That sounded like a very good idea as we had lots of tree trimmings so we told him to go ahead and start the process. This caught my attention because as I said, I had never actually seen Charcoal being made from start to finish.
The wife chose the site, just behind my cave which was good as I could keep an eye on the progress of the project!
There are several methods of making Charcoal but I will describe the first method that the boy used.
He started by digging a shallow pit about 3 meters long by just over a meter wide. He then laid in 2 long branches of Ipil Ipil tree along the full length of the pit on either side, this was to keep the main logs off the ground in order to allow air to pass under and fuel the fire with oxygen. Shorter logs, just over a meter wide were then stacked along the pit into the center where they rested against 2 vertical logs which would be removed once the cooking process had begun causing a chimney in the center drawing the fire slowley through the log piles allowing the Charcoal to form.
The whole stack of wood was covered with dry vegetation which would get the fire going then it was covered with Banana leaves etc which would hold back the flames as the whole area with the exception of a few air holes was covered in soil which would cause the contents of the pit to smoulder slowly and cook into Charcoal.
Once the fire was lit I was very surprised to see that there was not too much smoke after the initial few minutes and this smoke was created from the vegetation burning to get the fire started but after about one hour when the boy was happy and sure that all was burning correctly he then covered the pit and puled out the vertical posts and the small amount of smoke now came from the holes left which went down to the bottom of the pit drawing the air through in order to slowly fuel the fire.
I always thought that Charcoal cooking took several days but again I was wrong as this first batch was cooked in around 24 hours and we got 7 sacks from this first effort. The thicker the logs the longer it takes to cook!
We will continue making the Charcoal as we have plenty of trees which need constant maintenance and the money from the Charcoal and Copra that the boys have prepared is going to put them through Night School as they all did not finish their education because of the lack of finance. The wife got them enrolled into the school and if they are diligent then they can harvest different commodities from our land and should finish school if they really want too.
I really hope that they take this chance to better themselves but we will have to see. We have given other the same chance but most have not taken the offer too seriously and dropped out of school and returned to where they come from. Only time will tell!
As I said before, this is one method of cooking Charcoal, there are several other ways to do it!
Chris Dearne, aka "GenSan Chris" is a long term resident of the Philippines. Chris has been living in General Santos City since 1992! Chris owns a hotel in General Santos called Cambridge Farm Hotel, and also the Cambridge Dive Center, formerly Tuna City Scuba Center. Chris' interests include Scuba Diving, Instructing, and Formula 1 Racing.