Ralph Steadman: Peat and The Turf Cutters

Cutting peat is perhaps one of the less common pursuits of ordinary folks and, I would imagine, is practically non-existent among the aristocracy, though I heard a whisper that the occasional Irish lord would take his turn, between hangovers, to clear the head. Peat bogs are invariably windswept and, in that way, perfectly situated for the purpose for which they were cut, which was generally to keep a body warm. Basically, peat is cut as a fuel which, being dense in texture in its waterlogged state, is extracted from straight-cut peat-banks and left to dry in long 18 inch by 5 inch square blocks in wigwam-style piles called fixings. When dry, it is black and hard and, in some cases, not unlike coal.

Cutting peat is not an unpleasant experience. If you only have a yard or so to deal with. If you are a serious peat cutter with a real purpose then you purchase about 80 yards of a peat bog, about a yard wide, and you cut 18 inch-deep furrows…This amount will keep a fire going for an average heavy Scottish winter, and fill your house with the most delicious, aromatic and musty smell you can imagine. [And then you taste it later in the peaty whiskies, especially those from Islay.]

Editors Note: I have been mesmerized by the smell of peat since my first trip to Ireland 25 years ago. I have a supply of turf in the garage that I burn in the pit, especially on cool Autumn nights with a fog in the air to keep the smoke and smell from dissipating, lingering into the night.

Over at Whisky for Everyone, a good post on the use of peat in whisky and which whiskies have what amount in them.

You can buy peat here (nice short video to seduce you) or here.

For a double treat, have a dram of one of these while the turf smolters–you get the smell and taste of peat.



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Josh is an author, former blogger, media critic, x-Capitol Hill legislative aide and White House assistant, business consultant, idea marketing specialist, a squatter at the global village virtual bar and an alpine rock gardener where he lives in Woodstock, NY.