Bonfire fare: Birmingham foodies’ recipes for a festive Fall

Kathy d'Agostino of Chocolatá hard at work. She offered a marshmallow recipe for our feature on bonfire fare to make your Fall more festive.
Kathy d’Agostino hard at work in her 2nd Avenue North shop, Chocolatá. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Now that the leaves have changed and the evenings are chilly, it’s time for Fall bonfires. I reached out to four of Birmingham’s many foodies to ask them for recipes for bonfire fare that’ll make your Fall more festive.

Brilliant fall leaves in Birmingham's Railroad Park look like a bonfire, and that means it's time for bonfire fare - food and drink to warm you from the inside out.
Don’t these brilliant Fall leaves from Birmingham’s Railroad Park look like fire? Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Chocolatá’s favorite chocolate marshmallow recipe

Because bonfire fare has to start with tasty warm beverages, I reached out to Kathy d’Agostino, proprietor of Birmingham’s Chocolatá, an exquisite little boutique located downtown on 2nd Avenue North, to talk hot cocoa. Her shop sells a super-tasty hot cocoa mix, so she offered us a marshmallow recipe that’s fun to make with kids. 

Bonfire fare has to start with hot cocoa, and Birmingham's Chocolatá has a mix that's out of this world.
Hot cocoa and sipping chocolate mixes on display at Chocolatá in downtown Birmingham. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now. 

Chocolatá's Bonfire Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows to make hot cocoa even tastier at your next Fall bonfire. Photo by Chocolatá.

Marshmallows may be stored in a sealed container for three weeks.

Ingredients

  • 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
  • 3⁄4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1⁄4 cup honey
  • 3 tbsp. unflavored powdered gelatin, softened in 1⁄2 cup cold water
  • 3⁄4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder sifted (Kathy uses a pure cacao extract in powder, available at Chocolatá)
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • Canola oil, for greasing

Directions

  1. Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan, line bottom and sides with parchment paper, and grease paper. Grease a rubber spatula; set aside.
  2. Combine sugar, syrup, honey, and 1⁄2 cup water in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer; cook, without stirring, until syrup reaches 250° on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat; let cool to 220°.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 1⁄2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Place bowl of gelatin over boiling water; whisk until gelatin becomes liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; add 1⁄2 cup cocoa powder. Add cooled sugar syrup to gelatin; whisk on high speed until mixture holds stiff peaks, 5–6 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared pan; smooth top with oiled spatula; let cool until set, 5–6 hours.
  4. Combine remaining cocoa powder and cornstarch in a bowl and transfer to a strainer; dust work surface with mixture. Slide a knife around edge of pan to release marshmallows; remove from pan. Dust cocoa mixture over top. Using a slicing knife dusted with cocoa mixture, cut marshmallows into forty 1 1⁄2” squares (you can also use a star-shaped cookie cutter:) Toss marshmallows with remaining cocoa mixture.

Rachel Baay’s Charro Beans

Once you’ve got a warm beverage in hand, it’s good to have some good, hearty bonfire fare for your belly. Bonus if you can cook the food in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven on a grate over hot coals (not an open flame).


Rachel Baay (pronounced like “bye”) is one of those folks who can show up anywhere with all the makings for a party in the back of her car. Married to Neville Baay, one of the co-owners of Birmingham hot spots El Barrio, Paramount, and The Woolworth, she’s no stranger to tasty food or to entertaining.

Rachel Baay's Charro Beans

Hearty beans to fill your belly on a cold evening. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Even better with rice.

Ingredients

  • 1 16oz can of pinto beans
  • small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 can of light lager beer
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 fresh lime
  • 1/2 c chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. First, get a small fire going for about 15 minutes before you plan to cook. Don’t use charcoal with lighter fluid for cooking.
  2. You’ll want to have a grate above coals (not an open flame) where you can sit your cast iron skillet or dutch oven. And, feel free to do this on the stove and have it ready for folks who want to come inside to warm up, too. It would be great with a pot of rice.
  3. Once the setup is ready, brown the bacon.
  4. Add garlic and onion and cook until tender.
  5. Add pepper, beans chipotle, oregano and beer.
  6. Cook till hot.
  7. Add lime, cilantro and salt to taste.
  8. Serve, eat, and enjoy!

Rishon Hanners’ Easy Berry Skillet Cobbler

Not only does Rishon Hanners love food, but she and her husband Chris Melton have been known to host the odd bonfire at their Glen Iris home. She works for a national publication as a food stylist, and was kind enough to share one of her favorite bonfire fare recipes with us.

“Everyone loves a berry cobbler and it’s so easy to put together. Enjoy your warm, crisp cobbler out beside your Autumn campfire. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!”

Rishon Hanners

Rishon Hanners' Easy Berry Cobbler

This berry cobbler is also delicious the next morning for breakfast. . .if you have any leftovers. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups fresh or frozen berries (Rishon likes to do a mixture of raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp All Purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Place a 10-in Cast Iron skillet in preheating oven.
  2. Stir together berries, ½ cup sugar, brown sugar, 2 Tbsp flour, lemon juice and cinnamon (if using) in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine ½ cup flour, remaining ½ cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and milk. It should look like pancake batter.
  4. Add butter into the skillet in the oven and allow the butter to brown slightly (it will sizzle and become foamy). You want the melted butter and skillet to be hot.
  5. When skillet and butter are ready, carefully remove from the oven. Pour batter over the hot butter in the skillet and immediately our berry mixture over the batter.
  6. Put skillet back in oven and bake until golden brown, 30-35 minutes. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, Greek yogurt, etc.
According to Rishon, “This cobbler, made in a Cast Iron skillet, can also be cooked outside at a fire pit. You will need a lid and the correct ventilation for the skillet above your coals. If you are inexperienced with cooking at an outdoor fire, please be sure to research what you will need. Time and temperature will vary.”
Fall bonfires call for bonfire fare.
Fall bonfires call for bonfire fare – food and drink to warm you from the inside and fill your belly. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now. 

LeNell Camacho Santa Ana’s Hot Hibiscus

After warming up with hot cocoa and marshmallows, then filling your belly with beans and cobbler, you might be completely satisfied. Or, you might be in the mood for a little of the adult beverage variety of bonfire fare. 


Birmingham’s Norwood neighborhood is home to LeNell’s Beverage Boutique, the hottest liquor shop in town. LeNell, who was known in Brooklyn, New York as “Lady Bourbon,” shared a recipe for Hot Hibiscus, the adult beverage she’d most enjoy savoring on a cold night by the fire. 

LeNell Comacho Santa Ana's favorite bonfire fare is hot hibiscus. Dried hibiscus flowers in a market.
Isn’t dried hibiscus pretty? It’s so tasty, too. “Dried hibiscus in Aswan souk,” by Fearghal O’Nuallain . CC BY 2.0

“Spiced hibiscus tea works great as a refreshing, versatile mixer on the rocks with Vodka, Gin, Rum, Brandy, Tequila, and, of course, our beloved Bourbon!  One winter we decided to throw some in a mug and heat it up.  It was so delicious hot that we quickly made it one of our holiday party favorites that delights everyone since they get to choose what spirit to add.”

LeNell Camacho Santa Ana

You can find dried hibiscus at Mi Pueblo on Green Springs called “jamaica (Huh-My-Uh-Kuh)” in Spanish, or under the name “roselle” at the Super Oriental Market (next to the Red Pearl) on West Valley Avenue in Homewood. Red Zinger tea will also work. But, the calyx of the flower helps give a stronger flavor, and you won’t get that from a tea bag. 

LeNell Comacho Santa Ana's favorite bonfire fare is hot hibiscus. It's good if the dried hibiscus includes the calyces of the flowers.
The green part behind the flower is the calyx. “Hibiscus diversifolius flower 2 NC,” by Harry Rose. CC BY 2.0.

LeNell Camacho Santa Ana's Hot Hibiscus

LeNell in her Beverage Boutique. Photo by Christopher Thomas.

Best if you use dried hibsicus, but Red Zinger tea will work, too. When you add rice grains on the second day, it “results in a very slight fermentation that adds complexity to the flavor.”

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts Water
  • 1 cup Raw Sugar
  • 2 cups Dried Hibiscus
  • 1/4 cup Grated Fresh Ginger
  • Peel of a whole orange
  • Peel of a whole lemon
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon Whole Cloves
  • 15 grains of Rice
  • 2-3 Star Anise pods, optional as garnish

Directions

  1. Boil the water and add sugar, stirring until dissolved.
  2. Add hibiscus, ginger, citrus peels, cinnamon, and cloves.
  3. Leave out for 24 hours.
  4. Next day, strain into large metal, ceramic or glass container, discarding solids. Don’t use cast iron or hibiscus will turn from reddish to dark purple color from reaction with iron.
  5. Add rice and let stand for another 24 hours, unrefrigerated.
  6. Add to crock pot or put pan on stovetop with eye on lowest setting to keep warm for party guests. “I like to decorate with a star anise pod or two floating on the top. Assemble mugs or favorite punch cups. Set out bottles of Rum, Gin, Bourbon, Tequila, Vodka, and Brandy for your guests to choose their own boozy adventure!” says LeNell.

Thanks to Kathy d’Agostino, Rachel Baay, Rishon Hanners, and LeNell Camacho Santa Ana for sharing such tasty recipes for bonfire fare. With one or all of these at your next bonfire, you’re sure to keep guests of all ages warm and satisfied.


Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference