Thursday, 23 January 2014

Bushcraft 'Confectionary'

I first saw this 'bushcraft confectionary' idea in Bushcraft and Survival Skills magazine, it was a cardboard recipe insert done by Fergus Drennen. It's a bitesize mouthful which uses the otherwise fairly bland jelly ear fungus.

Firstly after harvesting the jelly ear which usually grows on Elder (but some of the ones I collected were found on a willow). I washed them and trimmed the middle out where they were connected if needed.

After patting them dry I left them on a piece of kitchen roll to air dry for 3-4 days. You'll see quite a difference in colour, size and texture and you'll know when they are ready for the next stage.

You'll now need to select a liquid flavour of your choice to soak the dried jelly ears in. I've usually made them with an apricot brandy liqueur and they've come out looking a bit like, and indeed tasting a bit like, a bit of a grown up Jaffa cake. When I posted some pics of one batch on Facebook, Fergus replied and said that he was considering using espresso which I replied to and suggested something along the lines of you will forego blinking for a while!  Kevan Palmer also suggested Tia Maria and I decided to reprise the afore mentioned liqueur and to try Tia Maria. Instant problem with the Tia Maria, I found that I didn't have any left! So a quick plan be was to try a sugary coffee mix instead.

I divided the jelly eras into two bowls and left them soaking for a day...well actually two days for this batch as I wanted to see if it made any difference to the strength (even though I guess there is a maximum saturation point I didn't think it would hurt).

The final ingredient needed is chocolate for dipping the reconstituted jelly ears in. You usually use a bain marie but some short and careful bursts in the microwave will suffice. I used dark chocolate for the alcoholic one and a mix of cooking milk chocolate and dark chocolate an approximate 3:1 ratio for the coffee because I wondered if dark chocolate and coffee might be a bit too punchy together.

So, lie back on the couch and look at the coffee stain...what picture do you see?

Once the chocolate is liquid, either stick the jelly ears on a cocktail stick and dip them, or put a few in and stir them around and then have fun getting them out! Just hold the chocolate covered Jelly ear over the bowl and allow any excess drops to drip off. Place them on a piece of silicone paper (or similar) and allowed to dry.

Once dry, store in a sealable bag or Tupperware box. The liqueur one tasted a little light on flavour which I've put down to the two day soak and the possible evaporation of alcohol but the coffee one was really, really good and will be done again. I recently took some to The World of Bushcraft when I did a Bowdrill 1-2-1 session but got so involved in the session and retail therapy  afterwards I forgot to offer them around, sorry folks!

So this is the finished article and whilst the jelly ear is a little on the chewy side it's great trying the different liquids to see which works.

And I've included this picture because the underneath reminds me of a dragon's eye...just sayin'...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The World of Bushcraft

I got badly lost the last time I left the Woodland Ways' World of Bushcraft centre in Bedford. If you want the A1(M) you need to initially follow the M1 road sign to ultimately get to the A603 to Sandy and therefore the A1(M). The road off the roundabout on the A603 (which leads to the Barkers Lane turning) is marked as the A5140 on internet maps, but look for the (A428) to Cambridge sign.

Once you are near you'll see signs for the Premier Inn, turn into the car park and park up. You'll see a wall with another parking area accessed through a small opening, it's in here that you'll find the World of Bushcraft.

Anyway, I recently visited the centre again to see Jason Ingamells for a 1-2-1 bushcraft session and whilst there I asked Kevan Palmer if it was OK to take some pictures for my blog. I thought rather than add it to the 1-2-1 blog entry I'd do it as a largely pic heavy extra.

It has moved around since I was last there in that the display/ demo area is now in the far corner and separate from the impressive library/ study area. The thing that I like about the layout is that whilst it is kit heavy, it's well laid out and doesn't look rammed or cluttered like other establishments I could mention.

As well as seeing Jason there for the tuition, Kevan Palmer was also there, along with Jo as it was stocktake time and it was good to have a chat with all of well as multiple petting sessions with the boss Quercus of course!

Towards the library/ study area and Maasai display/ The Maasai display..

Towards the book section/ A view from within the clothing section of the display/ area..

A shot looking at part of the clothing section and sleeping/ tarp stuff/ Water leading onto their new range of Dutch ovens (I was taken by the Dutchies, the new ones look like a solid piece of kit with the lids having little 'legs' to make it perform well as a skillet). 

Flasks, leading onto the shiny sharps bit.

The pictures I've taken are by no means exhaustive when it comes to  the full range and I would encourage a visit, or failing that a look at the website. Don't forget that the centre also does a large (and indeed recently expanded) list of tutoring sessions on a Wednesday afternoon. If you wanted to make more of a day of it, you are right next to the Priory lake too.

World of Bushcraft Bowdrill 1-2-1

Of all the things bushcrafty I've taught myself it has to be mastering a bowdrill. I didn't rush out and try but I read watched asked and re-checked, I settled on trying with a willow set and I got the pieces of kit as and when I could in a controlled manner, rather than dashing out and trying to source them asap. When I got started I managed copious smoke and brown cool dust on attempts 1-3, and ember on attempt 4 which I managed to blow out of my tinder bundle (crestfallen doesn't begin to cover it), and an ember and a flaming tinder bundle on go 5 in late September 2008. I've saved the charred depression which I used to conquer it, along with the bow I used which is so large I wonder how I managed, but manage I did to the point where it developed a crack and I inserted a screw to hold it!

For a while I became quite proficient and branched out (no pun intended) to use other woods which included poplar, ivy, lime,  hazel and sycamore and could do multiple coals one after another. So far so good you might think, so fast forwarding to now, why am I looking at a bowdrill 1-2-1 session at the World Of Bushcraft?

Earlier I used the word mastering, perhaps this suggests I'm skilled enough to be almost infallible. I'm not of course. I don't practice enough and equally don't rotate the different woods that can be used (I'm currently a hazel and lime man, the best combo I have used in my humble opinion).

I've also tried demonstrating twice (outside of my immediate household) and both were less than successful. The first was at Cubs when I was in the groove but I found out very quickly that bow drilling straight after tea isn't good due to the cramped drilling stance and I got close but it was hurting too much! For the second I was cajoled on a slightly damp day against my better judgement and again, despite making lots of smoke  I couldn't quite manage an ember.

Both these episodes knocked my confidence somewhat and I found myself using the technique in splendid isolation and with longer gaps between embers...I was managing one and resting on my laurels which is something I'm still doing to a certain extent...This is where Mr Jason Ingamells comes in...

I was lucky enough to get a 'Willy Wonka' golden ticket to the World of Bushcraft opening and I recall Jason's smooth bowdrilling action when he gave a demo and this, coupled with the all weather nature of the premises (and what I've just typed previously) made me decide to get in contact.

The 1-2-1 was sorted for the morning of January 13th and normally when you are looking forward to something it seems to take ages to arrive, but the time seemed to fly and actually I found myself rushing round to get some stuff sorted to take! I'd actually said that I'd have paid a small fee just to talk about fire by friction as my family usually give me a Mrs Brown 'That's nice' when I go into detail about anything bushcrafty.

As Sunday night arrived I had a bit of trepidation about the next day. This was exacerbated somewhat by the fact that , as stated, I tend to rest on my laurels and the extended period of rainy weather had meant that the only chance to practice before the session was the afternoon before. It was dry but with a damp feel in the air and with a bit of huff and puff I managed to knock out a quite decent ember (which as I'd bothered I blew to flame). I was pleased with this but decided to leave it at that because I needed to save my muscles for the two hour stint that awaited...Or did I?

It was a beautiful day to drive up to Bedford and having arrived in good time I decided to have a quick look at the Priory lake which is behind the centre (but accessed through a different road).

A quick look it was as I was itching to get into the World of Bushcraft centre. I grabbed my bowdrilling stuff and headed in to be greeted initially on the stairs by Quercus, and then Kevan Palmer who was there helping out  with a stocktake, having said hello to him and the radiant looking Joanne *with child*, Jason made his way out of the office to see me and got on my right side by making me a cup of tea!

I had a quick stooge around the retail part, a sort of pre shopping browse, and then headed to the display/ demo area to set myself up before Jason came over with the beverage. We sat down and started having a chat about Woodland Ways' success in the Best in Bushcraft awards and this and that and then we started.

Apart from an email I sent Jason about some areas that I would like to look at I was quite open to seeing how the session progressed and hearing anything he wanted to add. As I'd dragged along my sets and various paraphernalia Jason decided to start by looking at my sets and critiquing them, some dimensions were due to preference/ size but some were perhaps issues that I'd built into my game and compensated as I was self taught. He was very honest but not once did I feel like I was being told off. And we went on from there until we had a mix of my stuff and the centres demo stuff together (we also used my knife which I'm pleased to say past muster on the sharpness front).

I then had my bowdrilling 'weighed', my stance and speed tweaked, the powder pulled apart (like an owl pellet) to be shown the contradictory nature of the different coloured powders' size. The temperature of my bowdrilling and resulting ember, discussions on cordage and with lots of digressions and asides about fire, bushcrafting, and the world in general.

I  said to Jason that I likened the tweaking of my kit and stance to a passage I read in a book about the Supermarine Spitfire which listed lots of minor modifications like a smooth wax and a whip aerial which added about 40mph to the plane's speed, regardless of what engine was 'under the bonnet'.

Once I'd put all the things that Jason had pointed out together I turned the hot dust I was making under his watchful eye into a viable, self sustaining ember in literally seconds and I actually commented on the amount of smoke those few seconds made me cough which has never happened before! To finish with Jason suggested that I have a look through the centre's box of baseboards and drills and marry them up for a final practice. My random selections yielded results but on the first depression I was talking and overdid the v shaped notch, the second I did a bit too close to the edge of the board. This was still a win as I was taught how to drill at a slight angle on the second, and managed to 'nipple' an ember on the first.


With a professional bushcrafter instructor who could talk himself hoarse about fire, tutoring a hobbyist bushcrafter who was willing to listen and interact until hoarse the two hours just flew by and my plan to take loads of pictures and notes didn't realty materialise as I was so absorbed.

I've realised that my style was all turn and burn...fighting the bowdrill set to rip fire from it whereas I'll now cajoule the bowdrill set to give me fire from it. Without getting too higher self it's almost strikes me as being similar to showing nature (ie the trees that have provided the wood) respect for what it gives up. As I look at the picture of the ember I knocked out the day before for practice I now think wasted energy instead of good amount of powder. I bid Jason farewell as he was heading for a meeting but I had just enough time to stash my kit before coming back in to have a spend. You can look to book the private 2 hour sessions here. Recommended. Have a look at my later bowdrill technique and combinations page here to see my 'journey'.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Possum and Wool Hat From Woodlore

I've seen a lot written about  the Possum fur and wool and decided that I'd stump up the £20 that one needs to get one from Woodlore. There are four colours available and I want it to use it when out and about in the woods or countryside so I instantly dismissed navy and black (especially the former), so that left me with moss or ebony to choose from, and  after lots of umming and ahhing, I decided on the latter as it was a dark brown but could be used with black clothes too.

Guess who managed to add a navy one to his basket and duly order it? Yep, me. I was crushed to say the least and emailed Woodlore to see if they would take pity on this numpty...They do have a very fair numpty policy! I've reproduced the email reply that I got from Woodlore's  Merchandise & Media Manager Steven Bullen :-

Hi there Austin, Please simply make a note on the invoice which colour you would like to swap for, and we will take care of it for you. Please just send the item back to us at the address below, with a copy of your invoice:

Woodlore Ltd, PO Box 3, Etchingham, East Sussex, TN19 7ZE. Please simply make a note on the invoice which colour you would like to swap for, and we will take care of it for you. Best wishes,

Steven Bullen,
Merchandise & Media Manager,
Woodlore Limited.

Can't say fairer than that! Upon receiving the email I posted it back and received it within four days and as far as I'm concerned it isn't physically possible to do it any quicker, especially as we where will into the Christmas gift buying time. 

Right, onto the hat. The navy hat is navy, the ebony is a gorgeous brown, and the first tactile impression of it is how lovely and smooth it feels in the hand, in fact it almost feels like cashmere. It's made as a 'tube' in that the hat can pull inside out into a shape that is reminiscent of a deflated football. It is however easy to push into shape.

The Woodlore online shop has the facility to rate purchases and when I emailed Steven to thank him for the smooth exchange I said that I'd rate the hat but after I'd used it, too many product reviews say things like 'It feels nice and I think it will be really good'-Review it after use!

So the goods things I've heard and read about this hat got tested. It really is a low itch hat and it's worth putting a cheap one on afterwards to get a comparison, it is very warm and as someone who suffers from earache it alleviates this when rolled down over your ears (adjusting the deflated football design) and precious little wind gets through.

With the current weather it wasn't long before I got to test it in the rain...And I chose an hour in rain that made bubbles in the puddles as it fell. I can report that my hat was warm and dry during this period. All in all I'm really pleased with this purchase and can confirm that all the good things you may hear about this product are indeed genuinely good things.  

Information on the use of possum fur and it's benefits can be found here, the range of goods available from Noble Wilde can be found here.