Friday, 30 April 2021

Polaris Bushcraft Spring Forage.

 



For me there are several components that constitute a good forage; A knowledgeable lead, plenty to see, lots of information, stuff to try and a parachute covered fire to sit round. My recent Polaris Bushcraft day ticked all the boxes.

Polaris Bushcraft was formed by Graham Couling and is not only the only bushcraft school near me but it is also only 15-20 minutes from my house and very close to my 'homework wood' that I selected for an online tree and plant masterclass I signed up to during my six month paid work sabbatical. It is also near a train station and is close enough to walk to but equally I didn't hear a train all day which was good.

There were roadworks last time l visited my afore mentioned 'homework wood' which necessitated a large detour so even though it wasn't far l gave myself plenty of time. Typically there were none and l breezed through to the site in double quick time.

The instructions said that the turning is easily missed and as l approached l spotted it but decided to overshoot just to double check it and then found a place close by to turn round. When l did so and pulled in there was a vehicle in situ by the gate, it was instructor Graham.

 

I nipped up to the driver window to say 'Hello' and explain why l was early and once l was parked up Graham pointed out a large expanse of the 45 acre wood l could mooch about in whilst he and wife Natalie got the base camp ready. 

 

Pretty soon others arrived and after doing a bit of filming for the accompanying YouTube vid l had a quick chat with them. Whilst doing so l was getting a faint whiff of camp fire smoke which was making me keen to get in. Soon enough both of them appeared and it was a very short walk to a handsome parachuted base camp with a substantial field kitchen and various debris shelters from other courses about the place.

There was a Muntjac gate guardian and I was also the only one to bring a chair but there are wooden stumps to sit on. We had time for brew whilst Graham did a rundown of the itinary and then we were off. 

The first stop was just a few metres from the base camp and Graham, ably assisted by Natalie, then went from flower to plant to tree and gave some background to their edibilty, toxicity and uses. Graham often referred to a well worn journal and often produced facts and figures that he'd researched and there was a nice injection of light humour in proceedings too. It was also noticeable that we'd been out for a while and were still just skirting the edge of the camp which told a great deal about the health and diversity of the flora.

 

 During the morning several ancient woodland indicators were pointed out which included Wild Service trees (Sorbus tormentalis) which is a favourite tree of mine and indeed l did an article on it in the Winter 2016/ 17 issue of Bushcraft magazine after studying it closely in my 'Homework wood' (tree blog here).

 

After a morning that provided plenty of species we reconvened at basecamp for our packed lunches and another brew before a short walk to the camp edge, this time armed with digging sticks to mainly forage Pignuts (Conopodium majus) which were munched there and then and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) which would need roasting in the embers. One find that caught my eye was a recently discovered patch of Solomans Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum)...Another ancient wood indicator. 

Thereafter it was a mix of trying different concoctions and treats that Graham and Natalie had bought along, everything from Dandelion syrup to fried Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) at the basecamp. The roots of the Lesser Celandine  where quite fiddly to roast and I elected to wrap mine in a Ramson leaf before inserting into the ashes, which worked but of course it added  garlic taste to the roots! 

I had harvested some Few-flowered Leek (Allium paradoxum) and brought it along for them, I was also going to bring some Alexanders stems but decided me just rocking up with an Apiaceae lacking most of it's ID features perhaps wasn't a good idea. They had put some teaser posts of the stuff they were bringing on social media and I re-posted it and a neighbour saw it and offered me a Duck or Pheasant to bring

  

Overall I think the day was well pitched to cater for both keen hobbyists like me as well as not overloading a curious newbie, the woods are gorgeous and the pair of them had really put a lot into it including the baking and preparation. I can't really do the day justice in this short blog writeup but you can get more of a flavour watching the accompanying video and even that is about 90 minutes of video distilled into circa 17 Youtube minutes and also includes a quick Q & A with Graham. During the video I get ribbed as to why it took me so long to find them and I realised the irony of Polaris being a navigation guide and yet it took me a decade-and-a-half to get there. 

The link to the foraging video can be found by clicking here, and I've also included the full Q & A I did with Graham which is nearly eleven minutes long which details the genesis of him and his bushcraft school here

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Foraged Seasonal Wreath

 


In 2016 during my paid work sabbatical  I went to The World of Bushcraft* in Bedford to attend a World of Bushcraft Wreath Workshop and this year I decided to revisit this as a project, utilising forageable items. The workshop one utilised a wood steamer  whereas I envisaged using whippy little willow branches bound together.

  

I absolutely wanted this wreath to be made of 100% forageable so to bind the Willow together I used Lime bast cordage that I'd made. I measured the space by my door and a dinner plate was the radius I was looking at which allowed a couple of inches of extra diameter as I  added  the foliage. 


The plate was also the same diameter as a bucket I had so once I'd made the wreath frame by staggering the Willow lengths and tapering the ends to allow them to lie flat when tied and the frame slipped onto the bucket to allow it to dry a little in a circular shape.

 

When I revisited it I was pleased with the shape and then set about adding green foliage three weeks before Christmas. I lined it with a thin layer of Lylandii to help hide the wood, then used Spruce, Nordman Fir branches (from a Christmas tree supplier), Yew and Rosemary from my garden.


The World of Bushcraft one was tied in a circular fashion  in clumps tied to the Hazel, this one followed in a similar style. I shaved a point on each foliage piece and stuck it in facing the same way (this means clockwise or anti/ counter clockwise).


And after around forty minutes of sticking my wife and I had a decent looking green wreath. We sat on the floor worked together with care being taken not to slice pieces of Yew into each other's tea! I hung it in my garage with the view to rechecking and squidging it as needed.


So a week before Christmas we went out and foraged some embellishment. Rosehips, Ivy, Holly, Snowberries, Larch cones and Mistletoe was the order of the day. The Mistletoe was purchased from a shop due to the fact that whilst it is very common where I live it is way up in the trees despite the fact that I said I'd hold my wife's coat whilst she shinned up, ever the gent. I could have travelled some distance to get some but decided to take the convenient option and the stuff I bought is ethically sourced.



Again we went with the same process of pointing the ends and sticking them in with the same orientation. The hanging loop was made with a loopmof the afore mentioned Lime bast cordage. A very satisfying project which is fairly easy too.

*The World of Bushcraft has since moved to the Peak District.









https://youtu.be/bOkZ5RUfgJQ

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Sweet Tin Smoker


My Sweet Tin Smoker Youtube video

A few years back l was lucky enough to win a hot smoker in a Ronnie Sunshines competition, It's easy to use but quite large for taking on camp.

Enter the DIY sweet tin smoker, which was actually featured in a good article in the Autumn 2017 issue of Bushcraft magazine.

 

You'll need two lidded buscuit or Sweet tins that are exactly the same size and can stack on top of each other, something like a disposible barbecue grill, pliers, an awl and a hammer to make this. First off you need to burn all the paint off the lids and boxes.


A useful but optional pan lifter is a useful addition for repositioning the boxes and lids on the cleansing fire.

 

Using the awl and hammer (or in this case an axe poll) punch a series of holes into the tin over a piece of firewood which will go on top to let the smoke in from the untouched base tin.


The lid will also need a single, slightly larger hole punching in the centre to allow the smoke to slowly ecape once it's circulated around the food.


Cut the disposible barbecue grill with the snipping part of the pliers to fit the width of a tin but to be long enough to not only fit the tin's length but to also be bent over to form two right angle supports. In the above picture I'm again using the axe poll over a piece of firewood to bend the ends.


Check that the final shelf position is not too close to the base or lid to maximise the smoke circulation around the food.


This set is now complete and can be placed directly on embers, on a disposible barbecue meatl stand or a small trivet. Note slightly larger single hole in the centre of the lid which can clearly be seen. Please take care when making this kit as the punched holes and barbecue grill edges can be very sharp.


Before using it you'll need to soak some food friendly chippings, I'm using oak in this particular instance. There are about two handfuls in here.

 

This is now set up on a trivet with a chicken breast with the chippings in the base tin, the chicken in the top tin and the lid on top. It may help the flare the lid edges a little for ease of removal depending on what tins you use.


All cooking times are dependant on what is being hot smoked, the amount and size of chippings used and ember heat but as a rough rule food takes about the same as it would if cooked without smoke.


This shot shows that the food is not only clearly smoked but is also still nice and moist. It can also be useful to have the heat and food in/under one half of the tin with the chippings the other which can prevent the chippings burning excessivly.


The grill is also useful for making toast too!

 

I made the hot smoker whilst on camp but it is also quite at home on both a large firepit and a regular/ gas barbecue.


Chicken is a really nice meat to hot smoke but equally things like bacon and salmon are good bedfellows with smoke and have the advantage of all being easy to source. It is usual to smoke meats without marinades but I find Salmon is nice smoked with a little seasoning on.

 The paler one is a shop purchased condiment whilst the more coloured meat is covered with a mix of paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper and sugar. Smoke still comes into contact with the sides and to me it's the best of both worlds.


The grill which I used for toasting earlier in the blog can also be removed and used to place the meat near the fire if you feel it needs a little boost to cook it through. This is an easy to complete project and very satisfying to use.






















Sunday, 20 September 2020

Puffball Jerky

 

It's not often that I will get distracted on my run but the sight of what turned out to be around twenty pristine Giant Puffball mushrooms (Calvatia gigantea) did just this the other week.


They were all of a harvestable size with the biggest being football dimensions. Upon closer inspection of the site I also discovered some excellent looking Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) too.


I am really not a fan of mushrooms (since forever) but the exceptions to this are that I  occasionally like making this bushcraft confectionary and I tried some spicy Beefsteak Fungus Jerky on this Roger Phillips mushroom foray and with the latter in mind I decided to take a small portion of one on a forthcoming camp to see if I could replicate it.

Whilst the cast iron caveat is always make sure that your identification is 100% correct the Puffball is as bombproof as IDs go when they get to a decent size as they have no stalk, cut with a 'squeak' and look rather like a slice of Mozzerella.

 

Despite not liking mushrooms I did pan-fry my wife and I a bit in seasoned butter and despite the mild taste it still didn't do anything for me. My wife thought it was OK but found the texture a bit too foamy for her liking which stands to reason as almost all the cooking suggestions I've seen suggest a strong partner (like pesto) or well seasoned breadcrumbs.

 

I sliced my bit as thinly as possible (as you do with jerky) and left it out on kitchen roll to dry overnight which it did rather noticeably. I wouldn't be surprised if a bit of dried Puffball wouldn't make a decent strop if fixed to a board, much like Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis betulina).

 

With the need for strong flavours in mind I prepared my favourite beef jerky marinade which is soy sauce, fresh grated ginger, garlic, five spice and dried chilli.


As I'd prepared it the night before heading for camp I simply left it in the fridge overnight to re-hydrate and took it away in a tied plastic bag.


I opted for a simple setup which involved a Hazel tripod placed over a collapsible Honey stove into which I placed some embers topped up occasionally with fresh Cherry branches and soaked Oak chips. Typically the moment I got it underway with the drying and smoking I had issues with an annoying breeze.


Now meat jerky is fairly robust and you can pretty much leave it to it's own devices but I wasn't sure what to expect with this 'shroomy experiment so I made sure that I was back and forth. 

To be honest it was just OK, it had a rather fragile texture and although some of the flavour had been absorbed it felt like a lot of the sesoning was crusted on the outside. Certainly not unpleasant but I won't rush back to it as a jerky or mushroom but hey, you've got to try these things.

Interestingly when I did my run two days later I noticed the bigger ones had gone and the rest had been kicked in.