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.

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.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Twice Cooked Chips On Camp

 Last year my youngest asked at the last minute if he could come on a camp with me, initially l was against it as l had lots planned but ultimately decided that a slightly more glampy agenda would mean he got a few days of fresh air.

One of the showpiece things we did were some twice-cooked chips in a Dutch oven, the results can be seen above. I used to think it was a pretentious thing to make chips sound better on a menu but it is actually a viable cooking method, and here's how you do it over a fire and indeed at home.

Freshly prepare your chips just as you need them which will prevent them going brown. I personally prefer a nice chunky chip that will withstand the rigours of the cooking procedures.

You need to half fill a Dutch oven with Sunflower oil (or similar) and then bank up some established embers about a quarter of the way up the side of the Dutchie.

Use a potato offcut or runty chip to test to see if the oil is hot enough. I popped mine on a de-barked piece of Hazel and you can see that the oil is bubbling vigourously around it which means it is hot enough.

Never drop the chipped potatoes in, place them to prevent oil splashing up and don't be tempted to place large amounts in in one go as it will bring the temperature of the oil down markedly.

After around four or five minutes you can pull the now cooked potato pieces out and dab them with kitchen roll. You should be able to slide the point of a sharp knife in easily. Note the difference between the cooked pieces on the left and the as yet uncooked ones on the right.


Once you have done the first fry on all your chips it's time to ramp the heat up.  Go for closer to half way up the Dutchie with coals and maybe even place a few on the lid too. This won't take long. It is worth mentioning that as you are heating oil you should take great care generally but also stay with the Dutch oven due to the risk of the oil catching light.

You can place the lid partially or fully on and as the chips are pre-cooked this second round of frying is as much to do with how the chips look visually as it is with timings. They can brown really quickly or take 8-10 minutes...It depends on several variables such as the heat of the oil etc.

Again you can see the difference between the once and twice-cooked chips. Note the improvised chopsticks on the right which I used to pull the chips out of the oil.


And the finished results. One shot is an improvised Birch bark cone with a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper/ Alexanders seed and vinegar, the other is with a pimped up supermarket Shashlick curry for a satisfying camp tea.