Monday, 29 October 2007

Prometheus In My Pocket

“ ‘I'm a firestarter, a twisted firestarter’, (sigh) well that’s nothing to be proud of is it” DJ Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) reviews The Prodigy.

Due to our damp northern climate I tend to favor the firesteel as a means of ignition. As well as being waterproof: they are cheap and making handles for them is easy, satisfying, and gives you the kind of ‘bushcrafty’ vibe that makes you seem like you have a life outside of work.
The sparks they produce are way hot, and so bright you could signal with if you didn’t have a torch or signal fire lit yet. In the damp weather, and as good practice, I’ve been carrying kindling to give myself a head start when lighting a brew fire. So I thought I’d do a post about some of the gatherable options. But you know how it is; your pal the bushwacker has always had an inquiring mind (also known as a short attention span). So while I was thinking a about a fire, I started to think about something to cook on it (blogging often gives me an appetite) and something to keep fiddling fingers occupied while sitting by it.The Sammi people of Finland have carried the dried hollow stalks of Angelica, and I’ve used Hemlock stems gathered from the roadside. Being hollow the stems draw air as they burn giving a very hot flame, handy when you need to dry out the rest of your firewood. There are plenty of alternatives you can easily gather and then carry with you. Here’s one I made earlier.

Birch bark is the classic all year round kindling, it’s cigarette paper thin and lights even more easily. It’s totally sustainable, and convenient as the tree is shedding it all year round!

Cattail fluff makes an ideal ‘spark catcher’ it burns very quickly, a little too quickly for use on it’s own but as a natural catalyst its fantastic.

Mixed with some of the Birch bark and wrapped in some bigger bits of birch bark it’s portable,

and ignitable!

While your gathering the dried out Cattails for kindling you can get a lot of other uses from the rest of the plant. The stems could be an ideal thatching material for a longer-term shelter. But lets head to the kitchen!
At their base Cattails have rhizomes (the root-like stem that grows horizontally sending roots down and leaves and stems up) that are ripe for eating at the moment. All you have to do is peel ‘em and cook them like spuds. In some culinary traditions the rhizomes are pounded into flour. I’ll let you know. The first time I ate them was in the spring, we plucked out the soft white core of the young stems, (known as Cossack’s asparagus) and they were pretty good raw as a salad vegetable eaten in situ and for our tea cooked in a stir-fry.

Thanks for reading


Barkfoot said...

Cattails are brilliant. They offer food all year round. When I'm off kayaking on the local rivers, they so often end up in a hastily put together soup/ stew. As you know the roots/ rhizomes are nice after being roasted, but I've found if you peel them and boil for a while, remove all the fibres you end up with a starchy stock to begin a soup. Add a bundle of Hedge Garlic leaves as well and it gets a bit of a salty taste to it too.
With Cattail fluff, you can tease it out, wet it, squish it flat and dry it between two pieces of kitchen paper, and you end up with a little sheet of fire lighting mat. Perhaps you could roll this up with Birch bark and make a kind of combustible Swiss Roll?!
I'm definitely going to try your 'Twisted Firestarter' tube.

Anonymous said...

thnks for that useful tip!

I have built an outside earth oven that you would love for cooking all my fish in!!


ps DO YOU KNOW WHAT WILD SORREL LOOKS LIKE (i intend eating some but want to be sure that it is infact sorrel!)

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

thanks for the top tip for the mat.
do you have a pic of the Hedge Garlic ?

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

not yet, how about a pic of your earth oven?

Barkfoot said...

There's a picture of Hedge Garlic on a post I did in July (26th) "There's no such thing as a free lunch"...
You might know Hedge Garlic by another name, "Garlic Mustard", "Jack-by-the-hedge" and a few others. It's good stuff, very versatile and at its best early in the year.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Bushwacker!

I've been away from a lot of this stuff since my Boy Scout days... it's good to refresh the memory, then build in a little new stuff. That way, later there's more to forget!

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon,

Wild sorrel looks a lot like clover but with three leaves. They contract at night and expand to catch the sun. They have pretty little flowers that can be any number of colors. Both wild sorrel and clover are edible, so if it tastes like lemonade, you're good to go. If it tastes like, well, "green," you ate clover.

As for you, Mnsgr. Bushwacker, is England really so large that you'd need such things as firestarters? I was under the impression that you could *always* walk your way to safety there, unless you were in the Highlands or the mountains around Wales. Is this a false impression?

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


While most of england is pretty tame,there are some bits of wild country left. The forest of dean in the west country is a fair size and supports a colony of wild boar who have reintroduced themselves.

For something a little wilder, you don't have to go far outside the UK, four hours by train, to be in the huge forests of northern France.

It's also worth mentioning that in england any long walk, and most of the short ones, starts with a cup of tea!


BlackRabbit said...

That's a nice looking firesteel - is that a commercial one or a custom job?

Black Rabbit

PS. Thanks for your comments on my blog. It's great to know when someone else shares my interests.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Black rabbit
I wouldn't go as far as calling it 'custom' more home made! In the home of a complete bodger!!

As you can see in the pic its one where i made a complete dogs dinner of drilling the lanyard hole so it wasn't good enough to give to anyone, but still makes big sparks. being a bit tatty and knackered it makes a good match to the rest of my kit and indeed my being.
Thanks for reading