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

The Farce Is Strong In This One

Hit the target?
I can do it with my eyes shut mate!
Though, sadly it would seem, not with them open.
[sound of chortling elk in the distance]
Ho Hum.
Thanks for reading

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Sundays Are For Archery

It’s Sunday so its round two of archery lessons or The Bushwacker versus The Paper Targets.

In England Sunday archery practice is a tradition that nearly 800 years old. In the 12th century the longbow was the black rifle of its day, a military technology that’s use was strictly prescribed by law.

As standing armies are notoriously expensive to maintain, in 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' became the first Medieval Archery Law requiring all able-bodied men, from 15 to 60, equip themselves with a bow and sufficient arrows. The law also "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise".
With King Henry the first, later proclaiming that an archer would be not be tried for murder, if he killed a man during his weekly archery practice. The Plantagenet (literally the planting of cover to create hunting grounds) King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays!

The longbow really was the super gun of its day, launching arrows faster than any previous bow. It’s said that a skilled bowman could shoot between 10 - 12 arrows a minute. The bodkin (a sort of longer sharper fieldpoint) tipped arrows could pierce a knight’s armour at ranges of more than 250 yards. Such was the value placed on this cutting-edge military technology that in 1365 archers were forbidden to leave the shores of England without a royal licence.

There are still quite a few place names in England that include the word Butts (Newington Butts in South London) meaning that they were traditional archery grounds with targets to aim at and embankments to keep the death toll to a respectable minimum.

Sadly practice in our local parks is no longer permitted, and on the other side of the pond, things aren’t any better. News has reached me that in the city of Eau Claire, in Wisconsin a public practice ground called Archery Park has just banned archery practice after a local resident complained of finding an arrow in his back yard.

Things, as they say, are tough all over.
Wish me luck

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Wivart Yer Opinel You Aven't Got An 'Ope In 'Ell'!

Showed a vegan friend my blog: Loved the bad puns (even donated one of his own - above). winced at the guns, remained tolerant at the meat eating, hunting 'n' fishing, then brightened considerably on sight of the Opinel.
Takes all sorts
PS Check out Marc Armand's illustrations

Friday, 26 October 2007

Bird Hunting From The Sofa

"You will discover that to be a good shot is not the half of what it takes to make a tolerable bird slayer."
Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1879

Playing this game's lot like the guilty pleasure of buying delicious junk food, the 'twofers' can really make your day!
PS on the site where I found the game a fella gave one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in a while.
'Don't take life so seriously mate, no one gets out alive anyway'

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Coast, Post, Bed.

Well I made it to the coast to see my mate Jonah off. Few tribulations but i got there in the end!

Little S, (well now not so ‘little S’ anymore , in fact she’s now all grown up ‘Miss S About Town’) came to my rescue and looked after the little guys for the night.
Jonah’s party was a lot of fun and I got to catch up with Cousin L and Mrs L who also live there. Hastings is a kind of land that time forgot, a decaying seaside town with the worst rail and road links in the south east of England. As the crow flies you’re only sixty miles from London but it can take two hours or more to drive there and the trains are appalling, the ‘fast one’ is an hour and a half and for the slow one you have to book a week off work and notify your next of kin.

After a night on the tiles myself and Sir Hiss fortified ourselves with a breakfast of Whelks and bacon sarnies (sandwiches) and drove back to town in Sir Hiss’ Prius.
Nice motor if you’ve not had a ride in one, worth checking it out, lacks the romance of a truck, but for the city they are the future.

The first archery lesson went well.
OK none on the A5 piece of paper, but none off the straw either!

If you’re interested in lightweight camping, tarp life or building your own shelter Mungo has been trolling trough the Equipped to Survive site and picked out the most promising designs. I get the feeling a little bushcraft origami is on the agenda for tomorrow.

I’ve added Life Uncomplicated to my blog roll, if you like the sort of stuff I write about you’ll probably like him too.

Thanks for reading
I’m off to bed like a bushwacker with a sore head


Friday, 19 October 2007

Something For The Weekend Sir?

If I can sort out my child care problems I’m going away on Saturday to wave bon voyage to a friend who is starting his yacht master qualification. First stop Hawaii. Arragghh!

On Sunday Archery class is FINALLY in session! There is an historic precedent to archery class’s being held on a Sunday. Apparently a medieval law is still on the statue books which insists that every able bodied man should be practicing his archery skills in his local park every Sunday afternoon. The looks you’d get wouldn’t be the half of it!

In the meantime I thought I’d do a round up of some of the blogs I’ve been reading.

Othmar Vohringer of Outdoors with Othmar Vohringer
There’s a well worn saying ‘The more you know the less you carry’ and the bushcraft and hunting communities are full of people (yours truly emphatically included) who talk a good fight about simplicity, but somehow lose those good intentions when the latest gadget is dangled in front of their eyes. Here Othmar takes a wry look at the fads of today and the traditions of yesterday.

Rex BKA (Bloggingly Known As) The Editor of the Deer Camp Blog
Rex was one of the first people to write to me offing encouragement for my blog and he has dine a great deal to encourage other bloggers.
Well known in american deer hunting circles, his blog started as the newsletter for a hunting club (with its own land!!) and has grown to cover his interest in Hunting deer and squirrel, adventure pursuits, archaeology, habitat management, ghost stories, interviews with mythical beasts and collecting tall tales for use around the campfire. Legend.

Jeremiah Quinn
I’ve recently given Jeremiah Quinn a mention for his writing about urban fly fishing but since then I’ve been reading a little more of his site. He has a house near lake Como in Italy and has written this piece as an introduction to the area for visitors.
‘Porcocania’ starts as a letter about how to work the heating and where the shops are, written to a friend or family member he’s lent his house to. It becomes a brilliant travel guide to the region with lots of hilarious anecdotes about the people, food and culture he encountered during a year living in Italy. If you’ve ever lived in a small community you’ll recognize the characters and customs that give an area its ‘local colour’. Here he explains the Italian concept of Furbo.

‘Furbo implies styling something out that could be disastrous if you didn’t present it the right way. This has something to do with the Italian notion of keeping up appearances. My ultimate example of this is Columbus, the man the Italians like to call Cristoforo Colombo. Many people assume that Columbus’ mission was to prove the world was spherical. Obviously, there is no money in that, and it was already in any case generally accepted by navigators and traders to be so. Also, America was known to be there as the Vikings had documented its discovery 500 years earlier. No, Columbus was looking for a shortcut to India, so that he could get pepper more quickly back to Spain, so that they could set up a new and undisputed trade route and get rich. OK, so the key words are India and pepper. Columbus goes off on his long voyage, doesn’t find India and can’t find pepper. Goes back to Spain, terrible voyage, bad weather, scurvy, lands in Spain. What does he say? Couldn’t find India, didn’t get any pepper? No, this:
‘Found the West Indies, here’s a chilli pepper’. Now that, my friends, is the definition of furbo.’ By Jeremiah Quinn

Bound to be a much better use of your valuable reading time than the Sunday papers or my ramblings.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Our Tomato Plants Have Withered!!

Not really enough to make a chutney, so apart from fried green tomatos, any ideas?

Can You Tell What It is Yet?

Of Course it’s a root burl. Or to be more precise a burl that has separated from its parent tree and then rooted. Before it could put up any shoots along came your pal the bushwacker and snaffled it.

Burls are a great example of the adage ‘it’s the exception that proves the rule’ if you took any woodwork classes at school you may remember being told that wood ‘always’ grows in strait fibers that form the woods grain, then along came a burl to disprove that generalisation. Burls do have grain but it’s not straight, in fact its usually in interconnecting spirals. If you get the first stages of curing right they form an incredibly hard and stable piece of timber. They are dense, hard to carve, but very beautiful. Because of the random super tight grain they are far less likely to split, even if they get wet. I’ve been an avid Burl collector for a few years but most of my collection are pretty small. They become handles for fire steels and brushes. Occasionally I find some larger specimens and this one came along just as I was thinking about Mungo’s request for a Kuksa.

Most european bushcrafters have a fascination for the Sammi or Laplanders of Finland.They live in some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain europe has to offer, and are masters of cold weather living. They have developed some equipment that has been ‘field tested’ over generations. The Puukko knife and the Kuksa (or wooden cup) are icons of european bushcraft. Both use burls from the birch tree in their construction.The clever thing about a wooden cup is that however cold the weather it wont stick to your lips, and is a fair insulator, keeping hot drinks and soups warmer for longer.

For a really good kuksa tutorial see Jon’s Bushcraft.

American Finn’s blog
has some very good pictures of Puukkos and kuksas
Kellam Knives have kuksas and Puukkos
Bearclaws are the only people I’ve seen selling proper hand carved Burl Kuksas, not cheap but look totally authentic.
Thanks for reading

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Blog Roll – Oct 07

The start of my archery classes has been postponed for a week so I thought that as my blog roll has been expanding recently I’d do a round up of who has been added, and why they deserve a read.

Living Primitively
If you’ve every thought about putting your bushcraft and hunting skills to the test Torjus’s site is a must. He’s living in the back country hunting and fishing for food and doing some cool projects.

Jeremiah Quinn - The Fly Guy On The Fly

As recommended by the UrbanFlyFisher a nice site with some cool pix. he describes himself 'Writer, director, washed up boxer and incompetent, but passionate fly fisherman'.
I’m a big fan of urban fishing and fly fishing will be next on the bushwackers learning agenda after archery.

Decado's Bushcraft

A relatively new blog with a bushcraft-meets-ultra light hiking theme (so far).
Best of all he said nice things about me, making him one of the good guys!

Jon’s bushcraft site
Jon’s site has the best tutorials of any of the bushcraft sites I’ve seen.
A very good artisan, and by the looks of things a very good explainer too.

Wayland the professional Viking of Raven Lore
His cooking stove has cult following on some bushcraft sites, you can see why.
Great photography and some serious craft skills.
Wayland makes a living being a Viking! Well played Wayland!


Saturday, 13 October 2007

Rooting Around I Found This

When Going Nuts, First Take A Leek.

Been a while hasn’t it? I’ve been ‘up north’ with The Northern Monkey and on my return the lair of the Bushwackers has suffered from water ingress, so I’ve had to dedicate the last few days to plumbing.

The chestnuts are now on form at more northerly latitudes, and I promised I’d post a recipe for my pal The Northern Monkey.

If you’re fortunate enough to be picking your chestnuts off the ground (as opposed to buying them) early picking really seems to help processing, as the dew makes the skins are a little more flexible.And of course your beating the competition to the last nights crop.

When I started using the SharpMaker on everything in the house with a blade, I noticed that I habitually started the sharpening stroke a little way down the blade and this has given my F1 a very slight (1mm) curve with a steeper blade angle on the 5mm nearest the handle. And I’ve started to see this as a lucky accident. The slight curve made the ideal ‘nicker’ for opening the skins and then peeling them off.

Once you get inside the nut you get to the pith which when fresh and damp is much easier to scrape off. If your roasting your chestnuts the pith isn’t really a problem as it crisps up inside the shell and falls off. When you buy pickled or dried chestnuts from the deli they are perfectly pithless, just beautiful ‘brain like’ orbs of, well, yummy-ness.
I’ve always wanted my gathered chestnuts to look like that too. This year I’ve gotten a bit closer.

As I was peeling, I put them into salted cold water, then blanched them in boiling salted water, before plunging them into cold water. Quite a few more ended up skinless this year. It was all pretty time consuming; a carrier bag three quarters full took four hours to go from park to freezer.

Despite this success I had no joy at all remembering that, while my thumb nail is the ideal peeling tool, its my nail-bed that pays the price for the next few days. Ouch!

For the next batch:
I have a boning knife (somewhere?) that has an exaggerated curve at the start of the blade, I’m interested to know how it works out. Also I’ve just learned that the tannin rich skins were extensively used in traditional hide tanning, either dried or fresh. Which will be handy as TNM has a source of unprocessed deer hides. Sadly the skins off the first lot are already in the compost heap.
If any of you have any pointers on how to get a skinless finish they’d be much appreciated.

Marrons du Gallois or to you and me ‘Welsh Chestnuts’

Your going to need:
Leeks (easy to grow or buy)
Cream (Organic unpasteurised is best)
Splash of white wine (maybe a Chardonnay)
Hand picked-hand processed-artisan chestnuts (or failing that ones from the shop).
Shallots (onions wont really do it)
Pancetta (or ‘dry cure’ bacon pieces not the factory farmed watery stuff )

Fry the bacon in its own fat until its got some colour leaving the bacon fat in the pan set the bacon aside.
Slice the shallots and garlic as thinly as you can and add them to the pan, reducing the heat to a flicker. Put a lid on the pan and sweat them to a syrupy mush.
While that’s happening you can thinly slice the leeks LENGTHWAYS so the slices look almost like spaghetti.
When the shallots and garlic are really slimy in go the chestnuts, bacon, and the wine.
Turn up the heat to evaporate the alcohol, and reduce by about ten percent.
Pour in the cream and as it starts to reduce add the leeks.
Its important to time the last bit so the cream reduces enough while the leeks are still a vibrant colour. Better under cooked than over cooked for the leeks.

Serve with
Pie crust: (to guarantee a perfectly cooked crust with no nasty stodgy bits, I cook the crust separately – just roll it out put it on a baking tray and stick it in the oven)
Pasta: I vote for papadeli!
Mashed potatoes: or better still mashed potatoes with forest mushrooms stirred into them!

If you’ve got any left add milk and water, wiz the whole lot up in a food processor to make a great soup.
Hope you're all well, thanks for reading

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Mother! Behave Yourself!!

Just in case you didn’t believe me when I told you about the foraging septuagenarian matriarchs!
As I was taking this picture I got into conversation with one of the park guys who told me he blamed the current crop of wildfood TV show’s.
“They only show cooking, people don’t know when they’re ripe and they just try and pull ‘em down. It’s a problem for us”.
Keep ‘em peeled

Shh Keep 'em Under Your Hat

They've arrived! Ripe and ready to gather!
I picked (picked up?) this crop yesterday.
Had a few for tea, after last nights running club.
More details and Recipes in my next post
(I didn’t have a camera with me and there’s something in the park I want to show you)