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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Keeping Students Engaged Around the Camp Fire

When I cook on a campfire with students I often cook cakes or pizza as this is something they probably wont have done before. The problem with this is once the dutch oven is on the fire there really isn't any need for the students to stay involved with the camp fire until it's time to take the oven out of the embers. They might cook marshmallows or do other things to occupy them while it's cooking but they're not involved in the cooking of 'their' cake or pizza.

Today I experimented with a way of keeping all my students involved in a camp cooking task; They had been doing some plant ID looking at Umbelifers and identifying them from stems and seeds, having learned to identify cow parsley and hog weed we collected some hog weed seeds to make biscuits with. Keeping students involved in the preparation of a campfire and mixing of ingredients rarely presents any problems, all of them were fully engaged with lighting the fire, grinding the seeds and mixing the ingredients. Once everything was mixed and ready instead of using a dutch oven as I normally would each students wrapped the blade of a spade with tinfoil and cooked their own biscuit in it. 

This worked really well, everyone was fully engaged with the whole cooking process including checking the biscuits while they cooked and making sure they were done which they would not all have been able to do if we had done the cooking in a dutch oven.   

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Orange Ash Cakes

One of the simplest camp fire baking exercises you can imagine; 
  • make a simple sponge cake or chocolate brownie mixture 
  • Half several oranges (it also works with grapefruits and melons, but orange is best for flavour) and scoop out the pulp (don't worry if quite a lot is left attached to the inside of the skin)
  • Spoon the cake mixture into the now empty orange skins, don't over fill them as they will rise and spill out. 
  • Rake the embers of your camp fire out relatively flat in a bed an inch or so deep.
  • Place the orange half's into the hot embers of your camp fire.

et voila; 10-15 minutes in the embers (depending on the size of your orange) and you have orange flavored cakes in biodegradable, environmentally friendly, if slightly hot (be careful) wrappers.   

If you're wondering why there are bricks in my fire (in the right of the picture) they had been part of a brick oven in which I had cooked a chicken and sweet potatoes (I sense this will be the topic of a later post) as the main course of this meal. 

Campfire Pizza

My son Michael with the fruits of a mornings dutch oven cooking on the camp fire, he was determined to have pizza for dinner the night before but he fell asleep so fast in the hammock that the pizza had to be left for breakfast. As long as he doesn't expect pizza for breakfast every morning!!

Custom Gas Cylinder Stove

I made the first trial of my gas cylinder stove recently, ideal for heating a wall tent or small yurt. I found the gas cylinder on the farm scrap heap while stalking one morning and in return for some venison a good friend kindly cut up the cylinder and welded on a hinged door, vents at the bottom, a grate inside, a small shelf for cooking on and a chimney. It heats up wonderfully and I look forward to giving it a go in the winter. 
This was it not long after lighting, once it was up to temperature the red paint soon burnt off. It stank at the time but having used it a couple of times now all the paint is gone and there's no more chemical smell. 


Sustainable nettle soup

I recently taught a class on sustainable food as part of a course on environmental sustainability for  A-level students visiting Moulton College. It's probably true that eating nettle soup and making elderflower wine won't save the planet but it's the kind of thing which helps develop enthusiasm for nature. If the students had come to college and sat in a classroom and been subjected to a lecture on food miles, pesticides or global warming their lasting memory of the course would have been one of abject boredom and disinterest in the subject.  
Instead they sat around a campfire, drank nettle soup (which they actually enjoyed), looked at methods of growing and harvesting willow for biofuel manufacture and at methods of purifying drain water through a reed bed. They were able to get involved in all these activities and engage with nature and at seventeen years of age most of them had very little experience of 'nature' beyond country parks. 
Two of these students went on to enrol on a full time countryside and environment course at the college if they had been bored by their first experience in the 'sustainability' course would they have enrolled? possibly not. 

As educators we need to encourage an interest in, enthusiasm, appreciation and love for nature before people will care about declining species, pollution, global warming, desertification, agricultural intensification, non-native invasive species etc....... see didn't that list of environmental issues depress you? Before you can care enough to try and save the environment you have to love it and before you love it you have to experience it first hand, at the bottom of a garden, the corner of a farmers field, watching birds soaring on thermals, climbing mountains, breathlessly stalking a deer and not caring whether you manage to shoot one or not because you've just had an opportunity to spend time outdoors.    

If we can't offer those first hand experiences of nature to children, young and old alike there are going to be a lot of people who can't or won't seek out that connection for themselves and they are going to be missing out on something truly amazing.  

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