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Friday, 29 August 2014

A word of caution; Foragers Diary

Make sure if you are foraging for the smaller species of puffball you don't mistake them for one of these, I found them growing under some nettles at the bottom of my garden today;

This is a common earth ball or pigskin poison puffball. You are not going to mistake one for a giant puffball just because the giant puff ball is so large but if you are looking for the smaller species of puff ball make sure you don't take these instead.  
One look inside though and you wont make the mistake, instead of the firm white flesh of a puff ball this is what you will find inside an earth ball.
 Also  make sure if you are thinking of making some of those delicious comfrey fritters make sure you don't pick these leaves by mistake. Although superficially similar they do not actually belong to the plant you're looking for;
Similar to comfrey perhaps but have a look at the next picture


Here you can distinctly see the typical flowers of the foxglove which can cause digitalis intoxication and heart block and should never be ingested.


ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU GET THE RIGHT PLANT OR FUNGI.

IF IN DOUBT DON'T EAT IT. 





Thursday, 28 August 2014

A song of Ice and Fire

I was nominated to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by my wife Sallie and my brother Aled, so here I am being 'iced' but after my soaking I decided that I needed a warm fire to sit by. 


I got the ember fairly quickly even though I did drip on the drill a couple of times but blowing the ember to life took a bit longer than usual.

Selecting the right wood for friction fire lighting. From 'Bow Drill Trouble Shooting'

Last Winter I carried out a project looking into how people learn and how education is 'facilitated'. As this project was to count towards a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education  and I have a specific interest in bushcraft I thought I would look at ways of helping learners learn to light a fire by friction.

Prompted by this project, which more or less involved letting students work out the bow drill by themselves, after seeing them come up against many obstacles (and solve many of them) I published Bow Drill Trouble Shooting in May this year.

In Bow Drill Trouble Shooting you will find many short case studies on problems commonly encountered while learning the bow drill fire lighting method. I attempt to provide some guidance on how to overcome these problems. I hope you enjoy the sample chapter "Wrong Wood" all about choosing the right kind of wood for your fire kits, this sample is also available to download or print here.  Or you can purchase the print or kindle version of the complete book directly from Amazon.

As well as 'wrong wood' 22 other problems you may encounter are addressed including;

  • I can't hold the drill steady 
  • The drill get's shiny
  • 'smoking hand'
  • I made fire... Now what? 

Your comments and reviews would be much appreciated either here on my blog or on Amazon. I hope you enjoy the read.

All the best

Geoff

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Foragers Diary; today's haul

Had quite a successful day on the foraging front;


About two kilos of black berries, some field mushrooms and comfrey leaves.

The mushrooms went in a strir fry with some garden veg, the blackberries went in a crumble and the comfrey leaves made a nice snack as fritters.

There is no need to give a recipe for the fritters, just make some pancake batter slightly thicker than you normally would, give each leaf or piece of a leaf (I cut the larger leaves into strips) into plenty of the batter and fry for about a minute or until golden on both sides. 


Comfrey fritters; Delicious

Monday, 25 August 2014

Foragers Diary; Foraged Foods You'll Never Get Wrong #1

Giant Puffball;

A giant puffball harvested last Friday, in the foreground are some shaggy parasol that I found the same day. 
The sheer size of the giant puffball makes it a hard one to mistake, anywhere up to the size of a basket ball, and on occasion larger. Creamy white on the outside with no discernible stalk or stem, although it does taper slightly where it meets the ground. 

As with any fungi you need to be quick if you are to find them in the peak of condition, the slugs will see to it that there is not much left to find and puff balls soon transform from the creamy white shown below to a yellowish sludge or a mass of spores. 


This puffball is in perfect condition for eating, any that are yellow inside or have turned to spores should be avoided.


A recipe that you could try with puffball is something I had for dinner today, stuffed puffball;

One large puffball
300gs (ish) of venison, pigeon etc.. (something fairly rich)
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 small courgette
Any other herbs, spices, leftover veg or meat that you fancy. I put broad-beans in mine today which worked quite well. 

Cut the top of your puffball and scoop out the middle, leave the outer shell of the 'shroom' with a good centimetre or two on all sides and cut the centre into small cubes. Cut up the other ingredients to match the size of the cubed puff ball and fry the mixture until the meat is cooked and all the vegetables are tender. I quite often add some soy sauce to this mixture. Spoon this cooked mixture back into the shell of the puffball and bake, for one about the size of the one in the picture above forty minutes should do it.

     
There are of course other types of puff ball, most of which are edible, but as with any fungi (or any wild food at all for that matter) be absolutely sure what it is before you eat it, or feed it to your family. 

An interesting relation to the puffball is the aptly named earth star; 

this ones not edible though




Monday, 18 August 2014

Foragers Diary; 1st Post

This is an account of some of food I took from the land during the week of the 28th July 2014;

Monday 28th July; Today I picked up a wood pigeon squab which had fallen out of it's nest, not much of a meal on it's own but probably my favourite wild meat. 

Tuesday 29th July; I took my daughter for an early morning forage before breakfast we picked water cress, Himalayan balsam flowers, cherry plums and hogweed seeds. These ingredients went into a watercress and potato soup, hogweed biscuits and the cherry plums were given away.

Lillie was very happy with what we collected, all in about half an hour, it would have been possible to collect a lot more on a dedicated trip but half the fun of this was having Lillie with me, she loved holding the collecting bags open, picking flowers and collecting the low hanging fruit. 

The Himalayan balsam, sometimes also known as the false orchid. The flowers taste quite 'vegetably' (is that a word?) rather than the sweetness of most flowers.

You can see the grenade like seed pods of the balsam here, including one that has already gone off and scattered its seeds violently. As soon as those pods are mature any disturbance will cause them to curl up rapidly flinging their payload of seeds all over the place. 
Wednesday 30th; Went rabbit shooting with my Dad and got six rabbits between us; these weren't actually eaten but rather are being used in a piece of research by my brother to attract carrion feeding beetles.

Thursday 31st; Took my wife deer stalking (perhaps not a standard date) and we saw five roe deer and once Chinese water deer. The Chinese water deer are not in season until November and four of the five roe were either does (also not in season) or kids but one (the first that we saw actually, we saw the others quite a while later) was a buck which I see regularly in one of the woods I manage and which needed to be removed. I shot this one and it will provide enough meat for many, many meals.
Also during the day I picked a lot of redshank, fat hen and chickweed to make a simple quiche.

Friday 1st August;  I was helping out with the start of a fallow buck cull and immediately after being assigned my high seat stalked into a large group of bucks but they were so close to my seat that I couldn't actually get to it without alerting them. A high seat gives a safer shot as you can shoot down at the ground giving a good backstop for the bullet but from the ground even with a tall bipod or shooting sticks your options are more limited. So I had to find a safe backstop from the ground, the deer were stood on a slope and I was higher up than them, there was rising ground behind them but much of it was covered by mature trees and for all I knew there could be someone walking in there so I had to creep close so I could shoot almost strait downhill so I could see the ground that would be the backstop for the bullet. This meant getting to within about 50 yards, from that position I just had to wait until one of the bucks moved into that safe area, this meant I was sat completely silent hunched behind my rifle for about 20 minutes. This gave me a nice long time to watch these majestic creatures. Some older bucks of about three years old and up moved around confidently browsing from ground level plants and occasionally thrashing their velvet covered antlers through the tall thistle and ragwort stems. Among them moved the younger bucks, prickets, with their first set of small single pointed antlers. After a nice long time watching them it was almost a shame to actually shoot one but finally one of the mature bucks moved into my safe shot zone and I pulled the trigger. This animal was butchered and has already made several meals while the choicest joints have been sold or swapped,

Saturday 2nd August; Another session on the fallow cull and several hours in the high seat led to no further shots fired although I did see about fifteen does on my way to the seat but determined not to go home empty handed I managed to find some dryads saddle growing on a tree near to my high seat which I took home and had for lunch.    
Dryad's Saddle
A typical growth of dryads saddle, picture;
By Rosser1954 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is an example of one weeks worth or foraged food, by no means do I do so much deer stalking every week and of course the plants (and animals) which can be harvested from the land are seasonal but I look forward to sharing some of my foraging activities with you, however before I do let me make two minor disclaimers; not only do I not accept any responsibility for the results of what you choose to forage and eat but I am also not really a cook, I can cook things which taste nice but I don't really do measurements so I will tend to refer to amounts in handfuls or show pictures of how much I used but maybe I should start measuring things? 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; Snares

This was going to be the final instalment of 'bushcraft and the law' but a few more topics have been suggested so I will address those over the next couple of weeks, today though; SNARES

Photograph of Rabbit Snare - NARA - 2128308
A 1935 picture of a snare being used for vermin control;
By Unknown or not provided [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Snares are a very primitive method of trapping and are used all over the world for a number of tasks, however there are limitations on how you can use them in this country just as there are limitations and restrictions placed on all other forms of trapping.

England and Wales operate under the same laws about snaring but Scotland has its own and I’ll deal with those first as they are simple; You can’t use snares, at least most of you can’t unless you have attended a specific training course and received an identification number which must be attached to all snares set. These courses must be attended by people with good grounds to need to use snares for pest and predator control and I doubt they would be delivered to people who cite ‘bushcraft’ as their reason. Even with this training snares must be made to a specified design, which includes a ‘stop’ which prevents a snare closing beyond a certain point this must be set “at least 23cm” from the eye of the snare.

In England and Wales there is no legal requirement (yet) for official training nor the requirement for a ‘stop’ on snares although their use is encouraged by codes of practice produced by BASC, DEFRA and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. These stops are sometimes called ‘deer stops’ as they prevent the snare from closing tight enough to snare a deer’s leg. However the official designation of a snare is as a restraining device which will humanely hold an animal until it can be dispatched when the snare is checked, so this stop also acts to stop the snare tightening to the point where it can choke or cut into a target animal. The other thing which should stop choking or strangling from occurring is that a snare must be free running, this is a key phrase in the legislation. To be free running a snare must loosen off when pressure stops being applied, this will allow an animal to struggle briefly, pulling the snare tight and then when it realises it is caught stop struggling and remain without further discomfort, but still firmly caught, until it can be dispatched or released. A snare which is not free running will tighten up and remain tight and potentially choke the caught animal, snares can be designed to operate like this but the law makes no distinction between snares designed not to be free running, ie; locking, and those which lock due to them being damaged or corroded. Whether a snare is free running or not can only be proved by its operation! So it’s up to you to check that your snares still run freely before setting them, this might be particularly important if you are making your own snares. Be aware that if you have caught a few rabbits or foxes in a snare already it will often become so kinked and twisted that it will not run freely and will have to be discarded, don’t worry they are cheap. 
19th century knowledge traps and snares twitch up 6
A diagram of a type of twitch up snare from the 1882 book Camp life in the woods and the tricks of trapping and trap making.
By William Hamilton Gibson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Regarding twitch up and spring snares, these are not allowed, in Scotland these would be prohibited by  their updated legislation although in England and Wales it does not specifically say anywhere in legislation that you can’t use them.  However, as we know snares must be ‘free running’, I would suggest that a spring or twitch up snare is not free running as when an animal is caught and ‘dangled’ its own body weight against the wire of the snare will stop it being ‘free running’ thereby making it illegal.


As well as following the legal guidelines above you may find the following useful when setting snares;

Tealers’ are the small sticks which hold the noose of the snare in place over a run. These can be made of wood such as hazel, avoid using green elder as it smells strongly and may put animals off,  or from wire. These can be used singly or in pairs where a heavier snare for foxes needs extra support to hold it up. They should be set immediately next to but not on the run that you plan to use the snare on.

 The snare must be anchored securely, a long (at least two feet for a fox) wooden stake can be driven into the ground with the snare attached, alternatively a strait or corkscrew style metal stake could be used. It is considered bad practice to anchor a snare to a fence, remember if an animal jumps through or over the fence and dangles from the snare the snare is not free running. The snare must NOT be anchored to something which can move, these used to be called drag snares and were commonly used, they are now illegal.

To set a snare for rabbits; the bottom of the snare should sit four fingers height above the floor of the run, when looking at a well-used rabbit run you can sometimes identify where the rabbits takes it’s forward jumps by looking for the pattern of compressed and uncompressed grass, the snare should be set over the uncompressed portion of grass as at this point the rabbits head will be the first thing to go through the noose.

For foxes the snare should be set a full hands span from the floor, IF YOU THINK THERE MAY BE BADGERS OR OTTERS IN AN AREA DON’T SET FOX SNARES, if set properly you won’t catch a badger in a fox snare but it’s not worth the risk of being accused of trying or having your snare knocked down by a passing pheasant or deer to a level where it might catch a badger. 



You can also use snares for catching rats, grey squirrels and mink but will have to adapt your method to suit each species and remember the guidelines above. Although it would be a very effective way to catch squirrels to place baited snares along tree branches would the snare be free running if the animal was then to fall off and dangle under it's own body weight? 

For further information on the use of snares see the codes of practice produced by organisations like BASC and DEFRA. Also the full legislation regarding snares can be found spread across several Act's including;

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Foragers Diary; Smoked Venison Pytt i Panna

After the weed quiche yesterday I thought I had better do something for the carnivores among us today.

Pytt i panna is something I used to eat regularly while living in Sweden; it is a very simple dish made traditional from leftovers, like bubbleandsqueak here in the UK. It normally consists of potatoes, onion, korv (sausage) or beef, there are even vegetarian versions and it is sold in just about every Swedish supermarket and as I understand is also popular in Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Brysselkål
Rraditional pyttipanna with brussel sprouts.
Picture By Triceratops (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So in the spirit of leftover meals I took some of the 'cheap' cuts of meat from the fallow buck I shot on the 1st and which you can read about on the . These were all cuts from around the neck which I would normally stew or casserole or sometimes mince up for sausages. First they were roughly sliced, not into pieces but just to increase the surface area of the meat so it would soak up a marinade, this would also help the smoking process later. They were marinaded in a mixture of spices (shop bought on this occasion I'm ashamed to admit) and soy sauce for a couple of days in the fridge then they went in the hot smoker.

Two of the pieces in the smoker, it really doesn't take long to cook in here. I can just about fit a whole Chinese Water Deer haunch in this smoker for special occasions. 
Once smoked the meat was diced, as were about a dozen new potatoes and one large onion. The onion went into the frying pan first to soften and then the rest was added until the potatoes just started to go golden. Served with lingon berry sauce (another Swedish favourite, and well worth a try if you're passing an IKEA) and salad it went down a treat. 

The amount of meat shown in the picture above (just over a pound raw weight) and those twelve small potatoes and one onion made a filling meal for two adults and two children (with enough for a second helping for me!)  

Announcement; I am happy to take requests for wild foods to cover in the foragers diary. I can cover preparation, cooking and eating of wild foods but also identification tips, how and where to find them and techniques for foraging. So please let me know. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Foragers Diary; Weed Quiche

Redshanks and fat hen (also known as lambsquarters) are commonly classed as agricultural weeds in the UK but can be used as a wonderful ingredient in a quiche or as just as greens in their own right. In fact for those who aren't keen on the greens these two wild foods don't even taste like greens they have a somewhat meaty quality.  They are going to be the wild ingredients in this 'weed quiche'.

A typical redshank plant, with it's pink seeds; the leaves are what you will need for this recipe.


Chenopodium album Jauhosavikka VI08 H4923
Young fat hen plants, if you are familiar with Quinoa you will notice similarities between these two plants as quinoa is a cultivated variety of  fat hen.
Picture courtesy by Anneli Salo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You can add a variety of other wild ingredients to this quiche such as chick weed, nettles, sow thistles etc.. but for the basic recipe is as follows;

Pastry
200 grams of plain flour
100 grams of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water (ish)
pinch of salt

Make the pastry first and allow it to cool in the fridge before rolling it out placing it in the dish to bake. In the meantime prepare the quiche mixture. 

Quiche mixture 
2 eggs
250 ml cream or milk
cheese
onion
wild ingredients 
salt and pepper




Chop the onion and wild greens (about the quantity shown above, so about two double handfuls) then soften them in the frying pan with a knob of butter but don't let them start to go brown. 

Beat the eggs, milk and about two handfuls of grated cheese together and once you have added the greens and onion to the now baked pastry pour the egg mixture over the top to cover it.

ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and this is the finished article
and for the authentic wild food experience you have to eat it outside


Hope you enjoy it



Friday, 8 August 2014

If We Can't Live Off The Land Nowadays What Has Changed?

One of the issues I raised in my last 'Living off the land' article when trying to answer the question  "Can we 'live off the land' just from wild food in the UK?" was the changes in the law over the years which have meant people have less access to the countryside and less freedom to hunt, and forage. However in the grand scheme of things this is a very small, almost insignificant, obstacle to people being able to 'live off the land'.

In fact we now have more access to the countryside than we did 60 or 70 years ago. Remember that before the National Parks Act 1949 there was no open access to upland areas, and the CROW (Countryside and Rights of Way) Act 2000 has given improved access more recently.

Bowden Bridge mass trespass plaque 2007
This Plaque commemorates the mass trespass on Kinder Scout which was a very significant event in opening up the British Countryside.
Picture Courtesy of; Marcin Floryan [GFDLCC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

While access laws may still restrict certain specialist activities such as shooting and may deny you the right to uproot wild plants (and there are certainly good reasons for restricting these things) by far the biggest factor which limits the amount of foraging carried out in the UK is a lack of knowledge and possibly also a lack of interest. Those who are interested in foraging manage to forage and find wild food on roadside verges, in their gardens (for example in my garden right now you can find nettles, black berries, hairy bitter cress and fuschia berries), in parks and public places but many people just wouldn't recognise what is and isn't edible and I would guess that for the majority the fact that there is a use for just about every plant they walk past does not occur to them purely because they have no interest, why would they you can get everything from a supermarket right?

Berries from a Fuschia bush, quite a subtle flavour but very pleasant, my daughter loves them. 

Even in the 20th Century (especially in times of war) people in the UK would have made a great deal of use of foods such as blackberries, crab apples, hazel nuts, sweet chestnuts, dandelions and nettles. But now except perhaps for traditional blackberry picking very few of our wild foods are used. I think the fact that we can get everything and more that we needs or want easily from a shop has not only taken away the dependence that we once would have had on wild foods, but it has also made us lazy; can we be bothered to go out and dig up burdock roots when it is much easier to stick some frozen chips in the oven?

Burdock roots being cleaned after harvesting. 
So maybe that's my answer; maybe we (as individuals not as a society as I said in my last 'Living off the land' post it would be impossible for the whole population of the UK to live from the land as hunter gatherers) can live off the land (at least to a greater extent than we do now) but we just can't be bothered?

Bear in mind also that to provide all your food by foraging would be a massive time consuming undertaking, to fill all your requirements for food from foraging and hunting would be a full time job. For example last week I shot a roe buck, a fallow buck, four rabbits and a pigeon but the time it took when you bear in mind the travelling, stalking, sitting in high seats, dragging carcasses, graloching, skinning etc.. amounts to about 20 hours and that was a very good result it's not uncommon for me to return from a stalk having never even unslung the rifle from my shoulder. Although that provided a lot of meat, that when preserved could last several weeks, you need a lot more than meat in your diet and to live off the land permanently you would need to dedicate all your time (or at least most of it) to hunting, fishing and foraging and let's face it even if all your food was free you would still have other expenses.

ANNOUNCEMENT; having had a fairly successful week of foraging last week I am going to be starting a new element to this blog; ForagersDiary. In it I will share recipes for foraged foods and instruction on how to identify, prepare and use wild foods. For those of you who use pinterest there is also a board where you can find all the recipes and how to's which will appear in the 'ForagersDiary'; http://uk.pinterest.com/ForagersDiary/foragers-diary/            



  

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