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Monday, 22 September 2014

Foragers Diary; Preserving Meat with Fat

There is a bit of a survival vibe to this post as it was originally written as a contribution to an American publication but the method of preserving meat I describe here is an excellent way of preserving any game. I normally preserve the legs from our annual Christmas goose like this to have a bit later in the year.

Wild game rarely comes along conveniently and regularly to provide us with a meal each day but rather in occasional gluts and long absences depending on seasonal migrations and potentially a run of bad hunting luck. That's why the invention of convenient refrigeration was such a breakthrough and possibly why it is considered to be a much more than just a modern convenience but a necessity. 

Root Cellar at Bay Roberts Newfoundland
A beautiful example of an old fashioned root cellar, the kind of thing we all would have been storing our fruit and root vegetables in not so many years ago. By Werner koehler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 
What happens though when you no longer have access to refrigeration? Even if you have prepared for such a situation with a generator and a stock of fuel you won't be able to run it on a permanent basis or use it to power all your appliances for any more than the shortest power outages. In this kind of potentially prolonged survival situation being able to store meat safely is going to be important. Canned meat from you storage may last quite a while but you may want or need to supplement that storage with meat taken from animals which 
you can hunt or trap. To preserve meat using fat you can use the following method;

To start with take the meat that you have collected and joint it, this picture shows a 
full butchered carcass of a Chinese Water Deer

This fat from the same deer carcass can be rendered and used to preserve meat 
using this method, alternatively the fat could be taken from other carcasses or from stored fats 
such as lard

Once you have jointed and prepared the meat you need to preserve you need to 
brown it in a pan as shown here, you can even preserve pre-processed meat, such as sausages, 
this way. At this point you can add spices and herbs, this may be especially important if you 
need to preserve meats which night not normally be palatable, such as fox or badger

Rendered fat shredded and ready for use, this should be placed in a pan in the oven 
to melt, you need enough fat to completely cover the meat

Now transfer the meat to a pan full of the rendered fat where it will be cooked in 
an oven until the meat is tender, almost to the point where it will fall of the bone

Once it is cooked through it can be transferred to a container, then the liquid fat is 
poured over it, as it cools it will set hard protecting the meat from the air and preserving it. 
If you are using plastic containers be aware that the heat of the fat may melt the container so 
consider ladling it in rather than pouring it all at once
You can now store this in a pantry or root cellar, and it will last for several months without refrigeration. This isn't even really a ‘survival’ food, it tastes good and it's relatively quick and easy to prepare.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; Legal Foraging

So what does the law say about where we can forage and what we are allowed to take; 

Taking the fruiting bodies of wild plants along public roadsides. in public parks etc.. does not seem to be a problem, and if anyone ever did take exception to someone picking blackberries from the park or apples from a roadside verge I don't think it would ever amount to anything in court. But what if you wanted to picking that same fruit on a foot path on private land? (bear in my mind that roads and parks are still technically owned by someone even if the public do have more or less unlimited access to those areas)  

The law does state clearly that you can't uproot plants, that is 'digging up or otherwise removing the plant from the land on which it is actually growing' (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)without the landowners permission but regarding fruit, greens or fungi the following applies; 

"A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose." (Theft Act 1968)

So that's fairly clear isn't it? You can pick the fungi, fruit and greens that you want as long as you have access to the land even without specific permission from a landowner, although that is no excuse for trespassing. If you go on to sell what you have collected or use it commercially you have committed theft. Complicating this slightly is another rule laid out in the Countryside and Wildlife Act that you are not allowed to forage (or pick plants at all) on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's), although those responsible for managing those sites may occasionally be seen removing species which may be non-native and/or invasive, which is allowed. 

The non-native invasive Himalayan Balsam, edible but terribly invasive and hard to control. 
If you want to collect edible roots, like burdock, thistle, cat tail, wood avens etc.. you must have the landowners specific permission to remove those plants. However there are also some species which you are prohibited from removing at all regardless of landowners permission, a list of these plants can be found in schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. 

Without permission to dig up starch and carb rich roots what wild source can we turn to in a situation where we may need or want those vital elements of a diet, especially if we want that diet to give us energy to work outdoors? I will look at the practicality of using wild nuts and seeds (which you don't need the landowners permission to remove like you do with roots) as a staple element of a wild diet a bit later this year. 

Assuming there are some of us out there do have permission to collect some roots, burdock and thistle for example are unlikely to be missed by farmers who may gladly give you permission to remove them, I will share some foraging tips and a couple of recipes next week.     

Monday, 8 September 2014

Is there anything we can do to make wild food more accessible?

There isn't a simple answer to this:

We can't make more wild food, or make it easier to reach, or change the law about where you can go to forage and the permission you need or what plants you can and can't dig up. 

Burdock produces a tasty edible root at the end of it's first year of growth but can we dig it up?
For an answer see tomorrows post on legal foraging.  
What we can do is try to change peoples attitudes about it and increase peoples knowledge about what is out there. How often are children told "don't put that in your mouth" now obviously there are things children shouldn't play with or put in their mouths but is there any harm in teaching them what they can eat? 

There was once a time when every child used to pick blackberries and scrump apples but that seems to be a thing of the past. I walk past prime blackberry picking patches regularly without enough time or a big enough appetite to pick them all and they just seem to be hanging there and going mouldy, and I've lost count of the number of apple trees in peoples gardens which are left uncared for and unharvested. Maybe it's easier to buy a bag of apples than pick your own or maybe it's the risk of finding the odd worm or maybe people think that they don't like 'outdoor' apples. 

It does truly confuse me, people could be saving money and enjoying time outside just by doing a little foraging. It doesn't take any skill, maybe a bit of ingenuity to reach the high up fruit, and there is no danger of poisoning from collecting a few blackberries. Yes if you want to do some more advanced foraging like looking for fungi or you particularly want to harvest some wild angelicas and make sure you don't pick hemlock by mistake then you need to make sure you're ID skills are good enough not to confuse your target species with something that might harm you. 

Is it a panther cap or is it 'The Prince', one edible one potentially deadly or something else entirely?
So start now, pick what you can definitely identify; apples, plums, sloes, blackberries and start making jams, sauces, crumbles and cordials. Buy a book on fungi, invest in an illustrated botanical guide book, look online, enrol on a course, you could even resort to reading my blog. Whatever you do, do something that's how we make wild food more accessible, learn about it, use it and tell others how fun it is to look for and delicious it is to eat.    

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Foragers Diary; Apple and Oregon Grape Juice

While walking back from the library with the children recently we collected this bag of wind fall apples and Oregon grapes.  Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is a non-native species in the UK, originating in North America, it is often planted in towns and round supermarkets etc.. It has distinctive spiny evergreen leaves not dissimilar to holly and when cut the wood appears bright yellow. Yellow flowers in the spring develop into large clusters of purplish fruit, not dissimilar in appearance to true grapes, but much smaller. The fruit are very tart and contain large seeds but can be added to cordials, sauces for meat and mixed with sweeter fruit for use in pies and crumbles. 

The batch shown in the picture above, along with the apples was used to make about three litres of fruit juice to add to the ever growing collection below.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Bushcraft and the Law; Bushcraft Knives and Tools

Many of the tools we use as 'Bushcrafters' are used daily by people in the countryside management industry 

I suppose this should have been an obvious topic for my 'Bushcraft and the Law' series but, it doesn't occur to me to discuss the topic very often because my work almost always gives me a reason for carrying knives and tools of some description.

A small whittling knife 

And that is the key, having a reason, other than for certain bladed items which are completely prohibited (which don't have any relevance or application to bushcraft) see here for a list, as long as you have a reason you can more or less carry what you want. Yes there is the exception that items with a blade under 3 inches which is non-locking (ie; freely fold-able at all times) can be carried without specific reason, but do remember that there is a time and a place for all things, airports and evenings at the pub for example do not require a knife of any kind.

A puukko knife with a seven inch blade, remember your reason needs to stand up to scrutiny; "I need it for pruning the roses officer" is unlikely to be sufficient if you have something like this on your person. 

There is specific legislation covering bladed items which covers a lot of the tools we use in bushcraft but remember that any tool, or lump of wood for that matter, which you use to intimidate, or is intimidating whether you intend it or not, can be considered an offensive weapon. So the three foot long auger that you are using to put legs on a stool could be considered an offensive weapon if you are waving it around in the park.

If your reason for carrying is insufficient or you don't have one you could be looking at very heavy penalties if convicted. Up to four years in prison and a £5,000 fine, and the penalties for possession (I'm assuming no one reading this is planning to use an offensive weapon) of an offensive weapon are even more severe. 

But the key to avoiding all that is just to be sensible, I have never been stopped and searched or asked for my reason for carrying a knife, and to be honest there are simple things you can do to make sure that no one asks or even realises you are carrying knives, axes, saws or anything else.  

Rules for carrying tools and knives;
  • Never wear knives on your belt or where they can be easily seen in public.
  • Keep all your knives and tools in your bag or rucksack out of site.  
  • Do not get them out in public to show people.
  • You don't need a fixed blade knife to sharpen pencils, open packets, or to pick your teeth in public, use a folding knife or just wait, getting any kind of knife out where you can be seen will cause raised eyebrows nowadays.
  • Do not EVER talk, even jokingly, about using a knife or tool violently or against another person (to put this in perspective if a firearms certificate holder was to joke about shooting someone the police would have grounds to take their firearms certificate away!)
  • Always remember to remove knives you carry or wear on your person before stopping off at the shops on the way home, "I'm on the way back from the woods" is not a reason to have a kukri strapped to your thigh while you buy milk. 
  • Do not give the impression that you are 'up to no good' because people will assume you are, dressing in full camo, crawling around in the bushes, and lighting fires arouse suspicions, always be open with people about what you are doing.
  • Always make sure you have permission to be bushcrafting where you are, if the police are called and you can explain that you have permission from a landowner and you explain exactly what you are doing you are likely to be OK, but if you are skulking in an out of the way corner of the country park and have to leg it when approached you can be sure that things aren't going to go your way. I talked a bit about this in my post on air rifles and will mention it again in my next "Bushcraft and the Law" posts on 'finding a campsite' and 'legal foraging'.   
  • "Have you heard of Ray Mears?" is a great way to explain what you are doing if you are questioned, by the police or members of the public. Almost everyone has and if they have seen him on TV they should realise that you are not carrying out any illicit paramilitary training in the woods. 
  • Finally; Don't argue, start telling everyone your rights, call people 'busybodies' or get angry. I would personally rather be asked what I am doing and don't even mind the police approaching me (this has never happened due to my using knives but I have had the police knock on my door to ask if it was me shooting pigeons around the barns on a farm I used to work at because one of the tenants of the old farm houses had called and reported someone using a firearm), knowing that if someone was up to no good they would be treated the same.       

Some additional guidance is provided on the website here and you can read it below;

Monday, 1 September 2014

Hogweed Biscuits; Foragers Diary

The seeds of the common hogweed make a wonderful spice or flavouring, they are mostly gone by now but a few can still be found clinging to their dead and dry stems.

The foliage of a young hogweed plant
To make best use of them you will need to collect several hand full's, the easiest way is just to pull the whole seed head off in one go. Once you have them you need to grind them up, you could use a pestle and mortar, or just a rock, as you start to crush them blow gently on them to get rid of as many of the papery seed casings as possible, just don't blow too hard or you will loose all the good stuff too. 

The resulting spice can then be stored for later use or used there and then, they have a gingery/cardamom type flavour and go exceptionally well in biscuits, cakes, stir frys and currys. 

Rather than giving you a full recipe for any of these things here what I would suggest is that anything you would normally use ginger in you can use hogweed instead, for example if you substitute the ginger in your recipe for ginger bread with about twice as much hogweed you will get a delicious spicy biscuit.

Students cooking hog weed biscuits on spades over a fire

You can also use the seeds when they are green as a spice or pickled as a substitute for capers.

 Christian Fischer [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Do make sure that you don't confuse hogweed with it's non native relative the giant hogweed, it looks very similar but as the name implies it's gigantic by comparison. Although the stem retains the ridged and hairy characteristics of the common hogweed, the giant hogweed's stem can be up to five centimetres thick and is often redish in colour. The leaves are also more deeply and sharply serrated. It has been planted as an ornament in the past but is now classed as a non native invasive species. The problem is that it's sap is extremely phototoxic, areas of the body affected by the sap can develop photodermititis which means blisters and burning will develop when the affected areas of the skin are exposed to sunlight. 
Other plants you may mistake for hogweed include some of the other umbelifers (plants with umbrella shaped sprays of whitish flowers) such as hemlock, hemlock water dropwort and cowbane, these species though are easily distinguishable by their much smaller black seeds and leaves which more closely resemble the leaves of carrot. Again though the extreme toxicity of these species serve as a reminder that you must be 100% certain about what it is you are eating. 

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