Summer solstice was an important date back in the day. Not only was it a chance for old men in white robes with impressive grey beards to feel uber important for the day, but it was also a sign that summer had truly begun…and by my count it certainly has! The weather has been delightful, making treehouse living, perhaps, the only way to live.
Rather than battle the 36,500 strong crowd down in Somerset this year, I decided to bring Stonehenge to me. A little difficult perhaps, but then who needs the crusty hippies, men in white cloaks and drunken revellers finishing up their Saturday night bender stumbling around our greatest landmark…no, no this was to be a much more civilised affair.
A few friends, a few bottles and a couple of shoulders of lamb (found in a hedge…) in an underground oven were perfect to mark the occasion, despite not having any photos of the finished product (got a bit carried away in revelry of my own design), have a look at one I did before with The Hungry Cyclist. I didn’t make the early rise to catch the first rays of sun, I had a good lie in instead- somewhat of a rarity these days…and It was cloudy anyway…even at the real Stonehenge.
On the subject of ovens, I have been spending a fair bit of time trying to come up with something I can use with minimum effort whenever I choose, rather than doing an underground oven with hot rocks (cunningly acquired from a nearby railway line) or having to surround an old pickling pan with embers to bake a loaf of bread. I want something that is…of the earth, something that will roast a pheasant, do a 'wild' pizza and generally have that awesome Mediterranean look about it, that simply screams- this country is hot (perhaps not in our case).
So I have decided to put aside the underground oven and build an over ground one in its place. An interesting by-product of the underground oven was the good batch of top notch charcoal I would have left over after a burn…oh well, freshly baked bread is much more important.
Building a clay oven is not as straightforward as I thought. Dig up clay, mould and shape into a dome= Clay oven. Apparently you have to add temper (often sand) and straw/hay for a extra bindage. My wood has plenty of clay; I found out the hard way when digging the long drop, and saw firsthand how impermeable it was when the shitter filled with water…not too nice.
I did notice that the clay underneath the fire pit had been baked hard and turned that pleasant red-brick colour, no doubt this was how our ancestors first came across the notion of pottery with an awful lot of head and ball scratching.
So, with a similar realisation as was had many a year ago (and very little scratching) I consulted my book of country crafts to examine the finer points of making clay (Jack Hill, I take my hat off to you). They have, of late, been cutting hay in the fields, so I was able to get a good haul for binding the clay. The sand and bricks were a product of “fly-tipping” and I managed to get plenty of bricks for the flooring. I had to build a dome out of hazel and then cover it in clay- not too much work but, when you have to allow for mixing, drying and cracking, it becomes a whole new ball game.
Another discovery was that rabbits, other than providing my table with meat, were also under my employment in providing me with clay, other than using the clay from the spoil heap by the long drop (which needed pounding till it was fine and ready to add water) rabbit spoil from their burrowing was already fine and already dug…genius!
I am still building the oven at the moment, just begun on the claying the dome- clay making is a filthy business- literally. When I bake my first loaf in it, you will be the first to know!
So, what other Treehouse shenanigans have been going on this week? Firstly, It must be said: Anova, the publishers, have decided that my little project would make a fine publication! Success! At last! So I can’t give too much of the game away here as there wouldn’t be much point in buying my book! Last weekend saw many elderflower champagne corks flying through the air…or to be honest… being unscrewed.
I have set myself plenty of homework, other than the diary, where I have to bring back a wild plant I don’t know and identify, take notes etc. looks a little something like this-
I have spent a bit of time working on my trapping, all is going well at the river and I have had quite a few eels. The air rifle has been pulling its weight and my rabbit carpet is slowly coming to fruition as long as I have the salt to cure the skins! I have recently made some Ojibwa Bird poles, which I touched upon in my trapping post some time ago. They are yet to prove as effective as the gun! Watch this space…
I had my first courgettes from the patch last night along with roast, spatchcock pigeon and some of my first ‘early potatoes’, my thrift has become so good that last nights meal was put in a Billy can with some stock and water and made an outstanding broth for lunch today.
The hop shoots are in full flourish and many have ended up on the plate…I am shocked at just how many hops line our hedgerows that I had never noticed before…so I decided to try to pickle some before I use them for my beer.
With regards to bread- always on the breakfast menu- I have begun my first sourdough starter….one, which I would like to preserve for as long as possible so I can eat ‘treehouse’ loaves for the next few years, without the use of a fridge, may be difficult.
On the whole, life down here is great, wholesome and tough…I think we have all become a little too soft in this day and age, a little graft to obtain the basics is a wonderful thing- I can know start a fire and boil a full kettle in 15 minutes flat! Despite being dirty most of the time (my shower will be posted next time), Things have come together at last and there is very little I want for. Books are my entertainment, sticks make a handy air guitar and talking to yourself is fine…as long as you are alone!