One thing I am always on the lookout for down in the woods is a tasty snack: a quick-fix solution for a rumbling stomach that doesn’t need skinning, cleaning or cooking first. There have been a variety of different treehouse titbits: Pickled eggs, pickled samphire, flatbreads & stinger pesto, apples, stock cubes & boiling water, blackberries…etc. Now autumn has arrived Chestnuts and hazel nuts are becoming incredibly popular.
A snackfood down here needs to be able to pack some serious protein for the amount of energy I use. Beef jerky or biltong have always been good friends of mine, so much so that I got my hands on a biltong machine and posted the results here sometime ago. Without a fridge or freezer, a glut of meat needs to be processed for future use. My degree in archaeology, in which I specialised in Hunter-gatherer societies finally becomes handy…what to do?
Smoking, or to be more accurate smoke-air drying is the caveman way of preserving. It also tastes bloody good.
I came across a glut of pigeon. Actually, I sat in a hide with the shotgun for most of the day, beside a recently cut maize field: something a greedy pigeon would find hard to ignore.
Decoying is a wonderful way to pass the day. I find it hard to understand why people payout a large sum of cash to spend a day blasting away at pheasants, when a days pigeon shooting comes for free, if you get friendly with a farmer. I am sure many a pheasant shooter would also agree that the wood pigeon presents a far more sporting challenge than any dopey high-flying pheasant. Pigeons fly at a ridiculous rate, more so on a windy day, their eyesight is phenomenally good and they can spot you a mile away.
As I was to learn, there is a lot more to decoying than simply plonking a bunch of plastic pigeons in a field and keeping your fingers crossed. Movement is key, the pigeons are mounted on short lengths of coat hanger wire, so they nod in the breeze. The decoys must face the wind in a V- formation, which will be sharper in high wind or flatter (almost horseshoe shaped) in light wind.
Tom, a true Sussex gentleman born and bred, was showing me the ropes. Not only did he entertain me with his stories of poaching and ferreting the South Downs as a youth, he also had a vast knowledge of pigeons, from racing them to shooting them. It was also he who made me realise I was left-eye dominant…that would explain why I have never been able to look through binoculars properly!
Over the course of the day, we probably missed more birds than we shot and left with a modest bag of 12. The thing I found weird was that pigeons pitched in the trees surrounding a field will fly in literally just after one of its kind has been shot and doesn’t seem to register the unsubtle “KABOOM” of a 12-bore shotgun. Fools.
Managing to fit all twelve pigeons into a standard shopping bag, I trundled back to the treehouse to begin the processing. 12 pigeons= 24 breasts, 24 breasts each split into 4= 96 strips. Plenty for snacking! The breast removal took the best part of 45minutes, pluck breast feathers, cut out breasts, leave carcass for my foxes.
I built a basic A-frame over the fire and covered it with two ponchos to create a smoke chamber. Underneath I made a “smudge” fire, basically a smouldering collection of large, dry Oak logs. The pigeon breasts, now cut into 4, were place into 2 piles and patted dry with a tea towel.
I did one pile of pigeon with a basic seasoning of salt and pepper. The other pile was destined for something a little spicier. A friend, Chopper, had brought down 2 spice mills for me: Piri-Piri and Jamaican jerk. The flakes of dried chilli in the piri-piri were irresistible and were added along with a generous sprinkle of salt, to help draw out the moisture.
Mounted on stripped hazel skewers, the meat took about 7 hours of smoking; they then needed a further 5 hours over the stove (I think 5, but fell asleep). I sat by the smoking fire, pouring on a little water every time a flame appeared; the meat needed smoking not roasting.
The result was mouth-wateringly moreish strips of the best-smoked pigeon jerky I have ever tasted (in fact, the only). The only problem was that after all that work, they very nearly disappeared overnight…only my will power (of which there isn’t always a lot!) kept my sneaky fingers at bay.
I do apologise for lack of radio contact of late, other things have been going on, I had to pop of to Cornwall for a couple of days for two reasons: the only surf of the year and to propose to Clare- thankfully she said yes! I now have a feancy…finace…finance? Yes, fiancée. That’s the one.
With a month left in the treehouse, I have begun patching up holes and stuffing sheep’s wool into cracks to keep out the advancing winter…the untreated wool from a nearby farm has made the place smell like a sheep pen. To counteract this balls up I have gathered hops from the hedgerow by the side of the wood and strung them proper “country pub” fashion, along the main beam of the house, it has worked but know I know find it hard to wake up from the deep drunken slumber brought on by the medicinal properties of the plant. If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders, stick a bunch of hops under your pillow!
Finally today the rain came, not something I usually hope for, but it might entice some mushrooms out of the ground! Oh, and I have made my rabbit skin rug too…finally.