Other than fire, shelter and water, food is obviously one of the four pillars of survival. When it comes to camping or a Ray Mears inspired weekend in the wild, people tend to reach for the canned rubbish, nuts and the delightful rank mattesons sausage….hmmm. For survival that’s all well and good, energy rich food is generally top of the list, but this isn’t about survival. This a culinary ‘survival’ pack that is for the gastronome who intends to make the most out of what they can find in the fields, woods and meadows.
After six months living as a tree dwelling hunter-gatherer, I have managed to make a shortlist of the most essential items and above all how to compact and store them. Having also spent three months on a desert island, I found my ‘luxury item’ that I took with me (a tub of garlic powder and some hot curry powder) unbelievably useful. This is not just for adventurous wild cooking, If your going on a camping holiday or even going to self-catering accommodation for the weekend and don’t fancy emptying your larder just to knock up some half decent chow (the amount of times I have re-stocked my larder with extras from such expeditions is ridiculous!), then the following could be of use to you…
In Richard Mabey’s book Wild Cooking, he mentions a stop over at a Routier outside a small village in France and saw a French truck driver reveal a small fisherman’s fly box with 9 different compartments, each filled with a small quantity of herbs and spices, and begin to flavour his rather bland portion of chicken stew. Mr Mabey went on to list his desert island flavourings: Garlic, lemons, Black olives, olive oil, soy sauce, cumin seed, fresh chillies, root ginger, sherry vinegar, fresh herbs (specifically thyme, coriander, parsley, mint and chives). Not a bad list…
First, I must talk about containment. Yes, stuff to put stuff in; I can do no better than to direct you to Muji. Before I trundled off to the woods I ventured over to the King’s road shop from Battersea, and spent a good hour walking about trying to fit their travel accessories into desktop accessories etc, etc. They have some great kit, and best of all it’s all made of clear plastic, cue no labels and no faffing about. Amazing. Other useful methods of containment can be found in old camera film cases, mini jam pots, effervescent Vitamin C tubes, pillboxes, screw boxes and even fishing boxes. It depends on how much space you have available, what ingredients you must have and how slick you want you culinary survival kit to look, I must admit mine needs a bit more tinkering to look sharp, but if it ain’t broke…
Other factors do spring to mind, how long you’re away for and where you are going. The hypothetical example I am going to use is going to be a rather bucolic affair. Taking a culinary survival kit out in January, with gun (rivers too high at the moment), shoot meat, forage what is available (very little) and attempt to make something resembling a Michelin starred dish (or perhaps AA approved might be more appropriate). The point is…presentation means fuck all if it tastes like shit (I beg your pardon for the Mick Dundee style bluntness). My list is tailored to suit my jaunts around the countryside in search of wild food and cooking over an open fire. So here goes…
Essential for dressings as there are an awful lot of green leaves to be eaten raw in the wild. can be mixed with stock and other seasoning to make a fine basting liquid for meat and fish. Can also be used for frying…obviously.
White wine or cider vinegar is the most versatile. Best used for dressings, but if you need to, good for pickling. A dribble in a pan of wild greens to finish can make all the difference.
Although you have the ingredients to knock one together, it saves on backwoods washing up if you come prepared. A ready made dressing makes any foraged leaves instantly delicious.
Its difficult to find such a good filler in the woods, rice is a staple for any journey. Quick and easy to make and stores well. Quite often I add a stock cube to the rice when I’m cooking it, makes a bland bowl of rice much more exciting!
Frying stuff, anything fried in oil, although perhaps not quite so indulgent, will taste inferior. One word, Lurpak. For example mushrooms + butter + garlic + thyme = Sublime. Oh look, it rhymes at the end…clever.
Slightly bulky, but worth it. Again useful for dressings, hot toddies (might need to add whisky and lemon), but its really in the kit in case of any fish I might come across. The simple combo of lemon juice, butter, salt & pepper and a bay leaf will do anything of the piscine variety justice.
Herbs, Spices & Seasoning:
I would say the four essentials are rosemary/bay/thyme/sage. You could cheat and use mixed dry herbs, but there would be little distinction in using their individual flavour for particular dishes, best have as back up. Use fresh if you are going away for a short period, dried for longer.
Although you can boil down seawater if near the coast to make your very own, it hardly costs the earth and is well worth having anyway, Maldon salt of the flaky variety is standard.
No sneezing powder crap! I can’t stand powdered pepper; its very production is heathen behaviour of the highest order. At least cracked black pepper if you have no choice, but for best results spend a few minutes with the pepper grinder gradually filling a container.
Curry powder- mild or hot depending on personal preference; I go with hot- lasts longer! Curried rabbit or squirrel is quite a tasty dish.
Juniper berries- perfect with game, or nice to crush and sniff if you are missing Gin.
Piri-piri- when in need of a bit of heat, alternatively you can just take dried chilli flakes.
Mustard powder- Coleman’s (what else?) enables you to knock together a quick mustard, just add water and a dash of vinegar. Mustard and rabbit is an epic combo.
Dried mixed herbs- Just in case. If you run out of fresh you know you have something to fall back on, a useful addition to pan-fried pigeon breasts and eel.
Rather strange to bring along something you can find in the wild, often along the riverbank. But as garlic is soooo essential to most meals, you would be foolish not to come prepared.
Vegetable, chicken and beef: Useful for the base of soups and stews and making a gravy or jus. You wouldn’t want to have a roast pigeon without it. They already come in their own waterproof packet (Oxo) and if you don’t use them for cooking you can always make a warming drink.
Everyone has a couple of ingredients that are must have. For me, Tabasco and Lea & Perrins are of the upmost importance, conveniently a Tabasco bottle is the perfect size…otherwise it would be a bugger trying to empty a bottle!
Spoon & sharp knife:
Spoon for stirring stuff and small paring knife for…well, cutting stuff. Conveniently the lid of the box makes a passable chopping board, so do the bottom of mugs, mess tins and even canoe paddles.
So there you have it: the culinary survival kit. It is unlikely that any two people would have the exact same kit, that’s the beauty of it…you can tell a lot about a person from their choices. Flour would be another good addition, as a thickening agent and for making flatbreads, but it is a bit space consuming.
For fishing, shooting or camping my culinary kit usually has a place in the bag. You never know when an opportunity may present itself, a fire can be made just about anywhere and a billycan is probably the only cooking pot you could need. Meat and fish can be skewered or wrapped in burdock leaves. So remember: make your own kit and steer clear of the tins, but if you must have them…don’t forget a can opener!