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Ben Law: The Woodland House (*****)
Fearnley: River Cottage Cookbook (*****)
Richard Mabey: Food for Free (*****)
We have a brand spanking new website at:
Please drop by and check out who we are, what we do and our epic courses for 2013!
Posted at 11:46 AM in Adventures, Curing & Preserving, Fish & Fishing, France: A Year in Providence, Homebrewing, Meat & Game , Mushrooms, Press, Recipes, The Treehouse Diaries, Useful Products, Vegetables, Wild Berries, Wild Camping, Wild Greens | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
After flying into Addis Ababa late in the evening, I arrived to a refreshingly cold ‘St. George’ beer and my accommodation which was better than some of the places I’ve lived (treehouse, cow shed, desert island etc.), I was out like a light.
Up early the next morning, I got a crash course in Ethiopian Date & Time settings: So, It’s 2005 here- I’m 7 years younger. Also, there are 13 months in a year and each month is exactly 30 days long, except the 13th, which only lasts 5 days. Finally, the hours in a day are slightly perplexing to say the least: an hour after sunrise its 1 o’clock and so on throughout the day till sundown…
Day 1 saw us head 6 hours north to the Antsokia Valley. Those of you who remember the devastating famine of 1984, will be familiar with the area. Antsokia was one of the worst affected areas and many of the news reports and images of food drops were from here. The drive up was a flickr stream of Ethiopia drive-by snapshots- getting the feel of a place as they whizz past the window. Euculyptus trees, euculyptus scaffolding, eucalyptus timber frames, thatched roofs and beasts of burden- donkeys & camels. My eyes were glued to the window for most of the journey. My first thoughts on what I was seeing was that this was how England used to be some time ago and knowing what it has become, probably still should be.
We eventually arrived in the town of kimbolcha our base for the next few days. Whilst in Antsokia we were due to visit a number of Area Development Programmes (ADP’s) set up and run by World Vision. What has happened here in the past 30 years is quite astounding. Firstly, this is Development on a grand scale- NOT aid and has been played out in 3 distinct phases:
Phase 1: Relief (1984-85)- Food drops, Feeding centres and emergency health care. Around 4m people affected.
Phase 2: Rehabilitation (1986-89)- Infrastructure, Agriculrural development and child sponsorship.
Phase 3: Development (1990- present)- Livability, sustainable incomes and phase out of ADP’s.
Some of the projects we have visited have included irrigation schemes, Fruit farms and Dairy farms. This is not on the vast scale that you would expect in the UK, but smaller cottage industries: smallholders in the real sense and not some H E Bates fantasy realized by a city dweller. The people here have grafted hard with the unfaltering support of World Vision to turn Antsokia from a dust bowl into a fruitful, fertile Oasis.
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People are amazing creatures. All individuals, all slightly tweaked versions of one another, yet all drawn to different things as we grow up. As kids we’re pretty much the same, easily pleased by similar things, yet as we grow we start to become different, interests develop, pastimes are forged, firm friends are made, experiences are had and you start feeling the things your parents used to talk about called ‘draughts’ (not the game), but that’s only one side of the coin.
On the flipside is the other person that is developing: the ‘professional side’. Be it school, college or university, there's always a goal in place for you. I still remember when I did my ISCO test I got career options such as tree surgery, jewelry design, graphic design and armed forces. Mainly because I was interested in making stuff and the outdoors, accuracy at its best- I can almost hear David Cameron reading me the results.
Many of us follow down the route that has become common place over the last 80 years, the so-called normal life: 9-5 job in a obscure occupation suggested when you were 17, or one you fell into because you didn’t have a clue what you really wanted to do at the time. Married at 30, kids at 32, buy a house and live out the days doing the same thing everyday.
Us lucky people, the choices, the opportunities and the double life.
A few years back I opted out, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do and what I was doing was repetitive and dull. I wanted to do my own thing, so I settled for the woods, a treehouse and the simple life of a hunter-gatherer for six months, with very little idea where it would take me. Living off about £8 a week on staples, foraging, hunting and growing veggies to make ends meet and with a bartery deal of occasional farmhand work for the land use, I became a free man.
That’s not to say I’m into all that crusty, hippy commune bollocks. It’s not really, like…my bag, man. But what that experience taught me is that there are, as there always have been, four main ingredients to life: food, water, shelter, fire. If you have all those then you are living. We fill our lives with a lot of things we don’t really need (yes I have an iphone- because they’re like a Swiss army knife- useful), but how attached to these things do you need to become beyond using it as a tool and means of communication?
This isn’t a hard hitting post about how fortunate we are in the UK and how less fortunate they might in my next destination. The thought of Ethiopia conjures up one thought from my past- food, and the lack of it. I was two years old when the famine hit the country big time. So what’s it like thirty years later and how have things changed?
I don’t tend to hit up London much these days, when I do it is always a fleeting visit before heading back to the sticks, but one thing I can imagine is that I’ll be bumping into a lot more cheerful folk than I would on the London underground. In my experience of visiting places in Africa and the South Pacific in the past, people who have less are often happier. Their lives aren’t as cluttered with the unnecessary rubbish that we in the UK like to fill it with.
Talking of luck, World Vision UK have very kindly invited me out to see what has happened in Ethiopia 30 years later. I will be spending a week or so visiting some of the organisation's ADPs (Area Development Programs) this month. From projects around the capital Addis Ababa, heading north to the Antsokia valley and south to Lake Assawa. Having downsized myself a few years back a vast step beyond the idyll of Whipping-tool’s ‘River Cottage’ series, I’m eager to see how these people live, how they cook, what they eat and how they produce it, what they do for meat? I’ve heard rumours that hunting and gathering is not an option in Ethiopia, from a legal point of view. So beyond an agricultural or pastoral existence- what options are open to the people of Ethiopia?
I’m sure there’s going to be some epic things to see, some great people to meet and some fine experiences to be had. Myself and two other writers will be reporting back what we see- Helen Graves of foodstories.com and Jo Middleton of slummysinglemummy.com
I’ve travelled a bit and I’ve been to some places and seen some stuff. I have also had my reservations about NGO’s, being a keen reader of Paul Theroux’s books, he paints the picture that they all drive around in big white 4x4’s and are responsible for creating a circle of dependence from giving aid. But that is simply one man’s opinion. I get to see it for real and pass my own judgement- not just from something I’ve read by a man I don’t know. World Vision run a very different scheme- Child sponsorship, an entirely different model. What I am there to write about is their 'Enough food food for everyone IF' campaign which is a collaboration of a variety of charities and organisation that are aiming to end the world hunger crisis.
I know what its like to be hungry, thanks to 3 months on a desert island with Channel 4 and living as a caveman for a week for Reader's Digest, but certainly not to the extent that the people of Ethiopia have in the past.
But I suppose what this all comes back to is food. Here, we live in a world where foraging is an ‘option’, Thrift is a mindset that’s tough to get into for some, buying ‘organic’ vegetables from expensive farmers markets simply because they still have a bit of dirt on them has become fashionable. It’s ridiculous, but the worst thing is, deep down, we know it.
When did our lives become like they are? A slave to the system of working in order to buy the food we need to survive (yes, I use the supermarket- can’t deny, but I still haven’t cracked the ‘secret’ recipe for Lea & Perrin’s and rice doesn’t really grow that well in Sussex). Back to the coin and its flipside, I do forage a lot of my food, shoot it, hook it and grow it- mainly because its fresh, I know where its come from and above all its pretty much free. And that makes me happy. I’m not a rich man, not by a long shot, but happiness can be found in the most unlikely of places.
I don’t know what I can expect, but I hear world vision have been doing some pretty impressive stuff out there, their sponsor a child program hits at a grass roots level and helps give many children the chance a lot of us have taken for granted. Education can lead to many things and hopefully an ISCO test isn’t one of them!
So we shall see what the next week produces- I hope to be doing live updates every day whilst I am out there with plenty of photos for you good people to see. Check-in same time tomorrow…
No longer are the men of today content with the “Prague, Tits & Beer” of the past, stag do’s are becoming more sophisticated (sort of…), paintball and go-karting don’t quite cut the mustard like they used to. Men want to be men and do manly stuff, collectively they want to unleash their inner caveman once unchained from the desk: they want to eat meat off the bone, they want to make fire, they want to sup a few ales and roar with laughter at each others expense. So where better to go than a Hunter-Gatherer School to let it all out?
In reality it seems that man has changed little over the last 10,000 years when it comes to the basics, some things just remain the same…
Being based only an hour from London and 20 minutes from Brighton, HGC HQ is ideally placed for those looking to experience a bit of outdoor adventure during the day and then head off to the bright lights of the city for a bit a bit of nocturnal revelry. No Stag group is the same, some have headed to Brighton, some to Eastbourne and quite a few to Lewes for some serious Ale tasting in the shadow of Lewes Cathedral (also known as the Harveys Brewery).
So what can you expect from a HGC Stag do?
Without further ado and not wanting to give the game away (a little smoke & mirrors never hurts…) here we go:
Come and join us in the woods to celebrate your staggy with a day of time-honoured manliness:
Deer butchery and Cook off
Wild food wander
Bush tucker trial
Based on the South Downs near Brighton, expect a day of great banter and hands on outdoor action. The stag will receive a special gift from the HGC team as a ‘stagmento’ from his time in the woods.
Arriving At HGC HQ at 10am for a run through the order of play: The day is designed for your group to learn the basics of self-sufficiency and put them to the test!
We begin at HQ where you will learn how to skin and butcher an entire deer for your lunch using flint tools, then skewer up the meat to cook over the fire with a selection of HGC marinades and wild taster dishes. During lunch there will be a spot of cider tasting (we provide 5 gallons of cider for the day), then it is off into the wild to identify & taste some of Mother Nature’s bounty from the hedgerows. We can also provide supper, consisting of pit roast Haunch of Venison and all the trimmings.
After walking off the deer, you will embark on a tutorial of basic fire lighting, trapping and shelter building before the bush tucker trial where the stag will have to eat his way through insects, squirrel cock, deer testicle and fish bits.
Then it is time for the HGC challenge, which only the best man (or men) are allowed to know about…
Hunter Gather Cook will unleash the hunter-gatherer within and ensure you pick up plenty of tips for your next adventure into the wild!
If you are interested in booking a Stag do with us, please get in touch and send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, prices and available dates.
‘Staggy staggy stag stag.’
We get through a fair amount of Deer at HGC HQ throughout the year, from beastly 70kg Fallow to dainty 25kg Roe. All the deer that come the the HGC kitchen are locally stalked and hung for the best part of 2 weeks before they appear on our table. In most cases its down to Ash, one of our instructors, to teach the delicate art of seam butchery with our guests. They all get stuck in be it removing the pelt, pencil fillets, backstrap, neck fillet or dissecting the haunch into a variety of fine cuts: The tender sirloin, top and bottom rounds, rump and the slightly tougher shank.
HGC instructor Ash with one peice of backstrap ready for the camp kitchen.
Butchery is an important part of what we do and making it go as far as possible is firmly engrained in the Hunter Gather Cook ethos. Once Ash has finished with his apprentices, the meat is divvied up: Dave gets a fillet to make smoked biltong, I get the pencil fillets for carpaccio, haunches are put aside for the underground oven or split into cuts, antoher fillet is marinated and put on hazel skewers and all the offcuts are minced by hand. The 2 front haunches either end up in the freezer, go to my landlord or go home in a lucky course attendees rucksack. One deer, dealt with…
One Roe deer done: the remains of the carcass in the foreground ready for roasting.
What we are left with is not necessarily going straight to our very well fed foxes and buzzards (although the buzzards are more partial to picking apart rabbit pelts on a large fallen oak), but into our stockpot for plenty of future HGC meals. It works especially well in our Jelly Ear Broth with Sorrel.
First we fire roast the bones over the hearth on a bed of Oak and hornbeam before dismantling the ribcage and placing it in the pot with all the necessary goodies to form the basis of a fine stock: the holy trinity (onions, carrots, celery), a few crushed bulbs of garlic, salt & pepper, a good slug of red wine, crushed juniper berries, a sprig of rosemary, dried Wood Avens roots and an inch of cinnamon.
Left to simmer away for the afternoon and reduce, by the end of a day course we have one hell of a stock and as most of the deer we get are virtually fat free- no need for skimming!
What we’re focusing on hear is a hearty, warming drink similar to the better known Bullshot (made using beef stock). The Buckshot is the far superior cousin and that little bit wilder. We served this wonderful concoction, a hot version of a Bloody Mary if you like, on our Fungal Foray & Feast’s back in October after a good two hour, drizzle-ridden yomp in search of ‘shrooms. By jingo did it go down well!
HGC course attendees filleting, mincing and mingling.
If you don’t happen to have a deer carcass to hand, try asking your local butcher and he might be able to get hold of some bones for you or substitute the venison stock for beef stock (then you have a bullshot). Without further ado…the buckshot:
500ml of Venison Stock (reduced)
300ml of Homemade Tomato passata
160ml of Vodka (Whisky can prove to be an interesting alternative!)
Juice of half a lemon
1 TSP Horseradish sauce
1 TSP red wine vinegar
a few drops of Tabasco (add more if it’s a cold day)
a drizzle of Worcester sauce
Salt & Pepper
Heat up the Venison stock and Tomato Passata in a saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and heat gently. You may wish to adjust seasonings to suit your taste, being a Tabasco addict, I like mine extra hot, but have to restrain myself when serving to guests!
Final thought- don't mess about when trying to manhandle a large deer carcass that weighs more than you into the back of a jeep. Trust me...
If you would like to take part in any of our courses for 2013, please email:
For over a year now I have had the pleasure of working with the largest skatebrand in the world: Element. As one of their advocates I have tought wilderness skills on their skatecamps around Europe as well as advise on all things wild when needed. Not only have they been a great brand to work with, they also kit me out in some rather fine threads: their jackets, backpacks, waterproofs, T-shirts, trousers and shoes have all been put though their paces down at HGC and even clothed the rest of the team. Just as well- bushcraft clobber is banned when it comes to staff. We are certainly the most stylish and best dressed instructors in the country!
In May a film crew came over from France to film a short video to introduce Element's Wolfboro Collection and shoes for 2012. We shot in some great locations in Sussex: Firle, Cuckmere Haven, HGC HQ and even revisited the Treehouse. I put together a rather brooding script...like, we went deep man. Below are the results, shot on a Canon c300. Enjoy!
We have a few spaces available for our Autumn 'Fungal Foray & Feast' Course if anyone is interested, drop me an email- email@example.com
Ever since I first set foot in the Pyrenees last year, albeit with a snowboard strapped to them in 4 ft of snow, I have been looking forward to summer to come around again to get up into them thar hills and explore the crystal clear mountain lakes and enjoy a spot of wild camping.
For those of you familiar with the Tour De France (yes, the one in which us Brits smashed everyone else in last week- fine work Wiggins & Co), the Col du Tourmalet is the most famous climb on the Tour, it is also the highest road (2,115m) in the Pyrenees and the area which I chose to explore. Planning a trip like this wasn’t too difficult- the internet is a wonderful thing and Google Earth is even better- being able to map out and print satellite images of your desired spot certainly helps when you find yourself up in the mountains. The only thing Google Earth won’t help you with until you find yourself in the thick of it, is the terrain which isn’t obvious from a bird’s eye perspective.
Now, the Pyrenees really don’t dick about.
It’s not easy to find people to coax up a mountain. Hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee. I must admit- It’s not really mine, for me there has to be a purpose: a reason to venture off into the unknown. More often than not, that reason has scales, a penchant for worms and makes damned fine eating. Fish. The area I had picked out in the mountains, just south of the town of Bareges, had a good cluster of lakes at around 2,200m (quite high up- Ben Nevis is 1,344m) in all shapes and sizes. Perfect spot. But who would be game?
I met Dustin at Wilderness Gathering last year, when Ash and myself took HGC HQ on the road to showcase the Foraging school. Dustin runs the company www.bushcrafttools.com and specialises in Fire Pistons, which he designs and produces himself. Having recently relocated to Perpignan on the Med side of the Pyrenees and a keen brother of the Angle himself, he was the perfect companion. So, through that wonderful invention used by ex-pats across the globe, we arranged everything over Skype and planned to meet at midday on a Tuesday. The plan was to have one night in the mountains and the second night in the valley by one of the rivers. Three hours drive from the Beach and I was up near La Mongie and the Col du tourmalet. Boom.
As I’m not really one for following sport, I was surprised to learn that the Tour De France was actually passing through the very day and the very place we chose to hit the mountains. Bugger. Traffic, Gendarmerie, lycra and sweaty people creeped through the mountain passes in 30C heat. Not the best start…but eventually we made it to the start point.
Rather than regale you with tales of elation, woe, steep climbs, desperate fishing, Kamikazee sheep, cows with bells on, French folk dumping behind rocks, great banter, useful hipflasks, chopping down dead pine limbs with an axe on a cliff edge, Bushcraft discussion (apparently Ray Mears doesn’t do bushcraft anymore because its ‘too commercial’- who on earth would you hold responsible for such a thing?), contemplating rolling large boulders into mountain lakes and dodging rock falls, I’m just going to present a series of pictures….painting a thousand words and all that. The only thing I will say, and perhaps the best thing about hiking up in the Pyrenees, is not having to take any water with you: you just fill up as you go along from all the fast flowing mountain streams. Who said Evian was Naïve spelt backwards?
Dustin's Pyro Piston worked a treat. Available from www.bushcrafttools.com
Next "Book on" course- Saturday 18th August: Group Day course (max 14 people: £80.00 per head). Full
Next 'book on' Course:
October Fungal Feast: A day of Mushroom ID and Cook off with Seasonal Game on In Mid Sussex (max 14 people: £85.00 per head). Sunday 21st October. 10 spaces remaining
We cater for individuals, groups, schools and stag & hen groups. All our courses are privately arranged, giving you the flexibility to book your day course or overnighter when you wish.
...to the trees!
There has been a nice bit of press recently in the Telegraph about HGC, to have a read click here. And to read an article I did for the Telegraph on my take on what the Weald is all about, click here.
This year I was pleasantly suprised to become an 'Element Advocate' for the skate brand Element. Rather strange perhaps to be sponsored by such a brand for doing wilderness skills, but this is all part of 'Elemental Awareness' of which I am a proud to be supporting and teaching to others. Here is a video showing a few of the things we got up to at Skatecamp in Spain this summer:
What a year its been- I never expected when I started this website 4 years ago it would go from an online world of posting recipes, experiments and experiences and turn into something, real, interactive and informative. The first year of HGC school has been great fun and a I feel I have learnt almost as much as all those who have attended the courses (I think the best tip I received was from one Alan Paterson who told me to use washing powder to soak and clean burnt eggy pans- works a treat)! I cannot thank those who attended enough for making our first year a great success.
Throughout the Spring, Summer and Autumn I was consistently pleased to see that I had really had found the perfect place for the school, the flora & fauna of the surrounding landscape not only provided rabbits, squirrels, pigeon, fallow deer and carp for the HQ kitchen’s meat store (even allowing a few attendees to dispatch them on the day), but the plants and fungi were just as forthcoming: Giant puffballs, bay boletus, parasols and chicken of the woods all put in a timely, yet surprising appearance.
2011 saw HGC doing privately booked bespoke courses as opposed to days you ‘book on to’, this will still be the case for 2012- But fear not! In 2012 we are organising a series of group days, which you CAN book onto. These will have a predetermined structure and a bit cheaper than the private days
Private days and overnight courses will still be available- I still feel that the learning experience for the attendees is much better and on a more personal level than having larger groups, this also enables you to choose your desired date and we can design the course around what you wish to learn about. We have started taking bookings already for next year- May and June are gradually filling up so please get in touch if you fancy becoming a 21st century Hunter-gatherer. There will be more dates to following for June, July and August.
Obviously all our courses are based around foraging and cooking, but that still means you have to know how to source it and how to cook it when you are off the grid and in the woods. This is how the HGC curriculum evolved- we do so much more than plant identification and ensure that you WILL get your hands dirty! As pictures are worth a thousand words, here are a few snapshots of what we have been up to this year on our courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and what YOU could be experiencing next year!
The HQ Kitchen- designed in the perfect kitchen triangle, Oak tables constructed from Oak from the very wood in which we reside.
Off-Grid Ice Cream- its amazing what you can do with a bit of plastic, a power drill and a couple of buckets. Blackberry & wild mint ice cream.
Staggy- Yes, we do Stag and Hen do's aswell! It only seemed fitting to get them a roebuck for Lunch, do a bush tucker trial and shelter challenge at the end. All washed down with 10 gallons o'cider.
Trapping & Knapping- how to catch your fur with a fig.4 deadfall and of course, you will need something to cut it up with: flint.
Deer in a day- from processing to smoking, underground ovens and slow roasting. Too much meat? Never.
Cooking- Dutch ovens do more than just stews. Muurikka Skillets and good ol'fashioned Smoking tripod always make an appearence.
Hunter:Gather:Shelter Overnighters- If you are spending the night with us, we will take you through how to build a comfy nest for the night.
Clay Oven Cookery- Our clay oven produces the best Rabbit & nettle pesto pizza and the spade we used to make it is excellent for fry-ups.
Rabbits- Once we have taken you through how to remove their furry packaging and joint them, they transform into pan fried saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta and sage on a wild salsa with puffball base.
Pigeon- Plucked, Pan fried and relaxed- either with a wild leaf salad and blackberry jus or Carpaccio'ed with baby horseradish leaves, elderberries and wood sorrel.
Mycological Munch: Plenty of fungi found on the farm for a fun-filled afternoon of feeding. Bay boletus, puffballs and chickens.
Man's greatest discovery: Fire, without which we would only eat cold food. At HGC we cover all the basics from wood selection, fire management, fire by friction and the all reliable flint and steel. (Sorry about all the F-ing).
Pots & Pans...and Rabbits too.
I have had some bizarre requests in my time, but creating a wild taster menu and teaching a foraging lesson from a hot air Balloon for Mazda, tops the list (or living as a caveman for a week might be closer…) Whatever will be next? Building a Tree House on the Eiffel Tower? Foraging in the Amazon Basin? Yak shooting, skinning and gutting in the Himilayas? I’d probably do them all- well, why not? Sounds like fun!
When it came to planning and plotting the menu, I delved into the HGC archives to ensure they would be receiving the finest fodder the countryside had to offer. Obviously, whatever was in season would make the cut and then it was down to digging out what was going to be exciting, tasty and inspiring. Elderflower was first to be binned- yes in season and yes as about inspiring as a BNP conference. For the last few years meadowsweet has long been the new elderflower for me and only that would make the cut- so I was pleased to see it out in full force.
Pigeons and Rabbits were de rigueur for any of my feasts, Mushrooms were still to appear (my source of chicken of the woods was looking a bit ropey on last inspection) and as far as something fishy was concerned, I wanted something different, but more native Britain than a Sunday roast. Trout- although pleasant I feel they are great to catch, but nothing special- you would also be hard pressed to find a truly ‘wild’ fish anyway these days and If you did the last thing you would do is take it home for tea.
I had my sights set on Carp or Chub. Having already been crucified by the nation’s anglers after writing an online piece about tucking into Native freshwater fish for the Guardian Word of Mouth (see it here), I was more determined than ever to continue my crusade to get more people to try our lesser-known fish. I mean, what kind of bell ringer writes a comment saying: “If every one of the 3 million anglers in the UK to a fish home for supper, there would be none left”. Yeah right, of course that’s going to happen you anus. Daft comments aside, there were some well-informed comments, all reeking of hatred for my suggestion (honestly, where the hell does HF-W get his silver lining from?!) and plenty of rants about light-fingered eastern European ‘gangs’ taking fish. I hadn’t expected such a racial assault from Guardian readers…
Obviously when eating native freshwater fish, it’s important to adhere to the Environment agencies guidelines- provided you have the owner of the water’s consent you may remove X-amount of fish on any given day. Lucky for me I have a good source of both fish and consent, so it was down to how I would cook the buggers. The food was all going to be pre-prepared and nothing served hot. Simple: Ceviche. Contrary to popular belief, Carp are NOT muddy fish, provided they are under 5lbs. This myth has been developed by cunning piscators that would prefer not to have their favourite sport fish eaten- carp fishing is BIG business these days. Ever wondered why our Eastern European counterparts are so fond of carp flesh?
Chub however, is a fish that has never enjoyed a culinary reputation of any kind. Quite simply it’s known as being inedible…until now. Even back in the day, Izaak Walton said the chub was like eating cotton wool stuffed with pins. Catching them is not too difficult, being omnivores, they will take bait, fly and even spinners. They can be found in almost every river and even some still waters and are greedy fish- smaller fish will spook less easily, but the bigger fish are big for a reason (not that anyone bothers to take them home with them).
5 Years back- 1st attempt!
In the past I have tried to cook them- on gutting they have the same firm white flesh you would expect from a bass, on cooking they turn into fishy mash potato...
It was my Friend Tom (aka the Hungry Cyclist) that suggested Ceviche as the only form of ‘cooking’ that might render the chub edible. And he was spot on. So off I went with the fly rod to my local spot to try and entice one of the beasts home to the kitchen. The mayfly nymph rarely disappoints and before long I had a good size fish in the bag.
Processing a chub is a bit fiddly: the bones along its flank are the main issue. First, de-scale the fish with the back of a knife or fish scaler, gut the fish and then fillet. Once you have the fillets, you will need to remove the pin bones that were the ribcage. As long as you have a pair of pliers, it is a case of feeling your way along and then pulling them out. Once washed, chop the fillets into thumbnail size chunks and you are ready for Chevy-chasing.
Once you have cut up the chub into small chunks , place them in a bowl with the lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, mix well and place in the fridge to ‘cook’ for 15 minutes- you will notice the flesh turn from translucent to opaque. The citric acid from the lime juice breaks down the proteins in the fish and renders it ‘cooked’.
Finely dice all the other ingredients, season well and mix them in a bowl. The cucumber is going to be used as the base for serving the ceviche canapé style. Cut it into ½ inch wide pieces and, using a teaspoon, scrape out some of the middle to make a bowl in which to place the ceviche.
Once your chub is done, drain off the lime juice and mix the chub in with the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and then scoop into the cucumber resepticles. Et Voila!
So there I was, 2000ft in the air feeding chub ceviche to Radio 1 DJ and all round good lad Reggie Yates. He certainly tucked in! I’d never been in a balloon before, and being a tree dweller I didn’t think I would suffer from vertigo. At about 1500ft, I had a brief moment when I looked down and realized there was nothing but an oversize hamper between me and the Buckinghamshire countryside far below. Shit my pants and freak out? Or are we ok? Fortunately there was no rising panic and I was actually quite blown away by the gentle silence and the stunning views. Let the feasting commence!
Potted Rabbit and Rabbit and Roe liver Terrine wrapped in stinging nettles. Served with three cornered leek doughballs.
Oak smoked, pan fried pigeon breast with elderberry and blackberry coulis served with a mixed wild leaf salad and a pine needle vinaigrette (horseradish leaf, yarrow, dandelion, bittercress, sorrel, Jack by the hedge and ox eye daisy).
Meadowsweet and mint cheesecake.
To wash it all down: meadowsweet cordial and nettle beer.
Here is a short Video of the Adventure courtesy of Mazda:
I am currently out in France enjoying life with the Mrs and putting my outdoor skills to use at the Element Skatecamps in the hills south of Bilbao. I am back in August for a busy month of courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and then to Wilderness Gathering to show Bushcraft keenos how to cook Wild food- cant wait!
If you fancy booking up a HGC course in August- Get in touch there are still dates available. Drop me an email with your dates and requirements and we will arrange a tailor made Hunter-Gatherer Experience just for you…Hasta Pronto!
Childish excitement aside, the prospect of ice cream is a wonderful thing. I must confess I was more of a sun lolly kid myself- ingeniously designed like a PG pyramid tea bag to prevent kids on a sugar high flipping the contents out onto the floor, that was the problem with Callippos. And as for Mr Freeze? Well, raspberry and cola all the way.
Ice cream isn’t really something I have in my freezer, but that’s because its so chock full of various parts of fish, fur and feather there simply isn’t the room. It just so happened that I had a craving for it during the summer we had a month ago. I decided to google how it was made after having a chat to a friend of mine about hand cranked Ice cream machines and the possibility of involving them down at HGC headquarters.
As I scrolled through endless useless links, the only instructions I could find were how to make it with a couple of plastic bags- nothing on putting together a traditional hand powered beast of a machine: It was time to hit the workshop and get tinkering…
The principle behind making I scream, you scream, we all scream for Ice Cream is both keen and cunning, a process evolved and developed over 100’s of years. It is not exactly clear who is credited with hitting the nail on the head. Most countries have been messing about with their own versions of frozen pud for time, however it was the Arabs that were the first to tuck into the dairy and use milk, sweeten it with sugar, flavour with rose water and fruits & nut. Before that it was all sorbets- in 62AD the Roman emperor Nero used to send slaves up to the Apenine mountains to collect snow to be mixed with honey it has even been claimed, in the Yuan dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China, pinched the technique and high tailed it back to Italy. Well thank you Wikipedia. I like to maintain a ‘plagiarism free’ blog…
So where to start? Firstly you don’t actually even have to make a contraption, for the simple ‘bag method’ all you need is:
And follow this link for a video on how to do it. Not to be rude, but this isn’t amateur hour: the ice cream is far from perfect- for that you need a proper hand-cranked, Macgyver issue machine…give me two buckets, a plastic box, a piece of wood and a hand drill.
The science behind making ice cream is the same for both the ‘bag’ method and the ‘pot freezer’ method. This involves mixing salt with ice. In simple terms…bear with me sciences were never my strong point:
Lets say you have a glass of water with crushed ice in, ok? For ice to melt, energy must be drawn in from the surrounding water to break the hydrogen bonds that keep the ice frozen. The energy that's taken is in the form of heat, which is why ice makes the water cold, since it's taking the heat to melt. Salt upsets the balance and makes the melting rate slower, because the ice requires more energy to melt. This draws more heat from the solution, which results in a larger temperature drop.
That took me a long time to understand too. For more info on why check out this link. So a combination of ice and salt will lower the temperature allowing your mixture to become ice cream, water isn’t needed. It took me a couple of failed attempts before I had perfected the machine.
The evening is designed to be relaxed and enjoyable for all, do feel free to bring a bottle and if shelters aren't your cup of tea- tents are welcome! For Breakfast- the kitchen will be up and running so you wont go hungry.
Tickets are £70.00 and there are a limited amount of places available, so if you are interested please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heres a few pics to show what we've been up to:
Apples have always been a favourite, as a boy, apple juice was the drink of choice, hands down. Unfortunately, being about as cack handed as a retarded Quasimodo, I regularly spilt any liquid within grasp- hence having to get up from the table and go and have a sup in the kitchen by the sink (I think I even had to eat and drink on the floor once or twice to limit damage control- no shit!). Parents can be cruel- but it certainly taught me a thing or two, this is why they have all the problems with ‘Yoofs’ these days: lack of proper discipline!
So, apples and cheese- a match made in heaven. Few things can match the sweetness of a good apple cutting through the salty creaminess of a fine chunk of cheese. Be it cheddar or stilton (mature cheddar preferably), the two were born for one and other.
It was my friend Dan who re-instilled the values of this combination as a tasty snack. Of course I have had them together before- mostly on a cheeseboard, but there was something wonderfully farmerish, holes-in-the-jumper, big ‘ands and bailing twine about the way Dan preferred his: Quite simply an apple and a chunk of Cheddar.
During April, as the pair of us toiled to get Safari Britain up and running for the summer and between chat about local gossip, gambling landlords, back-end sheep harassing teens and setting fire to defunct livestock-Sussex banter at its finest, dirty hands would devour the pair often. Now, it was something that Dan said that gave me this little, ludicrously simple idea:
“I wish there was someway you could grow an apple with cheddar inside, or perhaps even combine the two into a Jekyll & Hyde monster of a mouthful”
I pondered this for a moment: “Couldn’t you just core an apple and stuff it with cheese? Ooo…or even bake it with a some pickle!”
Dan wasn’t stupid: “Don’t you pinch my idea…OR blog it you bastard!”
Well…think of it as the highest form of flattery.
I managed to bake an egg in a tomato whilst bored one afternoon in London- this is much more inspired! A perfect snack or addition to that wonderful platter, the ‘Ploughmans’ of which the origins are not clear (1870’s England seems to be the best I can give you).
First slice off a ‘lid’ and then simply core your apple (Braeburn or Cox’s) a little wider than usual, fill it 1/3 with grated mature cheddar, 1/3 branston pickle or piccalilli, 1/3 mature cheddar and replace the top. Eat.
Now one thing I will make clear is that there is a danger when consuming such a trinket: Lock jaw, chin strain or chin cramp (which I believe is the technical term), taking a large bite out of an apple loaded with such a delectable filling is not recommended. Full stop.
This Friday I will be collaborating with Kerstin Rodgers aka Msmarmitelover, author of the recently published and hugely successful “Supperclub: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant” to put together a wild food supper, there are still a few tickets left so don’t miss out: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/105047
Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ has become a second home and perhaps the best kitchen I have EVER had the pleasure of working in, something about that kitchen ‘triangle’ and the fact it’s wood fired AND in the middle of the woods methinks. As for courses, give me a call or drop me an email with when you want to come along and we can accomodate! I have decided that perhaps fixing dates for courses is too regimented and doesn’t fit with the way I like to do things- tailor made is much more preferable for both parties. I have been a bit overwhelmed with the feedback so far and the surprise at just how much fits into the day- so thanks to all of my hunter-gatherers so far! Also we have been tucking into plenty of carp which we/you catch from our pond- tastes of mud my arse! Absolutely amazing fish...
Carp with lemon, bay and Jack-by-the-hedge, wrapped and cooked in Burdock leaves.
At long last, on my weekend off, I managed to sort out the patch at the new pad and filled it with salads, runner beans, peas, potatoes, pak choi, spinach, radishes, carrots etc- just got to wait for them to grow and keep slugs and rabbits at bay.The produce will not only supply the house but keep HGC headquarters in the freshest, local grub around.
Final note- I have recently become sponsored by Element for my work in all things wild. Element are a global skate/surf brand that are branching out into the great outdoors with their non-profit organization “Elemental Awareness” and run Skate camps in Northern Cali and Bilbao. I will be spending a bit of time in July and August doing workshops in Bilbao and putting the kids through a Hunter-gatherer masterclass- exciting stuff!
Oh and in two weeks time, I will spend a week living as a caveman with absolutely nothing, for a feature I'm doing for Reader’s Digest with my friend and adventurer Al Humphreys. Thankfully James at Native Awareness (runs courses in Primitive skills) has been most helpful with tips, stone age gizmos and clothing. Hmmmm, I'm always up for a challenge...
By gad...what a week! I haven't stopped for little more than food (not sure that anyone says 'by gad' anymore- I certainly don't, but I'm taking back!). Since coming back from France its been non-stop: Building a tree house for the Times Home Section in two days (I'd recommend building one in four), It was a superb weekend with James and his family all getting involved- never seen a 4 year old using a power drill! Also been doing the build at Safari Britain, where I managed to receive a double blow to the head from a pair of ash rafters dropping out of the crown whilst setting up the yurt...not recommended.
Things are moving along nicely at moving along at HGC Headquarters. I have been lining up some interesting posts to follow, but with so much on at the moment just a quick update...pictorially.
The clay oven has come along nicely- a bit of a step up from the my last effort whilst tree- dwelling, I just have to do a bit of nip and tuck on the entrance. Thankfully I had the help of some fine instructions from this lad: Simon Brookes guide to building a clay oven.
Knowland's wood- where the HGC headquarters resides is looking beautiful, wood anemones first followed by the delightful onslaught of the bluebells. My new landlord very kindly helped me out with some timber for the HQ, we spent a morning cutting some oak trunks from the wood- so far everything in the off-grid HQ has come from the wood- making me feel particularly smug about my carbon footprint! (save all the fires I will be burning throughout the summer...)
Hope you are enjoying spring and the gradual transition to summer, if you fancy a day or even an overnight course in becoming a 21st century hunter-gatherer- get in touch!
Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places, looking back I think mine was stumbled upon at the Giant’s Cup in the Southern Drakensburg, South Africa. Granted the place itself could quite easily be inspiration enough: the flat topped, jutting peaks and the grassy plains full of howling baboons echo exploits of Hemingway- especially striking out in a boat in search of Trout, the great white hunter lives on….
But it was not so much place, but a person. Wolf Avni the proprietor of our breath-taking surroundings was a fisherman foremost and writer second. His eccentricity was only matched by his wit, and it was only after getting a copy of his book “A Mean-Mouthed, Hook-Jawed, Bad-News Son-of-a Fish” that I realized this chap spoke like he wrote- bizarre perhaps, but certainly unique. His prose was magical- Shakespeare meets Izaak Walton and then goes on a bender with Bill Hicks and a couple of Trout. I liked it a lot- I wanted to write…big time.
My brother and I spent plenty of time flogging the water chasing the fish- from the enormous lake to the pleasant trickle of the Umzimkulawana River; we had three days of wonderful South African landscape, but very little bite. The Trout of the Southern Hemisphere were too cunning for my liking. It wasn’t until sometime afterwards that I noticed Wolf had added a brief inscription in the front of his book that said:
“For Nick. Nil Illigitimi Carborundum.”
Now whether it was a reference to our fishing or a valuable lesson for life, the common Latin phrase translates as “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”. And I think it was then that my life began to take a more alternative route that I wasn’t entirely prepared for and quite frankly never will be. But such is the rich tapestry of life!
So after living on a desert island, a Tree house and a cow barn, this year is all about two things: Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and the Frenchies and their food. Bouncing between two countries is perhaps not the most settled of living arrangements, but with a ‘river cottege-esque’ pad in rural Sussex and an apartment and fiancée on the beach in Southern France- I can hardly complain.
Heavy- Serious Cable laying plant.
This weekend saw not only the start of the great British summer, but also a flurry of activity in a small corner of Sussex woodland. Starting a business is not easy- as many will no doubt agree, but in this case a weekend frolicking in the woods building your office is a perk to say the least. Having just finished a rather regal composting Thunder box for a private client it was time to begin work on my own grand design.
Trying to define exactly what Hunter:Gather:Cook is all about ain’t easy. First and foremost it is a foraging and cookery school, dedicated to educating participants in the rich variety of food that exists around us in the wild, but I wanted it to be so much more than that. It’s about lifestyle: wild food isn’t just about plants, fruits and fungi, its about protein and how to catch it, its about cooking it and how to create and utilize fire for more than just a BBQ. It’s about understanding the landscape you are in and how to create a comfortable existence within it in the most simplistic of ways. And that, ladies & gentleman, is what Hunter:Gather:Cook is all about- sometimes its useful to look to the past in order to see where you are going and our Hunter-gatherer ancestors have led the way. This is about learning to live off the land and how to live with it.
Here we go! This year Hunter Gather Cook goes from being a blog to a bespoke outdoor experience centered around wild food and cooking. This is not your run-of-the-mill foraging experience: expect off-grid kitchens, underground ovens, hunting & trapping lessons, home brewing and how to use the landscape to your advantage. Not quite bushcraft, not just foraging. After a day spent at the school you will go home laden with goodies you have made yourself from the freshest wild ingredients Sussex has on offer: jarred, potted and bottled and a little closer to being the ultimate 21st century Hunter-gatherer.
The day course covers a huge range of plant Identification, but the focus is on the how you can use them with everyday standard ingredients and add that little bit extra to every meal. Protein is just as important as plants, so you could be cooking anything from squirrels, rabbits and pigeon to perch, chub and pike. This course is extremely hands-on even down to taking apart the animals yourself!
Many of the regular followers of the blog will know all about my days of Tree house dwelling? Essentially, this is what the school is about: creating a comfortable existence and feeling at home in the great outdoors- this is NOT about survival.
The first dates for Spring are available below and all courses are based in Mid-Sussex:
The cost for the day (9am-6pm) is £75.00 per person (max 12 people per group- discounts on group bookings). I do still run exclusive courses and overnighters for a more personal touch (max 3 people).
Saturday 30th April
Wednesday 4th May
Wednesday 11th May- places available
Saturday 14th May: (Wild food Supper club @ the Underground Restaurant- Londinium)
Wednesday 18th May- places available
Saturday 21st May- full
Wednesday 25th May- full
Many more course dates are to be confirmed for Summer and Autumn, do please get in touch if you are interested- Look forward to seeing you out in the woods soon!
High summer sees vegetable plots across the country bursting at the seams with fresh produce, most people grow enough to furnish their own tables from time to time, but there are a handful of green-fingered wizards that have taken their patches to the next level and have enough surplus vegetables to tie in bunches and place in a ramshackle box outside the front gate available to anyone who might happen to pass by.
At last my home is complete. I say home in the broadest possible sense, there are a few things missing, but it hardly seems to matter at the moment, winter could be a different kettle of fish altogether. So who, what, when, where and why? (the typical list of facts any male story ever comprises of).
About 4 weeks ago as I was just about to cover the bender with the tarpaulins, I quickly realized I would be living in a greenhouse of sorts and that as far a security went, my kit (what little there was and still is) would be about as safe as a virgin in a brothel, on top of that (no pun intended) if I do happen to be here in winter and not out in the land of garlic, snails, champagne and public urination than I would need somewhere a little more robust. The heat that day was ridiculous, so I took a load off and sat in the cool shade of the barn planning my next move. I didn’t have too look far I was sitting in the exact spot I should’ve been building in all along…cue an hours destruction of the last weeks work and a further 3 hours of sweeping, shoveling and removing cobwebs and evicting 8-legged occupants.
What a week. Searing temperatures have made building a home in the space of a week difficult. The biggest pain has definitely been the topsoil of six inches: everything has had to be screwed to the pallet and sterling board I have as my flooring.
Getting my grubby little mitts on natural materials has been a piece of pee…other than running from a large bull, knackers swinging, unnerving erection and probably eager to smash me to bits or bugger me…wasn’t sure which, but the hazel for the frame and the hawthorn for the door handle came easy. The recycled materials have been a little harder.
It seems conventional living isn’t really my cup of tea...I mean, wheres the fun? Since moving out of the tree house last October I have been plotting and scheming my next move, a new build, perhaps ON the ground with a few more amenities than the last one. There are few things more exciting than building a place of your own: being able to shape it yourself and have everything the way you want it in terms of aesthetics and functionality are just two of the reasons why it is worth doing. If money is no object it can be even better (I barely have any!), so you have to see what other avenues are open for exploration to provide you with a home you can be proud of…back to begging, borrowing and recycling we go! I have got around to adding video to the blog- so I will post the ongoing build and lifestyle elements as we go- apologies for the amateur quality…early days! It begins with an epic session of clearing and learning to use a strimmer...
“Every angler is entitled to consider his own methods are best, so long as he can catch fish with them.”
G.W Maunsell, The Fisherman’s Vade Macum.
This is somewhat a delayed post considering it took place over the back end of 2008, but I came across the photos and felt it was a worthy adventure to write about: Caribbean Island, palm trees, tropical fish…in December.
As a person with a degree in Archaeology, I obviously have a bit of a soft spot for old stuff. The fact I chose not to squander my time digging, sifting through bags of mud, counting the amount of different shell types from shell middens and touching myself during repeats of time team was something I realized after my first year of the course. Why didn’t I change courses? Because I had a real fascination in the subject and I suppose I felt it would make me a more knowledgeable fellow, certainly I found whenever I had banter with the generation above they would always show interest, often ending with “Gosh, that takes seven years to qualify doesn’t it?” Err no that’s Architecture…another drink sir?
It was Saturday afternoon. The problem with living in Sussex is that the majority of friends still reside in the city, hence not many people to play with. Whilst reading through my Afterword for the book for the hundredth time and finally deciding that it was actually finished, I decided I wanted to do something spontaneous…
The micro adventure was coined by Al Humphreys, still inspired by the series of adventure talks from last week, I felt I should try one on for size. Micro adventures are quite an ingenious concept and opens you up to a whole world of experiences waiting to be had, in short, just go somewhere on the spur of the moment and do something for the hell of it…
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.
The view from the new desk.
Bonjour, ca va? Je ne comprends pas. Although my French vocab extends beyond the former, trying to dig it out from the recess of my brain has been tough. I do apologize for the lack of radio contact of late, but I have (I think) a good enough excuse: I have been locked away in a small room by my publishers turning six months of treehouse shenanigans into a book. So here I am in the South of France, about 50ft from the pounding surf of Hossegor beach…its loud, very loud and yet really quite soothing at the same time. I came out with surfboard in tow expecting to get stuck into a nice wedge of Atlantic surf, turns out the waves pack a little more of a punch to the mellow rollers of Cornwall: Double overhead is a bit out of my league…looks like the only wedge I’ll be getting stuck into will be on a cracker with a stick of celery and a few grapes to hand.
I took on the massive responsibility of doing all the photography for my forthcoming book about my time in a tree…a daunting prospect indeed. Most of the time it is only me down here, so I (at the mercy of Nikon’s terms) have become a bona fide master of the self timer…sort of.
Whilst perusing through the photo library to get rid of any dead wood, I came across these shots. Now some are due to fish misbehaving (slippery buggers) and others are taken in that moment you know it is too late for suitable posing, so inevitably you do something stupid…perhaps these are the pictures that were never meant to be posted, but the self timer has become a large part of Treehouse living and its only fair to show a few!
I apologise for the blatant humanity and lewdness of some...but such is life!
You can guess at the use of profanity here after dropping a large pike that was reluctant to have it's picture taken.
Been a while! The last week has seen all sorts of action…the coracle/ canoe trip to the coast has been the highlight and was, like most unplanned journeys, full of surprises! I have also taken on the daunting task of keeping my landlords animals alive- 6 cats, 6 chickens, 1 huge pig and a little pony. Chickens, as we all know, lay eggs (but what came first?), this has meant a new introduction to the diet and I get about 3 eggs a day for the next 3 weeks! Omelettes, scrambled eggs…pickled eggs?
This post is all about the boat trip. I was fortunate enough to have the company and photographic genius of the Hungry cyclist on this escapade, most of the photos here are his- and very good they are too!
It wasn’t until the age of 12 that I first set foot across the border into Scotland. It was only a matter of time, as a young lad obsessed with fishing and longing to see a salmon for real, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found myself balls deep in the swift, peaty waters of the River Carron surrounded by the vast heather draped highlands. I even managed to tuck into my first Salmon- a fine 6 pounder fresh from the sea. Somehow, after a battle of biblical proportions, I managed to get the fish in with my 8ft split cane trout rod…I was also the only person to catch that week! On the same trip I went deer stalking for the first time, which is where the antlers that adorn the front of the treehouse came from…so this time I was keen to bring something that would add more than just aesthetic value to my treehouse.
Eager for a bit of company after my first 2 months living amongst the leaves, I took a brief trip to the west coast of Scotland for a “couples” holiday-myself and my lady, Emma & Justin and Jimbo & Clare. Not too far from Oban is the Inverawe Smokery, owned by Robert & Rosie Campbell-Preston, Emma (their daughter) invited us up for a short break…like most things I find myself thrown in to these days, I had an underlying motive: what could I learn from the finest smoker’s in the Country?
It can be said that winter in the city is more enjoyable than in the country, really? Perhaps museums see a few new faces, pubs and coffee shops are busier than usual, but for London’s few open spaces- the parks- business is slow. Granted it is more acceptable to wander around the countryside with a shotgun than it is on Hampstead Heath, out in the sticks the opportunity to get some fresh air generally holds more appeal.
Although there are many things you can get away with in the countryside, some activities that sound like a jaunty country pursuit that your average flat-capped, grass-chewing farmer might do on their day off, just cannot be done anywhere else but the city. I am of course referring to the pastime favoured by many an urban junkie; squirrel fishing.