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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)
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:
Martini’s are something that has gradually made an appearance over the last few years. A far cry from the foolish consumption of the two spirits involved: attempted and unconquered in teenage years, which often result in lifelong aversion for the many. Gin and Vodka demand respect and should be treated accordingly.
Personally I have always been partial to a hint of Gin, the G&T- a British institution to the Nth degree and something to keep malaria at bay, but Vodka has never had the same appeal until my recent education on exactly what a martini is…and can be. Forget all the James Bondage banter of ‘Shaken not Shtirred’, I won’t go into the refinements of mixology and whether your martini should be stirred in the direction of France/Italy or not. That’s for the anal-ists to discuss. For me, the attraction of the Martini lies in its simplicity: Ice, Vodka or Gin and Vermouth of some kind. An ice cold drink that never fails to hit the spot.
Cocktail hour used to be de rigueur back in the day, but now seems increasingly frowned upon, out here we have been extolling its virtues as a payment for every other day of toil- and rightly so. Far too many folk in the UK whinge and binge about alcohol consumption constantly, anabolic debates from suits, skirts, slaves to the city, bored housewives’, and depressed whining lefties (not to say I’m a righty- they just drink a lot. I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to politics): “Ooo, I might give up drinking for January…”, yes of course, that sounds like a great plan, and then binge-drink for the rest of the year. Moderation is key when enjoying the finer things in life and the Martini is no exception.
Obviously, I deal in Wild plants, so I am always keen to use them in new and different ways. I have had plenty of success with my wild brews- my Nettle beer is a constant delight, Meadowsweet champagne also a firm favourite. But, would I be able to stretch my wild botanicals to a vermouth? Hmm, why not?
On the whole, vermouth gets a bad name, I always assumed Noilly Pratt was produced for the sole purpose of cooking fish (excuse the fish pun), but it turns out that its real plaice is in the cocktail cabinet (no more, I promise). A lot of Martini aficionados constantly discuss how much vermouth, if any, should go near a martini. The more hardcore say that you should simply call up a friend and ask them to open and sniff a bottle of vermouth over the phone and that’s enough, others simply wash their glass with a splash and give it a swirl before discarding. I could go on, but I can’t be bothered. Gurnard.
When I looked into the construction of vermouth a bit more closely, it actually seemed quite achievable. Quite simply, vermouth is a mixture of aromatics: herbs, roots and bark, added to a base of wine with a touch of sugar, then bottled and sold.
It came as no surprise that someone on this here interweb had produced a homemade version, but with a list of ingredients longer than an Elephant’s love muscle, see here: http://lastcrumb.com/2007/09/06/homemade-vermouth/
When it came to selecting my ingredients from the wild, one thing I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to tickle out of the hedgerows would be wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and Gentian, the two principle ingredients and bittering agents. I wanted to make this a recipe obtainable for most who like to forage without getting too precise on ingredients for a traditional vermouth. This was all about maceration glass containers, scientific mixing and metal spoons with long handles and stuff. So Heston, you could stick it on top of a pudding and call it a Blumenthal (in my head that sounded like blancmange).
Considering I decided to do this little experiment in the midst of November, I was quite surprised what was still available in the wild larder, mind you an extra month tacked on to the end of summer: another perk of La vie de Sud-ouest France, along with 1 ½ hour lunch breaks and half days on Friday, neither of which really apply to me- bugger. Obviously I couldn’t put a vermouth together without reaching for a few store cupboard staples, here’s the list of participants:
For the wild bunch:
Wild angelica (aromatic)
Wild Strawberry Tree fruit (Arbutus unedo) (fruity)
Gorse flowers (floral)
Wild Chamomile (floral/fruity)
Maritime pine needles (aromatic)
Rock Samphire (aromatic/floral)
Wild fennel seeds (aromatic)
Orange zest (bittering)
Cloves (strong aromatic)
When picking your list of botanicals look for a few strong flavours- bitter, aromatic and perhaps something fruity/floral too.
There were thoughts of Yarrow, Meadowsweet, Sorrel and Himalayan Balsam flowers, but seasonality and simplicity got the better of me. The only other problem was: how the hell do I make it?
Fortune rarely sits on a plate in front of you- this day it did, with big shiny bells on. A certain cocktail company by the name of 'Bamboo', to which I have absolutely no family connection, came to my rescue. They do a lot of strange and wondrous things when it comes to mixology, like that blancmange bloke with the specs. I was transferred to the vermouth man who makes their in-house version and he talked me through the how, why, what, where and then of the martini’s ally.
Gather together your ingredients, both from the wild and the supermarket. Purchase some white granulated sugar, a bottle of dry white (a bottle from Languedoc was used in this case) and a spirit with the highest ABV possible in which to macerate your ingredients- the higher the percentage the better/faster the alcohol will draw out the flavours from your ingredients.
Maceration should only take a couple of days- place your ingredients in a small jar, pour over the alcohol, seal and leave in a dark place. The best I could do for the alcohol was 50% and I used a spirit as neutral as possible- vodka.
Get out your measuring jugs- to balance your vermouth correctly the ratio of white wine to the macerated botanicals should be roughly 3:1. When it comes to mixing you should use 150ml of macerated botanicals to 500ml wine.
Gently heat 500ml of white wine in a non-metallic pan bring up to a simmer and add 2 TBSP sugar. The added sugar will help to hold and carry the flavour of your botanicals. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Allow to cool completely.
Now its time to add your botanicals. This is where it is essential to taste as you go. It works to have a bottle of Noilly Prat for tasting as a comparison as you go. Obviously, remove the botanicals themselves and just use the liquid. I added 15ml of each of the 10 botanicals, which makes it up to 150ml in total. I actually had 11- but as cloves tend to be quite overpowering I only used about 7ml of the clove maceration. Orange zest can be doubled up, as it is a good bittering agent.
Once mixed and your happy with the balance of flavours, bottle the vermouth and leave it for a couple of days to settle. You will then be ready to make your Martini.
Martini Mixing. Get your self a cocktail shaker (NOT for shaking) and drop 5-6 ice cubes in. Although traditionally Gin is the one to use, I went for Vodka, once again as it is fairly neutral in flavour and should help to let the wild vermouth shine through. Pour 15ml of vermouth and 60ml of vodka over the ice and then stir gently with a chopstick or long spoon for about 1 minute. Once super chilled, pour the martini into the glass and garnish how you wish- olives/ lemon zest/ sorrel leaves. Drink. When Vodka is ice cold it slips down a treat.
So there you have it: the wild vermouth. Very much looking forward to the onslaught of spring and summer to play with a few more wild flavours. If you ‘into’ your Martini’s, I would strongly advise having a go at knocking up your own vermouth. Wild cocktails are definitely the way forward!
Plenty more been going on- so much so that I almost feel that i have been neglecting the website...But then who wants to spend more time than they have to in front of a computer? I went back to the UK a couple of weeks ago to set up HGC HQ- she overwintered very well, just in time for a visit from the Telegraph. We also had the first course: a stag do of 17 lads- a good time had by all! I also joined Al Humphreys and The Hungry Cyclist fo their A to Z: London's World of food- P is for Peru. A visit to Soho's 'Ceviche'. Fine nosh indeed. Do get in touch with them if you want to join them on the next one.
We are taking bookings for the summer- so do get in touch if you are keen to book up your very own HGC experience, May is almost full to the brim, with only a few weekdays remaining.
The most recent project is coming to fruition, back to the trees once again for an all natural tree pod. And I think Ihave found the perfect spot:
Lets face it, you can pretty much transform anything into loop juice as long as you have the essential ingredients: sugar and yeast. In some cases such as proper farmyard scrumpy, the juice of the apples is simply slapped into bottles and the naturally occurring yeasts and sugars do their thing over time…nature is truly wonderful!
There are few plants more intriguing than Meadowsweet. Those clever gents in white coats that first extracted the plant’s high levels of salicylic acid in order to synthesize the first aspirin knew it, and shortly…so will you!
The wonderful fragrance they fill the air with just after the rain and on a scorching summers day, the large candyfloss flower heads look good enough to eat, there is no denying it is one of Britain’s finest wild plants in every sense. Over the last few years, I have grown bored of elderflower, indeed it’s flavour is unique and quite pleasant and I will always be a partial to a drop, but I have found meadowsweet all that much more rewarding when used in place of elderflower.
The move back to reality has been interesting, despite being sat a computer 24/7 typing up the treehouse diaries, I have been able to witness some appallingly shit TV, enjoy the freedom of a proper ‘house’, and yet find myself acting like a true eco-zealot, if not I spend the time by the log fire…reminds me of home I suppose (a house without a proper fireplace surely isn’t a home? When and why did people stop having them?!).
Back in my boarding school days, around the time of A-level examinations, myself and a few friends would meet for “Gin club” every Tuesday. Often held in one of our rooms, although we were all on the same floor at the top of the house (perfect positioning to avoid getting busted by our house master). Gin club consisted of sitting around in armchairs, having a good chinwag and a few G&T’s before bed after a hard evenings revision.
To those of you following my escapades, I am supposed to be living up a tree at the moment. And that is correct…sort of! I am as we speak in a homeless limbo of my Mothers place in Sussex (where I do all my blogging) and a sleeping bag in the middle of the wood. You will be pleased to know that it is coming along very well and progress will be updated here in a few days. I did have a particularly fine pint one afternoon, while working on the Treehouse, so here is the result of my final Urban foray in London and it goes a little something like this:
On the one hand, the stinging nettle is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts. On the other, it is the possibly one of the most annoying, frustrating plants growing today: It is all in the eye of the beholder.
In my toddling days, I learnt to give stingers a wide berth, I also learnt that the application of a split dock leaf was more than ample treatment to combat the throbbing infliction dealt out by this fairly innocent looking plant. As I have grown I have come to appreciate this plant for all its many uses: as a vegetable, a source of twine, a weapon (especially on country walks with friends) and most recently, as an ingredient for turning water into something a little more grown up…beer.
Two things that give enormous amounts of pleasure to many of us are food and drink. With the food side of things sorted and a credit crunch in full swing, I decided to head back to the brewing for a little midwinter madness.
With a copy of “The Alaskan bootleggers bible” in hand I climbed into bed one evening to immerse myself in the words of Leon W. Kania; a salt of the earth Alaskan fellow who, in his introduction, describes the typical pioneer types that inhabit the harsh environment that is Alaska:
“A classic example is the story of the toothless old sourdough who not only killed the bear but also used its teeth to make a set of dentures to eat it with, I know a number of folk, both men and women who would put Robinson Crusoe to shame”.
This particular weekend began in the same way most Sussex breaks do, with a spot of fishing. As the winter draws in the pike start to become more active in their violent ambushes on unsuspecting baitfish, so it is the best time of year to chuck your line in the water in the hope of hauling in one of these evil looking beasts.
There are certain things every young man should have achieved by the time they are 30, various research on the Internet and suggestions from friends revealed some interesting goals:
Some of these I can happily say I have achieved, others I have little or no interest in. I think we all have our own personal goals as to what we wish to achieve by 30 and one of mine was to make my own booze.
One of the first drops of booze to touch your lips in those hedonistic days of underage drinking…cider. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t White lightening that tainted this wonderful form of booze, although White lightening was responsible for my suspension from school in which I learnt a valuable lesson: don’t mix Smirnoff in the same glass as cider!
Many a trip to the West Country has been a roaring success due to ‘scrumpy’ and I cannot think of a more fitting drink for these parts. Many’s the time I have kicked back overlooking burgh island on the devon coast with a bell jar of scrumpy sat in the crook of my elbow and enjoyed the stunning view and the joy of not being trapped in the suburban hell that is London.
An odd combination don’t you think? Why flavour a valuable bottle of gin with Sloes or Damsons…it seems like it would be much more palatable. It would also be quite ordinary. It is an ambition of mine to try the things that occur on this planet that are out of the ordinary, what could be better than infusing a perfectly good bottle of gin with some serious chlorophyll!
I have always found Gin and the addition of Tonic is truly the mark of the British Empire, it even tastes old and sophisticated. When sipping away on a good old G&T outside in the summer, I often think of Gin- soaked old boys with monocles sitting on a veranda of their massive house in India talking of empire expansion and infusing their bodies with a much needed hit of quinine, a primary ingredient in the tonic to prevent malaria. The product of an over active imagination, maybe. This was when it was seen as important to drink as prevention from disease, imagine that.
The spirit itself hails from Holland and was formulated around the 17th century. Gin’s popularity in Blighty exploded around the 1720’s when the British government placed massive duty tax on all imported spirits at the same time as allowing unlicensed gin production in Britain. By the 1740’s gin production was 6 times that of beer and it was incredibly cheap. I very much doubt it was to the standard of today’s Bombay Sapphire, Blanton’s or Gordon’s, but more like a Somerfield or ASDA brand Gin, nice!
So, as spring is sprung what has Gin got to do with it? For a start the weather has become delightful and we have begun to allow our pasty white bodies to bask in the sun and enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage outdoors. Pimms o’clock is not necessarily a certain hour of the day either, the parks of London on a hot day are packed full of groups of people out getting sozzeled in the sun. Do we Brits have a drinking problem? Of course we do, along with the rest of the continent! Except we try to hide it, a large percentage of Europeans happily knock back a bottle of Vino on their lunch breaks. The upstanding British Citizen would love to do just that, but we have to hold face, we are not like that Euro trash we say, we don’t want your funny money because we have the pound; WE ARE BRITISH!
Anyway, this is where the Beech comes in, at this time of year the young leaves are just coming through and are ready to be added to a sumptuous salad or stuck in a bottle of gin. This is not an exact science and there are hundreds of variations on this theme. I find the straight up natural approach to this is best. Find plenty of young beech leaves ideally no bigger than a 2 pence piece. Stuff them into a clear, sterilised bottle to the top and fill up with gin. Gordon’s is my favourite for this type of boozy tomfoolery. Store your hooch in a dark place for two weeks. Then drain out the gin and decanter into a fresh bottle. Simple.
Why not, the idea for mixing beech leaves with gin is twofold. Firstly the colour, the leaves impart a fantastic rich lime green colour to the gin so it almost looks slightly radioactive, this also looks interesting when mixed up in a glass. Secondly it imparts a fresh, slightly bitter taste to the gin, think gin and bitter lemon, to me the drink now holds the essence of spring. In the same way you can bottle this essence in the form of birch sap wine, but we will save that for another time. A nice tip for having a perfect G&T is to freeze tonic water into ice cubes and use those instead of diluting your drink with tasteless water from ordinary ice.
You don’t have much time left to get at those young beech leaves packed full of good things for the body, to mix it with something that is deemed, in excess, bad for the body is fine because the two will cancel each other out! This ‘recipe’ couldn’t be easier and is worth a go. To be able to bottle up the most invigorating time of year is a symbol of new life and good things to come- the summer. To be able to put together two great British flavours into a refreshing après work aperitif is a perfect way to relax, sit out in you own garden and think about building your own empire.