I like fires a lot. My activities make it fairly obvious I have a heavy weakness for pyromania,which dates back to the first time I laid my grubby little mitts on a box of matches and ignited a lifetime of happiness. I have no idea how old I was, but old enough to emulate the action my father would do every time he lit his pipe, the only thing I can remember: it was an act of opportunistic thievery...no parent willingly dishes out fire-starting materials to an infant!
Fire is without doubt the greatest discovery by man- ever, without it our ancestors would have been cold and hungry. It is such a fascinating 'element' that we are still transfixed by the flickering of a flame and camping would not be camping without the glowing centrepiece and social focal point of a campfire.
Many apologies for the lack of action here on the blog, what with The Tree House Diaries coming out this Monday, building a tree house for a private client, teaching foraging at Safari Britain, a brief trip to Hossegor to see my better half and paddle in the Atlantic with a big piece of foam tied to my leg and planning the next adventure, I have been a bit snowed under to blog about anything worthwhile. I am still fretting over the spring greens and what I can present that hasn’t been done before…watch this space! I have been meaning to post this for a while, so here goes...
The Rocket Stove is quite simply pure genius. It is a remarkably efficient method of taking a small amount of fuel (wood) and maximising it’s potential. Good for you, good for recycling and ultimately: good for the planet. Having recently proof read my first book, a weighty tome of over 300 pages of tree dwelling escapades, I noted I had mentioned in the intro that I was no eco-warrior, hmmmm…I feel the whole experience of low impact, self-sufficient living has actually changed me more than I thought. On a recent stopover at a friends flat in London, I noticed he was using bottles of Caledonian “spring water” instead of using tap water: fair enough London water isn’t the most tasty and rumoured to have high levels of oestrogen, perhaps the thought of a pair of moobs had brought about the dependence on bottled water? I did question why he bothered with bottled water, but to be honest carbon footprints probably mean little to an investment banker, after all…what’s Evian spelt backwards?
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.
My first experience of spear fishing was in Fiji, and I took to it like a duck to water, I sometimes had to pay some of the local Fijian dudes some cash to let me borrow their spear guns…I use spear gun in the loosest possible term, the typical Fijian spear gun consists of a 3 foot steel rod sharp at one end and an indentation much like the end of an arrow at the other. The firing mechanism was equally Stone Age; a thick piece of rubber with a thumb loop on one end and a smaller loop on the other into which the end of the spear fitted. The method of firing this was very much like a bow and arrow without the bow and surprisingly efficient. Of course being an enthusiastic amateur I was often out hunting in all types of weather and nailing whatever poor unsuspecting fish crossed my path, I even shot a moray eel through the neck which went berserk and shook off my arrow fairly quickly, I honestly couldn’t work out who was more scared and I made a mental note not to shoot at them again. The other type of spear gun was a proper aluminium spear with 4 sharp prongs at the end and a loop of elastic at the other, you sort of held the shaft, put the elastic loop around your hand and pulled it back holding tight to the shaft, to fire you release your grip when the target is in sight.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later when Clare and I went surfing in Fuerteventura that I got the fever again, looking at some of the spear guns in a fishing shop priced at around 120 euros I looked at Clare with a “mummy…I want one!” look which was met with a “don’t be so ridiculous” frown.
Mallorca was a different story and one in which I triumphed, I take a fishing rod everywhere I go on holiday and even though I had had people inform me that there where no fish in the Mediterranean I was not deterred. As it was they were right, there are no fish in the med, none to be caught on rod and line anyhow.
I managed to pick up a good spear gun for about £32 which I was very happy with, now it was time to see if I still retained any of my skills from foraging in Fiji…as I had suspected it was a bit like riding a bicycle and after a few excursions I had speared a few grey mullet. There were actually a fair few fish around; I did not bother with the smaller fish other than a bit of target practice and learning to reload such a stubborn weapon whilst underwater. This probably being the hardest part of spear fishing you must have fairly tough stomach muscles on which to rest the butt so you can you both hands to pull back the elastic.
Hunting the fish can be quite tiring but altogether thoroughly exciting! Creeping though shallow water brushing aside weeds you may suddenly happen upon a shoal of sizeable fish, everything should be done in slow motion and once you have picked your target make sure to have a slight lead on the fish in the same way you would when shooting pigeons or pheasants. Once you have pulled the trigger and hopefully nailed your fish the spear is attached to a cord, which is tied to the end of the gun, this way your fish though badly wounded is unlikely to escape. I have to admit I did miss a few larger fish but I think that was more due to their unwillingness to come within range…if that will pass as an excuse!
I must urge you to a least try this spectacular sport and even buy a gun yourself if it is not too big it is quite alright to travel by air with as long as it goes in your luggage for the hold. If you don’t feel up to fishing with a rod then spear fishing takes you beyond that and into a new world where you feel part of the life that surrounds you and helps you to understand the fishes habits and even to select the fish you want! Hot weather, clear, warm water and a spear gun can keep you happy all day and even feed you…who said their where no fish in the med?!
I have just been playing on the internet and have come across some cunning little devices with which to pass the summer. I just had to point these out to you guys as I cannot wait to get my hands on one, no longer will I have to lug around a large steel grill in my fishing bag! to purchase visit The portable barbecue. Check out www.iwantoneofthose.com for purchasing.
The Grilliput. (above)
Not sure about the name, it has to be American. But a handy little device I am sure you will agree. At 29cm long and 2.2cm wide when closed it opens up into a 23x26cm BBQ. This has to be the ultimate in hunter-gatherer cool and it makes me wonder if Ray has one? If not, he always has his sticks or even some rocks to heat up for an underground oven. It has a surface area allowing 560g of food to sizzle on its surface and is even dishwasher friendly, shame as I don’t have one it could be friendly with, but hand washing is still the best!
The portable barbecue.
Not quite an original name as before but a superb product all the same, comes in two styles. I think as far as the city dweller goes not only will you look the cutting edge of bbq technology when meeting friends in the park, but you will probably get a pat on the back from the park keeper for not trashing the grass. I have seen many an Aussie or South African leaving those big burnt patches when their not behind the bar and its not a pretty sight. Made from thin pressed steel and comes with a nice shoulder bag to carry it. Amazing!
Fold flat- £19.95
Carry and go briefcase bbq- £24.95
All pictures and prices coutesy of www.iwantoneofthose.com
I doubt there is an adult in the world who has never tasted these two fantastic creations. Where would we be without them? Oysters would not benefit from the piquant hit of Tabasco, cheese toasties wouldn’t be the mouth-watering adventure Lea & Perrins have made it, and no bloody marys that’s as damn sure as mustard. Without these two condiments life would be dull, of course we would no doubt have an alternative, but that doesn’t bare thinking about. School followed by University is often when we have the values of these sauces bestowed upon us and I for one began my affair with them early, an affair that will certainly last forever.
I always presumed it was from Mexico…its not. As it says on the bottle it is from Avery Island in Louisiana. It was developed by a genius called Edmund McIlhenny in 1870. Legend has it he obtained some hot pepper seeds from a traveler who had recently arrived in Louisiana from Central America. He then began experimenting with sauces and came up with the winning formula. On how it is manufactured according to the Tabasco website:
“It's still made from tabasco pepper mash that's been aged up to 3 years in oak barrels, mixed with high-grain all-natural vinegar and a small amount of Avery Island salt. This unique aging process delivers unmatched concentration and piquancy - not just heat or bite.”
Even the bottle is unique as young Edmund originally bottled the sauce in old cologne bottles, which are the same design now, this is the reason it comes out in drops.
So there you have it, a few facts about the little sauce we all love so much.
The base ingredient of this sauce which many do not realise is anchovies. Again, a great story behind this one too, according to the history books this sauce began in the 1800’s. Lord Sandys, a nobleman, arrived back from Bengal with a recipe he had got his hands on, he passed it on to two chemists John Lea and William Perrins in the hope that they could put it together. They did and found it disgusting, so they put the bottles of sauce aside somewhere deep in their cellar. A few years later they were having a clean out and came across the bottles. They had a quick taste before chucking them and were amazed at the flavour, which had developed from maturing. It was bottled and sold and the rest as they say is history.
These two sauces are so versatile and can be used in just about anything, its all a case of personal preference. I like to have Tabasco, lime and salt & pepper with my avocado- amazing! But a good partnership of these two is formed in a fantastic warm drink I often take with when night fishing; the Bullshot.
1 pint of good quality beef stock
100ml of Vodka (or more if you like!)
a few dashes of Tabasco
a few dashes of Worcester sauce
a dash of bitters
salt & pepper.
Serve warm and add as much Tabasco as you can take! This drink really does create a lovely warming effect and the only contender is maybe a hot toddy. My final word on these two sauces is to say if someone doesn’t have one of these two in their store cupboard…I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them!
I don’t know about you, but one thing that always seems to excite me when I visit a restaurant, is being able to have a hands on approach to the preparation of your meal. In most cases cooking it yourself. Our European counterparts are big fans of this, it is unlikely you would visit the Alps and not partake in a cheese fondue, fondue chinoise (thin slices of beef cooked in a stock or oil) or a cheese raclette.
This type of interactive dining has always been a great way of “adding value” to a meal out and has been hijacked by an Australian company StonegrillTM who sell there concept to restaurants worldwide along with their specialised oven for heating the stones.
I was lucky enough to enjoy this unique dining experience in a little mountain restaurant whilst out in Switzerland. But first, a little on the concept behind hot stone cooking.
My first experience with cooking on stone consisted of making a fire between to large, flat topped rocks and resting a thick, tray size piece of slate over the fire on the rocks. My brother and I then proceeded to cook eggs, bacon, sausages and tomatoes on it. The only problem was that slate will eventually crack and can only be used a dozen times if that.
Cooking with stones has been utilised in the past by ancient Egyptians, Vikings and in Mesolithic Britain (8,000 years before present). Quite often hard, volcanic stones would be heated up on a fire for a couple of hours and then transferred into a pit next to the fire. The meat was then placed in with the stone then covered over with moss, grass and sand. This would be left for another hour and acted as a primitive oven.
Nowadays, the stone we use for cooking is still made from the same type of volcanic stone, in this case Dolomite, which is known for its high heat retention. The stones are heated up to around 400°C/752°F and then placed into a ceramic or more attractive wooden board and taken out to the table. The stone will hold its optimum cooking heat for up to 30mins. Cooking with stones is also a very healthy way of eating there is no oil used and the burning stone sears the meat instantly locking in all the natural juices. It also allows you to cook your meat as rare or well done as you would like.
The meat I had with mine with came on a big skewer and consisted of Ostrich, Beef, Deer and lamb. Each meat was delightfully tender and the difference in flavour from the rich, gamey flavour of the deer to the refreshing ostrich meat. It came served with a small Rosti, done only the way the Swiss do it.
This was certainly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had, it also was more filling than most meals and all that red meat gives you quite a heavy stomach. It also gives you the excuse to drink plenty of red wine to help break it down. I would definitely recommend giving it a go; the smell alone whilst cooking the meat is worth it alone. Your primitive instincts will take over and you may even resort to grunting as a means of conversation. The ultimate caveman dining experience!
If you fancy buying it yourself you can go to www.stonegrills.co.uk and can purchase a kit for around £30, or you can visit the Beluga Café in the London Docklands.