Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Roasted Nut Experiment

A slightly dull blog page title but I was thinking of a way of of avoiding an obvious nut double entendre. I have some Turkish hazelnuts lining a street near where I live and most people don't twig (excuse the pun) that it has edible nuts.

When Ray Mears did his Wild Food series with Gordon Hillman I was taken by a process for roasting hazelnuts using embers and sand. I have the book that accompanies the series ans whilst there is a long passage about the process it has no timings. I have recently visited the Lee Valley Almost Wild Camp so what better time to try this?

On the day I was going to collect the hazelnuts after work I noticed a squirrel nearby, usually they don't touch them (they have very hard shells) so as a back up I purchased some Cobnuts in case I was out of luck. I was lucky and found a lot of hazelnuts strewn on the floor in their peculiar casing with just the one split by a squirrel.

On the camp I laid out the two nut types ion four sections  with the idea being that each would be revealed after a certain time. Larger chestnuts can take as little as ten minutes so my timings were based around this..

I got a good supply of embers ready, then covered in a layer of kiln dried sand with probably a centimetre or so covering them.

 The embers were then raked over the top with a check to make sure that they were even in depth and spread.

Each batch was recovered after the set time, starting at, and going up in increments of five minutes.

The poll on my tomahawk proved a match for the super tough Turkish hazelnut shells. not a single one had a nut in so either the squirrels got all the good ones or they opened one and realised that it wasn't worth it, I hope it was the latter.

This is a half deshelled Cobnut around the five minute mark which was palatable but didn't seem that cooked.

The nuts pulled out at around the 12-15 minute mark seemed better. If you look closely at the left hand side (the area near the radicle) it appears that some oils have been liberated and it tasted warmed through.

I threw a handful directly onto the coals  for five minutes of direct heat but didn't find that they had changed significantly. The Mears/ Hillman book suggested that the nuts were cooked and possibly stored for some time and some appear blacker than mine in the article.

In the video of the Wild Food programme Ray seems to build a big small stick fire but doesn't leave the embers on long, suggests that the nuts will have changed colour slightly and were a little scorched, covers the nuts with sand to the same level as I did (but I didn't line with sand underneath), suggests that they have had a quick cooking and that they taste of potato which mine did.

Maybe I've roasted them to an eat know level like a street vendor would have done and perhaps a longer roast experiment would be worthwhile...Sadly that now won't happen until next year!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Lee Valley Almost Wild Camp

The Lee Valley Almost Wild Camp first came to my attention whilst pursuing the stands at  this year's Bushcraft Show and I duly made a beeline for it when I visited the said show. I explained that I was an assistant cub leader who lived nearby and we had a good old chin wag and I made a point of promising myself to try it later in the year.

Cue an unfortunate withdrawal from our district's annual September Cub Scout skills camp and I decided that now was the time. The reviews to date give it five stars on Google maps 

It is fairly easy to find and as a personal bonus it's about a fifteen minute car journey away for me. The entrance is almost in the middle of a small stretch of road between two bridges, so if you are on the right road and cross two then you've passed it...As I did because it comes up quite quickly. 

There's plenty of room before you reach the locked gate for your vehicle (there's a sign saying Spitalbrook by the gate) You get emailed the code for gate and it opens very easily. 

Once through the gate I was taken by the rather fine show of Asters with a more notorious bloom nestled within. Once you lock the gate behind you you then find yourself driving on a mostly one way system across a strip of land between two bodies of water (which in turns out are both the River Lee) either side at one stage.


You reach a small dwelling with parking nearby, this isn't it. Follow the above sign down a short stretch of road and you'll see the parking ahead.

Now Broxbourne train station is close by and I'd say it's doable on foot if you haven't got too much kit...A taxi is a better option but weigh up if the slightly pot holed track there and the smoke scented kit on the return might not make you a taxi drivers favourite.  Broxbourne station's line map for reference. Just past the station is a small parade of shops which includes a mini supermarket and a curry house and fried chicken outlet should you feel the urge. The camp is also a short drive to the River Lee Country Park which is important for Bitterns and Smews amongst others.

I met Jim the duty warden who was happy to show me around. He talked very positively about the future development of the site including possible bushcraft weekends and it is worth bearing in mind that the site is in it's first season.

 The first thing I noticed on my tour was the first aid kit which was stored in an old ammo box on the side of their storage container which I rather liked. 

There was a screened rubbish area with four bins and some fire buckets, no recycling as of yet but it is 'on the list' to be added.


One tap, a washing area with Ecover products but several fire points around the site with a fire bell.

This is Craig Fordham's bushcraft demonstration area where punters can attend various drop in sessions. Craig runs Black Wolf Survival and does a demonstration  heavy stand at the Bushcraft Show. I'd hope to meet up with him but I managed to choose a weekend when he wasn't there...He got married on the previous day so that's fair enough.

This a typical pitch for a tent or tents from the post in the foreground to the strip of greenery by the tent in the next pitch. Not all of them are exactly the same size but this strip of pitches measured approximately 22 by 14 paces and all backed onto the river.


A shot of the posh outdoor toilets (which apparently cost a small fortune)  Not your average 'plop and drop' and a tad more civilised it has to be said. The only thing that struck me was that they were a bit exposed between pitches and some glamper campers might feel a bit self conscious using them in front of everyone (I did see onesies, plastic wine glasses and umbrellas whilst there). I would suggest a head torch when using them in the dark because they have one small light in them which doesn't kick out many rays.


Just beyond the loos was the communal River Lee access for boating and fishing and indeed one group rocked up with three canoes. Incidentally this is a list of fish that can be found in the Lee

My plot for the weekend which roughly measured 14 by 16 paces but the bit at the far end was of the nettley scrubby variety.

This little arm in the top right hand side of the pitch is the fire pit area, about twenty feet from the river which has a tree and scrub screen. I liked the three wooden log seats and probably wouldn't have brought a chair with me if I'd known but I didn't notice them on all the sites.

This view is with my back to the fire pit looking towards the pitching area with the entrance off to the left. I got my tarp and hammock pitched and then decided to have a quick bimble to see what flora was about.


There were a fair few flowers out still with the Bistort above catching my eye, it would be interesting to see what the full range was in the Summer. To go with the Himalyan Balsam I saw by the entrance I also found some Japanese Knotweed that Jim had mentioned and it was known about. These were only small Knotweed plants but some of the Balsam examples onsite were in excess of seven feet.

Tree wise I clocked Poplar, Hazel, Alder, Sycamore, Willow, Ash Oak, Hawthorn, Cherry and Elder in varying proportions.

The pitches are booked out from 2:00pm on the Saturday until around 11:00pm on the Sunday when the site is locked. I made contact to ask if it was possible to rock up earlier to start some projects up against a tree until my pitch was free and 10 o'clock was given the OK and 12 o'clock onto my pitch. When I arrived it was slightly fortuitous that my pitch was free which was a result. At 2 o'clock I noticed a couple of guys rock up in the pitch next to mine and I realised how far behind I'd be on the day if I'd got in at the stated time. I offered guys who arrived at some hot water for a brew.

I'd paid for two bags of fire wood with a little kindling included which is probably enough for an average stay. There were a few larger pieces so I used the opportunity to give my Justin Burke tomahawk a proper work out and it absolutely bossed the pieces.

As I got myself sorted I put two of the 'seats'  together which made a useful kitchen station for my stay in the woods. 

With my time being a bit limited I utilised my vacuum sealer  for my meals to use the saved prep time for projects. As well as meals I packaged up some teabags, dandelion syrup and HP sauce. It's such a useful device to have, especially when used in conjunction with a dehydrator.

Tea was chicken pasta with lemon and slow cooked garlic with a pinch of chilli, knocked up on the double using pouched food. My first thought about the fire pit was that it was a little small, and using it confirmed that for me. I wanted to do ponnaced trout, Dutch oven chips and a veg to go with it but I went for the easier option and I'm glad I did because I think that would have been a bit cramped. My  folding trivet  and Primus saucepan proved useful.

With lunch out of the way I got my first little project started with some Turkish hazelnuts and cobnuts buried under a layer of sand and roasted with embers.

Turkish hazelnuts aren't viable commercially due to their super tough shells as it is hard not to damage the nut when opening. the hawk's poll came in useful for defeating them.

Next up a bit of rocket  stove practice with a piece of Birch that split in a rather wavy fashion, possibly due to the presence of several knots.

Then a bit of bowdrill practice. Quite rightly no wood collection or indeed foraging is allowed onsite so no bowdrill from scratch practice (although a previous occupant had fashioned a basic  pot hanger from remnants). I sometimes set up my camera on a time lapse mode to chaeck that the old technique passes muster and got a rather nice sequence of shots on this occasion.

Getting my head down and practising stuff meant that the time just flew by. I had to break off to do a little proactive camp admin as the sky was darkening and I wanted stuff under cover before getting on with tea. I literally just got my chicken stir fry knocked up as the sky opened. I retreated to my tarpartment for my tea and let the worst of the rain pass over before heading out for an after hours bimble. 

The guys next door had their head torches on so my night vision probably wasn't the best but just as I headed to the edge of the bushcraft demo area (about a 10 second walk) I stopped and stared down in front of me and saw a young badger looking back up. 

Cue mutual shock and the badger doing a quick one-eighty and speeding off. I headed off and then decided to go back and set up my Bushnell trail cam and I heard it crashing through the undergrowth not far from where I originally saw it. As the site is on a sort of peninsular with narrow access I was genuinely surprised to see the badger and wondered if the poor thing had strayed onto the camp in error. When I hit the sack it did occur that despite the fairly close proximity of a railway station I hadn't really noticed more than a handful of trains and they certainly didn't keep me awake.

In the morning I went to start the fire, my impromptu fire 'bivouac' to protect the fuel left me some tiny embers to work with.

The fire was lit using a saved piece of kitchen roll that I used to wipe the oily pan the previous day...It makes a useful accelerant with a little reserved bowdrill bundle tinder to finish.

A throwaway picture once the fire was lit of me in my bed gear. Yes that's a 'terrorist mask' which not only keeps my head warm but the facial part prevents any little breeze that gets in from keeping me awake.

Once I got myself ready for the morning it was onto breakfast and bannock making which is one of my favourite camp staples.

I made a sultana one for a mid morning snack and this is a banana bannock for breakfast. I was going to make a bannock with chestnut flour mixed in but realised at the last minute that the bag I had brought actually had sawdust in for making firelighters with wax.

Another plus for the vacuum sealer, a sausage, potato and bacon mix with added fried eggs. I tried to stylise the picture and nicked the egg yolk...that'll teach me. The non-stick frying pan in a Godsend for such dishes.


During breakfast prep I heard a 'Tok' sound and noticed that one of the stones surrounding the pit had sheared. Again with the fire so close to them I'm not surprised. later on I noticed a rectangular pit in the demo area which to me is a much more user friendly size. the tip of my boot is in the foreground for scale.


Once breakfast was done I started a bit of rudimentary bowl burning on this Kuksa, another victim of the 'I'll stick that on my project list and finish it off later' syndrome.

I packed the back of the kuksa bowl with mud to limit the burning whilst I got on with a quick bit of net making practice. A risky strategy but the Sunday morning sees you clock watching as the official off site time looms. To be honest I couldn't pursue either project with much vigour as I still had to finish striking camp. I carried most of the stuff to my car as there are only two wheelbarrows onsite.

I took my rubbish and recycling home but I had a quick nose in the four general waste bins to see what had been deposited and they were all rammed, and that's from around eight or nine pitches so a peak season weekend has the potential to generate loads methinks. It was as much to do with the fact that folk hadn't broken packaging down and one type of bin as much as the volume. Actually I didn't think a site half full on a dull mid October weekend was bad going to be honest.

Possible  recommendations:-

*Access to the river for fishing was available on nearly all the tent pitches, most if not all the riverside woodland plots had trees and scrub between them and the river so maybe a path could be cut to give access?

*More wheelbarrows (ideally one for each plot)...As mentioned there are only two available and on the Sunday one plot took one for most of the morning so that's one between the remaining seven or eight plots.

*Review the site timings. I know this all takes manpower and logisitics but I had a quick chat with the guys in the next plot and we agreed that  the Sunday was neither use nor ornament unless you got up at silly o'clock in the morning. Maybe 12 o'clock to get to a pitch with an area to sit and do whittling etc from 10 o'clock? On the Sunday a 2 or even 1 o'clock finish would mean a little more time onsite and the chance to do a meal before leaving.

*Google maps suggests that there may be a thin strip of river that can be accessed. assuming I'm correct and this is land owned by the site it might be an idea to develop it for fishing, nature walks and the like because whilst the site is surrounded by water there isn't much frontage for folk to use. There is  a plot en route to the strip to be fair.

*Encourage folk to take their rubbish and recycling offsite.

That all said I had a great time there and it will be interesting to see how the site develops and would recommend it as a place to get some bushcrafty fresh air. A good first season for them methinks.