Saturday, 22 April 2017

Dandelion Syrup


Ask folk to think of any town weed* and I reckon the majority would say 'Dandelion', with it's superb golden carpet in mid to late Spring. It's uses can be from coffee substitute from the roots to a salad leaf with, well, the leaves.



My favourite is to make a syrup using the  lovely yellow flowers. I recently did this and took a few pictures of the method...This will make about a jar-and-a-half. Collect 175g of flowers, this isn't a lot in terms of weight but is in terms of time. Make sure it's not an area frequented by dogs or weedkiller either.


If you have ever tasted a Dandelion leaf you'll know it has an Radicchio-like bitterness and may also know that it is diuretic too). Bearing this in mind you'll need to decide if you are keen enough to pull the green parts off the flowers, I was and the upturned flower in the above picture is about as much as it's possible to pull off without destroying the flower head. Interesting to note the immature seeds in the corner that have detached from a head.


Once done they need placing into a saucepan whilst you get on with the next stage. I collected them in a clean plastic bag and have retained it for a later stage...


You'll need to thinly slice a lemon to add to the saucepan. Most recipes suggest just putting them in as they are but I zest the skin and then cut a lot of the skin and pith off. again it's another stage but like the green parts on the Dandelion the pith can impart bitterness too.


 Again some recipes suggest adding a portion of a Vanilla pod and it's something I've not tried as I think the flavour is good anyway and it adds another non-foraged ingredient thus pushing the Dandelion flavour further into the background.

I mentioned retaining the bag earlier-I'd suggest you do two things; get the thought of honey into your head and smell the inside of the bag and then when you've gone 'Oh yeah' rinse the inside of the bag with a little water and add it to a jug. Top this up to around the the 450-500ml mark with more water and add it to the flowers and lemon slices.


Let in gently simmer for about 20-30 minutes stirring every now then and then leave overnight to infuse. Next morning strain the plant matter from the liquid, the Dandelion heads and Lemons can be discarded at this point.


Once it's clear just have a look at the lovely golden colour, it goes darker towards the end however. Get a low light under the pan and then weigh the sugar.


There is variation in which sugar to use depending where you look (some recipes also add a small shot of honey). I'm adding 300 g of golden castor sugar and 75 g of jam sugar, the latter to help thicken it up which means it doesn't have to reduce for ages with the risk of adding a burnt note to the taste.


Once it's warmed up add the sugar and stir in until dissolved. This stage isn't one that can have a time added because it depends how thick you want it. Keep checking it because as previously mentioned it can catch.


You can simply pull the spoon out of the mixture to visually check the thickness, or do the jam test on  a cold plate. Keep a plate in the freezer and drop a tab of mixture on it. Leave a second or two and push with your finger and see if it wrinkles or not. The above picture was still in the earlier stages and it's is still quite liquid.

 

Once done simply tip into sterilised jam jars. Note the slightly darker colour as mentioned before and the golden syrup like thickness as it heads South onto the porridge.


There's an abundance of flowers at the moment but don't leave it too late!


*Urbanised wild plant

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Frontier Stove-First Thoughts and Mod Ideas

I never enter competitions unless the prize or prizes are something that I'd use, it seems silly to get something that is a duplicate or will sit in your garage, effectively denying it to someone else. It was a different matter when the  Canvas Tent Shop  (CTS from hereonin) offered up a Frontier portable stove in a classic Facebook 'like and share' competition (their Facebook page here by the way).


I only flippin' won it!

Two years ago I published a blog page of items that I'd like but the couldn't justify at the time and a Frontier stove was on the list and I added at the end 'I can dream'. Well the CTS have created one very happy bunny.

 I do get annoyed with overly basic customer reviews that online retailers have to endure, y'know the useless 'It looks shiny just out of the box, looking forward to trying it ***** stars' type of thing. Well I've had it up and working today and I'm so impressed with it that I wanted to put index finger to mouse and get some early impressions down. I will add to these initial notes in due course but not only was it good to do a basic test but it also gets the grey matter working as to maximising it and indeed any modifications.


 

First off it arrived the day after they said it was being dispatched which is prompt by any measure  and it was securely packed. I couldn't help but measure the dimensions myself and I found that it differed a little and I've written my version of the measurements on the box.


The first thing to note is that you'll get no instructions with it. Initially I was a bit surprised but finding out  that the stove started out as a piece of humanitarian kit that could help give a disaster hit family a means of cooking, keeping warm and hope  I guess a simple to erect design circumvents the potential issue of language and illiteracy. It takes under three minutes to lock the legs, insert the flue and slip in the ember catcher under the door.

 

The single picture above shows the cooking cover removed and the five pieces that make up the flue stashed rather cleverly inside the stove body. All fit together really easily and one of them has an internal baffle to help regulate the airflow.

 

The legs are simple to fold out and into position by means of a securing pin and one side of the stove has a carrying handle, the other a rail for clothes and utensils. The one thing I did notice was that it was lower to the ground than I expected but then again the legs couldn't be longer than the body due to it being easy to stow.


I had a small window of weekend opportunity to fire this puppy up so I made full use of it. The temperature was medium single figures with constant light mizzle. As I was just doing a basic start up I decided to see how well a Kelly Kettle fared on it because you can actual buy a water tank that wraps around the flue so it seemed a good test.



I put a couple of Ash logs to one side (about the diameter of a 50 pence or so) and then piled some slightly feathered kindling across it and shoved a small bunch of Birch bark underneath.


Contained within the stove away from the mizzle the kindling soon started to burn nicely from a single match.


I stood back to see my first Frontier smoke issuing from the not inconsiderable flue stack.


Whilst the fire was building I noticed a little smoke issuing from the removable plate which is perhaps something to note if one is being purchased to warm a tent. That said there wasn't much and it dissipated once embers formed.


Talking of the removable plate this is a shot of it removed. I guess as the stove's origins are humanitarian it gives the user the option of using curved wok like cooking vessels on an otherwise flat surface. I'd thought about placing the Kelly kettle over it but alas it wasn't wide enough and the ember pan only just fitted so I scrapped that idea as close but no cigar, although a griddle mod may be on the cards. That said, Petromax do some small but perfectly formed Dutch ovens which may fit, and of course they can take embers from the stove on there lids...Could it also accommodate a charcloth tin, two tins for making birch tar and maybe even kebabs place in at an angle?


This shot shows that the kettle was some way short of straddling the hole so I put enough water in it for a large mug and left it to see if it heated up.


I'd also had an idea to try and cook a bannock inside the stove much like a pizza oven so I got a stick and pushed the embers back to receive it. Interestingly I'd placed the stick on top of the stove and in no time I could hear it fizzing as the sap started to bubble.


And so the bannock. I made a basic spelt flour, milk and sugar one, placed it on some parchment paper and then onto a tin foil mat. The picture on the right shows the established embers at the rear with the slightly out of focus foil package in the foreground.


I flipped it over and finished it off direct onto some small embers and as an impromptu first effort it was cooked through and rather edible.


As my focus turned to the bannock I'd overlooked the fact that the Kelly kettle was now not over any direct heat. I therefore moved it to the rear and up against the flue which was really hot too. Even with a little heat the water got to just streaming which was impressive. The mizzle also temporarily turned to proper rain and fizzed off the cooking surface, even on the now cooler front part.

As well as the kindling I'd used around half a dozen lengths of Ash which were roughly 50 pence diameter and six-eight inches long so by no means a capacity burn, and yet I'd seen it build up a good heat to take the edge off the cool outside temperature and give my a breaded treat. As previously mentioned I only had a small time window to try it so I fed it no more wood, shut the door and chimney baffle and let it die down. Incidentally the door latch has two positions.

I'll get  chance to cook on on it properly another time but suffice to say it has lived up to my expectations thus far. I am also an Assistant Cub leader and can see this being used at any suitable activity. 

As well as the bannock and Kelly kettle experiments (I'd also pondered if it would fit on the flue-It won't) I have thought about using Sugra on the stove door handle and indeed I can see the flue being a perfect vehicle to dry tea towels on Cub camp!

The stove I've got also has a number of accessories available for it depending on intended usage: Carry bagspark arrestorstove heat mattent flashing kitwater tank and
flue extensions. Almost predictably most of the links are from the CTS website but I will say that as part of accepting this competition prize they didn't ask me to start spouting nice stuff about the product, these are entirely my own thoughts and observations.






Saturday, 7 January 2017

First Attempt at a Tapered Tang Handle




So onto part two of my knife adventure which came about during my now finished work sabbatical when I had a slightly fortuitous 1-2-1 day with Ross Berry at Kaos blacksmiths in Kent during which I made a  full tang and this tapered tang knife blank to take home and handle. All well ans good but as I mentioned in the blog about the full tang handling it's something I have no experience of.


 

I left the tapered tang blank with it's black forge finish as I knew I wasn't going to mess it up with the finishing sand, as opposed to the full tang blank which I polished so I could sand the spine etc. I initially thought about a dark wood one piece handle but having seen the neck knives that Ross makes I thought I'd have a crack at a two part handle with some fancy Dan spacers. I chose some Birch for the smaller front piece and as I'd planned to have a central tang but ran out of time to sort it I decided to have a handle shape to accommodate and negate this. 

Ross often uses metal spacers about the size of a two pence coin but with the central tang I decided to have a larger sized spacer and sand it down as I wasn't sure how small I was going to get the handle. and I tried to make one out of an old bracket but I couldn't drill through it. . This was soon ditched as I didn't want any complications. I therefore ordered a bleached Water Buffalo bone spacer.



For the darker part of the handle I purchased a Walnut block which like the like the Birch part I measured, sawed, drilled and then roughly shaped. I did struggle with the holes as I don't have a pillar drill or any square edged rat tail files and whilst I did end up with a fairly snug fit the aperture where the blade meets the handle is a little larger than I'd have liked, for aesthetic reasons if nothing else.


So once I'd done all the groundwork I started looking at practicing putting the parts altogether which also includes some liners. I'd initially thought about a red liner between the bone spacer and the Walnut, and a black one with the Birch but then thought I'd have both either side of the bone.


And the moment of truth arrived to stop procrastinating and get gluing. I got (two part) glue all over the full tang scales as my fingers turned to bananas whilst gluing so I wrapped the wood in tape to help keep them clean. I also double wrapped the blade near the tang so that I could sand close without it affecting the blade.


I'm glad that I wrapped the wood as my gluing was again a little ham fisted and you can see a shine on the tape in the above picture. I turned my work bench on it's side, secured the blade and then used two clamps to put gentle pressure on the handle parts.


The process was successful and then to finish I had to get my head down and sand the handle to my satisfaction. At this stage the handle was a little square so I needed to round the corners a bit. I therefore marked the areas either side of the edges to give me sanding guidelines. 


I would have gone for a more rounded shape but my handheld sander was giving me a slow return so I worked through a couple of finer grit papers and called it a day. It is comfy enough to be used as an occasional around camp sort of  knife so extended usage won't be an issue. With my work bench back up the right way I again clamped the blade and applied a coat of boiled linseed oil which really does enhance the materials.


  

Two very satisfying blacksmithing projects in  differing ways. If you have some Christmas money kicking about give some thought to a blacksmithing day experience with Ross. Tantalisingly I have two spare spacers and enough Birch, Walnut and liner left for a Puukko style handle...

Suggested further reading:-

Kaos Blacksmith 1-2-1

First attempt at a full tang knife

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Mead Attempt Version 2.0

I had my first  attempt at mead last year after I saw  professional forager Mark Williams (Galloway Wild Foods) post a fairly bombproof recipe which allowed natural yeast in unpasteurised honey to do it's thing.


 


This was basically a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio of honey to water and let it get on. When it had done it was drinkable but was very dry and lacked any hint of sweetness which I put down to the honey yeast processing all the honey to alcohol. 


Fast forward to the Colchester Medieval Oyster Fayre where I purchased a jar of runny honey to have another go. As I chatted to the apiarist stall holder he asked me to reconsider using his honey for mead as it wasn't necessary to use such a good one. I agreed and in return he offered me a (another) bombproof beginners recipe for JAO mead.



I did scoop a little of the honey in with the shop purchased stuff just to say that it was in there, but the difference is that the JAO one uses common old bread yeast. In addition to orange slices and sultanas I did one batch with Meadowsweet flowers in for a bit of extra flavour.


I had to carefully chop it up and insert it in the neck because the crushed flowers would smell (and indeed are) medicinal if I wasn't  careful.


and so it all started off on 18th August all cloudy with bubbles falling over themselves, especially the standard batch into which I added a little cinnamon stick and a clove.


Just before we reached September the bubbles slowed noticeably and a thick sediment started to appear, and then a few days later the Meadowsweet bottle slowly started to show signs of clearing a little.



Well to fast forward I tried the Meadowsweet one first a few weeks ago and  whilst it was a little different (it had more of a cider like taste) it was still very dry. There wasn't any airlock bubble action so I tried adding a little more honey...which set off the remaining hardcore yeast. I decided to warm it through very very gently and add yet more honey which has given it more of the desired sweet taste but I can't see me taking brewing up with any seriousness in the near future.