Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Wild Food & Chilli Fair, Essex

Sadly I'd had to miss the Bushcraft Show this year due to a bereavement and had seen the Wild Food and Chlli Show advertised for the first time and saw this as a plan B to visit. I initially noticed that Woodland Ways and The Bushcraft Journal were going to be there as sponsors, along with Will Lord so I thought it would be worth a visit, and decided to investigate who else would be there. Maybe I'd find stuff that comes under the new outdoor traditionalist title. There was...

The show is divided into different arenas namely although in reality it was just that birds of a feather were just put together. The show was spread out a little more than it needed to be but I guess it was hard to judge how many people would turn up and the site was smaller and loads visit did we'd be saying it was packed too close together!

 On the day I saw/ visited the following amongst others...

Fred Gilliam Wild Side of Life - author of Poisonous Plants in Great Britain, food foraging, field butchery The Wild Side of Life 

Beaver Bushcraft (Shark Tinderbox)

I had a job finding the actual site on the day because whilst I saw some local adverts there needed to be some actual direction arrows. Now I'd wondered why I hadn't heard of the show before and that was because it was the first one and to be honest it wasn't overly full of visitors, which is good for those that did visit. It meant that I could spend a fair amount of time with several of the bushcraft related personnel.

My first view was a glimpse of the Wild Man of the Woods talking to a young lad (who turned out to be Will Lord's little lad.

A brief visit to the Bushcraft Journal stand which also had Big Man of the Woods, IEAT and Sheri Lake from Frontier Bushcraft, and then to see Will Lord, not only to discuss attending some of his courses next year but to say that I'd pick up a length of lime that he didn't want and kindly agreed to bring to the show for me.

And on to most of the above list...I caught the Woodland Ways pigeon and muntjac prep (I think I doubled my muntjac knowledge listening to Jason's talk).

Then back to see Will and had a long talk to him and then watched him process a lump of flint effortlessly into a usable tool with reference to mountains and headless angels on the knapping journey.


Then a long talk to Greenman knives, then Shark Tinderbox. As you can tell the ability to see stands almost at will was easy.

I left the bushcrafty bit to head to the food area and to be honest, some of the stands selling chilli products had rather scary names and being a sensitive little dewdrop I actually just gave them a quick look. Dinner was from Durban chicken curry bunny chow from the Now Now South African stand and was excellent.


And so back to take some pictures of some of the Bushcraft Journal members flint knapping with Will which was an extended stay with a lovely chat with his wife.

The tannoy announced soon after that there was squirrel prep at the Bushcraft Magazine stand with it being cooked afterwards in the Mongolian stove which recently featured in the magazine.

The squirrel was roadkill and Steve, the magazine's editor, skillfully worked around the damage and shortly after the prep I headed off for regular five minute visits to other stands and arrived back to see that a DIY smoker had been set up to smoke some pigeon breasts. As I have a shop purchased smoker I was interested to know what wood shavings were being used and I was pine which I found an unusual choice as I would naturally think of it being quite a powerful taste, coupled to the fact that I am trying to educate my 'lame game' palate this dish had my attention. I twas bloody lovely and the smoke added a great flavour.

The squirrel was ready soon afterwards and was piri piri with chopped veg and noodles and I commented that the colour of the dish matched with the cooker itself.

And the lime log? I said thanks and goodbye to Will and his wife and picked up the sizable length, and yes it did squeeze in the car but I'd brought along a folding saw and took a small length off it as it was a little close to the windscreen! I also sorted out some bits and bobs for my seven month work sabbatical next year (a long service award) with Will, The Wild Man of the Woods, Bushcraft Magazine and Kaos blacksmiths but that's another blog...

Now it was the first show and naturally it has to start somewhere. There definitely needs to be more arrows on the route pointing the way which is easily rectified and perhaps a redefining of the advertising because I asked several locals for directions and none knew of the show, yet there was advertising on the tube in London. 

I can't really think of a similar show in the South East so I sincerely hope it does flourish as there was a good feeling whilst there, and with the interest in bushcraft maybe the Bushcraft, Chilli and Wild Food Fair may be a good rebrand? Oh, and most of the stall holders I spoke to are supportive and said that they's return.

As a quick post script I'm adding a section from an individual called Clive Bilby who read this blog entry and suggested the following via Facebook:- 

Totally agree with review. Signage, even just from Heybridge town centre, would have helped. Layout could be better too, with a central display area to pull in the crowds and ensure that there is always something to see going on, with sponsors stalls around to maximise on footfall. Also needed a programme, or just a poster of activities and displays to keep visitors on the site longer. Did you find Kundalini Yoga? Way at the top end of the field, with very little footfall. Or the archery? Which was around the corner from the Bushcraft circle but nothing to promote its existence. As a first event I thought it was really good.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Making DIY mead attempt #1

Mead is something that I've been meaning to try and make for a wile, and professional forager Mark Williams (Galloway Wild Foods) has given me the final push to try it because he's made it sound so easy and he has stated (in black and white) that he's never had a bottle fail, which is good because I don't really know what I'm doing.

He suggests initially trying a honey to water ratio of around 1:4 or 5 and as a quick internet search suggests that a litre of water is roughly equivalent to a kilo, then my 227g unpasteurised honey jar must be married to about 1.25 litres of water, give or take. I made it up to 1.5 litres and added some inert (pasteurised) honey to make up the sugary shortfall (should have got the larger jar in the first place). The unwanted half a litre was dispatched into the kettle and this leaves a convenient gap in the bottle for the natural yeast to start getting gassy...

In it all goes...

This is me pictured checking after about five and then seven minutes for action...I suspect I was a little too keen in the early stages so I eased off to a more hourly routine then sense prevailed!

Once the sediment gave in to gentle yet constant agitation the colour became a lovely golden colour all the way through. I gently squeezed in the bottle near the top of the neck and did the lid up to see if any gas built up, and  placed it in the near vicinity of a radiator  so that it gets a warm atmosphere but not direct heat. And for those that know who lives in a pineapple under the sea...

[anglisised French accent] A few days later... [/anglisised French accent]

...I noticed that the squeezed bits on the neck had gone, and the lid gave a gentle 'psst' as I undid it. I also noticed a tiny bit of froth on the top, and sediment at the base. This sent me diving into Mark's newsletter email for further advice. It  is going to work for me.

After a week I wondered if the sugar level may be a bit low because it seemed a bit lacklustre so I decided to chuck in a level dessert spoon of caster sugar to see if that tickles it's tickle gland. It didn't...

I'd come to the conclusion that the honey I'd purchased wasn't quite what I thought it would be, but couldn't understand why the gentle 'psst' occurred because if that was natural yeast action it should have built up shouldn't it?

I opted for a sachet of general wine making yeast and as it was pretty much guaranteed to work, an homemade airlock to let the copious gas out (well a shop purchased one meshed with the plastic bottle lid), and a hydrometer to measure the alcoholic content of whatever I made. It soon developed a very bubbly, cloudy character but cloudy and homemade bung.


The advantage in using a plastic bottle for this little project and  is that it is malleable when squeezed, this meant that I could draw the water level back a little I the airlock to see what was happening on the bubble front. once the mead cleared and the sediment had built up I decided to have a try. This was after several weeks and once the bubbles had all but ceased. 

The mead was pleasingly clear but as dry as...erm,..a dry thing. I decided to put a small amount of extra honey in and once the bung was back in, gently sloshed it around to see if there was any active yeast in the scum that developed around the shoulder of the bottle, There was, and it had a brief secondary bubble. 

I decided to decant it at this point regardless of how the extra honey had changed it. The hydrometer was still showing it as rather dry, and despite the fact that the honey had helped somewhat I warmed a two heaped teaspoons of honey and added one to each of the bottles....then another...then another.

It wasn't as simple as I thought it would be and I like to do a little 'Ta da' at the end of a blog page like this but it's still a learning curve and I'll definitely have to investigate wine making more. That said, it has reached a point of being drinkable, whether it actually is or I've just got used to the taste I can't say, but has started a secondary fermentation in the bottle. I look at this as a postive 'Méthode Champenoise' style sparkiling mead rather than a an annoying post script!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Washing machine drum fire

If you are involved it Scouting you will probably have camped at places that don't allow ground fires and use of an alter fire is needed...Well a washing machine drum fire is a useful piece of kit, especially for sitting round of an evening.

You may have seen one of these if you've been at a show that the Ilford East Activity Team (I EAT Scouts) have attended you may have seen one in action (they have one in the background of one of their old Facebook cover pictures here) and indeed IEAT's Terry Longhurst was kind enough to give me a spare drum to make one.

I was recently asked how one is knocked up and I can't find many pictures from the time I made mine so I'm mixing and matching old and new to do this. Even so they aren't hard.  First of all you'll need a washing machine drum and three sturdy metal legs.


Flip it over and decide where to make three holes for the legs to go through. The drums all seem to have three equal sections marked out on them so working it out is fairly easy. If you don't have a big drill simply stitch drill a circle and bash it out. Check the legs fit after all that. 


Arguably the fiddliest bit is fastening a fixing for the poles. These are fixed in the rim around the top and need to be in line with where the poles come through the bottom holes that you have just made. It was suggested that the fixings that wardrobe poles are held up with should be used (as in the above picture) but despite the purchase of good quality ones these have melted! I fixed them by placing the fixing over each leg, got someone to say when the leg looked level and then gently bashed upwards from the insidethrough the fixing holes on the fixings with an awl to mark where the bolts needed to go. It is still usable without the fixings however because it is possible to locate the poles (which are hollow) onto the remaining bolts, it is a little wobbly but secure and personally I'd use large bolts if I was to ever make another. 

This is now a mk I washing machine drum fire but I have added a small modification. It is possible to get a tripod to fit snugly over it to suspend a kettle or Dutch oven because neither will fit in the top of your average drum. You'll notice a couple of gaps have been cut out of the rim in the above picture and there are corresponding gaps cut on the opposite side with two drilled holes too. I then bent some metal that I got off an old retail delivery cage into an L shape and these locate in the drilled holes and lay through the cut gaps. The makes a useful pot support.

Just a note of caution, you may want to wear ear defenders if you ever make one with this modicfication as the sound is amplified by the drum and makes a fearful screech. 

The above picture clearly shows how the cooking vessel modification slots into the two drill holes and through the two sets of gaps cut in the drum's rim. If you look closely on the right hand side you can just about make out two bolt heads which are the ones that survived where the fixing didn't.

And a final shot of it in action, again the bolt heads can be seen on the right hand side. The only extra modification I'd make is to cut a small section out of the side to feed wood in when there's a Dutch oven plonked on top. There are easy to cut areas on the sides but sadly that's where the legs are located and I don't have the tools to cut the 'perforations'. Not a deal breaker however.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Lackford Lakes

I don't really rate Twitter as I feel that despite the addition of pictures that it's still half a story with it's limited characters. I have stuck with it and decided to make it a read only experience  and pretty much just follow those that aren't on Facebook. Lackford Lakes came up as a suggestion to follow and as it's only about an hour or so away I followed and then followed up the follow with a family visit.

We decided to whet the whistle with a drink and a bite to eat...The light refreshments bit is a modest array of food and drink and whilst you are rocking up for the SSSI experience rather than the café culture they could probably extend the range easily without too much problem (coke for the kids and flapjacks for taking out on a walk as a snack and so on). Have to say that their coffee sponge was brilliant however, but I digress. There are tables downstairs but we went to the upstairs which has a burger bar like row of tall chairs with a ledge, the above pictures are the views from the upstairs.

We watched a female pheasant fly in to the feeding table which it seemed familar with, only for  bossy female mallard to start a bit of a bitchy standoff! 

In the first hide we noticed that the hide was used by many damsel flies to morph from larvae to insect and I found a recently hatched damsel having spider web issues. I gently gathered it up and used a Swiss army knife tooth pick to gently tease some web off it. 

The highlight of the visit was a fortuitous sighting of a male kingfisher (a female has red 'lipstick' on the underside of her beak) in a tiny little hide...

He made several catches including a brown morsel that looked like a prawn (a very young crayfish?). It was around 20 to 25 feet away but I've had to crop the pictures a little. This was a defining moment because I said to my wife that when the greater part of our mortgage comes to fruition in Spring I'm getting a DSLR with a half decent lens!

Talking of crayfish...We saw several signal monsters further round the reserve in a small stream. If you look closely you can just make out that the big brute has a smaller crayfish in it's upper claw...

It moved slowly backwards into the weeds and you can see the top claw still gripping it and the lower claw open and ready to be used.


On the website for Lackford Lakes it lists bird sightings to date for the year (over 120). From this we saw around 30 species and I have some ID work on the plant front having  snapped rather a lot.


There was also plenty of insects to keep you occupied too, this chap above is a wasp beetle and only the second one I've ever seen.

I'm not hot on fungi ID but could this be chicken of the woods? I couldn't get any closer and this was taken balanced on a log over a mall stream!

And to the final hide on the walk. We get Egyptian geese where I live but this place had lots of them in several different locations with fifteen just by the hide alone. I also took a snap of a nature reclaimed pillbox (with some greylag geese I the foreground) which reminds me of my Lincolnshire childhood as they are everywhere along the East coast.

My family left me to finish off in the hide and I got chatting to a chap who'd just come from a site in nearby Lakenheath watching a little bittern. Once I left I had to text my wife that I was running late as I got held up by a Canadian goose who really wasn't happy to let me past. The fact that when she finally led her goslings down a 'nature highway' to the lake they couldn't move quickly and I could have easily picked one up/ off is neither here nor there.

Lackford is blessed with a healthy otter population and despite my best efforts I couldn't find any sign. in the Summer/ Autumn of 2016 I am blessed with a long service award of six months off next year and can see myself heading up at the crack of dawn to try and see them. We also discovered West Stow Anglo Saxon village and country park next door so it's a given that we will return to the area before too long.