AUGUST:Down on the Muddy Banks of the Ouzel..lurks nuggets of crustacean protein

In the murky fulsomeness of Leighton’s canals and river, armoured, scuttling food lurks.  I dont often go in for animal protein, more due to the fact I am crap at catching stuff rather than having any ethical boundary on this.  However, in a survival situation, (or if you, like me, have overspent this month on stupidly priced gym trainers and passport applications ) the Signal Crayfish forms a lifeline that makes a nice change from baked beans.

Signal crays are an invasive species, carrying a fungus which is killing off our native White Clawed crayfish.  Its easy to  tell the difference – signals have red underneath their claws and are bigger.  Indeed, you are legally obliged NOT to throw them back in if you catch one (though i am not sure what happens if you do…maybe transportation to Australia 😉

However if you plan on catching them to sell to restaurants you need a licence.

So how do you catch them?

If youve got a spare day to sit about and do jack all, hang a baited line in the water, any scraps of meat or smally fish will do.  just pull them up and they will hang on the bait, not being too bright.

If, like me, you have things to be getting on with, your best option is a trap.  Easy option, got o a fishing shop and buy one for £5.  But why do that when you can have fun doing it the hard way?

I made several 7 foot traps from hazel, osier willow and weeping willow.  Also crack willow, which I wish I hadn’t as it lived up to its name.

You need a bait bag held in the centre of the trap and a removeable entrance funnel or door in the side to get the little blighters out afterwards.  The willow also needs soaking beforehand.  bait the trap by shoving some sardines or bacon rinds etc into the bait bag, close it up and weight the trap inside with something, I used a cast iron chimney collar but a brick  or rocks will do.  attach ropes at each end and sling it in for 2 or 3 days.

Pull up, try not to smell the slimy brown gunk that covers the trap or it will seriously put you off your dinner.  wear strong gloves.  Open the trap and grab the crays at the back behind their claws…i got a nasty slash right down the meat of my thumb when i didnt wear gloves once…those critters don’t want to die and I cant blame them.  Chuck them in a bucket of clean water.  People told me to leave them in for a few days, I did, and they always died…til i realised all the lovely fluoride and chlorine bleach in our nice drinking water was making them shuffle off this mortal coil.

So how to end their lives amicably as possible, and how to cook them?  for that you’ll need Part 2, as this has gone on rather a long time!!

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AUGUST:Down on the Muddy Banks of the Ouzel..lurks nuggets of crustacean protein

Great Bushcraft Classics:’The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann R Wyss

My beautifully illustrated (by Mervyn Peake) copy is gifted to ‘Lynn, from Uncle Gordon, Istanbul, 1955’, with a golden tan cover printed in rich burgundy and dark green palms, ships and huts.  Dogs, guns and ‘savages’ grace the inside cover.

Throughout this swashbuckling family adventure our heroes master the tropical island they become stranded on by, in a nutshell, shooting dead anything that moves and carrying back to treehouse/cave camp anything that doesn’t.  while possibly not the best choice for the sensitive or vegan reader, if you can be prepared to look beyond the white supremacism and hypocritical exploitation of its time, this book delivers some bushcraft gems.  Here they are in all their glory.

  • Myrica cerifera berries for candle wax tallow – boiling the berries in a gourd container then skimming off the wax, then heating wax again, then dipping cotton or similar wick until many layers are built up’Myrica_cerifera_main
  • Cassava/tapioca root preparation – squeezing the poisonous sap out and making bread from the flour
  • Sharkskin armlets and anklets and rope for harvesting coconuts fom palm trees
  • Agave plant as a source of tinder and thread (from leaf filaments) and as a healing wound dressing.
  • Calabash gourds to make crockery and spoons
  • Caoutchouc/india-rubber tree oozes a resinous substance which the Robinsons make waterproof boots out of by painting on layers over a clay foot mould.
  • Sago palm – gives a flour and sago grubs for roasting on  a stick over the fire.
  • Tobacco smoke to harvest honey
  • New Zealand flax (Phormium Tenax) for fibre and rough clothing.  they prepare this by retting it in a pool of stagnant water for 2 weeks then bleaching in the sun, then carding the fibres with combs made of long nails.
  • making a canoe from the cork like bark of a mystery tree in one sheet.
Great Bushcraft Classics:’The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann R Wyss

DIY Mugwort Smudge Stick

So around our lovely River Ouse (and in the back yards of various businesses, and on most waysides) stands the tall silvery turquoise spears of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris).  Mugwort is related to Wormwood -remember Kylie Minogue’s Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge!, hence the distinctive deeply lobed, branched leaves with silvery undersides, and small flowers bunched on spikes.

Rub the flowers between the fingers for a burst of incense, a clarifying, intoxicating scent on a par with lavender in power.

This herb, sacred to Artemis and therefore of all women, encourages menstrual flow and can be used in lucid dreaming and dream divination. (NB: DO NOT USE INTERNALLY IF PREGNANT)  On  a more fundamental note, it also dissuades insects from where it is hung or burnt as a smudge as it contains strong essential oils.

Its easy to make your own smudge, to use in purifying ritual or as mossie repellent, you decide!

Step 1: Cut the top most 20cm off the top stem of each mugwort plant.  Dry them in a rack or dry dark place til they are dry but still flexible.

Step 2: Pack them together all facing one way til you have a bundle 3cm in diameter.

Step 3: pick the leaves of the last few cm to make a handle (otherwise the stick will burn down to your fingers…ouwchie…

Step 4: Take red (or whatever colour really) thread and bind tightly in a spiral from base to top.  then go from top to base again, in a spiral.

Step 5: Tie firmly at the base.

Step 6: Leave to dry completely (when it cracks off at the touch).  if it is properly dried it will light.

To use: Light the far end of the stick then blow it out after a few seconds, move the stick around the room and around people (just not too close or they may singe!)

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DIY Mugwort Smudge Stick

Golden Corn from the Beast of the Reeds

Im talking about Typha latifolia, better known as Reedmace or even Bulrush.  You will know it.  The reed with its fat brown hot dog sausages poking skyward.  And for the record, its NOT a true Bulrush…for you plant geeks out there, that honour goes to Sciripus species which are not as memorable or cute!

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Reedmace is a highly vigorous and successful marginal (edge of water) species, it spreads by rhizomes as well as with seed.  Its actually classed as invasive, which means its ok to harvest some as it will soon recover and take over the pond if you dont.  Luckily, it also tastes great and its seedheads are chock full of high grade protein, and they are in season now.  It tastes like buttery sweetcorn and can even be munched on raw, as my son at 6 and a half months old found out at his first meal!  The young shoots are good in Spring and the rhizomes at their best in Autumn and Winter.  I only wish I had here the classic picture of my wandering mystic, mostly naked friend Tristan eating a pan of these roots in a loincloth, drenched in mud in the middle of winter in our hippy woods camp in Brentford.

It is worth checking however the cleanliness of the water if you are going to harvest roots, as this is where any heavy metals etc could be concentrated, also ask if glyphosate or other herbicide has been used previously.

Here are some recipes others have put up from great foraging site Galloway Wild Foods.

The first is a Dashi broth with spoot clams and reedmace shoots in Spring.  the second shows the seedheads coated in beer batter.

Here is my effort for tonight

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I scraped the pollen off the heads and mixed with a little garlic oil, a good idea would be to keep the cooking water (forgot to say also cooked the pollen heads for 5 mins or so) as it contains a lot of the lovely flavour as well as nutrients.  The flowers are Ox Eye Daisy, a clean tasting wild salad flower in season now, and filling, too!

Also, you can use the dried seed heads later in the year for a torch and the seed down to stuff your pillow and duvet!  Whats not to like??

So next time you see conservationists smashing down this plant or god forbid, someone spraying it with toxic vile poisons, spread the word…and the word is GOOD!

Golden Corn from the Beast of the Reeds

The Anaerobic Diaries…lets go play with our bacterial friends!

So, the last couple of weeks I caught the last of the wild green soft parts before everything seeds and discovered the food preserving process of lacto-fermentation.  This works something like this:

  1. Rip or cut up the greens and place layer after layer in a bowl, adding a smidgin of salt each time, press down as you go.
  2. try mixing in layers plants and flavours you think might go together, eg I mixed Nettle leaves and Horseradish stems together to add texture and fire to the earthy Nettles!
  3. Force it all down really hard then wait for at least half an hour.  Mash up the leaves some more in your hands till they go a bit dark and soft.  Repeat for another 30mins.
  4. Bang it in a glass jar, push down as far as possible to get rid of the air, then top up with MINERAL water til the greens are well covered.  NOT tap water.  This is because tap water contains chemicals that inhibit the growth of bacteria, and you WANT bacteria.  The right kind!
  5. Get a clean piece of rubber or similar and push the greens underneath the surface of the water with it, leave in place to stop the greens floating up and rotting on exposure to air.  It should look something like this….

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Note the one in the middle is Bristly Ox tongue in cider vinegar (Picris echiodes) and I havent put anything in to push that down, and it really is, ladies and gentlemen, a famine food…all i could taste was bristles and vinegar, and it really is that nasty shade of grey!  Historically it was boiled then pickled, maybe they did something i didnt, id like to know what!

Anyhow, moving on to the good part, after a few days my mixtures all fermented, and every few days I loosened the lids or made holes in the top to allow the gases produced by the Lactobacillus bacteria to escape.

Now for the tasting!  I seemed to be the only one keen, my fellow boaties all scarpered despite my invite to be guinea pigs and dine on 2 week old wild plants rotted in water that looks like wee!

The Korean kimchi recipe , (far left) with garlic, nam pla (fish sauce), chilis and ginger smelt exotically funky and spicy, though my greens were a little tough, earlier in the season would have been better.  It went down a storm in my miso soup however, a pic of that later!  this had Hogweed flower buds, Comfrey flowers and leaves, Nettle, Ground Elder, Horseradish leaves etc!

Nettle and Horseradish – an exciting deep shade of brown to the ferment liquid, like a cold soup.  Earthy, mineral rich flavour.  Shame that the horseradish lost its fire though.  I do love that punch!

Cleavers & Ground Elder – the best of the bunch, the greens were tender and had a gorgeous ripeness like a rich cheese, surprising for cleavers that normally tastes so grassy and mild.  Mmmm, with wine and cheese board!   and some oat cakes.

Finally I made a Miso Kimchi Soup for dinner which is here:

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5 minute meal, just make up 2 cups of Miso soup from paste then add fried thinly sliced button mushrooms, thinly sliced mini peppers, your fermented greens and some walnuts and crackers.

Just right for a steamy damp day in July on the canal!

As for healthiness…eating the Lactobacillus helps you digest other foods, a bit like Yakult, and helps recovery from yeast infections, which is always good.  It also contains extra vitamins.

 

 

 

 

 

The Anaerobic Diaries…lets go play with our bacterial friends!

Out Now – Nettle seed!

Welcome to the common nettle’s best kept secret (until it was blared all over the internet, anyhow)…its seeds!!

They are not only edible, they are a superfood containing adaptogens to strengthen the immune system and help you cope with stress, whilst the iron and calcium plus other trace minerals aid vitality and endurance, and the protein and healthy fats feed you.  Also giving you lustrous hair and renewed vigour.  Sound good?  i cannot think why British people arent stuffing nettle seed down them every time i go out foraging.

Here is a picture of nettle seed at an ideal time to pick…a sort of buttery goldy green.  Make sure the nettle flower is FEMALE.  the seeds will be SPHERICAL not flat and a warmer more goldy colour than the droopy green catkins of the male flowers, and the female seeds are clustered tightly to the stem whilst the male flowers hang loosely.  It is easy to make this mistake if you don’t know what to look for.

Pick them with gloves, take only half of each nettle’s seeds and leave at least half in the patch untouched to ensure theyll be there for you next season.  You can either take the top off the nettle or if the seeds are ripe you can ‘milk’ the seeds off it into a plastic bag or lined basket underneath.  you can eat them green straight off the plant if you have a sturdy palate (as i do) but they are best dried.  Some say the green seeds are so energising they will keep you up at night, so treat them as you would caffeine, take only a few teaspoons a day of seed. Personally ive never found this to be a problem when i ate off the plants or made my electuaries (ground seed mixed with honey), although i had dried the seed in the electuaries.

Here are some recipes with nettle seed….soup, pastries, herbal salt.

Be warned…nettle seed is also an aphrodisiac that was used by the Romans, Greeks and todays Chinese in TCM.  Gypsy horse dealers used it to make the coats of the horses more shiny and give them extra vigour before they were sold for a good price.  So lets follow those horses into the nettle fields….

For those interested i will be selling some nettleseed electuary in Leighton over the next few months…for dates keep an eye on my Facebook page ‘Hedgewitch Adventures’

ciao for now…

 

 

Out Now – Nettle seed!

Waterworld

As the rain hurls itself into the canal im reminded of the film that first made me want to become a boater…Kevin Costner’s epic masterpiece of dystopian global warming gone wrong.  who cares if it plummeted at the box office?  His trimaran was awesome and germinated a craving for the life aquatic that never went away.  Bushcraft gleanings from this film include the steampunk-esque urine and seawater filtration system, where every last drop of fluid is recycled in this saline world.  Sea water, if drunk unfiltered, is eventually lethal.

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A primitive filter can be constructed using layers of firstly coarse gravel, then grit, then sand, then activated charcoal (which removes toxins and bacteria).  Salt, however, can be removed through evaporation, so if you have time for one of these babies,  try a desert funnel evaporator…only drawback, it involves acquiring a plastic sheet in a fairly good state of repair..not too easy in apocalyptic future worlds, but ok if you live near a Homebase store, as i do.  also hard to find area where am allowed to dig several feet into the ground…roll up to the big kiddie sandpit in the park!!

Vitamin C was another must among Waterworld’s boating folk.  Provided by a carefully tended lemon, orange or tomato plant in a scrap of Dirt.  Its worth knowing some races of people, namely the Mongolians and the Inuit, traditionally survived entirely on animals they caught as Vitamin C is stored in the fat, organs and fluids of fish and blubber bearing animals such as seals.  This involves consuming raw parts of the whole animal, not just the tasty bits! and not wasting a thing.

For those who’d rather avoid this scenario of carnivorous desperation, micro greens and sprouts can be grown in very small spaces, even if you havent even got a windowsill and yes, even in winter (if you have central heating, which i dont, so make the most of it).

If you do want to try growing citrus and tomatoes, try a sheltered, sunny space and the helpful rotting straw and pee/fertiliser compost bale…the rotting bale generates heat and keeps the plants warm! Ive had a big crop of Tumbling Toms in 6 hanging baskets on my own water craft.

More film based bushcraft fun to come!

Waterworld