Adventures In Smoking

Assembling the pieces

Assembling the pieces

After a recent fishing trip I found myself furnished with a rather fine rainbow trout; it didn't feel like a whole-cooked fish kind of night so I thought it was the perfect time to have a crack at smoking. I managed to cobble together a smoker from things I had lying around and made a recipe inspired by the Whole Larder Love book and various episodes of River Cottage. It was surprisingly easy and I'm very happy to report that the results were spectacular.

Building Your Smoker

  • For the main chamber of the smoker I used the tin from some Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies, the kind you always find yourself with but can never quite remember where they came from. I pierced holes in the lid to let the smoke out.
  • For the smoking rack I used a baker's cooling rack and cut it into a circle the same diameter as the tin. I left a couple of centimeters on a few of the horizontal bars and bent them over so that the rack sat away from the bottom of the tin.
  • I put a couple of handfuls of shavings into the bottom of the tin. There seems to be a lot of discussion about the best wood to use for this, but I had a pile  left over from carving spoons which I used, it was mainly birch.
  • For a heat source I had the burner from my Trangia. You can use a gas hob or stove top but I didn't want to stink the house out with smoke so a portable option was preferable.


Cooking Method

  • Firstly I descaled, cleaned and filleted the trout.
  • I made a rub that was 2 parts salt and 1 part brown sugar and gave the fish an all over coating. This was left in a sealed Tupperware container overnight in the fridge.
  • The next evening I washed the fish, removing the excess rub and patted it dry.
  • I placed the fillet inside the tin skin side down, closed the lid and lit the burner.
  • After a couple of minutes smoke was billowing out of the holes in the lid. I gave each fillet about 10-12 minutes which seemed perfect.
The finished piece.

The finished piece.

The fish was moist and tender, and it crumbled perfectly. It had a deep-infused smokiness and that salty smoked-fish tang. It was so morish I wolfed the first fillet down immediately. I saved the second for breakfast and had it on an English muffin with a poached egg. Perfect.

Posted on March 6, 2017 and filed under Recipe.

Tips from the Archive #011

Sportsman's Camping Guide

Sportsman's Camping Guide

Some gold from Leonard Miracle, this comes from "The Sportsman's Camping Guide" which is part of "Outdoor Life Magazine's" Skill Book series. This is his deceptively simple firewood rating system of common trees. I love the cover photography too – plaid and a packboard.

Tip #11 – Good Firewood

The good firewood that is repeatedly mentioned is wood that lights easily when dry, burns with a hot, long lasting flame, and forms a hot bed of coals. The less smoke the better. A tendency to throw hot sparks downgrades the wood. Wood that chops easily and splits easily ought to have extra credit, perhaps, but most of the soft, easily worked woods are short on the other virtues.

A chunk of white ash green with summer leaves and soaking wet can be split into small sticks and will burn briskly. Dry ash is superb wood. Ash is reasonably easy to cutting split wet or dry. It burns steady and long, produces good coals, doesn’t produce excessive smoke or flying sparks. White ash is tops. Willow, which is east to cut with an ax, is fuel for those who have nothing better. It rates along the least common campfire woods.

Ash, Hickory, Oak, Holly, Dogwood, Apple, Birch, Maple, Locust, Mountain mahogany.

Beech, Mulberry, Buckeye, Sycamore, Tamarack, Pine, Cedar, Juniper, Spruce, Cottonwood, Fir, Aspen.

Willow, Alder, Chestnut, Magnolia, Tulip, Catalpa, White elm, Cherry
— Leonard Miracle - Sportsman's Camping Guide, 1965

Staying Sharp

A very trusted comrade

A very trusted comrade

A skill I have always wanted to hone (pun intended) is sharpening knives. Recently, I decided to take the leap, buy myself a good stone and get to it. Little did I realize what a complicated job selecting the right stone would be. Literature on the subject was vast and varied and my go-to authors left me even more confused; W.K Merrill said a "good grade carborundum whetstone is a must to keep both axe and sheath and pocketknife sharp" while Clyde Ormond suggested an Arkansas stone. Bill Riviere suggests to considering a pair of Washita stones and Calvin Rutsrtum sings the praises for a combination of fine India Stone and soft Arkansas. 

Initial research resulted in some serious head scratching but after further more comprehensive reading and a much deeper dive into the wonderful world of abrasives, I think I finally have a handle on the subject. To start with all the most common stones and systems fit into one of three categories: whetstones/oil stones, water stones and diamond stones. These categories are then sub-divided into material type and coarseness.

Let's get some naming confusion out of the way first; as far as I have been able to work out 'oil-stones' and 'whetstones' are the same thing - oil stones are a finer grade whetstone which are often lubricated with oil. Whet is an old word meaning "to sharpen" and is not a reference to water (although water can be used to lubricate these stones). From here on I'll refer to this category as whetstones. 

Whetstones/Oil Stones

Whetstones are the most well-known, traditional sharpening stones – the one your dad or grandpa probably has in his shed. Depending on the specific type and coarseness, a whetstone is often used with oil or water to lubricate the sharpening action and to help remove the excess metal filings or swarf. They can be manufactured or naturally quarried; the man-made versions are most commonly made from aluminum oxide or silicon carbide. An 'India Stone' is Norton Abrasives' trademark name for their aluminum oxide stones, and a carbundum stone is an older name for a silicon carbide stone (mystery solved). 

The quarried whetstones are comprised of a microcrystalline quartz called novaculite. One of the more famous regions for quarrying novaculite is the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas, stones from here are known as Arkansas, Ouachita or Washita stones. There are different colors and densities to quarried whetstones and they have awesome common names like "hard black""surgical black" or "pink translucent"

Japanese Water Stones

These stones are apparently the new kid on the block in the Western world, but have been used for centuries in Japan. They too can be either manufactured or mined. The manufactured versions are mostly made from aluminum oxide (like a whetstone) but use a different binder to hold the particles together.

The naturally mined or quarried stones are composed of silicate particles in a clay matrix making them softer than a whetstone. Because of the softer bond between the abrasive particles, the blade being sharpened is constantly scraping and removing the top layer of stone and revealing new, sharper particles on the sharpening surface. This makes the sharpening process much faster, but it also means the stone wears quicker and is much messier than a whetstone. Water is only ever used on these stones as oil is said to ruin them. There is a staggering number of companies that make water stones; each one seems to have it's own recipe balancing durability and softness.

Diamond Stones

A diamond stone is actually a steel plate with a coating of diamond grit. The two most common diamond types used are mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline, the former being the longer lasting, most desirable and of course most expensive version. Like other stones diamond plates come in various coarseness, but they do not need lubricant. While these stones are considerably more expensive than the other options they are much longer lasting – in fact they are so hard wearing they can be used for leveling other sharpening stones that have had grooves worn into them.

Which Stone?

So where to start? I think the most important thing to consider is what the stone will be used for. I really want an all-round stone that can be used to sharpen everything from a fine pocket knife to a larger kitchen knife. I'm not really cool enough to be an axe guy so I don't need anything overly coarse. As with anything I'd like it to last me as long as possible – a lifetime would be ideal so I don't mind spending that little bit more for quality. 

I find something very appealing about the ancient Eastern tradition of water stones; I'm not sure if it is just me, but they have that air of Japanese perfection and a little bit of mysticism surrounding them. I like that they can be used with only water but the mess factor, shorter life span and cost does bother me. I know it may seem irrational but there is something sterile and manufactured about using a diamond sharpener that puts me off. So with that in mind I have decided that a quarried Soft Arkansas/Black Arkansas combination whetstone is the winner. They are tried and tested, long lasting, durable, made in the USA and will only just break the bank. I have my order in and will let you know how this new escapade pans out.

Tea Chronicles Pt.14 - Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat

One of my favorite Victorian novels would have to be "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome. Jerome was a great comedic writer, his prose are still laugh out loud funny. The book follows Jerome and his two friends, to say nothing of the dog, as they take a boat trip out of London on the Thames. One of my favorite parts outlines their approach to making tea, this is a top-tip still relevant today.

We put the kettle on to boil, up in the nose of the boat, and went down to the stern and pretended to take no notice of it, but set to work to get the other things out.

That is the only way to get a kettle to boil up the river. If it sees that you are waiting for it and are anxious, it will never even sing. You have to go away and begin your meal, as if you were not going to have any tea at all. You must not even look round at it. Then you will soon hear it sputtering away, mad to be made into tea.

It is a good plan, too, if you are in a great hurry, to talk very loudly to each other about how you don’t need any tea, and are not going to have any. You get near the kettle, so that it can overhear you, and then you shout out,“I don’t want any tea; do you, George?” to which George shouts back, “Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll have lemonade instead—tea’s so indigestible.” Upon which the kettle boils over, and puts the stove out.

We adopted this harmless bit of trickery, and the result was that, by the time everything else was ready, the tea was waiting.

Posted on September 24, 2015 and filed under Tea.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List –2015

Summer Reading List –2015

It’s heartwarming, striding into a small, high street bookshop anywhere in the UK and finding whole shelves devoted to nature writing; even my home town’s WHSmith’s carries a selection of Robert Macfarlane’s titles. I’m not sure if more people are writing about nature or if the UK public are finally taking notice and they are getting the shelf space they deserve. Either way it feels like a nature writing renaissance, with the likes of Roger Deakin, Richard Mabey, Macfarlane and Caught By The River paving the way. I find it hard to track down these books, and books with the same sensibility in US bookstores. 

On a recent trip to the UK I couldn’t help stocking up on books, and blowing most of my luggage allowance getting them back to USA, the fruits of my labor are below, with their Amazon descriptions.

Feral - George Monbiot
How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us? Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot's efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way. Get a copy here.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is a collection of writing by Roger Deakin For the last six years of his life, Roger Deakin kept notebooks in which he wrote his daily thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations about and around his home, Walnut Tree Farm. Collected here are the very best of these writings, capturing his extraordinary, restless curiosity about nature as well as his impressions of our changing world. Get a copy here.

Caught By The River - A Collection of Words on Water
From the Thames to the Telford, the Wear to the Wellsbourne; from canoe adventures to ice-skating, from angling to day-dreaming, "Caught by the River" is an exceptional new take on nature writing. Here, the writers take you on a journey down some of our most famous waterways and some of its best kept secrets. Funny, surprising, delightful and poignant, they all share one thing - a passion for the rivers of Britain and Ireland. The result is a uniquely modern take on an age old writing tradition - a rock 'n' rock nature book ever. The authors, many acclaimed and the rest soon to be, each contribute to a collection of writing as varied and unexpected as the rivers themselves.This evocative anthology of the best new nature writing is presented in a collection of essays on some of our favourite rivers, covering the entire length of the country. Get a copy here.

The Moor – William Atkins
In this deeply personal journey across our nation's most forbidding and most mysterious terrain, William Atkins takes the reader from south to north, in search of the heart of this elusive landscape. His account is both travelogue and natural history, and an exploration of moorland's uniquely captivating position in our literature, history and psyche. Atkins may be a solitary wanderer across these vast expanses, but his journey is full of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present: murderers and monks, smugglers and priests, gamekeepers and ramblers, miners and poets, developers and environmentalists. Get a copy here.

Rising Ground – Philip Marsden
Why do we react so strongly to certain places? Why do layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape? When Philip Marsden moved to a remote creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to begin exploring these questions, prompting a journey westwards to Land's End through one of the most fascinating regions of Europe. Get a copy here.

Wanderlust - A History of Walking – Rebecca Solnit
Drawing together many histories-of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores-Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers. She profiles some of the most significant walkers in history and fiction-from Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet to Andre Breton's Nadja-finding a profound relationship between walking and thinking and walking and culture. Solnit argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in our ever more car-dependent and accelerated world. Get a copy here.

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel
Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last. Get a copy here.

A Brush with Nature – Richard Mabey
Described as 'Britain's greatest living nature writer', Richard Mabey has revealed his passion for the natural world in eloquent stories for BBC Wildlife Magazine. This volume features his favourite pieces and presents a fascinating and inspiring view of the changing natural landscape in which we live. Get a copy here.

I hope this inspires some reading, I certainly have a lots to do. If anyone has suggestions for books or authors from the USA that I should be reading please let me know. 

How To Make A Wooden Spoon

I recently stumbled upon this wonderful series of maker videos from last years TedxBrighton. I particularly liked this talk given by EJ Osborne from Hatchet and Bear – philosophy through spoon carving. I love her energy and passion and the solace she's found in the simple pleasure of carving spoons. My brother has been the whittler in the family for a few years now but this certainly tempts me to get a hook knife and give it a crack. Enjoy.

Posted on June 3, 2015 and filed under Hero.

River Cottage Handbooks

River Cottage Handbooks

River Cottage Handbooks

Field guides, cookbooks, gardeners manuals, forager's friends, sustainability source-books, fisherman's companions and ethical way markers – the River Cottage Handbooks form an ever expanding reference library; a set of contemporary, practical guidebooks; the culinary equivalent of the Audubom Field Guides.

River Cottage began as a small-holding project of chef and journalist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it was his attempt to live a simpler life, away from the trappings of a larger city, a way he could have a closer, more conscious relationship with the food he consumed. From simple beginnings River Cottage has now become a culinary empire and while it has grown exponentially it hasn't wavered in it's ethical, hands-on, back-to-basics philosophy. The River Cottage Handbooks are the embodiment of this. 

Building my collection

Building my collection

For those familiar with the River Cottage series, you may recognize some of the handbooks' authors – John Wright, Pam 'The Jam' Corbin, Gill Meller and Nick Fisher to name a few. It is this pedigree of authors that makes each handbooks truly invaluable, while each has recipes they are far more than cookbooks, they are a deep-dive into the authors specific specialty. You not only learn how to cook herbs you learn how to grow, cultivate, harvest and store the finished product. You don't just learn how to cook fish, you learn how and where to catch them and how to eat sustainably. The books are exquisitely presented, with colour photography and easy to follow instructions for all experience levels. They seem to operate slightly away from the TV goings-on, and have a timeless, practical quality.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is certainly a polarizing character, even within my family opinions are mixed. Some see him as a rich kid, backed by Channel 4 money, living in some kind of fantasy world, preaching to all about his virtues. For others he is a real pioneer; someone that cares deeply about how we feed ourselves and about the moral, ethical and environmental impact that we have on the world.

I find myself in the later camp – I've watched Hugh ever since 1995 when he presented "A cook on the Wildside" and have watched the entire "River Cottage" series many times. I find myself continually inspired by his escapades, and while he does bullishly preach the virtues of his lifestyle, at least he walks the walk with his activism, and as Yvon Chouinard said “To do good, you actually have to do something.”

For the last few Christmases and birthdays I have managed to acquire several of the handbooks and have started building the complete collection. They are now go-to's for inspiration as well as guidance. Hunt them out.

Alfred Wainwright

There is no other character in British hiking quite as celebrated as Alfred Wainwright; although he is little known outside of the UK, for many he is the godfather of recreational walking. His pictorial guides to the hills and fells have made much of the UK, and in particular the Lake District, accessible for all to enjoy.

It all began on 7th June 1930. Wainwright had saved enough money for a weeks holiday in the Lake District in North-West England. He took the bus from his Blackburn home and after arriving in Windermere he made for Orrest Head; it is a short walk but ends with breathtaking views over the town of Windermere, the lake of the same name and the surrounding fells.

I was totally transfixed, unable to believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like this. I saw mountain ranges, one after another, the nearer starkly etched, those beyond fading into the blue distance. Rich woodlands, emerald pastures and the shimmering water of the lake below added to a pageant of loveliness, a glorious panorama that held me enthralled.
— Alfred Wainwright
My trip to Orrest Head

My trip to Orrest Head

From then on he was hooked, he spent the following years making multiple trips to explore the Lake District – he even found ways to make the journey during the early years of World War II, when travel was heavily restricted. So keen was his love of the area, that in 1941 he took a pay cut and moved north to Kendal to work for the Kendal Treasurer's Department. The hills were now on his doorstep and he ventured out at every opportunity, building a personal relationship and deep knowledge of their many peaks.

Being a meticulous scribe, illustrator and artist, as well as a passionate walker, Wainwright began to document each of his trips. In 1951 he began work on a set of Lakeland Guides, he intended to climb and document every one of the 214 Lake District's Fells. He completed this in 13 years and compiled them into seven books, once published they became instant classics, inspiring millions to load up a pack and head to the hills. Wainwright went on to expand his range, creating guides for the Pennine Way, the Coast To Coast walk and eventually the Lake District's Outer Fells, these have also become indispensable walking guides.

Each Wainwright guide is exquisite. Every publication is a compilation of his illustration and writing; of factual practical knowledge as well as his whimsical musings. If you chance upon any be sure to pick them up, even if you have no intention of visiting the Lake District – they are real works of art and an amazing case study in information design. His guides are now part of UK folklore, so much so that the 214 peaks in the Lake District are now known as 'Wainwrights'. The guides are still widely available and have been recently updated by Chris Jesty (a friend of Wainwrights) for Frances Lincoln who now has the publishing rights for the guides.

Sadly Alfred Wainwright passed away in 1991. He may have been quiet and reclusive in life, but his legacy does, and will, continue to speak loudly of his love for the hills and fells for years to come, through the practical content of his guides and in the memories created by the generations of walkers they inspired. 

Posted on March 12, 2015 and filed under Hero.

Farewell Stripers

Seasons End 2014

Seasons End 2014

In the past few weeks the last of the striped bass have left my local waters and continued on their annual journey South. Just like the retirees and holiday makers, they are heading for warmer climates after a summer gorging on Maine's seafood.

It was by far my most successful year of fishing, early in the season I made a pact with myself and only fished with flies and only ones I tied myself. This was, at times, highly frustrating, especially when fumbling double halls, battling winds and getting drenched while wading in the pitch black. I'm really glad I stuck with it, there were even moments out there when I felt like I got it;  when the sun was slowly rising over mirrored waters and I was making perfect tight loops, targeting fleeting shadows beneath the water. I cannot wait for their return.

Until next season, I shall leave you with this, from Mark Kingwell's wonderful book "Catch and Release"

Fishing teaches us to dream, to find apertures of possibility in the edifice of daily life; to act by contemplating and contemplate as a way of acting. To angle is to live in hope. And just as surely, hope’s contours are revealed by angling calmness.
— Mark Kingwell - Catch And Release, 2003
Posted on October 27, 2014 and filed under Fishing.

Planked Fish

Brandt Berglund and Clare E. Bolsby - Wilderness Cookbook, 1976 

Brandt Berglund and Clare E. Bolsby - Wilderness Cookbook, 1976 

I first saw this recipe on an episode of River Cottage, it looked amazing but I think that Brandt Berglund and Clare E. Bolsby have trumped Mr. Fearnley-Wittingsall with this recipe from their 1976 publication - "Wilderness Cookbook."

Planked fish was often used on the trail by scouts and early settlers. The method is simple and needs little attention while cooking.

Split a log a little larger than the spread of the fish. Rub some bacon fat or bear grease on the plank and prop it up vertically in front of the camp fire. Clean the fish and remove the head and tail. Split the fish open and place it skin side down on the preheated log. Tack the fish down along the edges of the skin with wooden pegs.

Season the fish and smear some grease or bacon fat on it. Place the log vertically in front of the fire and let cook. Baste the fish from time to time; it makes the meat much juicier.

The fish should cook in about 20 minutes, depending on size. Check the fish occasionally. When the meat is flakey and tender, remove from the head before it breaks loose from the skin and falls into the fire.

To save the trouble of basting I usually peg three or four strips of bacon on top of the fish before placing the log in front of the fire.
— Brandt Berglund and Clare E. Bolsby - Wilderness Cookbook, 1976
Planked Salmon on the Fire

Planked Salmon on the Fire

When I tried this method of cooking, I did a whole side of salmon on an offcut of wood. I didn't have any wooden pegs so I used regular nails, and I was fresh out of bear grease so I used butter, a little olive oil and some herbs. I also put a cast iron pan beneath the plank to catch all the goodness that came out which I used to baste the fish and pour over the meat when finished. It took a little over 20 minutes, but it was a big piece of fish. 

Planked Salmon Finished and Ready to Serve

Planked Salmon Finished and Ready to Serve

The finished salmon fell away from the skin and was succulent and moist. Incredibly straight forward and extremely delicious.

Posted on September 16, 2014 and filed under Recipe.