Breakfast Pancakes

13 June 2009
I was up early and wanted to make something warm for breakfast for the pair of us. No eggs, no milk and not a lot of promise in the fridge so it would need to be something simple.
Having read far to many classic camping cookbooks the idea of pancakes came to mind. These are also known as flapjacks in North America and not an awful lot different to Scotch, or drop, pancakes.

How To...?
Having read through Tim Smith's "Simple Little Sourdough and Outdoor Baking Book" I remembered the idea that a large number of normal recipies containing perishables (milk and eggs largely) can be made successfully without these ingredients.
I had a quick look through a few recipes on the internet but found nothing special; In the end I simply grabbed a few ingredients and went to work.

The "Recipe"
First off was to grab some sort of bowl for mixing in and chuck into it a pinch of salt and 3 pinches of sugar. To make up the bulk of the pancakes you need flour, I simply used plain flour - about 12 tablespoonfuls and mixed it all together a bit. To make it rise, and following the North American prescription, I added a heaped tablespoon of baking powder to the mix. To make it into a batter I used water - it's readily available, cheap and I hadn't run out of it. You need to add enough water to make a fairly thin batter. It needs to be thin enough to pour so it must be thinner than the "ribboning" that cookery books talk about. I whisked it together to prevent there being any lumps, you can easily fashion a whisk by binding birch twigs together or bending them and then binding them to make a balloon whisk - a technique I first saw in "Prehistoric Cooking".

I heated up a big frying pan and melted some butter into it. You'd need a fair bit of fat to cook these as I had to put a little fresh butter in after cooking each pancake - they seem to absorb quite a lot. I poured them out with a ladle but they could, with care, be poured straight from the bowl. They need to be a bit thicker than the normal, English style, variant.They were then simply fried until golden on one side and then flipped over onto the other. It probably took less than a minute per side per cake. After that I just stacked them up on the plate. The mix made 6 pancakes, three for each of us, about 6 to 9 inches across. We ate them with jam as that's what we had left in the fridge.
All of this would be simple enough to do on a campfire or stove, probably easier than on out tempermental electric hob, and the ingredients are cheap and keep well. I think I'll give some of those other recipes a try when I unpack my books again after the move.
Read On

The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 2

12 June 2009
In this post we'll be looking at another way of measuring distances using the body, this time longer distances. The post will be focused upon the 2 basic measurements we can take as we walk; the step and the pace.

The Step
First we have the step, the measurement from the heel of the right foot to the heel of the left foot (or vice versa) when taking one step forward. This measurement is not widely used as it falls between the foot and the pace - it is generally equivalent to 2 1/2 foot lengths and equal to 1/2 a pace. There is a need to remember that the ancient Romans referred to a foot as being a pes and that this isn't the same as a pace.

The Pace
This is the more important of the 2 measurements. It is the distance from the heel of the foot, through 2 steps, to when the same heel next hits the ground. The reason that it is important is that it lets us estimate the distance we have travelled with a degree of accuracy.

Using This
I was planning on writing a whole article on how to use this information, along with counting paces and pace beads, for navigation. In this case though, someone else has got there first and written an excellent article over at The Rucksack. I really don't see where I can add a lot to what they've said so I'll just link to them!
This method and these measurements are great for combining with maps, making your own maps (pirate style) and for longer distances (the height of trees, length of fields). My own personal experience in orienteering, proved that the method can be fairly accurate on the flat but it takes a lot more experience to employ it in really rough ground
Read On

Cups and Containers for Survival Kits

5 June 2009
A look through survival literature reveals a real plethora of containers used for containing the kit. In this post we'll be looking at some common containers and discussing what their relative merits are as well as which are most suitable for what task.

Survival Tins
By far the most common container recommended is the tobacco tin as recommended by Lofty Wiseman. You often read that the tin can be used to boil water - the average size of tobacco tins I've found is about 225ml (7.6 fl oz). Considering fires are rarely perfectly level and water bubbles as it boils there is no way you could get even that much water into the tin.
Now, these tins are good for fitting in pockets - particularly jackets and combat type trousers - and are robust, cheap and readily available. The trouble for me with this container is that, according to the rule of 3s and Cody Lundin's excellent book water is actually a pretty important factor.

The Rule of 3s
As a quick reminder to all of us here is the rule of 3s;

You can survive
3 minutes without air
3 hours without shelter

3 days without water
3 weeks without food
3 months without hope/human contact

Remember that this is a very general guideline, it may be different depending on weather, helath, activity etc. With the "average" survival scenario running up to 72 hours then we can see that some water, especially warm water, would be a useful thing. A solid pot can also be used as a shovel in snow or when building a debris shelter.
Boiling water for as little as 1 minute (at sea level) will kill anything that can be killed through boiling.

Last Things First
To this end I tend to think of kits as being built backwards from their container as this is what defines what can be carried. You can see a fine example survival kit following this logic using a Swiss Army canteen over at Woods Monkey. I have previously tried using a tin mug to make a sort of brew kit using a tin mug as a container and a plastic bottle which originally contained about 50 bits of chewing gum.

The Old Tin Mug
The container is a standard sized steel mug, probably not a lot bigger than 250ml capacity but due to its shape a lot better for boiling water in. Lower surface area means less chance of water jumping out when it boils and the handle makes it an awful lot easier to pick up afterwards than a tin. The kit simply consists of a wax stove, mug, plastic bottle, tea bags, matches and a pack of soup to stop it all rattling about. I've got some old information, complete with rather poor pictures here.

Military Option
Another container I've seen much talked about is the Crusader Cup. This cup is the European cousin of the GI Canteen cup and is likewise designed to fit under the NATO issue canteen. These cups have quite a following in bushcraft circles. Personally, I've no experience of them but they do sport a range of accessories (lids and cookers) fit onto water canteens. The kidney style shape may make it more compact and this is an item I shall definitely be on the lookout for. The capacity is 750ml (1.58pints) so this is a fairly decent amount.

Bushcrafter Chic

There has been a fair bit written on various blogs of the fads and fashions in bushcraft as a hobby. I've never been to a big meet so I've yet to see a horde of Swandri clad Gransfors axe wielding clones - the Zebra billy can is another one of those items on the bushcrafter's must-have list. From what I've read it is an excellent pot and trying to find a real pot in a camping store at a sensible price is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I am very interested in getting hold of the biggest size, the 16cm pot, which has a 100 fl OZ / 3 litre capacity. Why so big? You can always put less in a big pot but you can't put more in big pot. This size may be a little on the large size for a survival kit - if it's too big then the likelihood is it won't be with you when you need it! Ben's Backwoods stocks all different sizes down to the 10cm pot.

Civil War Vintage
Just because something's old doesn't mean it's bad; and that's cetainly true of the American civil war vintage mucket. As the name suggests it's a blending of "mug" and "bucket" into the portmanteau "mucket". In Britain I suggest going to Warhorse Sutler (bottom of page) and checking out the stainless steel version - not authentic but not rusty like a tin one. These little pots usually hold about 750ml and contain and integral lid (with lifting knob or hook) and bail and are excellent little bits of kit. I used them often back in my reenacting days and seriously recommend them as a good pot and container for a survival kit.

Re-use and Recycle
An old tin can may not be glamourous but it gets the job done. I find that tinned fruit cans are a very usable size - all you need is some pliers, an old coat hanger and a sharp point. You simply punch holes through the top for the bail and then bend the wire into place. With judicious slection you could find a smaller can to go as a lid/frying pan and then you can seal it all up to make a complete container and cook kit for peanuts. Some of the old timers went into this in a bigger way and Wildwood Wisdom has a couple of pages devoted to tin can outing kits.

The Industrial Approach
What about if you're making a long term kit, bug out bag or family kit? In that case I'd have to go for a proper steel bucket. Don't get a dodgy looking galvanized one from a garden centre but a proper, nigh-on-indestructible, one from a catering supplier. They have lids handles and come in up to 15 litre (nearly 16 quarts) capacity. Think about it - if you need to clean water for cooking, cleaning and washing - for example after a flood when sewage is flooded out of drains and tanks and up onto street level - what type of container do you need? I've even seen recommendations on preparedness websites suggesting a bucket, filled with useful materials, food etc. makes a great gift for getting people into the idea of preparing and making contingency plans. For serious base camps, the heavy duty steel and bail is a good combination and even makes Jack Mountain Bushcraft's kit list.

A Master's Opinion
I couldn't end here without mentioning some of the things that Mors Kochanski, one of modern bushcraft's greatest practioners, has written on the subject of pots in survival kits. In an article in issue 5 of the BCUK magazine (no longer in print) he wrote that a good pot needed a lid that could be tied down, to be made from solid guage steel, to have rounded corners for ease of cleaning and a bail. He also stated to buy a pot twice the size you expected to need. In his booklet, "The 2 Kilogram Survival Kit Field Manual" he mentions using a 3 or 4 litre oil can, suitable cleaned. In his booklet "The Tools of Survival and Survival Training" he mentions the need for a pot of 7 cup (1.6 litre) capacity with a tight fitting lid with a ring, not knob, and a strong handle.

What Next?
I hope you have seen that there are lots of good container/cups/pots to build a survival kit around and that the ability to purify water is an essential part of any kit.
I hope to get hold of some of the above mentioned items for review over the coming months and also put together a tin-can cook kit for budget bushcrafters. If you know of any good reviews of alternatives, or the items mentioned above, please drop me a line.
Photos on strange backgrounds are my own, others come from the websites of suppliers linked in the article. If you wish them removed then there is a link at the top with my e-mail.
Read On

The Woodcrafter's Measure - Part 1

1 June 2009
It is sometimes useful to be able to measure something in the woods, be it the height of a tree, the thickness of a stick of how far you've walked.
In this 1st section we're going to look at using the human body as a measuring tool, especially for crafting projects, and we're going to start with a few history lessons.

Da Vinci and the Vitruvian Man
Da Vinci's love of nature and his exploits in many areas marked him out as special. This drawing, one of the world's most recognisable images, is drawn to scale and show many of the relationships between various parts of the body in length. To help make sense of it there is an annotated version on Wikipedia.

The Measure of a Man
The picture is based on Vitruvius's writings. He is a 1st century AD Roman Engineer who stated that;
  • a palm is the width of four fingers
  • a foot is the width of four palms (i.e., 12 inches)
  • a cubit is the width of six palms
  • a pace is four cubits
  • a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
  • the length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height
  • the maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of a man's height
  • the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man's height
  • the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
  • the length of a man's foot is one-sixth of his height
In case you're wondering quite what a cubit is, it is the measurement from finger tip to elbow and was a much used measurement in the ancient and mediaeval world. A Polish king, Wladyslaw I was even given the sobriquet "the Elbow High" in a reference to his short stature.

Are They Any Use?
These measurements have several advantages. Firstly they are portable, you can't forget your body and you've no need to buy a new one just for measuring. Secondly they are consistent - they change little through your adult life (as an aside the stability of foot size is thought of as one reason why women love buying shoes so much). The problem is that my hand and yours are different sizes.
The positives of this outwieght the negatives for us - using a handle which is a palm long means it will fit in our hand regardless of size, a snowshoe with finger thick sticks should support our weight. If you watch any of Mors Kochanski's videos (especially "Sticks as Tools and Implements") you see your height, arm span, palm and finger width much in use as measurements. Fenlander even uses body measurements to great affect when teaching how to build a fire.

You're Always Prepared
Having said that these are measurments that you can't leave behind then it is no surprise that Baden Powell made use of them in "Scouting for Boys". The key measures he talked about were;
  • Breadth of thumb being 1 inch
  • Span from thumb to forefinger being 6.5 inches
  • Span of thumb to any over finger being 8.5 inches
  • Wrist to elbow being 10 inches
  • A cubit being 17 inches.
Of course you can check your own measurements in these categories before you head to the woods for a bit more accuracy.

More Information
These measurements are known as "anthropic units" and being based upon nature have a natural role in woodcraft. In the equestrian field a hand('s breadth) is still used as a measure while a handful and a pinch are ever present measures in the kitchen. Searching under "body based measurements" also brings up some more information.
I hope to have reminded you of this important part of your bushcraft toolkit - look forward to part 2 about the pace and longer distances and part 3 where we play with triangles. I should hopefully do a little ready reckoner card at the end of it all too.
Finally, remember what Plato said

"Man is the measure of all things."
Read On