Written in chalk on a slab of Cornish slate, one of our signs at the recent Bushcraft Show invited questions, any questions, on the subject of canoes or canoe camping.
As hoped, this resulted in some fascinating discussions. Show visitors arrived at our lakeside camp from far and wide, not just homes in the UK, but also from a surprising number of overseas locations, including Ireland, France, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Brazil and South Africa. And these are just the countries I can remember.
Queries ranged from subjects I’d expected, such as canoe or paddle choice, loading patterns and favourite Scottish lochs, to include tent peg and dry bag preferences, insect repellent effectiveness, suitable footwear, camera protection, Scandinavian access legislation (it’s all good news) and impromptu sails and rigging. Even the merits of different steering strokes were considered.
Food choice and food preparation also featured high on the topic list (which was great, as Susannah and I like talking about camp food), and one of the questions we were asked more than once was whether we cooked on our Eldfell stove.
As the show is held each year at the end of May (and it’s never cold in England in May of course), we’d only chosen to take this impressive piece of kit along with us as a demonstration piece. We thought it might be useful for anyone with a stove related question if they could actually see it. A few days later, with fresh snow on the mountaintops around our Scottish loch shore camp, and heavy squalls of rain beating down on the tent every hour or so, we were very pleased with this decision. The year may have now progressed almost to June, but the stove was soon lit, and we could answer that showground question with a string of hot, tasty meals.
Within reason, neither of us like to view camp meals as second rate to anything we might produce at home. There are limitations of course, and some ingredients (only a few mind) really can’t be taken. But just because we’re travelling by canoe doesn’t mean that we need to leave the essentials behind (or what we see as essentials at least), and our wannigan will still carry, olive oil, garlic, risotto rice, eggs, hard cheese, fresh veg and fruit and a fairly wide range of herbs and spices. Besides, we can always add to our on-board stock with a little foraging and fishing.
Wild fennel can often be found on the cliffs that overlook a good bass-filled bay for example, while samphire might well clothe a nearby salt flat in bright green. Dulce grows happily at many coastal locations, and tastes excellent fried with onions and potatoes, served with a very fresh mackerel or two. Lingonberries are there in profusion in any August Swedish wood, ready to join vinegar and more onions to produce a good tart relish. Blueberries fall in amongst our breakfast oats on most Scandinavian summer mornings, and chantarelle mushrooms or ceps (in France; penny-buns in England or Karl Johan in Sweden) can often be found to enrich a savoury dish after only a little woodland scrutiny. The appetising list could go on…
Then it’s back to our campsite to cook up the mixed carried/collected goodies.
Occasionally, where local legislation or drought precludes the use of a wood fire, we’ll employ our gas stove – a two-burner, car-camping model, with a large orange gas canister at the end of a long length of reinforced rubber hose. This is fine, but we both much prefer using wood.
In almost all cases the cooking tool of choice will be an open fire, usually lit at the top of a beach or on the shingle alongside our chosen lake or river. With strong feelings about keeping any impact as small as possible, we use only dead wood, usually driftwood, building a fire that is rarely much larger than the pans held on two lengths of angle-iron overhead. It’s often surprising how little fuel is needed. And the end result, once the meal is prepared? Perhaps a small handful of ash.
Of course when the heavens decide to open, we usually move indoors (or inflap), when our Eldfell comes into play. Once a little birch bark has sparked the fire into life, food and dry clothes are ours. At cold times of year, the stove will heat us as well as our meals.