Campfire cooking – blueberry orange muffins

After a day catching lobster for the pot this simple campfire pudding almost cooks itself and, for entertainment value, these babies are bulletproof.

Don’t beat yourself up over the instant nature of this pudding — after all it’s not often one gets to bake cakes around the campfire.

Ingredients

Muffin mix
– Blueberries
– Four empty half orange skins

Method

  1. Squeeze four oranges, keep peeled halves and put juice aside for breakfast
  2. Fill one emptied orange half with blueberry muffin mix
  3. Cover the filled orange half with the empty half and wrap in three layers of foil
  4. Place on hot embers
  5. Turn aluminum balls every minute, baking may take 10 minutes
  6. Check one after 8 minutes, return to heat until firm at the centre

When these blueberry orange muffins are ready they will emerge from the campfire like victorious steamed puddings that have just been Tangoed.

Unwrap and eat with a spoon.

 

Drinking dirty water

If the situation arises where un-purified water must be drunk to avoid dehydration basic precautions can be taken to avoid illness.

  1. Remove any suspended particles and organic matter
  2. Let the water stand for at least an hour
  3. Remove the clear water without disturbing the sediment
  4. Pour through a coffee filter
  5. Repeat the process
  6. Drink in small amounts at a time

If in a rural or third world area with shops a markedly more efficient and quicker method of purifying water is to buy readily available aluminium sulphate or alum (sometimes known as pickling powder).

Add ¼ tsp per gallon of water, wait for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. A floc will settle on the bottom and the clear water above should be decanted ready for drinking

 

Spear fishing basics

Spear fishing is an ancient craft that traditionally took place above the water surface from a boat or from a riverbank. The invention of goggles simply allows us to get a little closer.

Spear fishing is surely one of the most satisfying methods of catching food for the pot – especially so with visibility reaching 10m on the calmest of days in the surprisingly clear Hebridean waters. Unlike parts of the North Sea, which often have muddy a sea bed, the Hebridean coast is rocky and sandy resulting in pristine clear water coloured turquoise over areas of white sand.

Spearo kit

The only kit that’s required is a mask, snorkel, fins and a spear gun. Other items are useful – a wetsuit, dive weights, net bag, dive knife, dive-buoy and a dive torch. A wetsuit is pretty much a diving requirement in the UK because, as well as keeping the body warm, it helps relax the diver in the cold water so breath holds are efficient.

Scuba

It’s considered bad form to use scuba breathing gear to spear fish, as this would be a turkey shoot, so all that’s required is a little skill and a lot more practice. However, there are compromises to make – a more powerful speargun is more difficult and tiring to reload on the surface.

Bobbing

Perhaps the biggest compromise to make in choice of wetsuit. Humans are nearly neutrally buoyant making it easy for us to descend in water however the thicker a wet suit the more buoyant a diver becomes. The diver wearing a 5mm winter wetsuit with booties, hood and gloves, whilst likely feeling balmy, is as buoyant as a marsh mallow and equally as agile.

Dive weights

Such increased buoyancy can be countered with dive weights but care should be taken not to use weight excessively – although the descent will be easier, the ascent will also be more difficult. Dive weights should only be used to achieve neutral buoyancy so that positive buoyancy is achieved with a lung full of air and negative buoyancy through exhalation.

Stringer

A stringer allows spearos to keep their hands free by attaching catch to their waist and a net bag is a useful addition for holding scallop, mussels and seaweed. In warmer waters spearos tend to remove their catch from the water as blood can attract unwanted sharks to the area. here in the Hebrides such a risk is minimal.

British sharks

Although this risk is greatly reduced in British waters spearo Tim Cresswell, in his book The Three Hungry Boys, describes a six foot tope shark taking a mackerel from him whilst spearfishing off Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. As well as tope there are occasional sightings of porbeagle sharks so one can never be complacent.

Dive buoy

Not quite so dramatic but far more real is the danger of boats to divers and it is always sensible to dive with a surface marker buoy which announces a diver’s underwater location to power boats.

Watch this space for the next catch.

A very common lobster

The European lobster, also known as the common lobster, has always been a king of foods in Britain. Elsewhere however he has much been sneered at.

Originally in the States lobster was so reviled as a food it was used only for fertiliser and fish bait. Later, the lobster was catapulted to stardom in menu America due to its wide availability as a canned food deemed only fit for slaves, servants and society’s lower classes.

Very common lobster

Servants even specified in employment contracts that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than twice in any given week and, much to the displeasure of prisoners, canned lobster was a staple diet for inmates in America’s penal system.

America’s more cosmopolitan east coasters of New York and Boston gradually adopted the lobster and it rose in popularity and value from the mid 1800s onwards. He has, ever since, been on a rocket to universal stardom.

However, the lobster in America still holds an extraordinarily inverse market position where, ironically, new-shell lobsters with delicate sweet meat are cheaper than tougher and more course flavour old-shell lobsters. Whoever suggested Yanks don’t do irony?

New shell lobster

The new-shell lobsters have recently moulted and are new in their delicate paper-thin shells. They also have less meat inside them, as this young lobster has not yet grown into its skin. They are so delicate they do not travel well and only command a smaller and more local market from the harbour towns where they are brought ashore. They are delicious.

Old shell lobster

Older, or hard-shell, lobsters better survive the journey inland to Boston and New York because their shells are firmer. They travel well in their battle hardened and aged armour, stacked high and often air freighted to other countries. Here they can be sold for more because, in true American style, bigger is of course better. But the meat has a courser taste, is not as tender and not as sweet. Economics dictate they can be sold for a greater sum.

 

Shabby shack chic

The adage to only eat fish if you can see the sea could never be more apt. They say the best place to eat lobster in the states is in a Maine fishing shack. The shabbier shack the better.

At Octane we like to eat ocean-fresh* lobster from the very shore it is caught, on the day it is caught.

* the term fresh is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago your fish was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore been forced to make a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean-fresh. Simply put, it means caught same-day.

Wild garlic – foraging remote beaches and wilderness coastlines

Staffa and the Treshnish Isles are beautiful wilderness islands most notable for having no roads, no cars, a lack of traffic wardens and no trees. And wild garlic, a woodland specialist – surely not?

Wild garlic or ramsons (Allium urisinum) is a native bulb common throughout the British Isles most happy in the damp semi-shade of broadleaf woodland and hedgerows. The fresh young leaves have a strong flavour that can be used raw in salads or added as a garnish to soups, pastas or risottos and used as a flavouring herb in cooking and, apart from being a great seasoning to your food, it’s one of the most powerful sources of vitamin C found in the woods.

Gardeners will say, once rooted, the plant spreads like a plague but, if its wind-blown seeds and aggressively dividing bulbs venture too far out into an open field its lush juicy leaves will be exposed to the sun, dry out, wither and die a lonely death. It is most happy sticking together in swathes of delicate carpet-like green spearheads in the damp of shade.

How can it be, on islands with only grassland exposed to the sun and wind, infertile soil so acidic there are no protective farmers’ ditches and hedgerows and not a tree in sight?

Smelling a rat

Surprisingly wild garlic can often be found in profusion in shady areas between rocks the size of cars fallen from the cliffs above where, seemingly not much else will grow.

The garlic flower is edible and makes for a good-looking garnish addition to many dishes and the leaves can be used raw in salads or as a pungent herb in pastas. I am not aware of any other coastline-foraged food containing as much flavour as ramsons – the juicy verdant leaf packing the powerful punch.

So there is no rat to be smelled. There are no rats on Staffa or Treshnish as they would eat the puffin eggs but that’s a topic for another blog.

Positioning pots for recovering lobster

Don’t mistake this post for a rehab’s bowel care guide for partied-out crustaceans – this is a serious article about methods in catching lobster. 

There’s no substitute for a real lobster pot. Heavy, smelly and cumbersome they may be but lobsters are suspicious of the less taught netting of collapsible pots kept flat on sea kayak decks.

The thinking lobster

Although suspicion is probably one sentiment beyond a lobster’s capability they are certainly weary of the ‘give’ in the netting of collapsible creel nets and are far more comfortable with climbing inside the rigid, solid and sturdy lobster pots seen on quaysides and in commercial fishing harbours.

Lobsters come out to hunt at night and, if mouth-watering morsels are left as bait in the pot during this period, the likelihood of catching a lobster is high. The term mouth watering is, of course, relative to the likes and dislikes of Homarus gammarus – the European lobster or, as he is sometimes known, the Common lobster. His diet is different to ours.

Giddy fish

Just as humans like aged steak, lobsters go giddy for old fish. A sure way to age fish without it rotting is to place it in six inches of sea salt for a couple of weeks. The salt will draw the moisture from the flesh and stop it from rotting all the while. After this while the fish will be dried, crispy, rigid and irresistible to Homarus gammarus. 

Lurking lobster

Despite a lobster pot being heavy to manhandle and not suitable for a sea kayak it is possible at low tide to wade into the sea to place one or two over rocky or weedy ground, for this is where the loitering lobster often lurks, to be collected at the same time in the following tide-cycle. Bait the pot and secure it to the seabed by placing a couple of rocks inside. Twice the pots, double the chance. Remember, lobsters party hard at night so, just like a bailiff knocking on the door of a house the morning after an all nighter, you need to come collecting at dawn.

Law of the lobster

Before placing a pot be sure that you know the local law. Some areas allow six pots per person, others limit potting to certain months of the year and some require a licence for all potters whether for commercial use or not. Stick to the local Minimum Catch Size if you prefer to avoid pubs going silent when you enter and always return female lobsters nurturing eggs back to the water.

Pinching pots

Do be aware that lobster potting is extremely territorial and patches can be passed from father to son through generations so be sure to know the area, the people and the culture. Otherwise be prepared to have your pot pinched by an angry fisherman.

I told you this was serious.

Catching mackerel – the art of full house

A full house is a fish caught on every hook and is either a mark of the quality of the lure or the stupidity of the fish – the purpose of this exercise is to discover which.

To ensure we reveal which of these two factors a full house can correctly be attributed to we are conducting the Scottish Mackerel IQ Experiment.

Unable to measure the IQ of a mackerel through traditional methods we will attempt to catch the fish using some impressively daft lures and the success rates of each lure, when compared with other fish types, will reveal the true intelligence of the mackerel.

In order to keep Scottish Mackerel IQ Experiment data consistent, neutral and accurate the lures will be used from the same fishing mark in the Isle of Mull area two hours either side of the high tide.

Academic scrutiny

Focus groups, personal interviews and surveys have been conducted with mackerel believed to be truly representative of the population genus under study. All mackerel partaking in the Scottish Mackerel IQ Experiment lunged for lures of their own free will and were not coerced or persuaded to do so with incentives, financial or otherwise.

Mackerel electing to take part in the Scottish Mackerel IQ Experiment were in no way related to, or financially linked with, Octane’s team of researchers, statisticians, scientists or pie-chart colourers-in.

The following lures, some weird and some wonderful, will be trialled during Summer 2018:

Scottish Mackerel IQ Experiment: Lures

  1. Feather. The traditional and ever popular mackerel lure. Tried, tested and much loved by anglers the world over, mackerel feather lures come in many bright colours and sizes. Not being sure if mackerel see in colour, we prefer the startling contrast of white.
  1. Foil. Beautifully reflective and shiny, attention grabbing and irresistible to impulsive mackerel – mackerel foil lures work well in shallow waters where they glint and sparkle in the sunlight filtering through the surface. 
  1. Star Wars Stormtrooper Lego action figure. A Storm Trooper’s shiny white armour offers good protection against Jedi laser blasters but will it stop the snappy but slightly daft mouths of hungry mackerel
  1. Uniqlo UJ Jean Innovation wash label. This clean, white and reflective wash label, made from a crafted and traditional mix of Korean polyester and dralon, is sure to fox even the most judicious of mackerel. 
  1. Barclays Bank, Telford High Street cashpoint receipt. Of the purest white, bleached, 50% recycled, FSC accredited paper from sustainable Scandinavian pine forestry. Will this receipt look like a fish through the sharp discerning eye of a mackerel? 
  1. Red hot chilies. Red, hot, shiny and conical in shape, these beauties are sure to cause a stir and, if they were to swam past me whilst diving, I’d be sure to take a snappy lunge.
  2. No lure at all. Will astute mackerel simply hook themselves in a selfless attempt to skew this most scientific of experiments – or will the brainier among them attempt to promote its species for the chess champions they really are? 

Results will be made public end of the last day in autumn 2018.


Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions and, employing Octane’s Eight** methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food,ocean fresh*.

*The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught, prepared, cooked and eaten same-day.

**Octane’s Eight is our philosophy. We believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1. we line fish, 2. we lobster pot, 3. we spear fish, 4. we sea forage, 5. we land forage, 6. we stalk, 7. we seed the sea, 8. we seed the land. Why is it campers and ramblers feel so obliged to consume biltong, baked beans and instant coffee?

See ocean fresh in practice with the post ‘Drive through calamari’ – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in under an hour