We wanted to do something different for one of our best mates 40th birthday, what should we do, beers down the pub, nice meal, camping, blah blah blah… Trevor trumped us all with the stunning Hunter Gatherer Cook, in a flash we had all of the above, in one neat package, a real adventure!
The course is based just down the road from Brighton so nice and simple to get to, getting a date 6 of us could do, that was the tricky part! A few emails and several week passed until we got something firm in the diary.
The big day arrived with Oli still none the wiser as to what we were doing, we did consider kidnapping him and chucking him in the back of the car blindfolded, but it was maybe a bit OTT.
We turned up at Hunter Gatherer HQ in the pouring rain, fearing the worst we all donned waterproofs, but within minutes the weather had cleared. Nick Weston, who runs the course, gave us an introduction into the weekend and we headed out to the woods to get cracking.
Now, I have to say at this point I am more than a little squeamish, so walking into the camp unsettled me slightly. We were greeted by several dead rabbits, pigeons and an 80kg Buck hanging from the main frame.
I kept my distance, but all too soon I realised we were going to have to prepare this food and when I say prepare, I mean skin and portion.
A brew was put on and we got down to it. We split ourselves into pairs and Nick expertly showed us how to prepare the rabbit, as I say, I am somewhat squeamish so to find myself skinning a rabbit 10 mins later was somewhat of a shock, I fully expected to faint or be ill or some utter faux pas, but actually made it through with a great sense of achievement. If you are going to eat meat you should surely be comfortable with preparing it right? Well I have not even walked into butchers for years.
After the Rabbit we moved onto the Venison, now this was an altogether different ball game, this felt like dealing with something that could take me out if it wanted to, and well, had been alive. Ash (Nick’s assistant) the expert in this field, gave us the low down on the do’s and don’ts and again we were in at the deep end, experiencing what it was like to prepare a carcass.
It took a while to get through the Venison, it was quit some beast, but this meant time for our first food delight and we cut up the venison fillet, marinated it in chilli, made some skewers and on the BBQ it went. At this point Nick broke out some nettle beer, I have to say I was very impressed and will definitely be trying to make some of this in the future.
The day was pressing on and we headed out into the woods to forage for a wild salad, Nick talked us through loads of varieties of flowers, leafs and mushrooms and we soon had a basket full of ingredients to add to the meal.
Arriving back at camp we were met with rabbit pie that Ash had cooked in a dutch oven, my first ever taste of rabbit and it was damn good. Ash has also been experimenting with home brew and the ginger beer was divvied up, again a lovely drop and well worth trying at home at a later date.
After the food break, we needed to make our camp before the light was lost for the evening, so we set about building a frame against some trees and tying tarp over it, building wind breaks and filling the side and floor with bracken for insulation. Time was marching on and there was no time to reflect proudly on our home for the night. Nick helped us set up night lines for fish in the lake, showed us how to make fire the proper way (no matches) and set traps.
More food was in its way, this time the Venison (another first for me) we had prepared earlier, cooked in a fire pit for several hours, some of the most tender meat I have ever tasted. Pan fried pigeon followed on a base of puffball mushroom, collected earlier in the day, with black current sauce and wild salad.
Wow! What a day, we cracked open some beers and sat around the table reflecting on what was an extremely busy day, the temperature seemed to drop and we headed over to our home for the night and the comfort of our fire.
I think we were all pretty bushed and did not stay up long, we found out from Ash that the temperature had dropped to 2 degrees in the night and we were thankful for the fire beside us.
Morning brought yet another feast, rabbit, mushroom and truffle with scrambled eggs! Was this ever going to end?
As with all good things sadly it did, and 24 hours later, we had skinned, foraged, built and burnt our way through an amazing time, learnt so much and all left tired but buzzing from a great experience smelling of fires but with a new found respect for the animals we eat and the countryside around us.
If you fancy a great weekend away I cant recommend this enough Nick and Ash were great hosts and you can tailor the course to your wants/needs. It is quite possibly the most, fun and insightful weekend I have ever had.
You can read about Nick and his background and courses here http://huntergathercook.typepad.com/
Ash also has a great blog on life in the great outdoors here http://ashonthefire.typepad.com/
Images courtesy of Nick Weston and Neil Tugwell.