The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild - Dave Canterbury (2016)

Part II. Bushcraft Cooking Methods

Chapter 9. Quick Bush Tools

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

—Henry David Thoreau

Many quick tools and apparatus can be fashioned from wood if you understand simple notches, knots, and lashings. Many hooks and suspension devices can be used for holding a pot above a fire from a crossbar, galley pole, or tripod. Simple toggles are amazing tools and very versatile in camp cooking as well. Quick gambrels (a bar for hanging carcasses) can be made for aid in skinning game, and simple cooking devices as well as ovens can be fashioned from wood and stone.

Pot Crane

To hang a pot, you can create a makeshift pot crane by taking a strong green sapling and laying it at an angle to a rock or log, and driving one end into the ground. Notch the other end to hold the pot over the fire. This will suffice for any one-pot meal. See Figure 9.1.

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Figure 9.1 Pot crane

Galley Pole and Rotisserie

A simple galley pole and rotisserie are easy to make. Cut two green, forked saplings to the same length, about 3–4' long. Hammer the non-forked end of each post into the ground on opposite sides of the fire pit. Use a simple crossbar made from another sapling to hang a pot over the fire. You can use a couple of notched hooks (metal ones if you prefer) to adjust the height of the pot.

When choosing forked wood, do not use Y-shaped branches, as these will normally split when pounded. Instead use a fork that is caused by a branch growing out at an angle from the tree or larger branch.

If a rotisserie (a spit that turns) is needed, find another fork. This one can be an actual Y branch that is green and long enough to reach both upright posts. See Figure 9.2.

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Figure 9.2 Improvised rotisserie


Tripods are one of the most useful items one can fashion and can be adapted to create many ways of cooking in camp. Saplings of green hardwood will serve best. Take three similar-sized saplings and lash them together. These can be lashed with a tripod lash, or a simple metal ring can be carried to make things even simpler. See Figure 9.3.

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Figure 9.3 Cooking tripod

The Canterbury Camp Citchen

A camp kitchen can be built easily enough from a tripod structure. You can make it as simple as a hanging pot over the fire or as elaborate as a smoking rack or roasting grid. To build the multifunctional kitchen setup that I have coined the Canterbury Camp Citchen, we start with a basic tripod. Then add three short forks lashed about mid-height, one to each leg. The last fork at the apex of the triangle should be lashed facing inward with the other two to the outside. Add three sticks for cross members that can be easily removed when not being used.

On the front or open side of the tripod, the cross-stick should be a bit longer than the other two so that utensils can be hung out of the way of the cooking but handy when needed. If a rack is needed you can now cut and notch simple cross members to fill in this triangle. These also can be removed when not in use.

From the center of the tripod, build an adjustable trammel (hook mechanism) of cord and a notched stick. You can add or remove this depending on the cooking style for that meal. Several hooks should be created for the longest cross-stick for hanging more than one cooking container over the fire as well.

The utility of a tripod cannot be overstated as it is easily adjusted both in span and axis to adjust things over and closer or farther away from the fire using a trammel or hooks for micro adjustments. See Figure 9.4 for a closer look at the adjustable trammel.

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Figure 9.4 Adjustable trammel

If you want to use this for baking or smoking, an emergency space blanket wrapped around the outside of the tripod, reflective side in, works a treat.

Raised Hearth

If you desire a more permanent solution that can be very comfortable to cook on and works well in areas of fire danger you can build a fire altar or raised hearth. This is accomplished with natural materials by building a log box about 40" high and rectangular in shape about 3' × 4'. Fill the inside with dirt and build the fire on the top. Forks and uprights with galley poles can be added for hanging pots over the fire as well. This makes for a comfortable cook setup, and things like clay ovens can be built to one side easy enough for long-term use. See Figure 9.5.

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Figure 9.5 Altar kitchen

Other Field Expedient Containers and Cook Pots

It is fairly easy to make a cook set from simple food cans after they are emptied. You can make a cooking pot just by using a can opener! A #10 can (such as a coffee can) makes a great cook pot especially if a bail is added made from bailing or trapping wire. See Figure 9.6.

You can fashion a cup out of a smaller soup-sized can. A plastic soda bottle will fit inside this for a canteen. A heavier Gatorade-type bottle can fit in a slightly larger stew can. You can wrap wire around the smaller can to create a handle and punch holes in the #10 for a bail wire. If you add a stew can with a tuna can upside down, you have a lid for a smaller pot as well, and if you feel the need for a skillet, a dollar-store pie pan will suffice well. Use a pair of cheap pliers as a handle. This skillet can double as a plate.

A folded sheet of heavy tinfoil for roasting envelopes would round this out nicely for easy cooking on a budget or for a school project.

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Figure 9.6 Tin can cookware

Other Unconventional Cookware

There are lots of things we can use to cook with that we don’t consider most of the time. Dog bowls, for example, can be found in a variety of sizes and depths in stainless steel and are very inexpensive. These make great pans when coupled with pliers for a handle. Two of these stacked opposite and connected with metal binder clips make a great little baker, and since they nest inside each other that makes it an easy carry for sure.

Gold pans (which have deep sides) are still available in steel. They also make good skillets and plates and become multifunctional depending on your activity in the outdoors. I have cooked everything in a gold pan from fish to baked beans.

Hubcaps, in an emergency, can be used for boiling water or cooking once they are cleaned out well, provided they are metal.

Clay Oven

To make a clay oven you need some decent clay that is fairly clean. Good places to look for this are around creek banks in many parts of the eastern woodlands. Collect a couple of 5-gallon buckets full of clay and take them back to camp. If you want to make pots or vessels for cooking, the clay will need to be cleaned and then mixed with a binder like cattail fluff or sand. If you are making an oven, you can pretty much use it as is.

On a flat surface, build up a mound of damp soil the size you want the inside of the oven to be, then cover this with clay about 1⁄2" thick all the way around the dome. In an hour or so on a good sunny day the clay will be hard enough so you can carve and remove an opening in the front and a chimney or draft hole in the top about 2–4" in diameter.

Leave the rest to dry in the sun a couple of days until the exterior feels hard, then carefully dig out the dirt from the inside and build a small fire within the oven. Gradually build the fire up to fire the inside of the oven. If all goes well, you can cook in the oven by spreading hot coals to the side and placing food to cook in the center. See Figure 9.7.

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Figure 9.7 Clay oven

Bushcraft Tip

You can also use clay to cook small mammals, fish, and birds. Gut the game item first and cut off head and feet. There is no need to skin or pluck it. Instead of wrapping it in foil, mold clay around the game completely (no scales, fur, or feathers should show). Then place it in the coals to cook. When the clay hardens, break it and pull it away from the game item. (Cooking time varies, but expect it to take an hour or so.) Feathers, scales, fur, and other inedible parts come away with the clay.

Items Needed to Process Food

We’ve discussed the equipment you will need for cooking and eating your meals but we haven’t yet discussed the tools you will need to process the food. We must always consider cutting tools that will be needed for the task since these are less likely to be something you can just knock together on the spot. You want to consider bringing or packing them in.

·        Knife: You will undoubtedly have some type of knife with you. I always prefer a butchering-style blade for a sheath knife. If you have a good stout belt knife, you have an advantage for processing food.

·        Ulu knife: Another good tool to throw in the pack is the hash knife or ulu. The curved blade on this knife comes in real handy for everything from dicing veggies to skinning game. They are usually lightweight as well.

·        Axe or hatchet: Your axe or hatchet, as well as the saw you carry, can help with big-game processing.

·        Saw: Many folding bucksaws have options of a bone-cutting blade, but a hacksaw will work fine. A 12" tubular bucksaw works well for processing wood and is easy to get hacksaw blades to fit, making it a more versatile tool around camp. Bahco makes a 12" saw that can be purchased with both a green wood and hacksaw blade in one package. The best thing about tubular frames is they are near indestructible if you can pack them in.

·        Pliers: A good pair of old fencing pliers is most always in my kit. They can be used to skin a catfish, strip the tailbone from an animal, or lift a pot lid from a Dutch oven. They also make something great for grabbing the bail of a hot pot when removing it from the fire and carrying it to where food is served.

·        Measuring tools: A couple of measuring devices will help and can be improvised by marking measurements on your camp cup and making your eating spoon about a tablespoon in size.

Metal Cooking Apparatus

If you have a permanent camp or have conveyance, you may choose to carry metal or forged cooking apparatus. If you are packing fairly light, you can still carry some steel. Some of these items can save aggravation and time, making camp life more enjoyable as well.

Fire Irons

While two green logs of similar diameter make a fine temporary placement for pots and pans with a fire built between, fire irons make life much more tolerable and weigh only 2 pounds. These are flat irons made from metal stock about 1.5" wide and 24" long. They can be placed on logs or rocks with fire underneath and are adjustable to accommodate different pans and pots. Because they are flat steel they are long-lasting and easy enough to straighten in case they get bent. See Figure 9.8.

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Figure 9.8 Fire irons

Chains and Trammels

One thing that can make life much easier and make you feel safer in the long run if you don’t have as much experience with carving wood implements is to carry a light chain with a hook on each end, running about 18–24" long. This can serve the function of adjusting pots over the fire whether from a tripod or a galley pole.

Trammels are another item that make small adjustments possible. You can easily fashion them with light chain and a straight rod bent at 90° on the top 1⁄2". Shape a hook to hold a pot on the bottom. The hook can be slid up the chain through the bottom link and then hooked at various intervals in the hanging chain to adjust at one-link increments the length of the trammel.

Tips and Tricks

·        Utensils and tools need be nothing more than from the kitchen drawer or a Goodwill shop and can be had for very little. These can be heated in the fire and bent for packability if necessary.

·        Forged cook systems can be made or bought depending how handy you are and whether you have the necessary equipment. You can buy these at various wilderness outfitters.

·        Skewer cooking doesn’t have to be fancy. If you can shove a sharp stick into it and hold it over the fire, there’s no need for complicated equipment.

·        Cooking irons can still be found secondhand and can be used to make hot sandwiches, pies, and other treats.

·        Tripods can be used to increase the amount of cooking area you have. One dish can be cooking suspended from the tripod while another cooks in a skillet or in a foil-wrapped packet on the coals below.

·        Tripods can also be used for other camp chores. A rope strung between two tripods makes a handy clothesline.