Outdoor Cooking and Coping with the Seasonal Glut

Trish MacCurrach
Wednesday, 4th August 2010

Preserving your harvest... and doing so outdoors over a fire. What could be better? Trish MacCurrach explains how

Trish MacCurrach, an experienced year-round outdoor cook, spends much of this time of year thinking up new vegetable recipes for the Kotlich (a wood-fired Eastern European hanging cooking pan) and new places to take it to cook.

The greenery in my vegetable patch is positively jungle-like. Despite the lack of rain, ‘mange tout’ and broad beans are cropping well and the leafy vegetables are positively abundant. Pumpkins, gourds and courgettes are very slow, but we have had some tasty root veg this week. So if, like me, you have a very small deep freeze, what will you do? No doubt you will give some things away or swap them for something you want (and it is worth contemplating a time when we don't have deep freezes because they are too expensive on energy to run). Think creatively: bottle, preserve, pickle, dry and think up some new recipes.

fresh+veg.jpg

I have a passion for making things out of a hotchpotch of leftovers and for doing this out of doors, over a fire, in my Kotlich. I became an avid outdoor cook while working in Serbia for several years, where, in the villages, most of the summer months are spent preparing for winter. The Kotlich is a common sight and the most usual dish to be found cooking in it is Riblja Chorba (fish soup).

mange+tout.jpgOne trick is to use your abundant harvest as it appears and not to save it all until everything is ripe at the same time. I throw a handful of mange tout into many different dishes at the last minute. If cooked briefly they retain their lovely florescent green colour and add crunch and sweetness to any soup, stew or stir-fry. Spinach or sea kale, baby carrots and mini broad beans can be added to any dish as it finishes cooking. This time of year presents the perfect opportunity for making Beetroot Leaf Soup. Don't throw the leaves on the compost heap when you pull your beetroot, instead cut them off about 2cm from the root and cook briefly, with a couple of cloves of garlic (if you like), a small chopped onion, liquid (water or stock) and then whiz it up. It is smooth and creamy and quite lovely.

chopping+board.jpgI have just had a brilliant outdoor cooking session using a variety of vegetables. It turned out to be Creamy Summer Soup. First, gather wood. We regularly carry wood back with us when we go for walks so we have quite a good pile of small pieces. Second, light your fire. Thirdly hang the Kotlich over the fire with the first ingredients in it. Fourthly stir regularly, and don't let the ingredients become dry. This soup/vegetable stew consists of just about anything you have in the garden – except dark green leaves. Finely cube four new potatoes, cover with water and a good slurp of olive oil. When they are cooked add baby carrots, topping up a little with water again to keep them covered. After a few minutes add broad beans, peas, and courgettes if you have them, and cover again with a little more water. Add salt and pepper and half a teaspoon full of dried crushed (not powdered) paprika. Chop fresh herbs for the garnish. At the end add the mange tout, and half a cup of cream. Sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, croutons if you have some and maybe crispy fried bacon – or serve with hunks of fresh bread. This is really quick and easy and each mouthful is like an explosion of tastes. Adding chunks of cooked smoked fish or cooked gammon in the last stages easily bulks this recipe up. Jam.jpg

We should all be saving at least one day a month, if not two, for preserving. Jam making is a favourite, half the fun is adding impromptu ingredients – things you have too much of. We have made Rhubarb and Ginger, Gooseberry, Strawberry and Raspberry jam all sourced from a pick-your-own just down the road. It is important to get the proportions right, as I have often discovered to my cost...

For jams:

  • 1lb fruit
  • 1lb sugar

For jellies:

  • 1lb juice
  • 1pt sugar

Very soon the hedgerows will be heavy with blackberries, followed by Rowanberries and hopefully lots of windfalls. In our neglected orchard in Serbia there were three cherry trees, apples, plums, an apricot and four walnuts. I learnt during my time there how to bottle fruit – and it seems extraordinarily simple. These are the instructions I followed successfully – but I am still a little afraid of explosions! A wooden slatted tray in the bottom of the saucepan gives me more confidence.

  • Prepare the fruit, peel, and chop if necessary into small pieces.
  • Wash and dry jars with fitting lids.
  • Gather together a bag of sugar, a spoon, slices of lemon or ginger and a jug of water.
  • Pack the prepared fruit into jars to the neck, adding either a little of the ginger or sliced lemon in layers, cover with water to the top (does not have to be boiling), add 2-3 spoonfuls of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.
  • Close the lid tightly and stand in a saucepan with 2-3 other prepared jars.
  • Bring to a steady boil, place the saucepan lid on, and when fruit floats to the top of each jar it is done.
  • Cherries are very quick (6-8 minutes), but larger pieces of apple, pear or quince may take up to 15 minutes or more.

Using oven gloves, remove saucepan off the heat. Lift jars out of hot water. Place the jars on a wooden board and wrap in a thick towel so they can cool down slowly. I have seen people doing this with all types of fruit, including apricots and peaches. They often added home brewed brandy to these more precious and less abundant fruits. We should already have gathered elder and lime flowers to dry for tea. We still have time to dry lemon balm, mint and achillea. (The last is drunk with blobs of honey and great enthusiasm to cure flu like symptoms.) Pick with long stalks if possible and hang in bundles out of the sun and in the wind. When they are dry and crinkly pack into jam jars. They make very warming teas for the winter with honey and a pinch of cinnamon. walnuts.jpgFor me Kotlich cooking combines several key elements: being outside, growing and preparing really fresh food and using less energy. I am literally ‘cooking off grid’. I love the excuse to get into the woods to search for fuel. I love food for free and I will preserve anything I can.

The 8lt Kotlich with a 120cm tripod is available from The Green Shopping Catalogue. The Kotlich is double dipped enamel, with a black outside which never needs washing. The inside is an attractive, easy to clean mottled grey. It is light enough to carry on an escapade but not so light that everything burns easily. The tripod is black painted twisted wrought iron with a hook and chain for attaching to the Kotlich. The handle stays cool throughout the cooking process so you can grasp it and adjust the height of the Kotlich at any time. Trish happily demonstrates ‘Kotlich Cooking’ at fairs and has even been a 'cafe' at a small green festival.

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