Down the rabbit hole

Good news after that heatwave last week, everyone in the woodland survived the hottest U.K days on record. It was a battle keeping everyone cool, but the woodland with its leafy trees kept everyone reasonably cool.

There’s a new cockerel in town now. That brings the total to 4 cockadoodle doos. A family member contacted me after he’d been dumped in an enclosed fenced patch of green belt near her house. Fellow animal rescuers and friends Vanessa and Maria went straight over and after a bit of runaround he was eventually caught. He made his way to my woodland and to be honest he’s a lovely chap. My other cockerel Loftus ( don’t know if you remember Loftus, but he was the one who it took four months to catch in Loftus woods last year) has not been happy and has been crowing nonstop. How the neighbours haven’t complained I’ll never know. They say it’s just like background noise to them now 🫣. Anyway, this lad was found in a place called Browney Lane. I wanted to call him something similar so settled on Brawn. He was in isolation for a quite a few days and now he’s out with the rest of the gang enjoying the good life.

Brawn with his new girls.

Now this has nothing to do with the woodland but I do like to research frugal living and ways of living an off grid lifestyle. It really appeals to me to be self sufficient. I’m a vegetarian so the animals I have would be safe from being used as meat! I had toyed with the idea of buying a plot of land in Shetland and moving there. But in reality it’s probably just a pipe dream. Anyway I digress, the reason I mention this is I always fall down the Google rabbit hole and end up researching something else. For some reason I’ve been into researching what the Royal Navy sailors used to eat in the 18th and 19th century…salt beef and weevil biscuits mainly. This then somehow led onto how the American cowboys used to eat during the cattle drives of the mid 1800s. A chuckwagon seemed to be the mobile canteen for cowboys on long trails. Built by Charley Goodnight in 1866, it was originally an old army surplus wagon. He added drawers, a water barrel and Dutch oven to create this kitchen on wheels. The chuckwagon quickly caught on. The cook or Cookie was only behind the trail boss in seniority and his word was law. He’d manage to rustle up three meals a day working from the wagon. Apparently he was also a Jack of all trades and provided dentistry, veterinary services and barber services. Also probably many more….whether he was any good at such services is open to debate.

The food eaten was slightly like the Royal Navy in those times. Salted meats and hard biscuits. However, a never-ending coffee pot was always on the brew as opposed to the rum rations in the navy. Below are a couple of recipes from the American National Park Service website which includes Chuck Wagon beans and a sourdough starter. Both recipes can be found on

1 lb. dry pinto beans
Bacon or salt pork (optional)—a handful or several strips cut in small pieces 1 can tomatoes
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to your taste)
2 tablespoons chili powder
Salt to taste
1⁄2 cup rice (optional)
Pick through the beans to remove rocks or dirt then wash in cold water; at this point the beans should be in a pot for cooking. Cover the beans with water; the water should be two knuckles above the beans. Some let the beans soak overnight then cook them, while others cook the beans without the soaking. Cook the beans until they are soft, if salt pork is used, put it in with the beans at this time—anywhere from 1 1⁄2 to 2 1⁄2 hours—then add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil then simmer for 30 to 40 minutes for the flavors to blend.
For a bigger crowd, you can use 2 lbs. beans and increase the other ingredients to suit your taste.

Hundreds of recipes for sourdough starters exist and all are wonderful to work with. For our purpose, a simple recipe is to take 2 cups flour, 2 cups warm water, 1⁄4 cup sugar, and stir together. Set the mixture in a warm corner and stir daily for 4 to 5 days. The mixture will bubble and double in size as it ferments; it will produce a strong odor. If the mixture is not stirred or used for several days, a dark liquid will form on top—this is known as hooch, and is a alcohol, drunk by many of the old miners—but the mixture will become fresh again by simply stirring and possibly adding a small amount of flour and water.
The thing to remember about using sourdough is when some of the starter is removed to make biscuits, replace the amount taken out with the same amount of flour and water. For instance, if 1 cup of starter is removed, then put 1 cup flour and 1 cup water in with the starter in the crock.
2 cups flour
1⁄4 cup butter or shortening 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 to 2 cups starter
Place the flour in a mixing bowl, add the soda, baking powder, salt, and butter—the butter or shortening can be melted and stirred into the dry ingredients or added cold then cut into the flour mixture with knives or fingers until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Finally add the starter—if it is liquid enough the starter will serve to form a soft ball of dough. Break the dough in small balls about the size of eggs and place in a warm Dutch oven with melted butter, flatten the dough to biscuit size. Cover the Dutch oven and let stand for about 10 minutes before baking.

Now sourdough starters are interesting in themselves as some bakers stated that they have been keeping certain types of sourdough starter alive for decades! Down the sourdough rabbit hole I shall now go….

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