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leslie's guiding traditions

The 'picnic hike' is a traditional Guiding activity - particularly in an era before public transport, hiking was the most common way of getting from a-b in the country, and a treat was to light a fire and cook during such an expedition. Part of the 'First Class Test' for Guides for many years was to take two less experienced Guides on a hike, and cook a meal during it. Thus, hike cooking was a regularly practiced skill, and was done by lighting a small fire. 

The first task was to find a suitable site for lighting a fire, and then getting permission from the landowner to do so. Once this was done, if there was a patch of bare earth, it could be cleared and used as a site. If only a grass area was available, it would have to be 'turfed' - a sharp sheath knife used to cut down into the turf and then across, so that the grass could be lifted back, roots and all. It could either be peeled back, as shown, or the turfs could be cut off and laid aside (grass to grass and earth to earth) to replace later. As the diagram shows, the cleared area must be large enough that the earth and grass at the edges can't be singed by the fire, so that when the turfs are replaced, they will grow back quickly without leaving a trace.

Next thing to consider is your firelighting materials. You want 'punk' - natural materials you can use to get the fire started, such as birch bark, pine cones, tiny twiglets, or dry leaves.

Nowadays for adverse conditions, you can have artificial firelighting materials in your tinder box, such as tumble dryer lint, commercially produced firelighter blocks, or paper/cardboard. You can also create waterproofed matches in advance, by plunging the heads of matches in wax - or you can buy waterproof matches.

And of course, the other thing needed is wood, ideally of the right sorts. There are certain woods which are especially good for fires, the best of which is, appropriately, Ash. Other good woods for fires are Beech, Birch, Hawthorn and Oak - all of these produce wood which burns steadily, giving out a good heat.  

Then as now, before starting to build a fire, you need to collect a good woodpile. Initially, some thin sticks to catch light quickly and easily. But the main bulk of the wood of thicker sticks, at least as thick as the width of your thumb, which would burn for longer, meaning that the fire could burn steadily without requiring constant feeding, producing an even heat of the sort needed to cook food through thoroughly.

There are different ways of starting to build a fire, depending what sort of fire you are eventually going to make - and that depends on what you are planning to cook. If you are going to do baking, you want to create a bed of embers, so you might try one of the options on the left - creating a wigwam of 'punk' in the middle of the area which you can light, before building the fire around it.

If you are planning to cook in pans, either a frying pan or saucepan, you would want a fire with logs at either side, which you could balance the pan on, with the fire in the middle heating the pan from beneath - the logs also channel the breeze so as to fan the fire more and draw more heat from it, as well as allowing you to access the pans from either side, without worrying about the heat - it also lets you keep the pan handles out of the heat.  

You would coat the outside edges and the bottom of the pan with a coating of washing up liquid, which has had bathroom scouring powder sprinkled on and mixed in. This coating makes the outside of the pot very easy to clean of the soot which comes from the fire.

Once your woodpile has been built, your pans have been prepared, and your punk and kindling is laid ready to light, you can then move to light your fire. Firstly, work out whether there is a breeze - if so, position yourself with your back to it so you act as a windbreak to protect the flame of your match from being blown out. Look at your fire and plan where you are going to apply the match, so that the flame will catch on something which will light easily, and so that above that the flame will reach some fuel which can keep it going. Then when you are ready, light the match by striking it away from you. Put down the matchbox so you can use your other hand to help shelter the flame, and apply it to your first location, then once it has caught light, to another, and if time allows, a third. Then ensure that above each lit flame there is plenty of wood to catch light. As the initial punk burns through you can add one or two pieces of kindling. Once you are happy that the fire you have is going to stay lit, you can start to build the structure of your fire.

What type of fire to build, depends on what sort of planning you intend to do. If you are using pans, then you can build a Hunter's or Trapper's Fire. With this type, find two even-height logs you can balance your pans on. Line them up so that the ends of the logs are facing into the wind if there is any - that way the breeze will fan the fire between the logs, building up the heat. You will also be able to feed it from either end while the pots are in place.  

If you are baking (which nowadays would often be by means of tinfoil packets) then a Cob House fire is the best choice. You can build up it's height, so that a lot of wood burns through in a compact space, creating a large quantity of red-hot embers quickly, which are ideal for baking food.

If you have thoughts of grilling, then a Reflector fire is the ideal sort. To begin with, drive in a couple of stakes at a diagonal angle. You can then stack sticks or short logs up the sloping stakes, to create a surface which will reflect the heat of the fire back at the food. You can either 'plank' your food - attach it to a board which rests against the reflecting surface - or suspend it in front of the reflecting wall, as shown.  

Physically holding a pot over a fire long enough for food to cook isn't realistic, even if you didn't also have to allow for pan handles becoming hot. So if you don't have the means for a Hunter's or Trappers fire, you can instead use forked sticks as supports. It is worth collecting some of these whenever you come across them, and adding them to your collection ready for when you need them. Sticks in your collection can have the ends sharpened to make it easier to insert them into the ground.

Once you have done your cooking, spread your ashes, and if need be, dampen them, to help cool them down. Continue to supervise them until they are cold enough that you could hold your hand against them for a minute if you wished. Then, if they are low enough, mix them in with the earth in your cooking area, replace the turf, and pour some water on it to soak it in. If you have more embers, find an area of long grass, out of the road, where the larger pieces can be scattered. Then tidy up the ground as before. Collect up any rubbish and pack it in your bag to take to the nearest bin, or home. Once you are certain that nobody could tell that you had ever been there, leave the site neatly. If you are able to thank the landowner on the day, do so. If that isn't convenient, a short note of thanks will be well received - and will help ensure the next hiker is welcomed onto their land.

Cheese Dreams recipe (from "Camp Cooking", published by Girl Guides Association, 1979 edition).

Ingredients: slices of bread, fat for frying, cheese (cut into thin slices).

Equipment: frying pan, fish slice, plates, cheese plane (unless cheese sliced in advance).

1) Sandwich cheese between slices of dry bread, and cut into halves or quarters.

2) Heat fat until hot, then fry sandwiches on both sides until golden brown on both sides.

3) Serve immediately.

For hiking, I would be inclined to pack the sandwiches ready prepared, in a paper bag. The sandwich can go into the pan, with the paper bag being used to help light the fire.

Blackbirds (or Robins) recipe (from "Camp Cooking", published by Girl Guides Association, 1979 edition.

Ingredients: slices of bread, fat for frying, blackcurrant jam (or raspberry for Robins). If coated in batter - 100g flour, 125ml milk/water, 1 egg, pinch salt.

Equipment: frying pan, fish slice, plates, fork, knife, bowl.

1) Sandwich 2 slices of dry bread together with a generous filling of jam.

2) Cover with batter if desired (recipe below)

3) Fry in hot fat until golden brown and serve immediately.

Batter instructions - mix flour and salt in bowl, beat egg into mixture. Add milk or water gradually until a smooth batter is obtained. if possible leave to stand before use.

Pitta Pizzas

Ingredients: Pitta Bread per portion, pasta sauce, cheese, other fillings eg ham, onion, tomato, mushroom slices, etc.

Equipment: food surface, knife, tinfoil.

1) Use your knife to open up the slot in the pitta bread.

2) Into the slot add your tomato sauce, your fillings, and cheese.

3) Wrap in tinfoil, crimping at the open edge so you know which way up to cook the pizza

4) Cook in embers, crimped edge up, until the fillings are heated through.

(The pitta breads can be prepared in advance, and carried wrapped in foil)

Chocolate Orange Fondant

Ingredients: 1 large orange per person, packet chocolate sponge mixture ('just add water' version preferable to carrying eggs).

Equipment: Chopping surface, sharp knife, teaspoon each, food bag, ingredients for making up sponge mixture.

1) Use your knife to cut the top off the orange, use the spoon to scoop out and eat the insides leaving the skin intact.

2) Make up the sponge mix in the food bag, using less liquid than the packet suggests.

3) Place the orange skin on a square of tinfoil. Pour the sponge mixture into the orange skins, filling them no more than halfway. Replace the 'lids' on the oranges and draw up the tinfoil around each one, twisting at the top both to make a handle for lifting them in and out of the fire, and to clearly indicate 'this way up'.

4) Place the packages into the embers, and cook for around 10 minutes, until the sponge mixture in the middle is heated through. The mixture may still be runny in the middle. The orange from the skin will impregnate the sponge mixture with an orange flavour.