Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Lazy man bone stock and Pemmican

The health benefits of bone broths have been known for millennia and are one of the main elements of a healthy omnivorous diet. Bones are amazingly cheap I buy them from my butcher and get bags for two or so pounds (£). I personally am absolutely disgusted by waste really of any kind but especially food. I use the bones of everything I eat for stocks and then use the bones for fertilizer or at least use them in my green cone, nothing gets thrown on a landfill.

 50% of food waste in the UK comes from households, which is truly amazing as supermarkets reject or discard tonnes of food. Fruit and vegetables are the main items thrown out probably as meat freezes well. I don't know if bones count as food for the purposes of these statistics or whether the criminal waste of trimmed fat is accounted for either. The amount of wasted food is likely to be an underestimate.

Sawn Marrow bones (add saw dust)
 Bone broths are a power house of nutrients, "calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, in forms that your body can easily absorb. It’s also rich in glycine and proline, amino acids not found in significant amounts in muscle meat (the vast majority of the meat we consume). It also contains chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine...... Finally, “soup bones” include collagen, a protein found in connective tissue of vertebrate animals, which is abundant in bone, marrow, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.  (The breakdown of collagen in bone broths is what produces gelatin.) From the whole 9 site. I use broths as a drink/soup lovely with onions but they also work very well added to chillis and other "sloppier" foods. They add a real richness which is not overpowering.
 The following is my lazy version, I personally don't add vegetable to the mix as I don't think they are required, I have quite simple tastes but also use the stock as a base to which I can add flavours as required. I also live in an old house with the typical Victorian single skin brick kitchen. Boiling food for hours is a recipe to loose plaster and creates a mould paradise to say nothing of the utility bill.
seperate marrow
 I use lamb bones usually. Grass fed livestock is not really found outside of mail-order specialists in the UK. The EU has far more stringent rules about agricultural methods and much of the fear of standard grade beef on paleo sites reflects US practices in husbandry. I have quite a few friends who rear sheep commercially.  Conventional lamb is rarely fed much beyond grass, hay or silage unless the pasture is especially poor lambs rarely see vets either. I have to admit, much as I like the idea of grass fed meat there is not much in the way of studies to base the enormous faith Paleos have in it. Lamb and beef have so little Polyunsaturated fat that it doesn't seem to be much to worry about.
 For this article I have used deer bones. First I cut all significant marrow bearing bones in half with a clean hacksaw and cover them in the pot with good quality water (I don't drink or cook with tap water though Sussex water is not fluoridated). When the plawhatch spring is running I use that. I run the stock pot for about 12-16 hrs starting in the afternoon. I run it on high until I go to bed then let it cook on low overnight. This takes advantage of the cheaper electricity rate. I experimented with vinegar for this batch. It stank to high heaven and I believe adversely affected the taste of the stock. It seemed to make no difference to the de-mineralization. I switch off the stock when I get up. The bones should be noticeably weaker, even crumbling in the hand. Wild deer bones are very strong and they won't crumble however they look pitted and weakened which is what you are after.
 If I have used small animals, ribs or vertebrae I will strain the mixture off into another bowl to catch the small throat-blocking bones. I usually throw the solids I have strained off to my chickens though the meat could be added back to the stock. I set the stock too cool. I usually seperate the marrow fat from the stock it will just slide out of the bones now.
Jelly like
Fat for removal
 Lamb stock used straight from the pot is forbiddingly rich. When the stock has cooled a layer of fat will form like ice on the surface. I take this fat off; it can be used for cooking. I also refrigerate the stock mixture. It will set like jelly which is great fun and like crumbling bones is a good indicator of the nutrient richness of the stock. I don't like to cook the fat in the stock as it can be too rich, it is very simple then to add the separated fat or marrow to the stock.

  Pemmican is of course the food of Polar explorers and Plains Indians similar in taste to corned beef. I use my own jerky which I have been making for years. Commercial Jerky is little more than meat based candy. Pemmican is THE trail food par excellence I use it as a snack on all my hikes now and for a day working in the orchard or woods. It was used extensively by Native Americans and early Whites in North America. Almost certainly made by Ice age Europeans knowledge and use of this food did not survive in later cultures who used differing preservation methods. I find deer jerky is quite a bit harder to eat than beef, I don't know about bison, the owner of a British bison farm was pretty adamant that there was hardly any fat at all in her farmed bison so I haven't pursued that path. Maybe "imagininghead smashed in" will get me all inspired.
 Jerky does not last at all long in my house, my wife and I are jerky fanatics. The leanness of meat is therefore not too important as the fat does not have long enough to go rancid. South African biltong is fatty. Top rump, top side silverside or any other lean cut of beef will do. I like Brisket as the fat for us is not a problem I don’t know about the tougher cuts like shin or skirt Buttock steak is fine too. If I use beef I wait for offers at the local supermarket. Lamb is cut too small for use really and is also pretty fatty. Deer is expensive and again cut small. I use deer I have butchered and use the top rump as this is a substantial and solid cut.
 I freeze the meat then cut into strips as it is defrosting, this helps get the meat nice and thin and freezing it kills off anything in the meat (good for road kill deer) though this is not necessary. For this batch I pounded the meat which got it really thin and decreased the drying time. Like stock I prefer not to add anything to jerky but rubbed this meat with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper which was really quite good.
 I use my oven to make jerky. I place the strips of meat on skewers and then suspend them from the top rack of a low oven 50C or lower, the fan helps dry the meat. I keep the door propped open with a stick, you want the meat to dry not cook, cooked meat will spoil. Usually I have managed to do this overnight but last time was woken by the fire alarm.......reduced cooking times thanks to the pounding now mean this is a day time endeavor. The jerky is done when it is firm flexible and doesn't break.
powdered jerky
 For the pemmican I use fat I have rendered my self, usually lamb fat from the cavity of the animal deer fat is indistinguishable from lamb it is also possible to use commercial beef dripping. Butter is too rich and lard won’t work either.  Lamb/deer fat is harder than beef. I suspect Icelandic smoked lamb fat would make a delicious contribution. How fat was rendered without pots is a mystery to me, hide cauldrons is a possibility. Sorry there are no images for fat rendering I plan to do this presently. Fat is basically free from a local butcher and I get so much I have had to turn it into lamps and candles.
In tins
 Pemmican is then chopped and pounded into a powder this over-cooked jerky was especially easy to do. I do this in a food processor. I mix it with the fat in a bowl and then use a cake tin to set the pemmican in, a fridge will speed things up fat can be pored over the pemmican to seal it if required or for a really traditional style pemmican can be stored in raw hide parfleche pouches....The cake tin means you get convenient "meatscits" which are perfect for storage and carrying and for not attracting attention to your mad eating habits. .
 I am not entirely sure about adding dried fruit it may well have been done by the Indians and was certainly done by one of my heroes, Amundsen. Berries do increase the chance of spoilage.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Drinking and Longevity

I think it was last year that I broke an over eight year dry spell, I gave up drinking mostly for social reasons. I never had an occasional glass as I never especially cared for the taste of alcohol and in fact was a bad drinker in that being quite shy would drink at social occasions. The Spartans had a means of scaring young Spartiates from getting drunk by forcing Helots (slaves or serfs) to get paraletically drunk and then introducing the wretch to the Spartiates. Without wanting to be rude watching salary men going home to their wives on Tokyo trains had much the same effect.
 Not drinking was actually quite easy and in fact occasionally  walking home through British streets late on a weekend night had much the same affect as Japanese businessmen. Also the culture in the fencing community I was part of  was one of quite immoderate use of alcohol, which further had the affect of making my teetotal stance seem wise.
 My wife was never entirely pleased about my not drinking of course it limited my social life and if you don't drink pubs become most unwelcome places to go, weddings become interminable and in fact you start to realise how much dross and dullness is propped up by alcohol.
"You've got antifreeze!"
Moreover people who are drunk are excruciating and more than a little dangerous.
 Something must have changed in me though as I started drinking beer (ales) again, cider, mead and other goodies including my favourite, whiskey. I blame Vitalis! After watching one of his videos about traditional people's alcohol consumption I decided to buy a cider. My first drink in over 8 years left me ready to die I felt dreadful. Somehow over the months I found myself drinking again though, not much in fact I rationalised that I was drinking for the sake of my health, teetotalers suffering from poorer health outcomes.
Add caption
 Ancestrally alcohol has a very long association with humanity perhaps right back to the origins of farming, if you can make bread making beer is a doddle. The Hadza made an alcohol from honey and wild fruit can ferment on the ground. Elephants and monkeys have been known to seek out this natural cider to get drunk. It has been suggested that the vegetable residue found on Neanderthal teeth and at sites like Shanidar in Iraq was from alcoholic porridges. Hallucinogens are also taken by any tribes that live with them in their locale, indeed reindeer seek out fly agarics and get "high". Far from recreational such use is often an elaborate aspeect of the culture and part of lengthy and safe ritual practice. It does seem that "getting out of it" is quite normal for humans and other animals. Natural does not mean ethical and cannot be taken to mean safe. Native Americans also used tobacco and few would argue that tobacco is safe, though interestingly they (like many traditional peoples) apparently managed to use the plant without the cancerous effect it has had on the rest of the world.
 Ancestral habit cannot be used to justify behaviours in the modern world "paleo" if that word means anything anymore is a framework not a dogma.
  I never cared for cider but like mead a lot, however much of what is sold as "mead" in Britain is actually honey flavoured wine. If you want mead check with the maker to check that that is what you are getting.  What I ended up drinking was ale, from the incredible and wonderful selection of ales Britain has. In fact real ale might (does) represent England's greatest contribution to the world. My Christmas intake while far from excessive has left me considering how useful alcohol is in a health strategy, staying moderate with whisky is impossible. I have been looking on this 6 month period as a bit of an experiment. In addition to any hormonal effects the calorie content of ale has certainly led to what I might call a "softening" of the middle. "Evidence" for positive effects of alcohol consumption are completely mired in epidemiology. Given that "we" don't accept this non-science when its practitioners find red meat, saturated fat, big feet or grey hair guilty of killing us dead and blowing up our favourite chair why on earth would we accept epidemiological claims that one drink a day is optimal?
 This "study" is one of my favourites and is pretty much representative. In it we find that teetotalers, who also cannot walk a few miles, can't make their own dinner, can't wash themselves etc die at a younger age than those who drink......! Do not fear even when adjusted the figures still showed that moderate alcohol consumption was healthy. Of course they adjusted for smoking obesity etc not the inability to a walk a mile or do the washing up!
"If I can't do this I'll die at 35"
 I believe despite the reservatrol fraud that there is some evidence that red wine is healthy in moderate amounts but I think I have taken this foray into the world of alcohol far enough. The health benefits if indeed they exist appear to be small and the financial cost and potential downsides of very easily over consumed calories, carbs and potential manboobs (I can't stand wine) tip the balance in favour of abstinence. Especially when coupled with the social consequences of alcohol including the ability to enjoy weddings.
 Of course giving up alcohol in Japan was fairly easy I was keen not to screw things up with my (now) wife and Japanese alcoholic drinks were not as enjoyable as English ales or mead. Much like occasional sparring occasional drinking is not especially wise as the immediate consequences of alcohol can be undignified. Hopefully stopping drinking won’t mean I will suddenly become unable to do the washing up……here’s hoping!
 (be warned there is strong language in the video!)

                                             Slainte Math!