The Root Cellar Garden

The rocky hills of Trondheim, Norway were under a foot of fresh snow, and I found myself on a biodynamic veg farm filming with the Cook It Raw Norway team. I’d filmed a lot of veg farms, but none this picturesque, and certainly never in winter. Pretty tough to find something interesting to talk about on a veg farm in winter that isn’t a greenhouse – unless you’re into root cellaring.

It wasn’t long into the interview with farmer Elin before we were talking about how vegetables change in texture and flavour through the winter, and most interestingly, about the gift that are the sprouts that roots produce. Shortly thereafter we were under her beautiful european farmhouse, exploring the contents of her cellar. Despite the snow outside, she had bins of root veg, sacks of potatoes, and even some soil with chard plants growing in the dark. Fascinating. I left inspired to explore shoots more at home. But it wasn’t over. Later in the trip we’d visit a couple different extremely well respected restaurants that would present me with an elegant dish featuring only a vegetable, using the shoots as an element on the plate that used the root, usually 2 or 3 different ways. It made so much sense it hurt, and the finesse they could apply to vegetables dishes was embarrassing.

This rutabaga is from my garden. I learned in Norway that 1] they call them ‘Swede’ and 2] they don’t let them get this big, because the texture gets compromised, they’re hard to work with, and they’re just not as nice. The win. So now, when something like this emerges from the cellar, rather than the shoots being discarded, they’ll be thoughtfully dressed or otherwise prepared, and go atop or aside whatever preparation the root is destined for – offering a different texture, flavour, and experience utilizing precisely the same plant. Perhaps most beautiful of all: whatever dish that might be speaks entirely of the late cellar season, something entirely not duplicable at other times of year. So exclusively pedestrian. I adore it.

Field Kitchen Kit

Earlier in the week I was cooking a few courses of wild game with Jeff Senger for Knifewear’s annual manager’s meeting in Calgary, and I hauled along my field cookery kit – I was in a hurry and know this kit will bail me out when it’s time to feed people. It needed some repacking and restocking so I figured I’d empty it out and share a photo of what I take into the field. A breakdown:

  • THE BOX – Mine’s an open topped posh wine case [far left]. Everything fits in it. Pros: it’s the right size, and looks nice for film. Cons: it’s a bit under built (surprisingly), and there’s no top so when packing a vehicle it has to go on top of things.
  • ENAMELWARE – We’re normally a crew of 3 in From The Wild, so we carry plate/bowls, cups, and a small pot. Pros: they don’t break, look nice, and you can warm them up next to a fire to keep food hot when it’s freezing out. Cons: you have to wash them in the field. The pot top-right ended up in the kit because the solo-stove pot is only one pot, and sometimes you need to make 2 elements to a plate.
  • BLADES – the santoku on the left is my first-ever japanese knife back from when my brother lived there almost 20 years ago. If there’s one knife I have in the kitchen kit, that’s the one. I use the white knife guard on its left. The black Kurosaki knife is my default big game skinning knife – it’s often in my side bag, not the kitchen box, but it’s always in the field. The small Moritaka blade far right is my favourite prep knife at home – doesn’t always make it into the field, but often does. The hatchet. At one time I thought it useless in the bush, far too undersized. Until the day we used it to break down grouse. It’s great for all bird butchery. It’s handy when you need a cleaver for fish. It now lives in the field kitchen box.
  • FLAVOUR – I carry nalgenes of Vancouver Island sea salt, Malabar black pepper, canola oil, and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar for when something desperately needs a touch of acidity (not often found in the field). I always carry a spice blend – I have one for big game, one for waterfowl, one for white meats, some others in development. I love ‘Epices de Cru’ but in this case its my own blend in their handy tin (non-breakable). In the baggies: dried shaggy parasol caps [for when you need umami], dried garden thyme/sage/savory, and organic wheat berries from @goldforestgrain. I normally also carry lentils and wild rice – all 3 of which would be pre-seasoned into just-add-water high energy staples to go aside the ubiquitous proteins. For allium, freeze dried shallots in the jar [silk road], and some garden garlic.
  • EATING – I’m a big fan of my light weight cutlery on a carabiner, but often we’re using chopsticks. Fashioning chopsticks in the bush is fun, but when you just want to eat or are on a frozen lake, or in the grasslands, grabbing from a $1 bag of wood chopsticks and throwing them in the fire after the meal is super satisfying. They’re mixed in with some bamboo skewers, for when you need to get small bits – say mallard hearts or fish cheeks – onto the grill.
  • CLEAN UP – nalgene of dish soap, a scrub pad as things cooked over the uneven heat of wood fire can be unkind to pans and pots. A major omission from this photo that I hurriedly resolved after taking it: paper towel. Paper towel is essential. I often carry the tough blue variety, both in my kitchen kit, in my vehicle, and pretty much stash it everywhere. Also infinitely handy are wet wipes of any variety. My only criteria is that they come in a small pack [red plastic far left]. There’s also a black dish towel, that honestly, doesn’t get used a lot [paper towel], but it’s there in a pinch, and serves the useful function of preventing the solo stove and pot clanging around in the kit – annoying, and we drive a lot to locations and back.
  • SOLID FUEL STOVE – although we don’t use it all the time, the Solo Stove can be the only option much of the time. Backcountry when you want to leave no trace. When you’ve run out of propane. When you don’t want to start a campfire to boil water. When you’re on the ice. The solo stove takes wood/grass/any combustible, so you always can start a fire and cook. It’s well built [aside from the grill inside wanting to pop wires often, thankfully easily sorted out]. I normally carry a small bag inside it with birch bark and a lighter. Another omission I need to sort out. There’s also a 1L container of charcoal – this is a luxury item that stays in the kit. Sometimes wood isn’t handy, or is wet. Sometimes charcoal needs to flavour a dish. Sometimes you just want the Solo Stove to burn a long time at low heat without refuelling. Another omission is that I now have the charcoal container nested into a few other empty 1L plastic containers, with lids. Sometimes you make too much food in the field, and need somewhere to put them. Sometimes you’re butchering a fish or bird and need a container to hold pieces. Super handy.
  • PARACORD – far more handy than you’d guess. Don’t have a rotisserie? No problem, ‘a la ficelle’ it. Need a tripod to smoke or hang meat from – no problem: paracord. Butchering an animal that needs parts hunt in a tree? Need to wrap a handle on that black skinning knife? A lash on the prospector tent broke or missing? Endless.

This kit has evolved, will continue to evolve, and items are added/removed depending on the trip. But as of this week, this is where it’s at. Any must-haves you carry? Any questions about any of the kit?