Fish and Fires

I love being a scout leader. I love being outside with the scouts and cubs, seeing them do things that kids don’t easily get the chance to do. They get to read maps, use knives, build fires, build shelters and learn first aid. They learn teamwork and how to assess risks. They get muddy, they get wet and loads of fresh air.

Sometimes my scouting skills collide with my love of all things food. Scouts like to build fires and they like to eat. They like to eat things they have cooked most of all and if that can be over a fire so much the better.

Lockdown situations around the world is making it very hard to make these things happen. Lots of families stuck at home running out of activities to do. If you have a fire pit or an old BBQ in your garden or a bit of space where you could build a fire on the ground, you can have a go at some survival skills. Watch this video for some tips on lighting fires safely. Have a bucket of water close to hand and stay safe. A tiny fire on a square of aluminium foil is enough to toast a marshmallow over but allows you to try out some fire lighting skills in a pretty small space.

Building and cooking on a real fire can be a challenging task in winter. If you are lighting the fire with a flint and steel, coaxing wet wood to burn and to cook with either no utensils or only some foil is exciting but also requires persistence and patience. The promise of campfire pizzas really inspires kids to keep on with getting that fire to a point that cooking something is possible. A fire on on a cold winters day is particularly enjoyable.

Campfire pizzas are something you can easily do in a garden fire pit or on a barbecue. Fill a pitta or wrap with pizza toppings – a squirt of tomato pasta sauce from a tube, plenty of grated cheese and then any veg or sliced meat that you like – wrap it well in foil. Put the parcel into hot embers and cook for 10 minutes or so until the cheese is melted and gooey. Care and supervision retrieving the parcel is important to avoid burnt fingers. Having some BBQ tongs around as an rescue measure is a good idea.

What is even more exciting is being given a food that could have been caught in a wilderness situation and to cook it with nothing but a stick. We have given scouts fish from the market that had yet to be gutted.

They had to learn how to gut the fish and then skewer it on a prepared stick to cook over the fire. Some were a little disgusted by it, others nervous of gutting the fish and others clamouring to have a go. They all had a sense of real achievement when they tucked into the fish they had successfully gutted, prepared and cooked over the fire.

What a way to show them how their breaded fish started out. That it was a living thing. That someone gutted it and skinned it before it was put into a box. They saw food in its most natural state, the messy and very real process of getting it ready to eat, the connection between nature and feeding ourselves.

But if gutting and skewering a fish is a step too far, slitting a banana and stuffing chocolate into the skin to then bake in the embers is very satisfying. Or simple damper dough wrapped around a stick, cooked over the flames and then smothered in jam or Nutella is loads of fun. Choose a green stick and strip of the bark before you use it. Take the traditional damper twists a level up with this recipe.

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So if you are lucky enough to have the space to build a fire and access to wood then get some scouting skills going on in your back garden. There are lots of bush craft websites and campfire cooking sites on the internet. Stay safe and take care. Be really clear with your children what you can and can’t do near a fire, make sure you really have a safe space before you start. If you can’t have a proper fire then these things can all be done over regular barbecue coals too.

And if you have no space then try making a mini stove from a tin can. You may not be able to cook a fish on a stick over it but you can certainly boil some water, cook some pancakes – a survival skill for a more urban situation!

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