Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Friction Fire with Conifers?

Last weekend I (Wes from Earth Connection – North Carolina) and my daughter (age 11) headed into the mountains of NC where I have a cabin for some cold weather friction fire training. My original idea was to try out three types of conifers, found almost everywhere here, as friction fire components; boards, spindles, and hand-holds.

“Conifers?” you say… Well, I know they are not the normal choice for friction fire kits because of the resins in the wood, but what if it is all you got? The three trees species I was planning to work with on this trip were the Carolina Hemlock, Eastern Hemlock and the White Pine that are indigenous to the higher elevations in the north western part of NC.

As I got closer to the mountains the temperature dropped to a frigid 13 and there was a slight wind that brought frigid down to bone chilling. Six inches of snow still covered the ground from precipitation earlier that week. I took a two-mile hike into the mountain woods and along the way I gathered my materials.

I decided early on to go without gloves to simulate a potential survival scenario and test myself. It’s so much harder to grab and hold on to things when your hands are affected by the cold. I remember Tim’s MacWelch’s class on hypothermia and performed the hypotheria check--tapping a one handed tune between fingers and thumb… yup, no problem. I remember as a kid coming in after playing hard for hours in the snow that I couldn’t unzip my own jacket. Tim says, “that the first sign of encroaching hypothermia is loss of dexterity in your hands along with shivering.” I wasn't shivering, but still I was cold.

As I gathered my friction fire kit materials I also gathered my tinder and kindling giving me lots of stuff to hold that kept my hands out of my warm pockets. My daughter was very helpful in finding and gathering and preparing the tinder bundle that ended up working perfectly. After about one and half hours of collecting we returned to the cabin to begin the friction fire experiments with the three types of conifers. My hands and fingers were mostly numb by then making this exercise most difficult. The only tool I used to make the kit was a small Swiss army knife that I carry on me at all times.

I spent about half an hour making a few boards and spindles with cold numb hands before beginning to spin with my ready-made bow. I was surprised with the results. I was successful at making a coal and blowing into flame using both types of Hemlock as either board or spindle. However, the White Pine was not much of a success. My observation is that the Hemlocks have far less pitch than the White Pine affecting coal creation.

My daughter also gave the bow drill kit a go, but all she was able to get was smoke... no coal formed. I think she had only hot chocolate on her mind, and to be honest, I did too; my hands were freezing by this point. Time for cocoa.

Learning note for the friction fire crew: You should try all different types of wood as various parts of your friction kit and have your own database on available wood material that work in your area. Or, as I like to call them, my “Go-To” wood. In addition, try your skills in adverse conditions because if you are ever in a survival situation it will probably not be 75 degrees and sunny. Oh, and have the hot chocolate already brewing on the stove before you get started. ;-)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wild Oyster Mushroom Soup

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) usually appear in a cascading shelf from the surface of dead hardwood trees after the first rains of the fall season. I was lucky to have found a small crop growing from a small fruit tree stump near my home in Baltimore. I immediately snarfed them up into the plastic bag I had in my pocket that was originally intended for cleaning up after the dog. Someone else had to deal with the dog pile that day. I admired the mushroom up close and smelled them to be absolutely positive that it was an Oyster Mushroom. Yup, there was the slightly delicate asian aroma of what some describe as anise that is typical of this mushroom. I’m off to make lunch!

The Oyster cap is, not surprisingly, oyster or scallop shaped, sometimes with wavy edges, has a variable color from white to gray or tan to dark-brown and has a slight anise-like aroma. Oyster mushrooms contain a small amount of arabitol that is know to cause gastrointestinal distress in some people. The likely culpret is arabitol, a sugar alcohol similar to xylitol, manitol and sorbitol that are widely used food additives. What makes this such a prized mushroom is that this sweet quality is not lost in cooking.

Cleaning. Cut off the lower part of the stems of all oyster varieties to remove any shreds of wood or debris. The stems tend to be tough, so discard them unless you are processing your mushrooms in a blender. Be certain to flush out the gill spaces with water because they can be filled with soil and, especially, insects (unless you want that kind of extra protein in your food). Use a minimum amount of water and gently dry with paper or cloth towels. All species of Pleurotus are cleaned in the same manner.

Cooking. Asian chefs are famous for using Oyster mushrooms in stir-fried dishes, since the cap is thin and cooks quickly. You can tear the mushroom into minute sizes before adding it to your oiled wok or pan at the last stage of cooking whatever stir-fry you have going, they cook quickly. I particularly like them in a blended soup.

Preserving. Oyster mushrooms will dehydrate quickly and store easily in your pantry. When used dry, they are usually added to a dish without rehydration.
What’s for lunch? Well, I like a hot creamy soup during the cold months to keep me warm from the inside and we still had some surviving thyme in our herb garden that might not survive much longer if the temperature falls again. Taking what I had in the herb garden, pantry and fridge, I easily decided on wild mushroom soup with thyme.

Here is what I prepared:


· 4 tablespoons butter ( ½ stick) – I like butter too much
· 1/3 cup minced shallots – you can use wild onions or wild garlic
· 1 ½ pound fresh wild mushrooms – we had some shiitake and crimini in the fridge that I added
· 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
· 3 garlic cloves minced
· 8 or so cups chicken broth
· 1 pound potatoes, peeled and chunked
· ¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms – we had these in the pantry which were added for additional flavor
· 2 glugs of Madeira – cooking wine with an interesting history (Madeira a particularly stable wine with a shot of brandy, designed to last long ship voyages, was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.)


melt butter in large pot. Add shallots and saute 1 minute. Add fresh mushrooms; saute until tender. Add thyme and garlic; saute another 15 or so minutes. Add 6 cups of broth, potatoes and died porcini, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered until potatoes are falling apart, maybe 25 minutes. Puree in a blender and return to the pot. Add Madeira and the rest of the broth. Season with salt and pepper… bring soup to simmer and serve.

This article is making me hungry for Oyster Mushrooms again... Happy oyster hunting!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

EC Blog Now Open for Comments

We have decided to open our blog to comments from anyone who desires to leave them. Tell us what you think, tell us what you want us to write about, tell us what you are up to in skills development, tell us... well, you get the idea.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Earth Connection Field Training

On December 27th some of Earth Connection’s Staff (Tim, Wes and Hardy) hit the road to do a little field training in the mountains of North Carolina near Grand Father Mountain. The weather was very favorable for December. At 4000 feet it was sunny and a balmy 60 degrees. We hiked into the wilderness and headed down to a known water fall about one mile from where we parked the vehicle, descending about 1200 feet. On the way we saw lots of wildlife sign, but few wild edible plants. Typical for a forest with little edge area.

After a short stay at the waterfall we noticed the waning daylight and decided to locate a good camping site. After another hour or so of hiking we found a great little overhang to make camp. We built up one side of the overhang to act as a wind break, then we did what we do best, make friction fire (maybe).

The problem was that our fine sunny 60 degree day turned into overcast and damp, which was not totally unexpected because we were in is a temperate rain forest. But, it is a good place to put your friction fire making skills to the test. Things started off well with a coal in the first few minutes. But, it went south from there.

The first coal was very small; we added degraded wood dust to extend its life and decided to go with it. No luck and no flame because our tinder was too damp. Also, to add to our troubles, no more coals. After a couple of hours with no coals and broken down bow drill kits we decided to use a less then primitive way to start a fire (a ferrocerium rod, the magic sparking metal-match or "flint" found in lighters).

Remembering Tim MacWelch’s friction fire class adage, “And that is why you should always have two or more ways to start a fire on you at all times!”

The night was quiet and uneventful, mostly because Tim would not let anyone give up ghost stories. As morning came so did the steady rain. The over hang we had slept in worked great we were all dry as a bone due to making shelter as our first priority even before the hours of the friction fire fiasco. After a quick bite to eat we hiked out and headed out of the high country.

“Survive smarter not harder.”