Wood smoking revelations

We have a new Customer.

Stuart from Southport is a new customer. Stuart has specific requirements for his 10 hour smoked brisket and he came to see if we could meet his needs. The answer is of course ‘yes’ but that isn’t what prompts this post.

Talking to Stuart made me realise that I don’t think we have ever had the same request twice… every smoker seems to have their very own ‘ideal’ as to how their wood is presented:

Logs
Split logs
Full branch logs
Chunks – bark on
Chunks – bark off
Branch chunks with brash
Branch chunks without brash
Wood Chips
Single species sawdust

Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying
Home grown Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying

Perm any of the above with the ideal length of wood which obviously varies with each smoker and then perm all the above with the degree to which it has been seasoned; Fresh cut, partially seasoned or fully seasoned.

Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal
Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal

That’s the wood sorted then. Next is how it is used… hot smoke, cold smoke, 100% selected species, chunks/chips on charcoal, mixed hardwood chunks with selected species added at half time, one burn, multiple burns, top up burn, soaked or burned dry etc etc etc.

This isn’t a problem but it was a bit of a revelation in that it became obvious that we cannot stock all permutations!

Whilst we will continue to carry stock of our most popular wood smoking chunks and chips, rather than feel guilty about never having their ‘perfect’ woods immediately to hand, what this we can do is to note our customer preferences and advise them on an individual basis when woods arise that match their criteria.

A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs
A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs

Hence, here is a crate of logs for Stuart. Half of the crate is made up of Cherry logs and the other half is Oak logs. Both are only partially seasoned and they have been cut to 10″ long i.e. Exactly what Stuart asked for.

Thank you Stuart. Your order has probably helped me more than you!

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Hydroponic Trials Update

Celeriac

Celeriac being a moisture loving plant that needs fertile, moisture retentive soil I thought it might perform well hydroponically. Our celeriac was grown from seed (rather than the recommended plugs) in 8cm pots. When roots were showing, the pots were then placed in a small NFT system. These have overwintered in a small greenhouse without heat and are doing well. Progress is very slow though.

Watercress

The Watercress trial has been interesting. In the wild, watercress grows partially submerged in running water in moderately cool climates. We trialled it in both an aquaponic system and an ebb & flood tank situated near each other outdoors.

The above photos speak for themselves (both of which were taken on the same day). Whilst the aquaponic system best mimics a running stream I suspect the nutrient levels are too high and the watercress is struggling. By contrast, the ebb and flood (sometimes called an ebb and flow or flood and drain system) tank filled with nothing more than inert clay balls and rainwater provided a great crop.

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Hazel wood chunks for smoking food

Any Hazel wood we remove from our coppice that cannot be used for walking stick shanks or other woodland crafts gets cut up into ‘Wood Chunks‘ which get used in smokers and BBQ’s for flavouring meats, fish and cheeses.

All our hazel is coppiced with a hand saw so has not been contaminated with chainsaw oil. It is processed through a ‘chunker’ where two blades come together and crimp the wood into short lengths.  The bins of wood chunks are then tipped out and spread in large plastic trays. The trays allow for really good air circulation even when stacked high.

Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays
Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays

Along with most nut woods (The fruit of the Hazel (Corylus) is the hazelnut, also known as cobnut or filbert nut), Hazel is a favourite wood used for smoking food as it produces a strong, fragrant smoke.

It is often used in the UK as an alternative when a recipe calls for Hickory. We sell our Hazel wood chunks direct from the farm gate or mail order via www.WoodChunks.co.uk

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Planting Peppers Early

At the end of the last season, a friend kindly posted to us a few seeds from a giant pepper with a view of us having a go at growing a big one. He advised us to get them planted early January  which seems incredibly early but he is the expert so today half of them got planted along with a selection of our usual chilli and sweet pepper varieties. I will plant the rest towards end March as per normal and compare the results.

Planting Chilli peppers, sweet peppers and giant peppers
Planting Chilli peppers, sweet peppers and giant peppers

The consensus on germination temperatures for peppers seems to be 80-85 degrees F so the propagator has been set to 28 degrees C.

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Display of red mushrooms with white spots heralds Autumn

The annual arrival of our red mushrooms with white spots heralds the onset of Autumn. I did buy a book to identify safe mushrooms to eat but, having read it, decided against it as being ‘almost certain’ just isn’t good enough.

However, in this instance being ‘nearly sure’ IS good enough; I am almost certain that these are Amanita Muscaria which are classified as deadly.

Our red mushrooms with white spots heralds Autumn
Our red mushrooms with white spots heralds Autumn

I think of these as the classic fairy toadstool and a welcomed arrival to the woodland floor. The source of the image of fairies dancing around them might not be that far fetched as, apparently, they have psychedelic properties “if prepared properly”.

Amanita Muscaria: Red mushrooms with white spots
Amanita Muscaria: Red mushrooms with white spots

“Preparing properly” hmmm. A quick search uncovers a range of drying techniques for varying times whilst held at various angles.  Perhaps the best one was the ancient shaman preparation of letting reindeer eat them and then drink their pee.

I think I’ll stick to beer.

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Harvesting Mini Pumpkins

The 2016 season mini pumpkins are now available.

They make perfect autumnal table decorations for restaurants, events and weddings either as they are (they are very tactile) or can be used hollowed out as tea light candle holders. We have even sold them for use as soup bowls.

Tiny pumpkins for table decorations
Tiny pumpkins for table decorations

We are harvesting them to order at the moment at just £1 each.

Our making a table tea light tutorial can be found here

For more information please visit or website www.bigpumpkins.co.uk

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New range of smokehouse wood chips added

Our little Wood Chunks website has been selling our home grown wood for some time now to the point where our regular customers kindly bring samples of their fare which is very much appreciated (hint, hint) .

Food smoking is an art and from my experience, each ‘artist’ likes to understandably select the materials that they have found gives the best results for them.

Smoking meat, sausages and garlic with flavoured woodsmoke
Smoking meat, sausages and garlic with flavoured woodsmoke

Some want small wood chips, others want large lumps or even big logs. Then there is the debate about whether the bark should be on or off and the difference branchwood or heartwood makes to the flavour of the food.

To supplement our home produced wood chunks we have today added a range of wood chips which come in 2ltr re-sealable packs.

Graded to a size between 6mm and 12mm chip size, Apple, Alder, Cherry and Oak chips are now in stock.

Alder, Apple, Cherry and Oak wood chips now in stock
Alder, Apple, Cherry and Oak wood chips now in stock

Along with all our speciality wood chunks they are available to collect (by appointment – we don’t have a shop) from Hesketh Bank (PR4 6) in West Lancashire but these packs are especially suitable for mail order so it will be interesting to see how this develops.

For more info please visit www.WoodChunks/woodchips.html

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Busy day in the sun

A very busy day making the most of the sunshine to get caught up with all the field and footpath mowing but the highlight was cutting our first pumpkins of the season. It usually gets to September before the PR people remember to think about Halloween but quite a few have been making enquiries already.

The first order was just for a few pumpkins and quite on odd mix but ours is not to reason why. I look forward to seeing the finished piece.

Cutting pumpkins in August for a photoshoot
Cutting pumpkins in August for a photoshoot

We always grow a few pumpkins under glass so they are ready for sale that bit sooner. Due to the poor weather, the outdoor pumpkins are only just beginning to set but hopefully they will be ready for the mid October harvest.

For more information on our pumpkins please visit our www.BigPumpkins.co.uk website.

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