Like many other things I have been meaning to build an offset smoker for so long, have collected many bits and bobs in readiness but never got around to it.
When I saw ASDA selling of the highly reccomended Oklahoma Joe for the price of a cheap tin replica I jumped at the chance. It was delivered two days later and having watched a few Youtube videos of suggested modifications it was put together with all joints sealed with black high temperature silicone sealant (from Screwfix).
Today was the day to ‘cure’ the beast in readiness for cooking. The book suggest two hours but we will give it an eight hour burn just to be sure.
It will be a good way to learn more about the differences between the flavours that our www.WoodChunks.co.uk impart.
The first item out of the smoker is our home grown garlic. Two hours at 225f on mixed hardwood wood chunks left the garlic bulbs perfectly finished and flavoured.
I think Joe and I are going to get along just fine!
Not a chore I particularly like as I am not a big fan of having my fingers so close to a bandsaw blade but it has to be done; preparing heartwood wood chunks.
The oak is first cut into rings on the bandsaw and then chopped into pieces using an axe. The pieces are then air dried to approx 20% moisture which is ideal for using for smoking food by placing the chunks on top of a charcoal bed. (Our branchwood chunks by contrast are generally used without any charcoal). Both heartwood and branchwood wood chunks are sold on our www.WoodChunks.co.uk website.
Today we also sent out a pack of our Rosemary ‘wood’ which is used by a restaurant customer.
The wood stalks are taken from three year old rosemary plants and are used for both the rub and generating flavoured smoke. The leaves are stripped to use fresh or dried but the oil rich stem wood is used as a flavouring on top of charcoal barbecue briquettes in a smoker.
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:
Full branch logs
Chunks – bark on
Chunks – bark off
Branch chunks with brash
Branch chunks without brash
Single species sawdust
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The consensus on germination temperatures for peppers seems to be 80-85 degrees F so the propagator has been set to 28 degrees C.
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.
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”.
“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.
On fields eerily shrouded in mist, the 2016 Giant Pumpkin harvest has begun. All the giant pumpkins that have not been sold in advance will be listed for sale on www.bigpumpkins.co.uk/pumpkins-for-sale/
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.
We are harvesting them to order at the moment at just £1 each.
Our making a table tea light tutorial can be found here