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A taste of bush tucker

Survival and bushcraft expert Ray Mears reveals how to find food in the wild forests that fringe the polar north

By Ray Mears
photographs by Getty Images
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:17 BST, Updated 20 Jul 2021, 11:09 BST
Bannock bread baked on a hot rock over a campfire.

Bannock bread baked on a hot rock over a campfire.

Photograph by Getty Images

Northern exposure
The boreal forest is the planet's largest and a truly awe-inspiring and majestic environment. It's a land of extremes, of sultry heat and paralysing cold, where food is difficult to find. In the forest, catering becomes simpler: a kettle filled with tea, a smoky bannock bread and some fresh pike are enough. With time, you appreciate fresh berries or edible mushrooms as the culinary marvels they are. Travelling here demands efficient cookery skills, a repertoire of recipes in your memory and the ability to supplement your supplies from the land.

Catch of the day
Fishing in the boreal forest needn't be complicated — Arctic char and northern pike are abundant. Try to fish in the early morning and towards last light in places with steep drop-offs, where there's weed. Being able to catch and eat fish on a journey provides a deep spiritual connection to the land. The traditional way to cook fish is on a sapling skewer angled beside the hot embers.

Find & forage
Nettles can be used for cooking. Collect them from a shady location — ones growing in the open are too bitter. Many plants can be dried for use as wild teas, including mint, birch, wild raspberry, wild strawberry, blueberry and fireweed, to name but a few. Many berries can be encountered in the forest. Take a good field guide with you and learn to distinguish between the edible and poisonous varieties; being able to recognise a few of the tastiest and most common of these can really enliven the trail menu. 

Make it at home: Winter bannock

2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp lard or oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Water to make the dough
1 cup dried fruit

Mix the dry ingredients, minus the fruit. Add water slowly, mixing to a soft dough with fingertips. Fold in the dried fruit. Put frying pan on heat and add oil/lard. Once hot, spread the dough out in the pan to a thickness of 2cm. When the dough is firm enough, set the pan at a tilt to one side of your fire. Grill the bannock, rotating it and turning it over until a sliver of freshly shaved wood skewered into the centre comes out dry.

Ray Mears is a household name, thanks to his TV series, which include Tracks, and World of Survival. His latest book, Out on the Land, is a celebration of the history and culture of the Northern wilderness. RRP: £25. (Bloomsbury Publishing).

Follow @Ray_Mears

Published in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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