Leg of Lamb in a Fire Pit – The Treehouse Diaries

Is it me or is there a glut of television at the moment only to happy to tell us how far we have come as human beings. If the BBC are to be believed only a few thousand years ago we were scratching on all fours, grunting at each other and eating hairy elephants, and yet today we can walk upright, speak to each other and cook our food in seconds in a cooking device that was designed to defrost gerbils for chemical testing in the Cold War.
And yet cycling to the shops in Tooting late on Saturday morning and passing Chicken Cottage (the largest in the UK), the monosyllabic grunts and Richard the Third Impressions of the ‘youth ‘ gathered over the chewed chicken bones and shards of fried skin on the pavement, almost convinced me we were going full circle as a race and devolving. After all we don’t hunt our own food; Less and less of us are cooking our own meals; Our younger generations have little to no understanding of basic ingredients and how to prepare them; and as we move faster and faster into an uncertain and unsustainable culinary future, can we really claim we are that civilized?
Taking a short ride to a forrest ‘somewhere in Sussex’ last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few nights with one man who is certainly staking his claim as one of the truly advanced humans. Nick Weston can catch a fish, start a fire with little more than a flint and some twigs and snare a rabbit. He knows the plants that will make him sick from those that will keep him alive and he can make beer from nettles! Staying in the treehouse, where Nick is planning to reside for the next six months living from the forest around him, there is certainly no microwave and most of his cooking will be done on a stove that was an oil barrel in a previouse life. But while wondering how a ‘fresh’ leg of lamb would fit in his stove, to my delight Nick went about showing me how to cook in a fire pit.
Fire pits are Neanderthal ovens. Used for tens of thousands of years and still used today, they are the most efficient way to roast meat and vegetables, using the earth for insulation, leaves for sealing and hot rocks for radiation. Bedouin cook goats and camels in them, Mexicans wrap sheep in cactus leaves and cook in them, but in the woods of Sussex it was a butterflied leg of lamb, rocks borrowed from the railway,  and burdock leaves that would become our oven.
Here are the instructions for preparing a truly civilized leg of lamb.
You will need
  • 1 spade
  • a dozen large burdock leaves
  • fresh hazle sticks
  • leg of lamb, butterflied and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • wood
  • igneous rocks. You can buy these in garden centers or ‘borrow’ them from railway tracks
1. Did a hole and lay the bottom with a layer of rocks (don’t use them all). Depending on what your cooking will determine how big the hole is. A camel will need a bigger hole than a leg of lamb.
2. Start a good fire in the hole and feed it well with some slow burning wood (we used oak).
3. While the fire is getting going, prepare your meat. This is down to you but keep it simple. once seasoned losely wrap the joint in two burdock leaves.
4. Once your fire is roaring, pile the remaining rocks on top of the embers and wait a few a while for the fire to burn down some more.
5. Now lay a lattice of hazel sticks over the rocks. This makeshift grill will hold the meat.
6. Take your burdock leaves and lay over the meat making sure they cover the edge of the whole too. Once you have a blanket of leaves over the pit and meat carefully cover with earth until you can see no smoke.
7. Leave for two hours, drink some nettle beer and then carefully pull away the earth, and remove the meat.
9. Unwrap carve and enjoy.
If you want to try this at home the image gallery below is sure to help.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 1st, 2009 at 23:32 and is filed under English Recipes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the details: This could come in handy on bike tours…

  2. Awesome post. Sounds amazing. Am hoping to head over and see Nick at some point too so fingers crossed I might get a chance to try this

  3. Amazing! Fascinating and completely inspirational, I am longing to cook like this in London, burdock and fire regulations notwithstanding… Thanks, Daisy
    dumas.standard.co.uk

  4. Nice info on firepits! Get firepits at very economical prices. Visit http://www.firepits.me.uk/

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