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Comments on Cooking Cavebear Style


Email from Bonnie (Dakona) Farner (Feb 21, 1997)

I HAD to bookmark the page that tells about cooking with a rawhide bowl! It's THAT good. I still can't believe the details outlined in the research and the photos and instructions were great. I could've told you it wouldn't work over an open fire. I've done enough "primitive" and campfire cooking to know all about the process, which isn't easy to do at all. The right kind of hot rocks in the pot will work everytime especially if you have a lid for the pot. It takes hours to make a good stew using the hot rock method but it works just the same. We use venison tenderloins (cubed), WILD onions or ramps (a wild leak that tastes like garlic), ground nut, pinon nuts if we can get them or hickory nuts, wild sage (white), thistle hearts, sea salt, and cat tail tubers. Oh, and a little wood ashe for flavor. You just can't eat any better than that!

I requested permission to link to this message from the paper, and she sent the following addendum:

Eric,I don't mind you using my comments at all. Although I forgot one ingredient that I've used to thicken up the stew. I use powdered Sassafrass leaf (like what goes in file gumbo). I have sassafrass growing in my yard and it's easy to come by. After the stew's done (about 4-5 hours later) we wash it down with sassafrass tea sweetened with wild honey. I'm also a wildcrafter and my husband and I collect wild edible and medicinal herbs. We live in a little cabin in the mountains of SE Tenn and love it in the "slow lane". We have a travel trailer (modern junk) which we use to camp in now that our bones have gotten creaky and camped out in the woods for almost 6 months last year. We hunt and fish and basically "live off the land". It's our Cherokee heritage popping out I reckon. I've been cooking wild food for the last 9-10 years. I have some REAL good recipes if you'd like some "primitive" ones. Thanks for your response, Eric, and I still love your homepage!

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Email from Lloyd Bogart:

I read your WWW page with interest and not a few chuckles!

Then again, cooking does not require boiling, per se, and cooking at a heat just below boiling might reduce evaporative loses of heat, as would some sort of covering.

Still to be determined, I suppose, is how well water might be brought to boil by adding heated stones to your suspended pot of *preheated* water, and whether the boil could then be *maintained* for a period of time, without lowering the pot into the flames. A stout suspension system would be a must, or pot, rocks, ET AL would soon be in the flames.

All in all, your experiments were quite creative and entertaining.

Do you think that pre-shrinking the pot, by boiling it, might produce a container of greater dimensional stability? (It might also reduce the rawhide flavoring of the material cooked later.) I'd think that partially filling it with sand would prevent it's taking on an unwanted shape. A similar boiling technique was used in making leather body armor, where shape was an important consideration.

But that brings up a nasty question: what would the cave bear folks have used as a container for boiling and shaping their new pots? The mind balks at the prospect of an endless recursion of the chicken and egg variety, and so I'll leave it to you to post an update. :-)

Looking forward to it;

Lloyd Bogart

Email from Bert Kamphuis (March 14, 1997)

I just read your enjoyable account of your experiments with the leather cooking pot. I will give you some of my ideas on this subject

I always saw this pot as a supported pot, not a self supporting one. That means with a frame on the inside, made of wood (fairly sturdy pieces) or bone. This would then avoid shrinkage of the pot.

[I have to disagree with Bert here. Shrinkage over the fire is dramatic, beyond the scale of the shrinkage which occurs with soaking and simply drying. I suspect the either the inner frame or the skin would give under the tension. Also once shrinkage has occurred the pot will keep its shape even with liquid in it over fire. The preshrinking over fire with sand method described by Lloyd Bogart (see message above) would be a good way to avoid deformation. ~ EP]

In heating something the rate of heat input has to exceed the rate of heat removal. A good way to test this is to measure the temperature as a function of time with a thermometer. This way you can asses whether the water is still getting hotter, or whether equilibrium has been reached.

Heat transfer into the water can be improved by using thinner leather, and, because of the better heat removal from the outside of the leather, charring can be avoided (perhaps completely). Another added effect is that this way the diffusion of water to the outside of the leather is improved, so that it will char even less. I think wet leather should be capable of withstanding up to 250 Celcius.

The flames: I don't know what kind of fire you used, but I would select a fire with big yellow flames. These are not very hot you see, not as hot by far as the red/white glowing parts of the fire.

Overall, from an engineer's point of view, you want to:

  1. select your fire and the height of the pot above it to protect your leather.
  2. Ensure good heat transfer into the water by using thin leather
  3. reduce the heat loss by reducing the size of the liquid surface open to the air. That means a narrow, deep pot, or even an 'amphora' shaped pot with a narrow neck

My gut feeling says that it should be possible, because it is possible to heat water to boiling in a paper container.

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Excerpted from email from Elizabeth B. Naime (February, 1998)

Recipe Substitutions

wild onion. If Jean Auel's wild onion is the same as today's hardy suburban weed, onion isn't the right flavor. Perhaps green onions with a little garlic would be closer, or whole winter onions; but I've never failed to find wild onion when I looked for it in the U.S. I have looked in Utah (Salt Lake valley), Virginia (near Bull Run) and Kansas (all over the northeastern part of the state). I don't know its cold tolerance but for the southern of your North American readers at least it is ubiquitous. Not as tasty as onion or garlic or green onion either, but authentic <grin>.

Lilies. I don't know about poisonous lillies. I had always assumed that Auel was referring to the common wild Daylilly, which is not only edible according to Gibbons (and quite tasty when the buds are tempura'd and deepfat fried, surely an "out of period technique" for Ayla) but is also used in oriental cookery. The flowers and buds are edible and go all gleutinous when cooked in liquid -- so given that common daylillies are so very common it would be worth using them and getting the different, originally intended texture. For the committed non-forager I believe the buds and/or flowers can be purchased dried at oriental food stores. Another alternative would be to find another sort of slimy gleutinous thickening agent... I know there are a few though I can't remember any except fish glue.

The winter onions for wild onions are a guess -- I used to grow winter onions, they are a domestic variety grown primarily for the tender green stalks in spring. The "winter" in their name is like the "winter" in winter wheat -- it needs to winter over before it is harvested. I planted mine in the late fall. They produce bulbs (?) at the top of the plant after flowering, rather like garlic does. They seem very common in gardens here but are not common in garden stores, and never make it to the supermarket. A grow-your-own sort of ingredient.

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