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How to make Birch oil

Feeling comfortable? - You can get Ettebo's Birch Oil here!

Birch oil is a resource that has been used by humanity through much of our history. It can be used as fuel, to make a primitive glue/pitch for making seals or to attach arrow heads, it is a very effective mosquito repellent and can also be used as medicine. It's very versatile.

The easiest way to extract the oil is to dry distill the birch bark. It is both simple and fun and can be done with simple means.

What you need:

  • 1 larger tin can with lid
  • 1 smaller tin can without lid
  • Dry birch bark

This is how it's done:

Obtain two empty metal cans of which one has a tight fitting lid. Paint cans work well for this. It is best if the two cans are close to the same diameter because the idea is to create an oxygen-free environment for the bark. Of the two cans, the smaller one should be the one without a lid.

Make a hole in the center of the bottom of the larger can. (The easiest way to make your hole is with a hammer and nail.) A hole of about 2-3 mm in diameter is enough. Make sure you make the hole from the inside of the can so that you make it easier for the oil to flow into the bottom can.

Cut your birch bark so that when it stands at the top of the large can, it is a bit shorter than the height of the can. Roll the strips and place them vertically in the can - make sure you do not cover the hole you made in the bottom! When all bark is tightly packed, put the lid on  and close it properly.

In the middle of your fireplace you dig a hole deep enough so that your smaller can (collection can) stands at or slightly below ground level.

Place your collection jar in the hole, ensuring that it is stable and even. Be careful not to get dirt in the jar! Now place the top can with the lid on so that it sits directly on top of the collection can. There should be no air holes - remember we want an oxygen-free environment.

Use soil to gently create a light seal around where the two cans meet. Not so tight that you seal in all the gases, but enough to hold the two cans in place so that the top can does not fall or you get dirt in the collection can. The collection jar should be completely covered at this point.

Start a fire over and around the upper can and keep the fire burning for 1-3 hours. It does not have to be a big fire, but should cover the can well from all sides. 

Let the fire burn down and as soon as it has cooled down, gently scrape away the ashes and the dirt around the two cans, be careful not to let dirt or ash fall into your precious oil.

Using pliers or gloves, remove the top jar and get a look at all the beautiful birch oil that have been collected in the bottom jar! After the top can have had a chance to cool off, carefully remove the lid to see how much remains of your original birch bark strips.

At this time the oil can be used for waterproofing  clothing, treating wood and  to makemedicine. With some refinement you can easily create fuel, other useful medicines and binders such as primitive glue or pitch.

To thicken the oil into something more tar-like, you only need to boil the oil to remove any volatile (flammable) substances. Boil slowly over low heat for about an hour until it becomes quite viscous and is about half of the original volume. When the tar has the desired consistency, remove it from the heat and let it cool.

This material can now be stored and used indefinetly!

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Pemmican recipe

Pemmican, a mixture of meat and fat that can be varied endlessly. It's incredibly energy dense and a nice food to bring with you on trips, on a hike or just as a snack when you're feeling peckish. Pemmican is so nutrient dense making it well suited for hiking as a small amount goes a long way.
Pemmican is a way to preserve meat, made by North American Indians to ensure that food could be stored for a longer time. Then Pemmican consisted of dried buffalo meat and buffalo fat mixed together as a cake that could be used as it was or mixed into other foods, such as porridge, or fried.
I think Pemmican works just as well as a part of an energy rich breakfast, dinner or snack, and with the option to vary it, there is always a variation to suit everyone. Add some ground almonds or peanuts, chopped dried fruit or even nut butters to make it suit you. Keep in mind that adding lots of carbohydrates can affect shelf-life.
  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) Beef (can be varied with game or your favourite meat)
  • 500 g (1.1 lbs) Beef tallow/Bison fat
  • 200 g (0.4 lbs) Bueberries

  • Place the meat in the freezer so that it firms up a bit, but doesn't freeze completely. It makes it easier to slice it into thin slices, which makes drying faster. Put some salt and pepper the meat slices if you want, and hang them in your dryer, dehydrator or oven on the lowest temperature with the door ajar to let the moisture out. Dry the blueberries simultaneously to save time. Drying takes about 24-48 hours, depending on the thickness of the meat.
  • When you are finished, you have a dried almost brittle meat. It makes it easier to mix it into a powder the drier it is. The finer the powder the better. Mix the dried meat to a fine powder and do the same with the blueberries.
  • Cut the tallow into small pieces and place in a saucepan. Melt it over medium heat until the fat is rendered from the tallow and the boiling is reduced to a minimum. This means that most of the fat has been rendered and it's done. Strain off the small tallow pieces that are left in the fat, save them if you want - They are a nice lowcarb snack. 
  • Now you have clear fat rendered from the beef tallow, a dried meat powder and a fine blueberry powder. Now the fun begins! Mix meat powder and blueberry powder. You can vary the amount of each depending on taste. Then add the fat to the mixture slowly and mix until the powder no longer absorbs more fat. How much meat, fat and blueberry powder is needed varies – Trust your gut feeling, and the most important thing is that it does not become too "wet", ie too much fat. You should be able to make balls from it when the mix has cooled.
  • Pour the mixture into a mold if you like and place in the fridge to firm up. Now you have your own Pemmican that you can either cut into cubes, roll into balls, or whatever you want. Wrap them in cling film to make portions for ease of use and to easily store them on the trek.

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Traditional Biltong Recipe

Biltong, South African dried meat, is a perfect snack to go with a cold beer a hot day, or a beautiful addition to your other favorite cured meats for the weekend. If you're a fan of Beef Jerky you will most certainly love this Biltong.
You can make Biltong with virtually any meat you want. Everything from chicken to beef to antelope has been used. What you should keep in mind though is that the more fat your meat contains, the shorter the shelf life will be of the finished product as the fat may go rancid after some time. If you choose a piece of beautifully marbled meat with a slightly higher fat content to it you should consume it fairly quickly (usually not a problem) or freeze it. WHile if you choose a leaner meat, like silver side, you can store your Biltong a little warmer and enjoy it a bit longer.


I use a big 'ol Beef Knuckle, but Beef Rump/Ball Tip or chuck are all good cuts and usually reasonably priced. The price of the cut doesn't neccecerily decide the result when curing meat like this.
  • 1 kg/2 lb lean beef meat
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cup Coarse salt (not sea salt)
  • 1.5 cups of raw sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons coarsely ground coriander seeds
  • 4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder

How to do it:
  1. Trim the meat and cut off any membranes and visible fat (optional with the fat). Cut into 2-3 cm slices - along the length of the fibres. Mix vinegar and Worcestershire sauce and leave the meat to marinate in it for about 30 minutes.
  2. Mix the salt, sugar, baking soda and half of the spices. Pour off the vinegar mixture but save it for later. and press the meat slices in the spice mixture, one at the time, so that they are evenly covered. Layer tightly in a bowl and let the meat marinate / cure for about 3 hours at room temperature (add 2 hours if you  refrigerate the meat while marinating)
  3. Now the meat will be a bit stiffer and has lost a lot of its liquid. Rinse the pieces of meat in cold water so that no salt or seasoning remains on the surface. Mix the rest of the spices (2 tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons black pepper, 1 tablespoon garlic powder) and brush or dip the meat in the vinegar mixture from before. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly on the meat.
  4. Now it's time for the meat to dry and cure for about 3 days. You get best results if you have a drying box fitted with a 40-60 W lightbulb and a fan that you can build yourself of purchase. This is not needed though! You can also dry your meat in a convection oven with the light on and the door slightly open, in the boiler room or in the laundry room. The most important thing is that you have good circulation of air (a fan blowing directly on the meat),  it's not too warm (22-30°C) and flies don't get to it. I dry the meat for 3 days with a temperature on the first day of 24-26°C and 26-30°C the following days. Don't focus too much on time and temperature - Aim for the texture of an eraser and you'll be golden!
Now it's finished, the wait is over! Enjoy with a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day.