Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Trackers Earth summer camps are like nothing else in the known universe. Explore all our 2019 summer camp themes: Wilderness Survival, Farming, Fishing, Archery, Wizards, Ninjas, Secret Agents, Blacksmithing, Rock Climbing, Biking & more!

We can’t believe it’s already July! Between firing countless arrows, going fishing and catching some almost as tall as us, starting campfires together, picking wild red huckleberries, brushing a friendly goat, and so much more, June went by too fast! Check out our favorite Summer Camp photos in the gallery below.

Stories from each week of Summer Camp:

Many of the skills we teach are inspiring: wilderness survival, farm life, blacksmithing and fishing. We recognize these fantastic possibilities bring kids to our camps. When you get into it, these skills can sometimes turn out to be more difficult than first imagined. Yet our instructors collaborate with kids to step-up. And that’s where the true magic happens. Discovering the power of resilience and gaining confidence in their capability to learn teaches kids to explore and live a great life.

Farm & Wild Craft Camps
Maya was thrilled she got to milk a goat today. She said, “It’s much harder than it looks to get the milk to come out.” She’s really enjoyed every day of camp, her leader (Skye) is fantastic, and she’s learning a lot & making new friends! -Marci, Parent

Blacksmithing Camps
The instructors for, Apprenticeship of the Blade, have an enormous amount of skill and knowledge about how to forge blades and they understand how to communicate it to their students. It was refreshing to find a camp that offered such wonderful instructors. Often, teenagers share very little information, not so with this class, our teenager would share his completed pieces and the knowledge that went into it. So, thank you, it is so great to hear him speak with enthusiasm instead of sarcasm. -Karen, Parent

Wilderness Survival Camps
Sebastian is normally a kiddo who doesn’t like to get dirty or wet. You can imagine my delight when I came to pick him and he was covered in charcoal “camouflage” after spending a good portion of his day out in the rain and had a blast! All he talks about is all the cool things he does including shooting “real arrows like the big kids.” Thanks for making it a super fun week for him. It’s worth the drive -Kimberly, Parent

Zombie Camps
Claire has really loved this camp. I went in to wake her yesterday and she was sobbing in her sleep. I was worried and held her while she woke up to tell me she was having a dream that she couldn’t go to zombie camp that day. Good job guys! -Robin, Parent

 

Check Which Camps Are Available

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by June Jacobson

Acorns waiting to be processed.

In a previous post, I covered how to identify and choose acorns, with special focus on White Oaks in the Pacific Northwest. The following process uses these white oak acorns. You can use other acorns, but the processing time may be longer or shorter due to the varying tannin content.

Hot water processing is advantageous if you would like to use or preserve your acorns the same day. It takes less time than cold-water processing, but it uses more energy. The resulting nut meal may have less fat and gluten-like starch than the nut meal that comes from your cold water process, but it’s worth it if you have an immediate need.

I’ve read in online sources that you should work with the same temperature water throughout your entire process or you may “lock” the tannins in the acorn. For example, if you start with hot water, don’t switch to cold mid-process. I haven’t tested the hot to cold temperature change, but I have gone from cold to hot water when I needed the meal in a recipe right away. This went really well and the nuts only needed a couple baths to complete after a week in cold water.

There are some examples of historical acorn processing by west coast native peoples using a combination of cold and hot water methods, even the hot to cold gradation. There is one account of this method, as well as others, in the book Survival Skills of Native California by Paul Campbell, if you’re interested in some extra reading.

Steps 1-3 are basically identical to the Cold Water Process, so you can jump to Step 4.

How to Hot Water Process Acorns

The goal: remove most or all tannins from the acorn meat in short amount of time

What you’ll need:

  • nut crackers
  • cutting board and knife OR food processor,
  • two pots
  • water
  • strainer

Step #1: Crack the shells and remove the nuts

Hammer StoneDepending your acorns, they could have very thin shells or thick hard shells. Different tools work better for different shells. Here are a few tools I have used: hammer stone on a cutting board, good quality nut crackers (the painted Christmas kind usually lose their head with the first nut), hammer and a towel on a cutting board.

My favorite method is using a smooth, rounded rock that fits into the palm of my hand called a hammer stone. I lay the acorn down on the shallow mortar made by a friend of mine or a cutting board and I bop it. This works great for the skinny, thin shelled acorns that seem to just bend with the nut crackers.

Step #2: Inspect

A fresh nut should be a golden brown color, although it may change to a more gray brown as it dries. If you see a little pink hue on parts of your nut, it means it is starting to germinate, and getting ready to sprout. That is okay. In fact, some folks are starting to use sprouted acorns in recipes. They claim that the nuts are sweeter and easier to digest since the nut starches have started to turn into sugars. Taste test a nut so that you know what you’re starting with. You’ll be taste testing throughout and it helps to know what progress you’re making.

Throw your nuts into a bowl of water after removing the shell. Fresh or lightly dried nuts may start to change color the longer they sit out, much like a cut potato will darken. The darker brown lines and color change is caused by exposure to the air and can ultimately affect the flavor if left to dry out too long outside the shell.

Step #3: Make a Course Meal

Once you’ve shelled the nuts you want to chop them on a cutting board with a knife into a coarse meal. If you have a food processor, drain them and process them for just a second or two. The larger you chop or process, the longer it takes to remove the tannins, but I’ve noticed that you retain more fat and nutiness. It’s a trade-off.

Step #4: Start Hot Water Bath

Pour your bowl of acorns into a stove pot and make sure the pot has at least twice as much water as nuts. While bringing your nuts to a boil, start a second pot of water to take it’s place after the first hot water pot boils for 20 minutes.

Step #5: Strain nuts and Repeat

Strained acorn mealAfter your acorns have boiled for 20 minutes, strain the nuts and pour them into the second pot of already boiling water. Fill the first pot with water and start the boiling process again. You can always save your first few water baths for a tannic solution for hide tanning, anti-fungal foot wash, or shampoo.

 

Step #6: Repeat Water Bath To Taste

Keep repeating steps #4 and #5 until you have a nut that meets your taste needs. The white oak acorns I use can take 4-5 baths before their ready.

You should be all set to start your processing. Remember, this is a great project for friends and family, especially if you include a hammer stone for the kids! Have fun, good luck and let me know if you have any questions.

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by June Jacobson

A basket of Acorns ready to be processed

“Is it worth it?”

Every Fall I answer this question about gathering and processing acorns. My answer is always “yes!”, especially if you find joy in the hunt for wild foods and the experimental path to self-sufficiency. It also helps if you don’t expect perfect results every time, as wild foods can be wonderfully unpredictable. Below you’ll find a tutorial on identifying, harvesting, storing and cold-water processing white oak acorns.

If you would like, you can skip right to How to Cold Water Process Acorns

Identifying acorns

White Oaks

The Oak genus, Quercus, belongs to the Beech Family. There are many different species in this genus, but they are generally divided into three groups: White, Red and Black. Acorns can vary widely in sweetness, nuttiness, and especially Tannic Acid from group, species and even from tree to tree. Tannic Acid (also referred to as tannins) is what makes the nut bitter and astringent before processing and the reason we don’t eat most acorns raw.

The Tannic Acid in the acorns can be so strong that some people question “Are acorns edible?” Of course! Some acorns can be so naturally low in Tannic Acid that they can be eaten without processing, but most will need to have some of the tannins leached out.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, I encourage folks who are trying acorns for the first time to look for white oak species because they generally have less tannin. That means when you’re looking at an oak tree, make sure its leaves have rounded lobes instead of pointy lobes. Leaves with pointy lobes will belong to the red or black oak species.

rounded lobed leaves are from White Oaks

Since the Willamette Valley in Oregon used to be Oak Savannah, I can find Oregon White Oak, Quercus Garryana, scattered about in parks, along roadsides or even large stands in farm fields. But there are some 600 species of white oaks, so have fun hunting!

Harvesting Acorns

If you’re like me, all year long you’ve identified or made friends with trees on your daily commutes, on special trips to the in-laws who live across the Willamette Valley, or while strolling through city streets. You’ve seen those rounded lobes and you’ve made a mental note to come visit those trees again in the Fall, when acorns start dropping. It helps to visit these trees after a strong rain or wind storm in October and November, as this can produce a windfall.

My harvesting style depends on how much time I have. Given enough time, I’ll check each acorn for weevil holes before tossing them into my bag. Less time, I toss them all in the bag and sort through them when I get them home.

Storing Whole Acorns

Sometimes you’ll have to wait before processing the stash of acorns you’ve collected. You want to prevent them from sweating and molding, and to be able to easily check them for weevil holes once in awhile.

Acorn weevil

We need to get them into a place where they will breathe and dry out. I like to spread them across a sheet on the floor. Every so often I’ll roll them over to see if new weevil larvae have bored out through the shells and are rolling around on the sheet. Don’t be alarmed, just pick up the little white buggers and toss them into the yard, toilet, or whatever floats your boat.

When I can’t process acorns right away, I like to use them when the nut has been dried to the point of being rubbery and pliable, but not rock hard. When they’re still pliable, the thin tannic sheath that covers the nut is easier to remove with my bare hands. When you dry the nuts than this, you have to use other methods. You can crack the shell and test a nut every once in awhile to determine when you’ve reached this point.

When they’re dry inside, throw them into a breathable sack and hang them in a dry, cool and ventilated place. Depending on the tannin in the nut, many sources say they can be preserved for up to two years

How to Cold Water Process Acorns

The goal: remove most or all tannins from the acorn meat with least amount of energy consumption and maximum retention of fats and nutrients

What you’ll need:

  • nut crackers
  • cutting board and knife OR food processor,
  • jars
  • water

Step #1: Crack the shells and remove the nuts

Hammer Stone

Depending on the white oak, your acorns could have very thin shells or thick hard shells. Different tools work better for different shells. Here are a few tools I have used: hammer stone on a cutting board, good quality nut crackers (the painted Christmas kind usually lose their head with the first nut), hammer and a towel on a cutting board.

My favorite method is using a smooth, rounded rock that fits into the palm of my hand called a hammer stone. I lay the acorn down on the shallow mortar made by a friend of mine or a cutting board and I bop it. This works great for the skinny, thin shelled acorns that seem to just bend with the nut crackers.

Step #2: Inspect the nuts, taste test and toss them into a bowl of cold water

A fresh nut should be a golden brown color, although it may change to a more gray brown as it dries. If you see a little pink hue on parts of your nut, it means it is starting to germinate, and getting ready to sprout. That is okay. In fact, some folks are starting to use sprouted acorns in recipes. They claim that the nuts are sweeter and easier to digest since the nut starches have started to turn into sugars. Taste test a nut so that you know what you’re starting with. You’ll be taste testing throughout and it helps to know what progress you’re making.

Throw your nuts into a bowl of water after removing the shell. Fresh or lightly dried nuts may start to change color the longer they sit out, much like a cut potato will darken. The darker brown lines and color change is caused by exposure to the air and can ultimately affect the flavor if left to dry out too long outside the shell.

Step #3: Make a course meal

Once you’ve shelled the nuts you want to chop them on a cutting board with a knife into a coarse meal. If you have a food processor, drain them and process them for just a second or two. The larger you chop or process, the longer it takes to remove the tannins.

Step #4: Start your water bath

Acorn meal in water bathFill jar(s) half way with acorn meal and the rest of the way with water. Let jars sit on the kitchen counter, but drain the meal and change the water daily or even twice a day (jar on the left). I usually keep my first and second changes of water. They’re always dark brown and highly tannic, (jar on the right). I’ve used it as an anti-fungal foot wash with great success, but I’ve heard folks have used it to make a natural shampoo and tanning solution for animals hides as well.

Step #5 Taste test and toss in the fridge

After a few days of changing the water and noticing the color fade to lighter shades of brown or dark yellow, I taste a nut. If I deem it good enough, (IE, enough of the astringent taste is gone that I find it tasty) I’m done. If it’s not, but getting close, I change the water again and then stick it in the fridge. I figure that the less tannins there are to keep bacterial growth down, the better the odds are that something unwelcome could grow. In the fridge it goes and I keep changing the water until it’s clear or the nuts no longer taste tannic. This can take a few days or a couple weeks depending on the nuts.

Step #6: Decide what to do with the meal

Since you’ve cold processed your meal, the gluten-like nut starches, fats and much of the nutrition is still in great shape. I do a few thing with my drained meal. I’ll use it immediately to make a Sweet Acorn Porridge, in a Spiced Apple and Acorn Quick Bread, or in Curry Squash and Acorn Ravioli. If I’d like to preserve it for later use, I dry it in my dehydrator as is, or process it into a finer meal and then dry it. It’s easier to grind into a flour in my coffee grinder when it’s fine.

I hope to post a few recipes soon. I’ll update this post when I do.

Notes on Processing

I’ve just covered one of my methods of cold water processing. It’s clearly for those who are not in a hurry! If you’re ready to process your acorns and want to eat a meal at the end of the day, I recommend trying hot water processing. I’ll post an article on hot water processing acorns soon.

Talk a couple of friends or family members into coming over, throw in a movie or favorite series or just catch up while sitting around the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite weekends spent with students at Trackers, as we all tell stories and get to know each other better. The productive socializing culminates in a delicious meal, so you can’t beat it!

Well, that’s it! Are you ready to cold process your acorns now? If you have any questions, drop me a note and I’ll see if I can help! Happy acorn hunting!”

Whenever May arrives in Oregon I get antsy. Each time I visit a farmer’s market that restlessness gets worse as I scan the booths. Why? It’s finally strawberry season!

strawberries-2At the beginning of the month the berries start trickling in and soon little pint boxes line tables and counters. I know I can easily go to the store and buy some giant strawberries shipped here from other, warmer places. But the briefness of the Oregon strawberry season is part of its allure.

I love everything about strawberries: picking them, smelling them, eating them until I feel slightly ill, then lounging in the sun covered in their sticky juice. These are memories I want to pass on to children: my own, as well as the children I teach here at Trackers.

Now that the Oregon strawberry season is in full force, we have been celebrating the harvest in many ways. Last week our After School students baked strawberry shortcake, then crushed berries, sugar and lemon juice to top their dessert. Today my daughter is traveling out to Sauvies Island with our Homeschool Program to pick strawberries (though I highly doubt many will make it into her basket). And next week there are rumors of a trip to the neighborhood farmer’s market and strawberry sorbet.

While all of these activities are delicious, they also viscerally connect kids to the seasonal rhythms of the year. In our year-long programs, we take kids outside through all the seasons. We watch how our small part of the world changes with the waning and waxing of sunlight and how that affects plants, animals and our own activities. Fall harvest, cider pressing, gathering acorns and making them into bread, winter fires, raising chicks, eating dandelions, and collecting the first bounty of summer are all parts of the Wilder year. Getting children elbows-deep in the cycle of the natural world is their first step to being connected to the Wilds around them.

And though I love sharing each and every season with my students, not much beats a sun-ripened strawberry picked by happy, dirty kids.

Make: Strawberry Shortcake

These cakes are made in muffin tins, which is easier for little hands and means industrious kids can even bake them in a toaster oven.

For the Berries: Rinse and take the tops off of about 1 lb strawberries (about 4 cups). Mash together with ¼ cup sugar and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Let sit while you make the shortcake.

For the Shortcake:

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter either softened or cut into pieces
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the flour sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Use a fork or your hands to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mix is grainy.

In a second bowl, beat the egg, heavy cream and milk with a fork until they are mixed.  Add vanilla.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the cream mixture. Mix with the fork until the dough is evenly moistened. If the dough seems dry, add more cream or milk, 1 tsp. at a time.

Fill greased muffin tins halfway and sprinkle tops with the remaining 1 Tbs. sugar.  Bake until the muffin tops are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whip 1-2 cups heavy whipping cream. This can be done with a mixer, or for more fun you can put it in a large lidded jar and shake it until it is whipped.

Slice cooled shortcake and top with berries and cream. Best eaten while sitting in the sun.

strawberries-1

For cuts, we begin with the basics. Remember to always follow the 8 Blades of Knife Safety while carving with your knife.

Forward Cut

Most people think of the Forward Cut, the most basic cut, when they think of carving.

  1. Hold your knife with a Fist Grip in one hand. Hold the wood with a Fist Grip in your other hand.
  2. Position the blade edge onto the wood where you want to start your cut. Don’t form a perfect cross with the blade on the wood, instead angle the butt of the handle slightly away from you.
  3. Slice forward, away from the wood hand and the rest of your body.

forward-cut-2

Remember to use the full edge of your blade (don’t cut the cheese!). Also, a deeper angle takes off more layers of grain but requires more force. A shallower angle removes thinner slices and can build into bigger cuts.

SAFETY No Thumb Dies

Beginners often make the serious mistake of extending their thumb or fingers to brace the wood while holding it. This frequently leads to people carving off the tips of their digits.  Practice holding the wood with a Fist Grip by wrapping your thumb over the top part of your fingers. Also, don’t tilt your wood hand knuckles. Keep them at right angles to the wood.

That said, it’s not always practical to hold the wood in a Fist Grip, especially when working with larger or flat pieces. You may need to hold the wood differently. When using different wood grips always Pay Attention and be certain your wood hand and fingers lie well out of the path of the blade.

MODIFY Extension Cut

Use the Extension Cut to better remove bulk amounts of material while shaping wood. It’s just like the Forward Cut,  but  you hold your arms out straight in front of you. (No T-Rex arms!) Full-arm extension means you use the larger muscles of your upper body instead of the weaker muscles of your elbow or wrist.

TRACKERS TIP Don’t Cut the Cheese

When you cut cheese, you cut with just one part of the blade. Wood is not cheese. When you cut wood, try to use the full blade edge, from the base to the tip or the tip to the base. This also prevents dulling on one part of the edge.


Next cut, The Push Cut.

Also check out:

8 Blades of Knife Safety & Care
Safely Sheathing a Knife

Part 3 in our Kids + Parents series for Woodcarving With Knives. Start with the Part 1: 8-blades of Safety and Care when using a bladed tool.


For both parents and kids we often start with carving stances.  Carving stances form the foundations for guarding one’s Outer and Inner Blood Circles (keeping the carving action away form the body). Before supervising your child carving, we recommend you try these positions and techniques to better understand their safety features.

Standing

Ask your child to stand with feet shoulder width apart. They can loosely bend their knees and sink slightly at the hips. They then extend their hands and arms out—keeping the carving action away from their body (Inner Blood Circle).

Kneeling Tall

This stance is also shoulder width apart but they instead stand tall on their knees. Because their body stands vertical from the knees up, this also keeps the carving action off of their lap.

Safety Note NO ONE DIES

Remind children (and adults) to resist the temptation to rest back on their heels or sit down and place the carving action on their lap. If, while in this position, the blade slips, you risk cutting a major artery of the leg—which can lead to serious injury.

The Twist

If your child has developed basic competency with a blade and wants to sit down while carving, show them how to twist their torso to the side of the hand holding the knife. This takes the carving action away from their lap and out of their Inner Blood Circle.

stances-2014_7

Modify The Block

Kids can use a solid surface such as log round or table to help stabilize the wood. This even allows them to sit on a chair or stump as it places a solid wood block between them and the carving action. As always, keep everything out beyond the knees (away from the inner thigh).

Refinement DO IT BETTER

As your kids learn from more mentors and teachers, it’s guaranteed that they’ll see different carving positions and techniques. These are not necessarily wrong. They may simply be more advanced than the basic stances described here—even a different style. For example, we ask beginners to twist while sitting since they lack experience keeping the carving action out of their lap but proper extension or mastery of more advanced cuts changes this. As your child’s technique improves their stances can become more flexible. Your job is to watch their work while guiding them to think for themselves. Then, they begin to understand how they can safely and functionally apply any new skill.

Kids learn more about Woodcarving & Forest Craft at our
Rangers Apprenticeship

 

 

Part 1 in our Kids + Parents series for Woodcarving With Knives. Parents commonly ask us how to bring our wood-carving curriculum home from camp. With sound judgment and a thoughtful approach you can supervise your kids and safely support their new skills.  At first we recommend full adult supervision. As you and your child both grow in experience, you can better judge how much supervision they require. A structured approach to woodcarving with knives helps kids develop the responsibility to use tools safely on their own.


The 8 Blades

The 8 Blades are essential principles for working with cutting tools. A Ranger knows the 8 Blades backward and forward. Like many Rangers Guild skills the 8 Blades follow the Four Cardinal Directions (East, South, West, North) and the Four Wind Directions (Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast).

8_Blades_001

Safety The 4 Cardinal Blades

  The Cardinal Blades (East, South, West, and North) are important practices for safety and competency.

East Blade PAY ATTENTION

With every cut imagine any potential path your blade might take—be willing to shape and reshape your position and plans to assure complete safety. Stay alert. Injuries happen when you stop Paying Attention. Avoid carving when tired. Don’t look away or get distracted, always keep your awareness on the cut. This extends beyond what you see—use all your senses to feel and hear the knife moving through the wood.

South Blade GUARD: OUTER BLOOD CIRCLE

Your Outer Blood Circle is a safety zone you guard whenever using a blade. Imagine circles as wide as you can reach with your sheathed blade—up above and all sides. Don’t let anyone step into your Outer Blood Circle in case you slip while carving. If someone steps into your Blood Circle, immediately stop using your blade and sheath it if necessary.

West Blade CONSIDER THE FORCE

More force in a cut often leads to less control—especially for beginners. The less control you have, the greater the risk of injury. The value of self-control is a Ranger’s first lesson in flowing with nature. When using blades, consider how much control each technique gives you. As you get better with a blade you achieve a balance—optimizing both control and force.

North Blade GUARD: INNER BLOOD CIRCLE

Consider your Inner Blood Circle. In addition to watching out for others while you carve, take care with your own body. Your body is filled with blood—cutting into your flesh will cause you to spill red wet, sticky stuff all over the place. Remember to imagine any potential path of the blade—keeping your body, hands and fingers well out of the way of any cut.   

illustration_sharpening-with-knife

Care The 4 Wind Blades

The Wind Blades remind us how we care for our blades and the Village.

Southeast Blade STAY SHARP

“Sharpen your knife, sharpen your life” is a Ranger’s motto. A dull knife can be dangerous, requiring more force and potentially slipping to lose control. Maintaining a sharp edge requires less effort than fixing a dull one. A Ranger keeps her blade honed and ready–always prepared to be Truly Helpful.

 Southwest Blade HARVEST THOUGHTFULLY

Choose wood that closely resembles your finished project. Wood straight and free of knots requires less effort to carve. Don’t hack mindlessly with your blade. Think of the animals who call the trees home. When you cut a living branch or tree, it must have Great Purpose—caretaking for both  Village and Forest. RESPECT You might be able to fall a tree in a short time, but it takes years for another to grow.

West Blade PRACTICE BLADE DISCIPLINE

Accept full responsibility for your blade and everything that happens with it. Always keep it clean, and sheath your blade when not in use. Before using any blade, make sure the handle is secure. If you must set down a live (unsheathed) blade, treat it like it could cut at any moment—maintaining both Outer and Inner Blood Circles. When storing your blade, make sure less experienced children and adults cannot get to it.

Northeast Blade PROTECT THE VILLAGE

A Ranger protects, caring for the woods, plants, animals and people of his community (the Village). He does not show off his blade. Today, many people see a blade as a frightening weapon instead of a useful tool. While a Ranger knows better, she must learn and follow all local rules. Research what type of blade you can have and leave it at home when required by culture and custom.


Mission: 8 Blades – Do It Better

Help kids become responsible for your own safety and competency.

  • Have the learn the 8 Blades and describe their meaning in your own words.
  • Ask them to teach the 8 Blades to another Ranger-in-training.

As kids gain more experience with bladed tools, revisit the 8-Blades. You’ll be impressed how much their understanding changes over time.