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Sibley Tent, an Early Review

DCF 1.0

The Sibley tent.

A tent has been invented by Major H. H. Sibley, of the army, which is known as the “Sibley tent.” It is somewhat similar to the Comanche lodge, but in place of the conical frame-work of poles it has but one upright standard, resting upon an iron tripod in the centre. The tripod can be used to suspend cooking utensils over the fire, and, when folded up, admits the wooden standard between the legs, thereby reducing the length one half, and making it more convenient for packing and traveling.

This tent constituted the entire shelter of the army in Utah during the winter of 1857-8, and, notwithstanding the severity of the climate in the elevated locality of Camp Scott, the troops were quite comfortable, and pleased with the tent.

In permanent camps the Sibley tent may be so pitched as to give more room by erecting a tripod upon the outside with three poles high and stout enough to admit of the tent’s being suspended by ropes attached to the apex. This method dispenses with the necessity of the central upright standard.

When the weather is very cold, the tent may be made warmer by excavating a basement about three feet deep, which also gives a wall to the tent, making it more roomy.

The tent used in the army will shelter comfortably twelve men.

Captain G. Rhodes, of the English army, in his recent work upon tents and tent-life, has given a description of most of the tents used in the different armies in Europe, but, in my judgment, none of them, in point of convenience, comfort, and economy, will compare with the Sibley tent for campaigning in cold weather. One of its most important features, that of admitting of a fire within it and of causing a draught by the disposition of the wings, is not, that I am aware, possessed by any other tent. Moreover, it is exempt from the objections that are urged against some other tents on account of insalubrity from want of top ventilation to carry off the impure air during the night.

Randolph Barnes Marcy, The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions, with Maps, Illustrations, and Itineraries of the Principal Routes between the Mississippi and the Pacific, 1859.

Ancient Dutch Ovens and the Ceramic Hibachi

“A good meal ought to begin with hunger.” French Proverb.

All animals need to eat.  All the time.  As humans, we eat every day if we are lucky.  An average Westerner will have about 275,000 meals in a lifetime, not including snacks, munchies, and other nibbles.  Once upon a time, we all caught, gathered, and ultimately made food for ourselves and our families.  If we had some extra, we might have provided for the needy, the unlucky, or even the lazy.  If we were entrepreneurial, we might have even exchanged our food for other stuff or services we needed. We cook our food to release nutrients, to make it easier to digest, and ultimately, to make it more delicious.  After all, “A clever cook can make good meat of a whetstone” Erasmus.

rats

…or so they say.

Throughout our evolution here on Earth, food never came from an assembly line or even a grocery store.  As time went on, we could choose to put some effort into our cooking and make delicious stuff.  For this we developed cooking apparatus beyond the simple fire and we adapted just about every food into some sort of cooked dish.  As true meat-loving omnivores, humans eat just about anything.  “If it has four legs and is not a table, eat it!” Cantonese proverb.

Enough digression, on to some minimalist cooking!

Cook of the SMS Ranch_ near Spur_ Texas_ Lee Russell_ 1939-600Every cowboy, Boy Scout, and classic camper in North America knows the amazing versatility of the cast iron Dutch Oven.  Why “Dutch” you say?  Well, those clever craftsmen from the Netherlands perfected sand casting for vessels such as this in the 17th Century and by the first decade of the 18th Century the English copied them perfectly and the name stuck (at least in England and America).

dutch-oven-breakfastThis was not even remotely a new design for cookware, just a new material.  A heavy thermal barrier to spread heat and hold a high temperature without drying out the food is a useful innovation.  Moving farther afield you can find kindred spirits around the globe serving the same purpose including the Bedourie, the potjiekos, Sač oven, and the Nabemono.

mt_5_oven_a_544

The clibanus or Roman clay Dutch oven.

Over on the British Museum Blog Sally Grainger has been writing about her experiments with, among other things, the Roman clibanus (a.k.a. clay Dutch oven).  I had no idea that the rimmed lid for holding coals was such an ancient innovation but, of course, it makes perfect sense.  Our ancestors were cooking on coals every day after all.  There seem to be many variants on this design but the example here is something of an inverted version of our modern oven.  The entire lid lifts off to expose the tray or shallow bowl lower portion.  This makes for a serving vessel as part of the cooking apparatus.

mt_5_charcoal_544Just like it’s modern counterpart, an oven like this can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, from meats, to stews, to breads.

traychickenSee her write-up of the experiments HERE.

TajineThe descendents of this style oven may be seen in the tajine and it’s cousins found all around the Mediterranean, especially in North Africa.

And finally, a relatively simple project for the primitive camp.

A simple, slab-built portable grill could be a useful addition to one’s camp kitchen.  Perfect for cooking a Mediterranean meal of shish kebabs and perfect for simple meals anywhere.  Recent archaeological work has brought this back to light.

GreekGrill

Replicated souvlaki pan from Mycenae ca. 3,500 B.P.

These are a relatively recent discovery in that their use is finally understood.  Experimental archaeology is a great thing.  Sometimes we can readily predict the answer we know to be correct, but sometimes the process teaches us something and clears up misconceptions lost to time.  In this case, a type of artifact called a souvlaki tray of ancient Mycenae (Crete).  These date to a period from over 3,200 years ago.  These are rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat, and are generally discovered in fragments.  Prior to experimentation, archaeologists were not sure exactly how these were used, whether placed directly over a fire, catching fat drippings from the meat, or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbeque pit.  Attempting to cook on them directly over a fire proved useless, as the clay was too thick to allow efficient heat transfer, however, placing coals in the pan made an efficient hibachi-like portable grill.

A short article on the experiment may be found here: Mycenae Portable Grills.

References:

C. Grocock, and S. Grainger 2006. Apicius: a Critical Edition with Introduction and English Translation. Totnes: Prospect Books. Grainger, S. 1999 Cato’s roman cheesecakes: the baking techniques, Milk: beyond the dairy, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on food and cookery, Prospect books Totnes, pp.168-178.

Online:

The Medieval Spanish Chef  – Looking for a perfect peacock recipe or interesting ways to cook a horse?  Have a few extra rabbit hearts and don’t know what to do with them?  Check out Suey on her blog for some really interesting, well-researched Medieval recipes.

Maya Pedal, upcycling bicycles in Guatemala

An excellent project and a good cause.

From the Makers:

In 1997, in San Andrés Itzapa in Guatemala, Maya Pedal Association began recycling scraps of bicycles into Bicimáquinas.

Bicimáquinas are pedal-powered blenders, washing machines and threshing machines, eliminating the need for fuel and electricity. Pumps are also possible, and are capable of extracting 30 liters of water per minute from 30-meter deep wells (electronic pumps reach just to 12 meters).

The idea of these ingenious contraptions emerged from the desire to help the farming families of the San Andrés community. The issue that gave rise to Maya Pedal was the expense and shortage of electricity and fuel in the village.

Carlos and Cesar, creators of Maya Pedal, have achieved an extraordinary result: a worthy project that does not pollute and is extremely fascinating in its involvement of volunteers from around the world who are building a fantastic pedal revolution.