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Ponassing Trout on the Campfire

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1 butterflied Trout Or a similar sized piece of fish

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Ponassing Trout on the Campfire

A great way to cook fresh fish on the campfire

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      This is a great backwoods cooking method to teach Scouts but it's also a great skill to have yourself!

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      Ponassing is a very simple technique for cooking fish over a fire which needs very little equipment. Basically all you need is a knife! It’s a great skill to have and an excellent activity for Scouts.

      The Columbanus Shield

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      Last weekend saw the annual Down and Connor Scout County Shield take place in Crawfordsburn Scout Centre. The County Shield is a competition which sees Scouts compete in a range of campcraft skills. This year there was 12 patrols competing. The top performing patrols in the country qualify for Scouting Ireland’s Phoenix Challenge, its national competition. This year, I was asked to lead the backwoods base at the Columbanus. I came up with three challenges.

      1. Make a feather stick and use it to light a cooking fire.
      2. Make a pan cooked bannock bread
      3. Ponass a trout

      The feather stick challenge was just a way of exposing the young people to another firelighting technique. We had a range of feather sticks, some better than others. I drummed it into the PLs that if there was any unsafe practice, I would step in and they would lose points. Luckily no one hurt themselves due to messing about. I did step in after 30 minutes to help light some fires. I’d rather everyone attempt every element of the challenge than have some Scouts still sitting trying to light fires an hour into the task.

      Each patrol had to make and use feather sticks from some dry birch I had prepared.

      The Scouts had been given prior warning, so some had practised the ponassing technique (although one group were given slices of apple to ponass…?). I had told them to learn how to butterfly a trout, I used YouTube to learn how to do this myself.

      Butterflying the Trout

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      There are lots of different ways to butterfly a fish and I am certainly no expert. Basically, you cut down both sides of the fish’s spine from the belly without going through the skin. Then you cut under the spine, between it and the skin from the head to the tail. The head, spine and tail all come away in one go. This only leaves the rib cage to remove. By the end you have both fillets joined together with no bones. It sounds messy but honestly if 12 patrols all managed to do it, some having never held a whole fish before, you can too. Have a look at a few videos on YouTube.

      Ponassing your Trout

      When ponassing a fish, you need to select a good stick. Aim for around 60cm or so long. Hazel, birch, ash or any other straight, live, non-toxic woods will do. Sharpen one end to stick into the ground and peel the bark from the other end. Using a good knife, split one end of the peeled end. You can then slide your fish in. Slit the skin of the fish in four places and use two skewers to hold it open. Tie the split closed tight. Your fish should be secure and ready for ponassing.

      When your fire is nice and hot, really you should use a good bed of embers and not flames, drive your stake into the ground. If the ground is hard or if you’re using a raised altar fire, fashion a pot stand. Some of our Scouts used a rock to weigh the end of stick down, preferring not to hammer the stick with their precious trout attached.

      As well as whole fish, this technique is also extremely effective with a large piece of salmon! Of course, you’ll need a sturdier stick.

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      The salmon above (which was not cooked on the same weekend) was glazed with sweet chilli sauce. Some of our Scouts’ trout were flavoured a bit too. Of course we already had the wonderful smoky taste from the fire but we had Scouts using lemon and parsley, garlic butter, plain old extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to help flavour theirs.

      Another happy patrol

      We had two hours, from me briefing the PLs to leaving the site pristine, to run the backwoods base. I was pretty pleased that every single patrol managed to complete every element of the base; the feather sticks, the bread and the ponassing trout. Sure, I had to step in and help a little with younger, newer patrols. Hopefully though, everyone had a good time and enjoyed themselves. Those younger patrols will be back next year, more experienced, more confident and covered in fish guts.

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      Mark T

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