“Hunger finds no fault with the cooking”

Cooking and fire starting have a couple of things in common: in both cases preparation is the most time consuming (and essential) element and in both cases knowing how to do it is not the same as being able to do it.  Mastering either skill takes practice.

A couple of days ago I went into the jungle to cook breakfast and demonstrate a few tips and tricks for cooking in the jungle, in particular how to boil water in a leaf.  It was also an opportunity to practice my own fire starting techniques as it is the rainy season here and that makes fire starting even more challenging than usual.

Being able to boil water in a leaf was something I’d been curious about for some time.  Freelander (a regular contributor to this site) had sent me some photos of daun meliat – a pliable leaf used for boiling water in – but I haven’t, as yet, been able to find/identify it here.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was in Bera where Stem (an Orang Asli) showed me how to make a scoop from a palas palm leaf.   My first thought was “could this be used to boil water in?” and after a bit of experimentation I discovered that it can.

The (unopened) leaves of palas are traditionally used in the preparation of ketupat (a glutinous rice dish served during idul fitri) and, as such, I assumed there wouldn’t be any toxicity issues … and I haven’t suffered any ill effects from the water I’ve boiled in palas leaves.

But how useful is it to know how to do this little trick with a palas leaf?  Well, it all depends what sort of situation you find yourself in: if bamboo is close at hand then all manner of pots and cups can be quickly fashioned; but what if there isn’t any bamboo, your only water source looks a bit dodgy and you want to boil it first?

What I like about the leaf method is that it’s very quick to make the container and the palas palm is quite prevalent in the jungle, so it is relatively easy to find.  In the west the same sort of trick is done with containers fashioned from bark into which hot rocks are placed to boil and sterilize the water.

Knowing how to make bannock is another useful and simple skill to have.  The basic recipe is 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt, but you can add in all sorts of other ingredients as well:  I usually add in 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of milk powder and as many raisins as the mix will hold.

The jungle contains all sorts of useful leaves – some are enormous (terap/banana leaves) and make shelter building a breeze, some can protect you from the bugs (e.g. tobacco leaves to keep the leeches at bay), dry leaves are an important aid to fire-starting, some can be used as sandpaper, some will stop a wound from bleeding….the list goes on and on and I’ll try to cover at least some of their many other uses as we go along.