Kotlich cooking sets, the Freeloader solar charger, and wood-carving knife sharpening

John Adams
Monday, 3rd August 2009

The summer solstice brings a chance for John to check out the Kotlich cooking set, as well as a new solar charge and some simple tools for keeping your wood-carving knives sharp

Q is always coming up with high-tech gadgets for 007, and I rather like some of the clever devices that cross my desk, but sometimes it's the really simple things that turn out to be the most impressive. One such item is the Serbian Kotlich & Tripod that we used for our summer solstice supper here at the Sustainability Centre. It consists of an 8 litre double dipped enamelled cooking pot called a Kotlich and a twisted metal tripod with hanging chain.

It came with enticing recipes for moule mariniere, venison paprikas and nettle soup but you can use it for a wide range of meals from traditional Serbian stews (paprikas), to stir frys, corn on the cob, sausage and beans – pretty much anything you can cook in a pot over an open fire.

Unfortunately mussels were out of season (they would have been my first choice), also several of the expected diners were vegetarian so a non-meat paprikas seemed to be the order of the day. Penny (Miss Not-Much-Money-Penny) and I chopped up a mass of assorted vegetables, both green and root, added half a garlic (yes I did mean that, about 6 cloves), one small but very hot red chilli, and some seasoning. The remaining space in the Kotlich was filled with water and some vegetable stock. The instructions said we would need more liquid than usual but frankly there wasn't room for more than a bare covering. On top of this we floated two large Pimento peppers.

Kotlich: well designed

It is a testament to the design that I was then able to carry the full Kotlich in one hand and the folded tripod in the other and walk the hundred yards or so downhill from our kitchen to the campsite without spilling a drop.

With the tripod set up and the Kotlich hung in place over a small fire it was just left to wait the hour or so until it was cooked. It bubbled and boiled away, requiring minimum supervision apart from occasionally shortening or lengthening of the chain to maintain even cooking. This was not at all difficult as the handle and chain never got hot.

Ten minutes before serving I added the secret agent (well there had to be one, didn't there?) in this case paprika. A 'healthy' amount was sprinkled in, enough to draw gasps from the expectant diners.

A few minutes later and it was served to the ten people present along with plenty of hunks of bread and slices of the pimentos. The overwhelming response was very positive both for the Kotlich and perhaps more surprisingly for the quality of the food. It was certainly the easiest mass catering I have ever done and one I intend to repeat. The Kotlich just wiped clean at the end of the day and looks as good as new.

So if you enjoy the simple things in life and outdoor cooking in particular then a Kotlich is probably for you.

Freeloader Pro Solar Charger

Back to the high-tech, and a gadget I'm sure Q would be proud of; the Freeloader Pro professional solar charger.

In PM55 we reviewed the best travel solar chargers available and the original Freeloader scored well, and it's very good value for money. The Freeloader Pro has gone up market both in terms of price and design. The main unit houses a 1600mAh battery and two micro solar cells in a stylish slim black aluminium body that wouldn't look out of place in a dinner jacket pocket. The real change though is that this charger can output both 5.5 and 9.5 volts and comes with a caddy which can recharge the batteries of most digital cameras, SLRs and camcorders.

We have successfully charged mobiles, an iPhone and several different camera batteries with it, in fact the pictures in this section were all taken on cameras charged this way. We have had one failure; it couldn't manage a Lumix G1 battery because the contacts were inaccessible – other than that it has been wonderful at keeping all our portable electronics going.

Gold Finisher

In PM60 we reviewed Flexcut wood-carving knives and scorps. If you've had as much fun with yours as we have, you will be needing to restore that razor edge by now. The Flexcut Slipstrop Set will do just that, using the easily applied Gold Polishing Compound for a perfect mirror finish burr free edge.

Just a quick mention for the Opinel Gardener's Set which I think is a brilliant way of keeping your pruning equipment with you. It can be belt hung, shoulder slung or put in an outdoor jacket pocket. I'm going to keep mine handy for foraging stick making materials, etc.