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Cooking food in the great outdoors with Fell Foodie

Lunch on location at Fleetwith Pike. <i>(Image: Kenny Block)</i>
Lunch on location at Fleetwith Pike. (Image: Kenny Block)

Harrison Ward took his personal battles with depression, addiction and a breakdown and transformed it into a positive way to encourage people to get outdoors – and cook good food, even at the top of Blencathra. Here he shares his story and recipes from his new cookbook, Cook Out.

‘There was certainly pressure having Dame Mary Berry stood over you, saying those immortal words: “no soggy bottom”’

‘There’s something special about cooking up some pancakes watching a sunrise or sharing a meal with friends on the top of a fell.’

‘There a feeling of insignificance about being outdoors, especially when stood at the top of a fell, it can help you put your problems into perspective’

‘My whole life had crumbled before me; I was trying to exist day to day with alcohol as my way of getting through. I didn’t want to be here anymore. Alcohol was my way of carrying on another day, keeping me just far away enough from that ultimate end.’

June 6th 2016 is a date forever etched in the mind of Harrison Ward, the man behind the hugely popular Instagram account, Fell Foodie. It was the day he experienced a personal breakdown – and the day he finally said no to addiction and excess and started to piece his life back together.

He’d struggled with clinical depression since puberty: ‘When I got to that point in my life it was as if something just didn’t quite cross over for me and life felt very hard. Then I moved to university to study in York and it got worse. I dropped out of my course, doing more hours at the pub I worked at – it was an easier place to hide my addiction.

Great British Life: 'Alcohol was my sole focus, drinking to blackout, I was brushing my teeth with the stuff. I was a full-time smoker and I weighed more than 22 stone,' says Harrison. Photo: Harrison Ward'Alcohol was my sole focus, drinking to blackout, I was brushing my teeth with the stuff. I was a full-time smoker and I weighed more than 22 stone,' says Harrison. Photo: Harrison Ward

‘I was drinking more than 20 pints a day – alcohol was my sole focus, drinking to blackout, I was brushing my teeth with the stuff. I was a full-time smoker and I weighed more than 22 stone.

‘And then I cheated on my partner. Quite rightly, she finished the relationship, and everything came crashing down. I’ve been sober since that day.’

Needing to prove to his former partner, his family and friends - and to himself - that he was not a bad person, Harrison left York immediately, moving back to his childhood home in the Lake District.

It was here Harrison found focus on the fells. Friends and family rallied around him including one who encouraged him to join him on a hike. This turned out to be life changing.

‘The first hike was Blencathra,’ laughs Harrison, who grew up in Carlisle but now lives in Ambleside. ‘Talk about a baptism of fire. I was woefully underprepared, wearing an old t-shirt, shorts and trainers with no grip. My friend bought me some hiking boots and off we went, such an incredible act of kindness.

‘The next week came Helvellyn, England’s third highest point. These are walks that people spend time building up to, but there I was, putting one foot in front of the other, my hike reflecting my personal journey. Then came Scafell Pike, then Snowdon, Ben Nevis and then, 11 months after going sober, the Brathay Marathon.

Great British Life: 'I am always conscious of the environments I'm in too, always leaving no trace, using a camping stove as a proverbial campfire and ensuring everything is packed back out with me,' says Harrison. Photo: Kenny Block'I am always conscious of the environments I'm in too, always leaving no trace, using a camping stove as a proverbial campfire and ensuring everything is packed back out with me,' says Harrison. Photo: Kenny Block

‘It was hard, especially at first, but that moment when you hit the top, blue skies, glorious views, it is unbeatable. I’d found a new addiction in fitness and hiking.’

And then it wasn’t long before his lifetime love of cooking merged with his new hobby. The 33-year-old had always loved cooking and baking, especially with his gran, enjoying the connection that sitting around a dinner table brings. But he took it one step further and the joy of preparing meals on a stove in the outdoors had brought a new and special dimension to his love of food. It started with a local walking group he joined while he was working at Grasmere Gingerbread.

‘People would pull soggy sandwiches out of the bottom of their rucksacks, whereas I would have something that would always attract attention,’ he says. ‘People were interested in what I took along and then things just developed.

‘Food brings that connection, something I feel we’ve lost and I’m keen to help create and nurture. There is something beautifully primal about crafting a meal outside. I see it as an homage to ancestors who began the culinary revolution by first cooking over open fire. Of course, these days, elements are far more refined, and we have access to a global repertoire of recipes and ingredients but taking them back out to their roots feels very human.

‘I am always conscious of the environments I’m in too, always leaving no trace, using a camping stove as a proverbial campfire and ensuring everything is packed back out with me. I find it a different way to connect and spend time in nature with that amalgamation of sights, sounds and smells.’

Great British Life: Cooking on the fells has become a way of getting back to better mental health and dealing with addiction for Harrison. Photo: Kenny BlockCooking on the fells has become a way of getting back to better mental health and dealing with addiction for Harrison. Photo: Kenny Block

You won’t find any dehydrated food, noodles or simple bacon sandwiches, though. Harrison loves to recreate restaurant-style meals on camping equipment that he carries up the fells with him.

‘I’d started sharing pictures of food on Instagram, keeping it anonymous by calling it Fell Foodie. My confidence was still low, but I also didn’t want to annoy my friends with pictures of food. At first it was just packed lunches in Tupperware being carted up the hills until someone suggested I get a stove and attempt to prepare meals al fresco from scratch.

‘It was a bit of a challenge-based hobby that seemed to resonate with others and has led to some wonderful interactions and opportunities and absolutely love it. There’s something special about cooking up some pancakes watching a sunrise or sharing a meal with friends on the top of a fell.

I’m certainly now inundated with offers to join me on the hillside.”

Today, Harrison is an outdoor cook who frequently delivers talks at workplaces, events and festivals as a keynote speaker about his recovery and the benefits of time spent outside aiding his journey from an overweight, alcoholic, smoker to the fit, fell loving foodie he is today. He recently appeared on Channel 5’s Winter on the Farm and notably on the BBC baking a cake on the hillside for Dame Mary Berry in her latest series Love to Cook, a real highlight.

Great British Life: A career highlight - cooking lemon drizzle cake outdoors for Mary Berry. Photo: BBCA career highlight - cooking lemon drizzle cake outdoors for Mary Berry. Photo: BBC

‘There was certainly pressure having Dame Mary Berry stood over you, saying those immortal words: “no soggy bottom”,’ smiles Harrison. ‘Thankfully, there was no sogginess to my lemon drizzle cake and she loved it. There have been many special, pinch me moments since I first began to share my adventurers and creations on the internet. Meeting Mary is definitely on the podium – what an experience to have. She was wonderful.

‘But the greatest impact I feel I’ve had as been openly sharing my story in schools. Whilst you can never measure the effect, there was a time I was that child sat in the assembly hall, battling dark internal thoughts feeling so alone. I would never have imagined I’d ever speak about it, let alone on stages and media. If by sharing it can help someone reach out for help or feel some hope then it makes all my struggles more worthwhile.

That combination of hiking in the fells and making delicious nourishing food has brought happiness to Harrison’s life as well as connection with his now legion of Instagram followers. It has also helped him protect his mental health as well as inspire others who feel the way he once did in what he calls his darker days. The solitude and vast nature of striding along the Cumbrian and Lake District Fells also provides an overwhelming sense the bigger picture.

‘There a feeling of insignificance about being outdoors, especially when stood at the top of a fell, with grand vistas and open spaces all around you, it can help you put your problems into perspective. I would encourage everyone to get out into nature. It feels like the reset we require. I’m immensely grateful for combining my love of cooking and my newfound love of the outdoors.

‘I take life one day at a time these days, a mantra that has been key to my sobriety. Everything in the last few years has been very unexpected and I like the spontaneous nature of life at the moment. I’ll be revelling in the reality of completing a childhood dream and publishing a cookbook for a while though.’

Published by Vertebrate Publishing, Harrison’s debut book, Cook Out is priced £25 and available from adventurebooks.com. Fellfoodie.co.uk

Great British Life: Lunch on location at Fleetwith Pike. Photo: Kenny BlockLunch on location at Fleetwith Pike. Photo: Kenny Block

Harrison’s food favourites

First dish you learned to cook?

Probably baking something with my gran. Baking cakes alongside her to sell at parish bake sales was the beginning that started an intrigue for all things culinary. I don’t think stirring the gravy for a Sunday roast or peeling the spuds would count as a first dish!

First dish outdoors, other than some bacon sarnies camping as a kid, I tried a poached egg with bacon, red onion marmalade and toasted muffin as my first creation. Seeing if I could replicate a few different techniques using a single burner in the mountains.

Most vivid childhood food memory?

My memories were less about the food and more about the connection it brought. I loved how food brought friends and family together around a table, sharing memories and updates over a lovingly crafted meal. The kitchen was the hub of the house, where everyone came to gather. That was where my real love of food began with the idea it was a flux for togetherness. It appears to be a less frequent activity now but I think there is far greater value in gathering around a dining table than just learning eating etiquette. They seem to have it much more nailed on the continent.

Most memorable meal out?

Baking a cake on my camping stove for Dame Mary Berry DBE overlooking Blencathra. A moment I won’t forget in a hurry – talk about pressure!

Favourite ingredient?

Aubergine. I adore it charred with lashings of a quality extra virgin oil as a side or as an addition to a curry. Blitzed into a baba ganoush with some fresh sourdough is a delight too.

Your go-to snack?

Peanut M&Ms seem to fall into my shopping basket as if my magic.

Your dream dinner guest, and why?

My gran, she sparked this foodie interest, yet I never had the chance to let her put her feet up and make her dinner.

Guilty food pleasure?

I have an insatiable sweet craving. My struggles with moderation are well documented and confectionery certainly fits in this narrative. I don’t know how anyone can have a single cube of chocolate or just a couple of sweets out of a bag before wrapping it back up.

Who are your food heroes?

Fellow ‘Carlislian’ Grace Dent has always been a favourite, she is able to craft tastes and flavours in words alone, has a great sense of humour and is always a huge supporter of the local food scene.

One half of the Hairy Bikers, Dave Myers has also been a favourite to follow and watch. I think we both share a love of exploring places through their cuisine.

A food industry person who inspires?

Anyone working in the trade. I did over a decade in the hospitality trade and every team member is a vital cog in ensuring a successful service. It can be a tough proving ground for life but brings so much reward and lessons. Everyone should be a bit kinder and more patient with those serving them dinner, drinks or other refreshments.

A place you love to eat?

Greek cuisine has long been a favourite of mine and I finally went to visit Alexandros’ restaurant in Carlisle the other month. I must have walked/driven past it thousands of times in my life, I’d never been in. It didn’t disappoint, a truly authentic experience and a primary example of how to deliver perfect hospitality. I can’t wait to return.

Great British Life: American style pancakes with blueberries. Photo: Kenny BlockAmerican style pancakes with blueberries. Photo: Kenny Block

American style pancakes with blueberries recipe

Makes 8

My first memory of these chunkier, fluffier cousins of the European crepe was at my childhood friend Jonny’s house. He prepared the pancakes whilst dancing around his kitchen to Michael Jackson and stacked them up tall after a weekend sleepover. Although previously having been a lemon and sugar traditionalist, seeing syrup cascade down this tower of cooked batter swayed my intentions. These days they are a breakfast treat and ideal for that first meal of the day after unzipping the tent door. Remember that first pancake always fails, even outdoors.

Equipment

Stove, fuel, frying pan, bowl, whisk, spatula

Ingredients

150g plain flour

2 eggs

100ml milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp sugar

Salt

Butter

Blueberries

Honey

Method

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl (no need to sieve - this is the outdoors!)

In a separate container, or reusing your cup, add a cups worth of milk (about 100ml) and crack 2 eggs into it. Lightly mix and slowly add to the dry mixture whilst whisking.

Once combined, continue to whisk until no lumps are left. The mixture should be a runny custard like consistency – add more flour to thicken or milk to thin if needs be.

Heat a pan on your stove and add a few cubes of butter, allowing it to melt without letting it burn. Pour a small amount of the mixture into the pan so it forms a circle in the centre of it. Don’t touch it! Wait until bubbles appear on the surface and then using your spatula, flip it. Cook it for a further 30 seconds and remove from the pan.

Repeat the process until your mixture has all been used. You should get 8 decent sized pancakes out of it. Serve with blueberries and honey (or toppings of your choosing).

Tip – Make the mix at home and decant into a flask. Pancakes ready to go the next morning without the mess.

Great British Life: Tuscan bean stew cooked on the fell. Photo: Kenny BlockTuscan bean stew cooked on the fell. Photo: Kenny Block

Tuscan Bean Stew recipe

Serves 4

One of my most regular go tos. Comes together easily and just satisfies any hunger. You may have caught me cooking up this dish on Channel 5’s Winter on the Farm in 2022 for Dr Amir Khan. The roasted peppers are essential, adding smokey sweetness but you can replace the cannellini beans for any roque white beans taking space in your cupboard.

Equipment

Stove, fuel, knife, chopping board, small saucepan

Ingredients

½ white onion

2/3 garlic cloves

1 tblsp tomato puree

400g chopped tomatoes

3 peppers (roasted, skinned and chopped)

300g drained cannellini beans

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp oregano

2/3 bay leaves

1tsp sugar

Balsamic vinegar

Oil

Salt and pepper

Method

Finely dice the onion and add to a pan on a medium heat with some oil. Peel and finely dice the garlic and add to the softened onion. Squeeze some tomato puree into the mix with the paprika, oregano and bay leaves and cook out for a few minutes. Stir through the beans, add the chopped tomatoes, roasted peppers and the chorizo back to the pan. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes and serve.

Tip – roast, skin and chop your peppers at home. Cook with a splash of oil and salt in the oven at 180˚C until blackened. Cover to steam for 10 minutes and then peel off the skins. Otherwise, they are available in jars in supermarkets.

Great British Life: This is a dish that would wow some house guests the minute you place it in the centre of the dinner table so imagine the reaction from your hiking or camping buddies, says Harrison. Photo: Kenny BlockThis is a dish that would wow some house guests the minute you place it in the centre of the dinner table so imagine the reaction from your hiking or camping buddies, says Harrison. Photo: Kenny Block

Shakshouka recipe (v)

Serves 2-3

I could have placed this dish in the breakfast category but as far as I’m concerned it works any time of day. This is a dish that would wow some house guests the minute you place it in the centre of the dinner table so imagine the reaction from your hiking or camping buddies. Serve straight in the pan for the best visual and also saving washing up then its everyone (with a fork) for themselves for who gets the best cooked eggs. Sharing is caring after all.

Equipment

Stove, fuel, knife, chopping board, frying pan, spoon

Ingredients

3-5 eggs

½ white onion

2 garlic cloves

200g passata

175g roasted peppers

1 tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp ground cumin

20g fresh coriander

Splash white wine vinegar

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Crusty bread* (optional)

Method

Finely dice your white onion and soften in good quality olive oil and a low heat.

Once softened and translucent, chop your garlic as finely as you can and add to the onions along with your paprika, cumin and seasoning. Cook through until aromatic and then add your passata and roasted peppers, chopped into chunks.

Stir through with a splash of white wine vinegar and bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes. Knock your heat down to its lowest setting and create some small divots in the sauce to cradle your cracked eggs in. Dependant on the size of your pan you may get 3-5 eggs into the sauce, make sure to leave a bit of room in between. Once you’ve cracked the eggs into the sauce, place a lid on the pan and leave to simmer and cook through in the pan, at least 5 minutes. Finely chop some coriander and garnish over the top and serve in the pan with an extra drizzle of olive oil and enjoy by itself or on top of some crusty bread (optional).

Tip – if you and your friends don’t mind a bit of spice, stir through some harissa paste before you add the eggs.

Great British Life: Cook Out by Harrison WardCook Out by Harrison Ward



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