Feasting In The Woods
Something about being in the woods builds up an appetite. Living closer to the land, building a fire for heat because the sun hasn’t crested the mountains and it gets cold at night. Hiking, chasing a toddler around camp, dodging sudden downpours. First thing in the morning and at the end of a long day, nothing sounds better than a hot meal. Except that trying to prep on a picnic table and do anything substantial on a camp stove can be laughable if conditions aren’t utterly perfect. So the challenge to myself, for spending a week in the mountains eating nothing but granola bars, oatmeal, cereal, sandwiches and sausages roasted over the fire sounded atrocious, was to figure out how to strike that balance.
My last post was all about the mis en place, getting ready for the trip. So how did it all work out? Well, my mother called me crazy when I told her when we were doing this. She hasn’t cooked on camping trips in years, because of the hassle of prep and clean-up. I told her I would do all the cooking, I had a plan. That plan had two words: cast iron. And let me tell you, that first cold morning breathing in the mountain air, with coffee steeping and a fire just starting to blaze, my mother conceded that perhaps a hot breakfast would be a good start to the day.
I set my cast iron skillet on the grate over the fire pit to get hot, threw in a few table spoons of bacon fat to melt and wandered off. When it was warm enough, I threw in the potatoes that I’d diced and kept stored in water (draining off the water, of course.) Covered it in foil, got my coffee, helped my daughter chase chipmunks and harass her uncles. Possibly some of the most satisfactorily lazy breakfast cookery I’ve ever performed. When the potatoes were mostly I cooked, I threw in some diced onions and the bacon that had been pre-cooked and let them finish up. Added some pre-whisked eggs and a little cheese, and fed six people with little effort. Best part, all I had to do was add water to the skillet and boil it out. Paper bowls, while possibly not the most eco-friendly, went into the fire to fuel the cleaning.
The potatoes I baked off ahead of time were also a life-saver. Tuesday night and Wednesday, we got soaked. Storms lingered, breaking only long enough to give us some hope. Freya got restless, but was an admirable little camper. Worst part was that Z came up Tuesday night only to get rained on. We had some issues maintaining a rain shelter due to some poor planning on our part, and an over reliance on cell phones in areas with no service.
I managed to get a fire roaring, with the plan to get dinner started before Jon returned to camp with Z, only to have the downpour start again. I quickly grabbed the dutch oven, filled it with my foil-wrapped baked potatoes and some meatballs wrapped in foil, covered it and threw it in the coals before we retreated to our tents. Later, after the rain had subsided for the evening, the potatoes were steaming hot, ready for butter, bacon and consumption. The meatballs didn’t get quite hot enough, due to being partially frozen from sitting in ice for two days. My wife had the genius idea of skewering them and roasting them over the fire, which made them palatable. The coals had survived the rain, especially under the oven, which at least kept us from being hungry as well as damp.
As an added bonus, the remaining pre-baked potatoes got cut into wedges with some bacon and onions and tossed in the dutch oven the next morning, while the skillet sat on the grate frying a dozen sunnyside up eggs.
The first few days proved that my theory had been sound and helped make the hardships of the trip a bit more enjoyable. In the next installation, I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip, as well as some of the logistics and what could be improved next time.
Posted on July 22, 2014, in Baking, Breakfast, Camping, Cooking, Equipment, Savory, Sweets and tagged adventure, camping, cast iron, family, gluten free, mis en place. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.