Campfire cooking skills should not be underestimated. At the basic level, you and your companions need to refuel but avoid food poisoning. What’s more, nutritious and filling meals are important outdoors, particularly if you are making a journey. Of course, a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates, fats and proteins, along with micronutrients provide the inputs people need to function to their fullest on a trip, along with allowing their body to repair as necessary. But food in camp means more than just fuel and building blocks for our bodies.
“I thought we’d be eating sausage and beans from a can every evening”, Fred said to me during a River Spey trip a few years ago. We’d far exceeded Fred’s expectations on the trip, with evening meals consisting of a taste-bud tingling Thai green curry and rice on the first evening, a hearty tomato, tuna and vegetable pasta the second night and a macaroni cheese the final evening. All of these meals contained fresh ingredients, were prepared in our little expedition camp and cooked over the campfire. “The food provided was excellent. Eating the evening meal around a campfire in the forest made it even better.” Fred later wrote on his feedback email to us.
Hearty helpings are certainly something to look forward to at the end of a long, physical day. If you know a good meal is coming, you tend to work harder for longer and your body feels satisfied with its refuel.
People also look forward to flavours. They become very important on wilderness trips. Variety is also valuable. Even the best foods loose their shine if you have to eat them every single day. If you don’t believe me, ask the people on the trip where we somehow ended up with maple-syrup flavoured instant oats for breakfast for 10 days in a row…
One of my old mentors always maintained one of the signs of an accomplished outdoor guide was they could turn out good meals on a campfire. Those of us who spend considerable time working and living outdoors, all have our repertoires of favourites; the meals we like to cook for others on a regular basis as well as the specials we cook occasionally.
Good food is good for morale. Cooking for people outdoors is an opportunity to surprise and delight as well as refuel them.
I asked members of the Frontier Bushcraft team which meal in their repertoire tends to surprise people…
I’d be lying if I said I made it on every course but I’ve done it a few times when there is time – using the Dutch oven to make a lasagne. Clients think you are taking the mickey but it’s awesome. Fry onions, garlic and mince with pepper, salt and Italian herbs. Add mushroom, peppers, tins of tomatoes and/or whatever else you feel like. Home made cheese sauce (of course). Melt butter, stir in flour and then milk. Add salt and pepper to taste and loads of any cheese. Several layers of content and lasagne sheets with plenty of sauce on top. Lots of cheese sprinkled on top and put lid on with coals on the top as well. Put in side of fire turning every now and again. Check that sheets of lasagne are cooked through with knife. I can’t give an exact time but about an hour, dependent on fire, wood, wind, etc.
This seasonal pheasant pie has become legendary amongst some of my friends, so I’m not sure I should be giving away my secrets but life is for sharing, so here goes… Enjoy!
- Some oil or butter (you’ll need butter for the mash potatoes so to save on taking extra items take a bit more butter)
- 1 chicken stock cube +300ml water
- 200g (or as many as you can hold in your arms!) mixed fresh wild mushrooms
- 6 rindless smoked streaky bacon rashers, cut into slices
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 6 skinless pheasant breasts (or so as to not waste the rest of the bird, cook the whole bird then strip the meat off the bone)
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- A generous amount of tawny or ruby port (100ml ish)
- Some flour
- 2 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
For the mashed potatoes
- 1kg potatoes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Some whole grain mustard (optional but advisable)
In a large Dutch oven add some oil or butter and fry the bacon and onion until beginning to brown. Then add the chopped mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the pheasant to the pan and fry until the meat is lightly browned. Add the garlic and port to the pan and allow the liquid to bubble for a few seconds. Sprinkle the flour over and stir through the pheasant and vegetables. Now stir in the chicken stock and the parsley. Bring to a gentle simmer and until the pheasant is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
In a separate pan, boil the potatoes until cooked, drain, then add the butter and milk and mash the devil out of them. Stir in some whole grain mustard to taste (you’d be mad not to). Time this right so your mash is ready at the same time as your pheasant filling has finished cooking. Put the mash on top of the pheasant filling in the Dutch oven, put the lid on and knock back your fire carefully putting some embers on to the lid. You want a low steady heat under and above the oven. Cook until the mash goes golden. 30 – 40 minites depending on your variables. Serve with green beans or similar.
I made a decent French dish with guinea fowl, Toulouse sausage, garlic, cabbage, and white wine a few times. I made it for Martin, Mondo and Spoons once. They liked it I believe.
Martin agrees “That dish was delish”.
[ N.B. We’ll have the full low-down of this recipe in a future blog post. The current article is the first in a series. – PK]
And if you fancy a pudding, then Alison has the answer, even if the only cooking pot you have left is a metal mug…
A campfire cake in a metal mug is always a winner!
- 4 tablespoons self raising flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 medium egg
- A few drops of vanilla or orange extract (optional)
This is an incredibly easy to prepare and comforting treat for those days when you need a warm chocolatey cake hug in camp. I tend to pre-mix the dry ingredients into a labelled zip loc bag for convenience and only add the wet ingredients when I’m ready to cook.
You can either grease the inside of a crusader cup with a little oil or, if you’re well prepared, line it with parchment paper. I prefer to do the latter as it saves on washing up time after, which is always a bonus in my books. Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients in the greased or lined cup before cracking in the egg and mixing it in as thoroughly as you can. Stir in the oil, milk and extract if using. At this stage, you can get a little creative and add some chocolate chips, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries or nuts if you have them to hand.
Scrape back a little of the fire and place the cup at the edge of the fire on warm ash and embers. At this stage, if you were making the cake at home you could relax for a bit, but a fire cake needs a bit more tlc and management. Rotating the cup periodically so that each side of the cake gets even heat is important. It’s a pleasant task though, especially as the smell and anticipation of that warm cake is pretty damned terrific. The cake will rise evenly if you’ve managed the temperatures well and is cooked when a knife comes out clean when prodded into its centre.
This is the first in a new series of blog posts on campfire cookery, including recipes. Let us know in the comments below which of the above recipes you fancy trying on your next camp. Plus keep an eye out on the Frontier Bushcraft blog for further campfire cooking ideas.