Eight Classic Camping Recipes Every Cook Should Know
I ran across these great recipes that were first published in the pages of National Wildlife magazine in Apr/May of 1965. These eight recipes for fish, steak eggs, bacon, potatoes, bread and coffee remain surefire staples in the
camper’s meal plan.
Now, more than 40 years later, these recipes do more than give us great eats. They show us the simple, enriching qualities of camping are timeless. Served up here with more than a bit of nostalgia, whether you’re cooking on top of a fire, a griddle or a gas grill, these foods are sure to please. (But don’t forget the fruits and veggies.) Enjoy!
Eight Classic Recipes Every Camp Cook Should Know
By Bradford Angier
“Most of us go camping to have a good time,” Colonel Townsend Whelen, for years the dean of the outdoor writers, was telling me just a few months ago. “If the food is poor, unwholesome, or not what we crave, we have a continual grouch. If it is excellent and there is plenty of it, everything is rosy. Good food even makes up for rain and hard beds. Good fellowship is at its best around good meals.
“The best thing about all this,” Colonel Whelen went on to say, “is that knowing how to cook eight basic foods well will make anyone a better than passable camp cook.” The eight? Fish, steak, eggs, bacon, potatoes, frypan bread, flapjacks, and coffee.
Like the late colonel, I’ve also made these the mainstays of my outdoor cookery in the silent corners of this continent. It would be difficult to name eight other staples whose mastery could so enhance the friendly
flicker of open flames and the added relish of boon companionship under open skies.
About the only cooking odors that even approach the fresh aroma of fish frying outdoors are the sizzling smell of good grilled bacon, coffee bubbling in the heat of a campfire, and frypan bread browning over the evening’s apple-red coals. This is a fine thing, for all fish are eminently suitable for frying.
To keep the catch moist and tender, and to bring out its delicate flavor, cook only until the flesh is no longer translucent. Once the fish is easily flaked, it is done. The taste will be further enhanced if the fish is salted, inside and out, an hour in advance of frying. Or sprinkle the inside with pepper and lemon juice just before it goes on the heat. Best final topping? Good fresh butter.
Lightly fried fish is hard to beat when it comes to fillets, steaks and small catches. Open and clean the latter soon after landing. Unless you object, leave on the head and certainly the tail where, in that order, lie the sweetest meats. Keep dry, cool, and well ventilated.
Get the frypan or griddle just hot enough that its enrichment of butter or margarine barely begins to tan. Roll the fish in crumbs, flour, or corn meal if you want, although many of us prefer the rich crispy skin unadorned. Brown on both sides, only until flaky. Then add any desired salt, butter, and perhaps a few drops of lemon juice. When one ridge after another is lifting in front of the water-reflected sun as you eat, and a breeze is starting to trumpet a cool blue note, this is camp food you’re never going to forget.
Steak, for my money, is the best and most traditional outdoor food America has to provide. If you can, cook a one-pound boneless sirloin, two inches thick, for each member of the party. Porter-house and T-bones are tops this way, too, especially if also corn-fed and aged about a month. But almost any steak when most advantageously prepared and cooked tastes delicious out of doors.
Wipe the steaks well with a clean damp cloth. Then rub with a mixture composed of four parts of salt and one-half part of black pepper.
A good trick at the start is to get a glowing bed of coals, then to scatter on a few hardwood chips or shavings. These will flare up enough both to help seal in the juices and to assure that flavorsome char relished by so many.
In any event, if you’re using a grill, get this hot and rub it with suet. If you are using a frypan, let this also get hot, but do not add any grease and tip out any sputtering from the meat. Sear the steaks quickly on both sides. Then cook to individual tastes.
Lean meat cooks more quickly than fat meat. Aging also progressively shortens the cooking time. Then there are such factors as size, shape, and the amount of bone. Outdoor fires add another variable. A practical way to test is to prick the steak with a pointed knife. If red juice wells out, the meat is rare; pink, medium rare; colorless, overdone unless that’s the way you want it.
Too much heat for too long a period is also the most common enemy of eggs. To illustrate, here’s a foolproof recipe for fried eggs that are a far cry from the leathery objects that assail digestions from coast to coast. Get one tablespoon of fat just hot enough to sizzle a test drop of water. Break in the eggs. Take the frypan immediately off the fire. Baste the eggs with the hot fat for three or four minutes, and that’s that. Salt, pep-per, and serve on a warm plate. In any event, keep the heat low so that the whites won’t get tough, and then just baste the yolks until they are well filmed. It’s easier to get them up mornings for breakfasts like this.
Scrambled eggs also go particularly well when you are cooking in the ruddy glowing warmth of wild wood back of beyond. There is a simple trick in connection with these that will make all the difference. The usual adding of milk has a tendency to toughen scrambled eggs. Instead, try putting in a tablespoon of cold water for each egg. Mix the eggs and water with salt and pepper to taste. Then heat a tablespoon of fat in a fry-pan just warm enough to sizzle a drop of water. After tipping in the egg mixture, reduce even this heat. Stir the eggs constantly with a fork once they have begun to harden. Remove them while they are still creamy and soft.
In connection with eggs, here is a nourishing and easily digestible dish, with a mild and provocatively elusive flavor, that is unusually good when someone hauls into camp late, especially as its preparation is both simple and swift. Proportions, which are flexible, may be varied in ratio to appetites. For two late arrivals, for example, brown a couple of diced onions with a little grease in a fry-pan. When these have cooked to a dark blandness, add a small can of tomatoes. Let them begin to bubble. Then break in six eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
Keep scrambling over low heat until fairly dry.
Too ardent heat is also the great ruiner of bacon. How often have you seen a frypan become a leaping mass of flames? The commonsense solution? Start bacon in a cold pan. Fry the bacon slowly over a few coals poked to one side of the campfire. Turn the slices occasionally. If you like them crisp, keep tipping the fat into a handy container where it can be kept for future camp use. You can almost hear the laughter of old fur brigade voyageurs when you sit down to grub like this.
Camp potatoes? A good way to cook this Native American vegetable is to bake the large ones in their skins in hot ashes, not glowing coals, until they become pretty well blackened on the outside. They’re done when a thin, sharp stick will shove easily through their middles. Rake out, break in half, and serve at once with salt and butter.
A more complicated way to go about this on occasion is to cut well scrubbed potatoes lengthwise into three slabs. Lay thin slices of onion, salted and peppered, between these sections. Then reassemble each potato, wrap in a sheet of heavy foil or several thicknesses of lightweight foil, and bake in a nest of ashes among hot coals for about a half hour or until done, turning once.
Fresh frypan bread is a simple thing to cook on the trail. The handiest method is to mix the dry ingredients before leaving the base of supplies. The following basic mix, given here in one-man proportions which may be expanded to any reasonable amount, will stay fresh six weeks or more in camp if kept sealed, dry, and reasonably cool:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon double action baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of oleomargarine
If this mix is being readied at home, sift the flour before measuring it. Then sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the margarine with two knives, with an electric mixer at low speed, or with a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. For increased food value, add two tablespoons of powdered skim milk for every cup of flour.
Place in plastic bags. Seal with a hot iron or with one of the plastic tapes. A large quantity can be made at once, of course, and divided into smaller portions. Before using, it is a good idea to stir the mixture lightly.
If compounding this mix in camp, do it with the ingredients at hand and in the simplest way possible. Any solid shortening may be utilized if the mix is to be used within a short time. Such mix may be carried, if you want, in a glass jar or just folded in wax paper.
When the fire is going and everything else is ready, quickly add enough cold water (about 1/3 cup) to the mix to make a firm dough. Shape this rapidly into a cake about an inch thick. Lay this in a warm frypan. Hold it over moderate heat until a crust forms on the bottom, rotating the pan a bit so that the loaf will move enough not to become stuck. Once the dough has hardened enough to hold together, turn the loaf. Do this several times until the bread has baked to an appetizing brown on both sides. The frypan bread should be done in anything from fifteen minutes to a half-hour, depending on the heat which should continue to be moderate. When a twig shoved into the loaf returns without any dough adhering to it, the moment for eating hot has arrived.
A lot of campers don’t reckon they’ve begun the day right until they have stoked up with a stack of moist, hot, tender flapjacks. These are so easy to prepare that there is no reason for even the lowliest greenhorn to be dependent on store mixes. They can be so wholesome and tasty, in addition, that many a vacationist will be looking ardently for more when hemmed in again by asphalt and concrete.
All you need to begin with is the same basic mix that made such delicious fry-pan bread. Again speaking in terms of the same one-man proportions, add 1/2 cup of milk, with which a whole or dried egg has been mixed, to the homemade dry mix. This milk can be diluted evaporated milk, reconstituted dry milk, etc. Stir only enough to moisten the flour.
If the flapjack batter seems a trifle too thick to pour easily, thin it with just enough milk. On the other hand, a little extra flour will provide stiffening. But if the batter is on the thin side, the flapjacks will be tenderer.
Let the frypan become hot and then wipe it sparingly with bacon rind. Do not let the metal reach smoking temperatures. Turn each hot cake only once, when it begins showing tiny bubbles. The second side will take only about half as long to cook. Serve steaming hot with your favorite topping.
What remains most vividly in the memories of many campers are those unforgettable first campfires at dawn. Because of the air currents set into motion by the blending of night and day, it’s cooler now than it was during total darkness. The cook maybe deposits an old pine stump, saved for the purpose, in the center of the fading overnight embers.
This gives him a blaze like the light of a pressure lantern, and it also helps him to get some warmth into his extended fingers. Pretty soon he’s thawed out enough to shove the coffee pot grumpily into the heat. He then begins banging pans around, a little more expressively than necessary. Further sleep soon becomes impossible. The coffee smells too good, anyway, particularly when joined by the aromas of flapjacks and bacon.
That first cup of coffee can make all the difference. The way I like to make coffee in the woods is to drop a rather coarse blend into cold fresh water. Two level tablespoons for every cup of water is just right for me, although this proportion can be varied for the weaker and stronger brews preferred by some others.
Suspend or set this over the fire. Keep a close eye on it. Once it has boiled up, lift it to a warm place where no one will be apt to stumble over it and let it take on body for five minutes. Then settle the grounds if you want with several tablespoons of cold water and let everyone know it’s time to, “Come and get it!”
As I agreed with Colonel Townsend Whelen years ago, none of us is going vacationing to spend our time cooking and eating. On the other hand, the right kind of meals will never taste better than when appetites are sharpened to a wonderful edge by healthful outdoor living. Warm your coffee, anyone?