Campfire Cuisine. Is it as fancy as it sounds? Yes and no. It’s time consuming but simple once you get the hang of cooking on a fire. And it’s delicious. The same meal cooked indoors just isn’t as tasty as food cooked outdoors. The combination of cast iron, fresh air, wood smoke and atmosphere can’t be beat.
I was privileged to work with Steve Vose, a Maine Guide, and Lou Falank, an outdoors and primitive skills educator at BOW’s (Becoming an Outdoors-Woman) Introductory Skills Weekend. We led a workshop on campfire cooking early Saturday morning. We finished at 11:30 am and lunch was served at noon. I didn’t go to lunch.
The morning started off by meeting Steve in the parking lot at 6:45. We carried our equipment up the rocked stairwell to our site under a tipi. We set up while the fire Steve built burned. We needed coals by the time we were ready to cook. With a few minutes to spare, the three of us had time to talk.
Steve started us off with Maine Guide coffee. I looked forward to this coffee for weeks. The grounds were measured out then mixed with an egg, including the shell. Steve told us the shell eliminates some of the acidity. When the coffee is done, the grounds and egg are removed in one piece. I had the last of the coffee and was amazed to find only a few grounds in the bottom of my cup.
About half of the class baked a frittata for breakfast. We (I say “we” lightly. Participants did all the work.) used moose breakfast sausage, onion, bell pepper, seasoning and a dozen eggs. The meat was so lean it didn’t need to be browned prior to mixing the ingredients together. Good flavors aren’t lost to browning and make the frittata that much more delicious.
It’s impossible for everyone to build a campfire at home. With that in mind, it is possible to cook outdoors using charcoal. We placed charcoal briquettes on a cookie sheet to keep the lighter fluid and flames off the dry pine needles and leaves. The top of the Dutch oven has a lip perfect for holding briquettes. The number of briquettes under and on top of the oven to reach 350* depends upon the size of the oven. A 10” Dutch oven needs 14 briquettes on top and seven beneath to reach 350*. They’ll last about an hour, more than enough time to cook our frittata. The frittata was done in 25 minutes.
The other half of the class worked with Steve to make baked beans. He precooked the beans to give them a head start. Our workshop wasn’t long enough to keep them at the fire starting with uncooked beans. The mixed beans, molasses, dry mustard, two pounds of pre-sliced salt pork, onions and other ingredients. He normally uses blocks of salt pork that he slices into but with time being limited, sliced was the best choice. They filled the Dutch oven and placed it beside the coals.
Next on the menu, soup with moose burger, seasonings, a few bouillon cubes for added flavor, carrots and barley. The ingredient list was limited for simplicity. At home I add corn, green beans, onions, garlic and anything else that sounds good at the time. I’d give you the recipe but I don’t use them. Some of this, a little of that… We didn’t brown the burger. Everything went into the Dutch oven; we added water for broth, put the cover on and nestled it against the coals.
Lou taught us how to make hemlock (no, not the poisonous kind) and white pine needle tea. He put water on to boil before showing us the proper way to harvest from the trees. The hemlock tips and pine needles steep in hot but not boiling water. I was surprised at how good both teas taste. I expected them to be bitter but that wasn’t the case.
Back at Steve’s work table, participants kneaded bread in plastic zipper bags. They wrapped the dough around sticks and cooked it over an open flame. Delicious! Steve formed the extra dough into cakes and cooked them on a griddle, also delicious. They used a basic dough recipe that can easily be adapted to add different flavors.
Campfire cooking is simple. Nothing has to be fancy or contain a long list of ingredients to be tasty and nutritious. It’s easiest for beginners to start with moist meals like soup and baked beans because they don’t burn. You Tube has a lot of instructional videos online.