STEEL | STRENGTH | UTILITY

There is no excuse for bad food – by The Campfire cook, pt1

I remember, back when I was a kid, going camping with the scouts. Mealtimes consisted of a whacking great billy can filled with some form of easy cook bean stew with eggy bread (french toast) being the only other staple. I thought at the time, ah, this is the life.

Roll on about 10 years and the camping bug had well and truly bitten me. Either weekends away fishing, or camping holidays, I tried to get out at least once a month to enjoy the spiritual catharsis that the outdoors means to me. I joined a fishing syndicate, a good bunch of lads, full of banter. Mornings and evenings were spent huddled round the bivvy of whoever had a brew on or was cooking up a feast. It was around that time that I realised that most of us were pretty lazy when it came to food. We were all living off of a pack of bacon a loaf of bread and a pot noodle for the weekend, not the most healthy or enjoyable meals in the world. One of our members was an exception. He carried around a small bag full of assorted spices and herbs, tins of tomatoes, fresh meat and veggies. If he was fishing we ALL congregated around his area, the man’s curries are legendary, cooked from scratch and tasted superb.

Shooting was the next hobby that took me. I spent a long time searching out local places with pest problems and was finally granted a couple of shoots with both rabbit and wood pigeon problems.

With an abundance of free wild food filling the fridge, along with camping on a regular basis, it was only a matter of time before I combined the two. Around that time a mate at work started offering wild venison delivered to your desk.

I bought myself a small 4L dutch oven, along with a few leather pouches (for rice etc) and a selection of stock spices in small, stackable jars (similar to these, found at http://thegoodgirlgoneblog.com/) my now wife had furnished me with a copy of “The Wild Gourmet”, a cracking cookbook by Thomasina Miers and Guy Grieve.

We bought a haunch of Venison from my mate and disappeared off for a weekend in the woods camping. Arriving at the site the first thing I did was get a fire going, there was a built pit and a big stack of wood along with an axe and saw, just sweat required!

We had decided in advance that the recipe of choice would be Thomasina’s Venison with Chilli Chocolate, slow cooked for a number of hours. Food chopped and in the pot and we cracked open a bottle of red. The campsite is very small, set up in advance with 2 bell tents, separated by a small woodland. We could hear that our neighbours for the weekend had arrived and we thought it would be a good time to pop over with a bottle of wine to say hi and introduce ourselves.

Our neighbours were a young couple from London, who had rocked up with bags of M&S shopping requiring as little cooking effort as possible. It must have been gone 8pm at this point and their fire still wasn’t lit so I offered to lend a hand. Fire quickly lit we settled down for a glass of vino and a quick chat and instantly all hit it off. Time flew and before we realised and hour had passed and they still hadn’t thought about cooking. A quick transfer over to our site where the Venison was happily bubbling away, plates were handed out and stew with fresh bread distributed to all.

Modesty aside for a mo, I can safely say that not only was that one of the best meals I have ever cooked, its also one of the best meals i’ve ever eaten. Slow cooked for around 3 hours, occasionally being topped up with red wine, with Venison that just melted in the mouth it really was a feast fit for a king.

We all sat around the fire, eating, drinking (we switched from Wine to Whiskey Mac’s) and chatting and before we knew it it was around 2 o’clock in the morning.

That weekend we made life long friends, started off by a shared feast. Things may well have ended differently if we had offered them a boil in the bag, or a pot noodle!

A few years later a friend of mine asked me to join him Hammock camping for the weekend. I grabbed my hammock and basha along with the camp cook bag (yes its heavy, but somethings are worth the extra effort), a shoulder of venison and a bag of flour along with a few beers.

We set up camp and then did the usual man thing of comparing kit etc.

My mate had bought his standard camping fayre, army ration packs and bags of nuts and was somewhat surprised when I whacked the dutch oven on the fire and proceeded to start to cook up a full-on Venison curry over the open fire.

The recipe was based on one I picked up on a cookery course in Sri Lanka. To say my mate was impressed was an understatement, the curry was LUSH (albeit blew our heads off), served with bannock bread and a bit of rice

Now I can understand that families in hectic lifestyles get in from work and need to eat quickly. Personally, with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza or fresh pasta pack, I haven’t not cooked a meal from scratch for about 5 years, after a while it becomes second nature and only takes around half an hour to cook and ensures a great, healthy meal.

Camping is different. One of the main hooks of camping is that life slows down, you relax, take a deep breath and ditch the rat-race for a weekend and give your body and mind time to repair.

So camp cooking shouldn’t be a chore. So what if it takes 3 hours to slow cook, have you TASTED 3 hour slow cooked lamb? OH MY GOD its worth it. Lets be honest, you were probably only going to sit around reading a book so why not occasionally stir a pot, top up the liquid, taste, add a bit of seasoning now and again, believe me its worth it. Everyone I have cooked for in this way has come over to full on camp cuisine, once you have tasted a REAL meal cooked on an open fire there is no turning back, plus its fun, and a great thing to do with the family.

If you decide to build your own camp cook kit I would suggest any of the following are good start :

  • Ingredients:
  • Small container of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Hot Curry Powder
  • Chilli Flakes
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme & Paprika
  • A tube or so of lazy garlic, lazy ginger and lazy coriander are all really handy
  • Tin of tomatoes
  • Tin of coconut milk

Equipment:

  • Dutch oven of the best size for your group (4l is perfect for upto 4)
  • Small, cheap, plastic chopping board (tesco value jobbie)
  • Spork (mine is a titanium one from light my fire)
  • Small water bottle filled with washing up liquid
  • Sponge with scourer
  • Tea towl
  • Titanium coffee mug (Alpkit make a good one)
  • Fold up plates and bowls ( I use the ones from Sea to Summit)

I hope your mouth is now watering and next time you get out for the weekend you make sure you have a great cook-up!

Andy