How to be the ultimate camp chef
Preparing camp meals can be the best part of trip planning
The best part of planning a trip is organizing the food. Problem is, if you mess up than the trip is guaranteed to fail. But if its done correctly the trip will not only be a success, you’ll be the top camper in the group for years to come.
Make sure it’s nutritious. It’s true what your mother always told you—breakfast is the most important part of the day. But also keep it quick and simple. Lingering around the campsite in the morning waiting for breakfast to be cooked is a waste of good travel time.The best time to be wandering around in the woods or paddling a lake is early morning. Simple fare like hot or cold cereal, or granola with fruit and nuts is a good choice. Pancake, crepes or bannock is okay if the cook starts cooking while the coffee is being poured. Keep the bacon and eggs for a lazy morning hanging around camp due to bad weather.
Stopping for lunch is essential to a good trip but taking time out to cook something is a rarity; it’s mostly made up of simple things like bannock with P&J or cheese and crackers. Fancier foods can definitely be served, however. Couscous salads or cabbage salads. Leftovers from the previous night super can also make for a perfect lunch. A portable camp stove can be used to heat up water for soup and hot drinks when the weather is cool and rainy. Better yet, a thermos can be filled with hot water in the morning and used for hot drinks at lunch time.
Snacks are the lifeblood of any good trip. Even if you eat three solid meals a day, snacking between times can boost moral – and boost your body. The first ever high-energy trail snack was created by the Greek army. In 150 B.C. supply officer, Philon of Byzantium, made up pellets mixed with sesame honey (for protein and carbohydrate), opium poppy (to control hunger pains), and a medicinal root called squill (acting as a stimulant). It probably tasted horrible but did the trick.
GORP eating etiquette
GORP is today’s common high-energy trial snack. GORP stands for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts—but everything goes—salty, crunchy, sweet or chewy. Try adding M&Ms, Smarties, beer nuts, dried cranberries, dried mangoes, banana chips, mini marshmallows, salted pumpkin seeds, corn nuts, Goldfish pretzels, chocolate-covered coffee beans, Grape Nut cereal, dried and spiced snow peas, or even dried jalapeno peppers. How ever you make it though, it’s crucial that the GORP eating etiquette is followed. No “high grading” allowed. No one picks and chooses only the bits and pieces they like in the GORP bag. They must blindly grab a handful of the entire mixture and munch away.
Dinner makes up a good part of the camping trips entertainment. It’s basically social hour where everyone is in a relaxed pace after a long day. Serving a hearty and nutritious meal is important—just like breakfast is—but its also important to make something fancy. When it comes to food on camping trips I’ve seen two main types of food critics. There are the survivalists who just eat to fuel up, caring little of taste. They stuff down boiled noodles and fill in the gaps with energy bars. Good luck to them if they happen to be out for more then a few days. They’re sure to crash. Then, there are the campers who live to eat. They take great pleasure in out-doing someone else’s recipe and would far rather plan and prepare their own meals then purchase prepackaged camp food. To them, a long trip is a welcome challenge, not something to endure until you get back to the world of fast food restaurants. The fancier the recipes the more positive the group will be; the more glamorous the better. The main ingredient can consist of regular fair, usually pasta or rice dish, but with fancy sauces and an even fancier names given to it. Make the main meal a fancy affair and its a guarantee dinner time will be one of the highlights of the trip.
Timing is everything
If you’re using a camp stove, then dinner should only take a maximum of thirty minutes to cook to conserve on fuel. Even if you’re cooking on a campfire, it shouldn’t take any longer. Hungry campers get cranky quick. If the meal does require a little more preparation time than plan on serving up appetizers. This will keep everyone’s hunger at bay for awhile and allow you to concentrate on cooking up the main dish. One of the worst feelings in the world is to have other campers gather around you while you’re cooking up a meal, standing their and adding their two-cents of how things should be done.
Keeping the wolves at bay with tasty appetizers
Appetizers can as simple as carrot sticks and dip or an open can of oysters served with crackers. It can also be as fancy as smoked salmon or a Pita bread fried in olive oil and garlic, coated with a white cheese, and dipped in salsa and tabouli mix, then washed down with a cocktail.
A serving of salads and soups can replace appetizers. A quick water boil and a dried soup mix can change a group’s mood after a day spent out in the rain. Crisp greens are also a huge treat. Lettuce will keep for 2-4 days but cabbage will last for weeks. Add nuts, raisins, grated cheese, croutons, and a homemade salad dressing made from balsamic vinegar and spices.
There’s a vegetarian among us
Keeping meals veggie friendly is quite easy while camping. The majority of meals, meat portions can be eliminated entirely and substituted with an alternative ingredient – TVP (textured vegetable protein), ground soy or soy chunks. Besides, fresh meat can only be used for a day or two if you don’t have refrigeration and its safer to be more vegetarian to avoid suffering the ill-effects of food poisoning.
Having a vegan in the group is a little more challenging—but a challenge is good at times. Meat, dairy and eggs are off the menu but can be replaced with legumes and nuts. Then there’s people in the group that have food allergies or sensitivities. Nut allergies can be deadly. And there’s always individuals (mainly children) who just don’t like eating certain things. The important point here is to have the individuals in the group that have dietary differences assist in the meal planning. It’s much easier for them, and you. When it comes to kids just not liking broccoli, then make sure to pack extra snacks or even a separate meal package they’ll prefer.
Ultimate camp cook-off
To spice up dinner even more then organize a suggest a friendly camp cook-off competition for the first night out, and the last night out. Start by placing everyone in small cooking groups (2 best but it may work with of 3 or 4 if the size of the main group itself is larger). Then choose a judge who agrees to sample everyone’s meal and also agrees not to accept any bribes (this is vital). And you guessed it; the last night meal is definitely more challenging. Food isn’t fresh and recipes are more of the trial and error type.
Prizes then must be rewarded to the wining group and a major punishment handed out to the loosing group, both for the first night and the last night. For example, the first meal motivation can be that the worst dinner created has the cooks doing dishes for the remainder of the trip. And the looser for the last meal has to hand over their remaining spirits (rum, scotch, vodka…) to the rest of the group. Sounds serious? It is. But boy you’ll make some darn good meals because it.
In my regular group of campers our first meal motivation is that the worst dinner created has the cooks doing dishes for the remainder of the trip. And the looser for the last meal has to hand over their remaining spirits (rum, scotch, vodka…) to the rest of the group. Sounds serious? It is. But boy have we made some darn good meals because it.
Don’t forget dessert
At times making dessert may seem too time consuming. It’s not. Don’t fall into the routine of handing out chocolate bars to everyone to munch on around the campfire. That’s not dessert. Besides, desserts can be quite simple to make. Fresh fruit covered in melted chocolate or even caramel pudding served with a shot of Grand Marnier is better than a stale cookie. Just look at the history of the S’more. Since it’s creation, camping has definitely stepped up a notch.
S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout handbook “Tramping and Trailing.” And there’s no doubt why it was given its name—short for “some more.” Think about it. Kids get to pierce a sugary marshmallow with a stick, hold it over the campfire until it ignites, then squish it between two chunks of chocolate and two Graham crackers (some campers have been known to toss the crackers).
Similar to most recipes the s’more wasn’t completely original. Products with a comparable recipe (marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers) entered the market place prior to the Girl Scout manual. Moon Pies were introduced in 1917 and Mallomars were on the store shelves as early as 1913.
Marshmallows, the key ingredient to a s’more, have an even longer history. Egyptians would squeeze the sweet sap from the mallow plant growing in wild marshes and add honey for flavor. By the mid-1800s the treat had reached France when owners of a small candy store whipped, sweetened and molded the gummy sap.
It didn’t take long for the natural mallow to be replaced by gelatin and modified cornstarch. In 1948 a marshmallow manufacture, Alex Doumark, had the idea of pushing the sticky substance through a long pipe and cut it to the shape we’re used to seeing. A couple years later some other manufacture had the idea of injecting air, giving the marshmallow its fluffy, light texture.
To date no one seems to know who actually started the act of toasting a marshmallow over a campfire and transforming the white spongy puff into a burned carbon shell with a sticky, tongue-burning centre. It was probably some camp councilor that couldn’t stand baking up another can of pork and beans. But it’s in the United Stated where most are now consumed – 90 million pounds per year to be exact. The majority of those consumers are no surprise under the age of twelve. It seems the older one gets the less inviting toasting a marshmallow becomes. Most adults, 56% in fact, prefer eating it raw. Truth is, parents secretly despise them; and they especially loathe the making of s’mores on camping trips. The problem is that the gooey mess will undoubtedly get all over the kid’s cloths, making them bear bait for the rest of the evening.