Open Fire Cooking: Back-Country and Side-Country Cuisine
Who here cooks over an open fire? I know I do, but I feel that number is getting smaller and smaller, for a couple of somewhat obvious reasons. One is the restrictions of open campfires, such as those enforced in the Eastern High Peaks Region; there's nothing you can do about that. Another large reason - and this is no way part of a study - but cooking over an open fire requires you to carry more gear and food which tends to be much heavier in the pack; this is tough as well, because it is true for many meals - but not all. A third reason I suspect is the lack of passion or knowledge, which I think can be gained through experience, know-how and time.
These reasons too, are why I believe side-country cuisine can be so important; it helps you get some practice before you head deep into the woods to try your trade. It is also easier since you are car camping near a hiking trail, at a campsite, or within a mile of a trailhead. While I wouldn't expect someone to carry a cast iron Dutch oven for 6-miles back to camp (although I have seen it done), I would suspect most anyone could do it for a mile or so.
Quick note, as you will see, aluminum foil can be your best friend when cooking over an open fire, heavy duty aluminum foil works best with a nice reflective side to it.
Food on a stick
Let's start with the trusty hot dog. What you need is a solid stick, forked is best to hold the dogs, sideways - put both forks through the dogs and stack the dogs as deep as you want, leaving a bit of space between each. The stick should be a green like a beech, or stripped maple branch. The green branch has moisture where a dead one may catch ablaze and you will lose your dinner into the coals. Save the stick for later, and you can use it to roast marshmallows.
Toast or garlic bread: Use a forked branch to balance bread on and you have the perfect toaster. Check for doneness regularly, because the bread will burn quickly if too close to the flames. For garlic bread have a premixed butter from home with garlic salt in it. Spread it evenly on both sides of the bread, not too thick.
Corn on the cob: OK this isn't on a stick but a cob, but it's a great back-country treat. Leave the corn in the husk and once you get to camp place it in a water bath or right in a small stream. By dinner they will be ready to cook. The wet husk will act as a natural steamer in the back-country. Place them directly on the coals. Watch that you don't burn them; rotate frequently. Dash your corn with a mixture of dried seasonings like salt and pepper and Italian spices.
For the love of aluminum foil
Eggs: Yes, of course, and you don't even need a pan. Bring your eggs in an egg carrier, or better yet, put them in a container prescrambled with a small bit of salt and pepper and parmesan cheese. Then also pack a couple oranges. When ready for breakfast, slice the top off the orange about 1/4 of the way down and scoop out the orange and eat that first. Once the peel is empty, pour the egg in the peel, replace the top, wrap in aluminum foil and place in the coals. Rotate about every couple minutes to ensure even cooking. This takes a bit of time, so you will have to be patient. The eggs will have a slight citrus flavor, and will be light and fluffy.
Sausage bread: Much of this prep is at home, and you will be warming it up at camp. Buy a baguette at your local bakery and slice it like a sub-roll, wrap it back up till you get to camp. Then at home fry up some sausage of choice by removing it from the casing and breaking it up into smaller pieces. Place in a leak-proof container to bring to camp. Grab a bag of Mexican cheese blend as well. Once at camp put it all together as a sandwich, and wrap in foil for the fire. Suspend two branches over the coals as a cooking shelf and place your meal on the branches, rotate often to ensure you don't burn it. This is a warm cheesy delight after a long hike. Since it's precooked, it can last a bit longer than uncooked meats.
Boy Scout dinners: Also known as Girl Scout dinners or hobo dinners - no matter what you call them, this meal has potential for all kinds of variations. It's simply a full meal in a pouch, so to speak. What you need is butter, seasonings, a starch, a veggie, and a meat - your choice! Don't pre-cook anything, unless you use rice, which isn't the best starch due to the frequency that it dries out during cooking and often burns; potatoes work the best. At home prepare your potatoes and veggies by slicing them up into strips and slices, or use baby carrots as is, double ziplock bag them in a small bit of water to ensure freshness at camp. If you are using burgers, prepare the patties the night before by adding a bit of Worcestershire sauce and garlic to them and then freeze them, by the time you get to camp they will be mostly unthawed and ready. A couple excellent mixtures that I enjoy are: 1) beef patty, potatoes, and asparagus; 2) hot sausage link, onions, peppers and potatoes; 3) turkey patty, carrots, onions, and peppers; 4) green beans, baby carrots, peppers, onions, thin strips of beef, teriyaki sauce - makes a decent little stir fry. The list can literally go on and on, make it up as you go and try new combinations. It's an art to get them to cook and not overcook and honestly might take a bit of practice or frequent checking. Depending on the heat of the coals try to start with 4 minutes on side one, then 4 minutes on side two, and back to side one for 2 more minutes, then check for doneness.
Fruity upside down cake: This is a bit of a heavier dish, but super easy for a close-to-car camping. You will need a Dutch oven for this. Empty a large can of peaches or mixed fruit or a couple small cans of apple pie mix into the bottom; don't worry about too much liquid. Now prepare a box of white cake mix as directed on the box. Pour the batter over the top of the fruit. Some of the batter might mix into the fruit, that's OK too; you won't be graded on presentation. Then sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and sugar on the top. Now place the cover on the Dutch oven and place in coals. Take some of the coals and put on top of the cover as well to make for a full oven that cooks from the top and bottom.
This should be good to get you started, what ideas to do you have for back-county cooking on an open fire? Please share with us; we would all like to add to our deep woods menu.
Thinking of staying with us and looking for a campground before you head out for a backwoods adventure? We know which direction to send you!