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You may be a wonderful cook who's able to balance sourdough proofing in the sun with a lasagna that you've layered in a Dutch oven. But your sense of timing won't salvage the meal if you forgot yeast or left the noodles on the cupboard shelf. Putting some thought into your camping at home can save you a lot of woes in the wild.
Campers like Pete Boilard and his family are always ready for their next camping adventure: "We have a 30-gallon tote with our camping kitchen in it. Most of the stuff is extras and yard sale type stuff, though we did buy a few things new," Boilard explains on his website, Pete’s Camping Page (see links at the end of the article).
Everything from dish towels to cutlery and dinnerware to pots and pans are packed into one of the plastic storage boxes. The second tote holds the groceries. After each trip, the Boilards restock the groceries, top the dishwashing detergent bottle and launder the dishtowels. All they have to get ready for the next trip is write a menu, pull a few meals out of the deep-freeze, and pack the ice chests.
It's that simple. Here are six tips that will help get ready for appetizing meals in camp:
- Plan a menu -- Try one or two new dishes each trip. "You'll never know what great meals are out there if you don't try any new ones. Check out the Internet for tons of campfire recipes," Mike Bentley said. The menu is the cornerstone of your camping adventure. But it doesn't have to be detailed. A simple list of meals will do as long as you ensure that your family is getting a balanced diet. You’ll use the menu and recipes (whether they're in your head or on paper) to build a shopping list and guide packing. And don't forget to bring recipes for any unfamiliar dishes along on the trip.
- Bring "bailout" food -- Bailout food can rescue your family from a cold, hard rain, especially if you don't have the energy to start a fire when everything is saturated. Ramen noodle soup (a favorite with my children), canned pork and beans, and packaged pasta products are all great foods the can be prepared in a pinch. And they also make quick lunches.
- Prepare meals ahead -- Many times my family has arrived in camp in the late evening. With small children -- whose bellies are telling them that dinner passed them by hours ago -- you what to quickly cook a healthy meal without all the fuss. The Boilards solve this problem by preparing one or more casseroles at home. “Meatloaf or chicken dishes that just need to be heated and laid over toast or fresh cooked rice work well,” Boilard said. Once you're in camp, you can set up the stove and reheat the meal in a matter of minutes instead of hours.
- Make a checklist -- A checklist serves two purposes: It lists everything you're taking on the trip so you don't forget anything. (But don't repeat my mistake from our last trip: I had cottage cheese on my list and still forgot it. You wouldn't believe how expensive cottage cheese is in the general store in Kirkwood!) And, unless you have an extremely well-stocked pantry, you'll need to a shopping list for the trip to the supermarket.
- Pack smartly -- You might say, "Just use an ice chest or two for the perishables and place the dry goods in a box." Well, you're half-right. The trick is to pack smartly. For several years, I've wrapped each package of frozen meat two sheets of newsprint and placed them into a self-closing freezer bag (like zipper lock bags). All of the meat packages are then closely packed together in one or two ice chests. For long trips, I use two ice chests.
- Select good cookware -- If you take several camping trips each year, it's a good idea to set aside cookware for camping. You don't have to run out to a sporting goods store and buy specialized campware. Old pots and pans from your kitchen will work as well. If you enjoy cooking over the campfire like the Bentleys, you'll also need a good cast iron skillet or griddle, a sturdy fire grate, and several Dutch ovens.
So, in the meantime, get ready for your next camping trip. And when you get there, remember Bentley’s advise: "With all camp cooking take your time, relax and savor the smells of the food and fire."
Pete's Camping Page
The Boilard’s average 30 to 45 nights camping in New England campgrounds each year. The star attraction on Pete’s Camping Page is the Campmaster 2000, an eight-foot utility trailer that’s been rigged to haul all of their camping gear.
Mike’s Camping Page
Mike Bentley has grouped scores of camping links on his website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find camp and outdoor cooking links.