"We value our time spent cooking because it provides a good opportunity for us to chat and work together," Bob Rider, webmaster of love2camp.com, said recently. Bob and his wife Brianna enjoy creating meals as a team when camping near their Santa Rosa, Calif. home. Eating "great food" is one of the joys of camping to the Rider family.
Other families, like Pete and Lorna Boilard of southern Maine, use camp meals as an opportunity to teach their children to cook. "Whipping up a hearty meal without a whole kitchen at hand is satisfying," Pete Boilard said. "(Camping has) proven to be a fun place for our daughters to try preparing some favorites for themselves like macaroni and cheese or French toast."
Many prepare appetizing family meals while camping. But the last thing you need is to helplessly sit in the tent while a black bear ravages your cache or to be frantically searching for an emergency room because your child has stomach cramps and diarrhea. Putting some thought into how you operate your camp kitchen will give you peace of mind.
Once you arrive at the campground, a few simple tips will help you safely cook good meals:
- Walk the ground -- When a military unit occupies a new position, the first thing a troop leader does is to "walk the ground." He learns the lay of the land, notes likely avenues of approach for the enemy and looks for ideal places to spot his weapons. Likewise, the camper looks for water runoff patterns, trees and rocks that protect the camp from the wind, and firm, level ground to set up the tent and locate the kitchen. Some campers, like Boilard, bring an elaborate camping outfit (see Pete’s Camping Page for a description of his Campmaster 2000). Others simply look for a picnic table, fireplace, running water and toilet facilities.
- Wash your hands -- A salmonella infection -- or worst yet E. coli -- is the last ailment you want when camping. Nausea, diarrhea and fever are never pleasurable, especially when you're 40 or 50 miles away from the nearest medical treatment facility. You can avoid food borne illness by following a few simple rules: keep food cold in an ice chest (below 41 deg. F.), don't allow food to stay in the open for more than two hours, cook food to the proper internal temperature (usually 160 deg. F. or above), wash and sanitize dishes after each meal, and wash your hands often.
- Campfire – For me, there’s nothing more comforting than sitting around a crackling fire while I read one of my favorite books. Camping without a campfire is like a day without food. It refreshes the soul after a vigorous day of camping. Mike Bentley and his family rely on the campfire, as I do. Bentley cooks many of their meals on an old barbecue grill that’s suspended from a homemade iron tripod. When the he wants quick meals in camp, they "prepare the food at home and simply throw them on the tripod … at the campsite."
- Re-supply – Re-supply takes many forms. For trips up to a week, you should be able to pack all your food into one or two ice chests and a couple boxes. So unless one of the kids spills the salad dressing onto the ground or ice cream treats are in order, you won’t have to visit the local general store. On longer trips, you’ll need to think about replenishing your food supply along the way.
- Don't feed the animals -- Your best defense against wild animals is to keep food in a safe place so they can't get into your cache and ruin your vacation. In bear country, this means placing all of your food in your vehicle each night and covering it with a blanket or tarp. Black bears can identify ice chests, grocery bags, and cardboard boxes as potential food sources. Boilard advises: "No food in the tents. Period. The food box and coolers spend the nights in the van."
- Cook wonderful meals -- Try one or two new dishes each trips. It’s fun, and it’ll expand your culinary repertoire. If you family loves chicken, serve it roasted in a Dutch oven with new potatoes, carrots and zucchini. As you lift the oven lid, the sweet scent of rosemary will bring the family running to the table. Popular magazines are full of fresh ideas. This month, for example, Sunset features a "Simple summer supper." Grilled plum-marinated lamb and thyme-grilled asparagus sound appetizing. And "Watermelon weather" suggests new ways to serve one of America’s favorite summer treats.
Pete Boilard said it best: "Relax and enjoy."
Bob and Brianna Rider have visited places like Scotts Flat Lake, Gualala River Redwood Park and Clear Lake State Park this summer. They have an extensive section on cast iron cooking. Topics include selecting a Dutch oven, seasoning cast iron, cooking and temperature control and care and cleaning the Dutch oven.
Pete’s Camping Page
Pete and Lorna Boilard average 30 to 45 nights camping in New England campgrounds each year. The star attraction on Pete’s Camping Page is the Campmaster 2000, a 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.