Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cooking in a hunting camp

Dining tent and kitchen trailer
Now that I'm in my retirement years, I work when I want to and relax with the grand kids the rest of the time. This year, I took a seasonal job as the cook for an outfitter in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Alpine, Wyo. The job ran for six weeks last September and October. It was a great gig; in fact, it was more than a job! It was a rewarding venture that I hope to repeat in the coming years.

I enjoyed interacting with the guides and hunters. And after cooking for thousands, preparing meals for 20 to 25 was a refreshing change from my full-time career (US Navy, hospitals and state prisons). I've adapted many old Navy standards, like Yankee pot roast and baking powder and yeast biscuits for the camp menu. These dishes, a long with many others, were well accepted and loved by the hunters.

Sliced challah bread for French Toast
My day began at 3 a.m., when I walked into the kitchen, a converted 40-foot trailer. My first task was to light two lanterns, fire the coffee, light the griddle and oven, stoke the fire in the dining tent and set out lunch fixin's. Breakfast was on the stove and griddle by ten minutes after the hour. I turned the generator on at 3:30 to wake up the guides and hunters. Breakfast began at four o'clock (or earlier when I was ready).

To make breakfast easier, I prepared everything the afternoon prior. That included baking (biscuits, cinnamon rolls and challah bread for French toast), panning breakfast meats (mainly ham, bacon or sausage), filling the coffee pot and setting eggs out.

Biscuits and gravy
I also par cooked red potatoes for hash browns three to four days each week. I found, with the nearly seven-thousand-food elevation of the camp, that I had to carefully to cook the potatoes all the way through without overcooking them. Nearly everything required extra cooking time at that elevation.

While some wait until morning to prepare breakfast, I've found over my career that the meal flows smoothly when I prepare components of the meals the afternoon before. As mentioned, the potatoes are pre-cooked and cooled in the refrigerator in the afternoon. For omelets, I crack and whisk the eggs and cut the filling ingredients. Hot cake wet and dry ingredients are prepared, as well as French toast batter.

My home in camp
After dishes and cleanup, it was off to bed for a two-hour nap. (I had to discipline myself to get up by 9 or 10 a.m.; otherwise, I'd sleep all morning!) Since there are only three or four in camp (myself, my wife, the outfitter's wife and the camp jack/wrangler) at that time, I usually had free access to the shower when I arose. Leftovers or a sandwich normally made up my lunch around noon.

Baking, breakfast prep and dinner prep began in early afternoon. I made a prep list for both meals and any lunch prep so I didn't forget anything. This time was also used to prepare syrup, salsa and a variety of other sauces.

I usually lumped baking together. That way I saved steps by weighing out the ingredients for the two or three products at the same time. I did have to time proofing and oven time carefully so the bread didn't over-proof. I baked all the bread except sandwich breads.

Brothers enjoying pork chops
The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing dinner, which was served at 8 p.m. Sometimes dinner was served as early as 7 o'clock, but the hunters often had to change out of their wet clothing and enjoy a beer around the campfire before filing into the dining tent. I fell into bed around 9:30. for five hours of sleep before it all starting over again.

The owners gave me a wide berth on the menu. The only complaints that I received were related to a very spicy breakfast. (It seems the guides and hunters don't enjoy relieving themselves on the trail in the dark!) Since this a big meat and potatoes crowd, most of my meals are based on comfort food. The photos show the setting and meals I've cooked.