Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Camp Cooking.

There are some who love camping, and to those intrepid souls I dedicate this post.
I am not an experienced camper. My experience of camping on as a child growing up in the north of England (with family, with small tent, with tight budget, with - every single time without fail - constant wet weather) did not make me love it. I am now a grown-up Old Foodie, but the Old Foodie Spouse says he will go camping when they have valet parking. I too am inclined to err on the side of luxurious hotels - when I can get them, which is not nearly often enough.

I do not fear the snakes of the Australian bush, in spite of on one occasion coming within seconds and centimetres of being bitten by a particularly deadly variety when I was 38 weeks pregnant and we were cut off from the town by a flood-swollen river. It is not the mosquitos or the spiders. It is not our occasionally wild weather, or the more general heat and humidity (do they air-condition tents these days?). It is the food. Can it be good? Can it be varied enough?

The flora and fauna may be different in the north of America, but no doubt the camping experience is otherwise similar. I do like the attitude of Horace Kephart, the author in 1910 of Camp Cookery. The book is dedicated to ‘Mistress Bob’, which is an intriguing start.

The Foreword spells out his philosophy:

The less a man carries in his pack, the more he must carry in his head.
A camper cannot go by recipe alone. It is best for him to carry sound general principles in his head, and recipes in his pocket.
The simpler the outfit, the more skill it takes to manage it, and the more pleasure one gets in his achievements.

The recipes are certainly varied. For protein, he includes along with the expected ham and bacon, recipes for everything from muskrat to venison. There are lots of interesting-sounding breads and puddings. Each recipe is listed as quick, medium, or slow to cook, and each has a legend to indicate whether butter, eggs, or milk are required or optional in each dish. That was a new insight. How did campers of 1910 carry their milk, butter, and eggs?

It appears to me from my vicarious camping with Horace in 1910, that camping aint what it used to be. Modern packaging materials must be a huge advantage over old – especially in terms of weight. He suggests that ‘salt is best carried in a wooden box.’ Not in hot humid tropical Queensland it isnt.

I do love Horace’s style overall style however. He ends his list of supplies with ‘a half pint of brandy, religiously reserved for brandy sauce, is worth its weight.’ Now that is a tip for elegant camping!

And his muskrat recipe? I bet you thought I’d forgotten.

You may be driven to this, some day, and will then learn that muskrat, properlyprepared, is not half bad. The French-Canadians found that out long ago.
“Skin and clean carefully four muskrats, being particular not to rupture musk or gall sac. Take the hind legs and saddles, place in pot with a little water, a little julienne (or fresh vegetables, if you have them), some pepper and salt, and a few slices of pork or bacon. Simmer slowly over fire until half done. Remove to baker, place water from pot in the baking pan, and cook until done, basting frequently. This will be found a
most toothsome dish.”

Quotation for the Day …

The "substitute" variously known as saccharin, saxin, crystallose, is no substitute at all, ... This drug, which is derived from coal tar, has decided medicinal qualities and injures normal health if persistently taken. It has none of the nutritive value of sugar.
Horace Kephart.


SometimesKate said...

I think that book predates Skotch Ice, which are little steel tartan tins that can be frozen. From what I've read, they also had little tartan coolers and baskets as well. I picked up a few cans at a rummage sale once, and keep intending to sell them on Ebay. But I digress.

Back then you would, if I recall from my reading, put the ice in a burlap bag, place the bag and other items in a box surrounded by hay. I know that they did fireless cookers with boxes filled with hay to keep things hot, and I'm pretty sure they did the same thing with cold.

I have an old cookbook that belonged to my grandmother about a new bride named Betty and how she kept house. She often used a fireless cooker.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your husband on camping. Glad to see the rains haven't washed you away!

Anonymous said...

Have thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Think I have found kindred spirits when it comes to camping!

Anonymous said...

I've never tried it, but my cousins from Maryland's (US) Eastern Shore tell me that some of the stores around there sell muskrat. No comments on what it tastes like, but they said the meat is kind of greenish. I'd have to be pretty hungry to try that!

Barbara said...

You must tell me the snake story someday. I love to sleep on an air bed in a tent. Don't think I'm game to camp in Australia (because of the snakes). When we camped in NZ it was always in a camping ground with toilets and showers and good restaurants nearby. We once went wilderness camping with a group of regular campers. Only once :)

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Ruth - I am delighted that you have found me and I hope I continue to keep you entertained!