Saturday, June 03, 2006

campfire classics

This really isn’t the season for it down South (hemispherewise that it), but a question asked on the 101 cookbooks forum got me thinking about favourite camping meals.

Though it’s been a couple of years since the last trip, previously most summers have involved a couple of weeks in a tent in one of Eastern states’ National Parks. I love the inherent laziness that you can drive down a dirt track to some fabulous location and camp amongst very few people. Most of these parks have little in the way of modern comforts (toilets, showers etc) but may have water if you are really lucky. The lack of amenities tend to attract those who just want to veg out in (or more actively engage with) nature. What’s more, some like me, revel in having no electricity and being out of mobile range. Essential items include a good hammock, lots of rope, old pillows and a stack of novels.

Food wise, often it’s been many hours of rough driving from a store of any kind, so planning ahead for a week of meals that are as fresh and tasty as possible requires some cunning. I like the challenge of cooking in one pot on an open fire, especially with some disparate end of the week ingredients. This has come up with some winning dishes, or perhaps it was the open air and wood smoke whetting my appetite.

On a Christmas/New Year trip to Morton Island, Queensland, some years ago for a huge camp on the sand dunes that housed about 15-18 of us I was impressed by someone bringing the biggest esky that I have ever seen. What’s more they laid down dry ice and fitted a whole pig that they roasted on a spit for Christmas lunch. I’m not a meat eater, but certainly gave them marks for ingenuity. Those 2 weeks are a bit of a blur. Warm sea to swim in, hammocks under the trees to swing, dream, read and snooze in - but far, far too much alcohol.

Without dry ice (or fortunately dead animals) getting enough fresh vegetables by the end of the week can be a bit of a challenge for long term camping during hot Australian summers. I found that keeping a stash of onions, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and cabbage tended be sturdy enough for the duration. The first few days were always awash with the most perishable fruit and vegetables. Delicious, but not all that challenging to cook with so meals tended to be similar to what I would cook at home. Mid week, things preserved and canned would tend to come out. These staples usually included:

Smoked trout
Cans of fish, kidney beans, tomatoes, coconut milk, peaches and apricots
Packets of mountain bread
Eggs (the ice had fully melted by day 2 usually and this tends to signal the egg fest)
Homemade muesli (with oven dried strawberries to make it special)
Small tetra packs of soy milk (or just the juice and the canned fruit to soften the muesli)
Pasta and various noodles
Rice – brown and white
Flavours – salt, pepper, garlic (lots!), chillies, sometimes basil plants, lemons and limes. Dried herbs – cumin, coriander seeds.
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Tamari

This is one time in summer when red wine is a winner – once the ice has melted there is nothing to chill the white wine and beer. A bottle of port is always handy, along with a pack of cards in case it rains.

Later in the week meals invariably include:
Chilli beans (onion, chilli, garlic, cumin, canned beans, tomatoes, carrots) and baked potatoes (wrapped in alfoil cooked in the embers)

Vegie curry and rice (one year I took along dried beancurd sticks, which once rehydrated was a great addition)

But finally – this dish with no name concocted in late week desperation on a trip 12 years ago – tends to signal the last night. I love it, but never seems right to make it at home. Perhaps it needs the crackle of the fire and the smell of the bush to taste just right.

First cook a couple of blocks of Chinese spinach (egg) noodles. Drain and leave sitting in some cold water.

Cut potato into small cubes and fry in some olive oil. Add diced onion, chilli and garlic. Now throw in diced carrot. Stir it about til it’s almost done. Add a heap of finely sliced cabbage, fry til begins to soften. Lastly add the well drained noodles and flavour with tamari.

This is starchy comfort food best eaten under the stars, beside the fire.

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