Friday, March 20, 2009

Rediscovering Camp Fire Cooking

(These photos were taken by Bernadette Mckeever)

A few mini-tours ago, Chris, my touring mentor, made us some rather fancy quesadillas over a campfire. At first, I thought it was for the sake of being quaint and rustic. We had, after all, 4 Trangia stoves between us and could have made short work of the cooking.

However, as we began to cook, I saw the utility of using a small stick camp fire, not a "white man's" fire as you see here in Huntington Beach during the summer months, where people burn whole wood pallets at a time :) The more experienced outdoors persons have to forgive me. I grew up in Los Angeles and when we went camping as a child, the fire was for looking and for occasionally burning marshmallows over. The idea that you could cook over the fire is rather new to me.

So after that mini-tour where we cooked over the fire, I decided to try it out on our last trip, hence, the hatchet. The first night we did it was in Joshua Tree. Firewood was a few uphill miles away and we were tired. We sent Jenny to ask for some wood from another camper. She came back with one largish log. Having the log alone would have been useless without the hatchet.

I split the single log several times until we had pieces about the width of your thumb. It was enough wood to get a burn for about an hour. We flipped the grate on the fire pit and put our pots there. We heated up a quart of water and cooked a tin of canned corn beef hash.

Was it fast? Heck no.

But that's ok sometimes.

It was relaxing and gratifying to build the fire and watch it grow and feel in touch with your surroundings. We could have used our stoves and cooked up everything in about a quarter of the time, but sometimes speed isn't the point.

There were practical advantages as well. We were burning through our alcohol for the stove pretty fast and in the desert, the task of finding more was pretty inconvenient. Using the campfire to cook stretched out our fuel. Fires are also great for keeping a constant pot of hot water on. We made some water for tea with our kettle and when we drained it, we just filled it up again and put it over the fire, providing a constant source of hot water. To do this was a Trangia, or any stove for that matter, is very costly fuel-wise.

While I'm still pretty new to cooking with a camp fire, I'm learning and enjoying it. I just ordered a Wetterling "bushcraft" axe from Ben's Backwoods (my new favorite bike touring store). It should come in a week and I hope to learn how to sharpen it and wield it a little better for our trips to come.


twodeadpoets said...

I love cooking on camp fires. Grew up cooking with them and I even have a pit in our yard now. Several times a year I build a fire just for the fun of it but also to sometimes cook on.
I belong to both and and often build fires with our guests who stay with us and sometimes even do a little cooking. It's a very communal thing.

jasonk said...

Your post brought back great memories from my days in Scouting, including the times we spent cycling and camping. Good stuff.
May I share a tip with you regarding cooking over an open fire? You probably already realize this, but if you will rub soap on the bottom of your pot or pan before cooking, the black stuff will wash off much more easily.

Gavin said...

Russ, I'm laughing at you, but only a little. I grew up in Idaho. We went camping almost every weekend in the summer. The first time I went backpacking with somebody other than my dad, my jaw dropped at the concept of having a STOVE that you could carry with you, I mean, dad had a stove, but that was big and heavy and stayed with the car. My dad teased me a bit when I was a kid though, because he preferred to use the stove, while I was determined to figure out how to regulate campfire heat and make the perfect pancake over an open fire. I've mastered the fire, I like the little stoves now too, but with a larger group espescially, the fire is the way to go.

Don't they have Boy Scouts in Cali?

RussRoca said...

jasonk....great tip, I'm going to try that out!

gavin...yes, there are boy scouts in Cali, but it's not something that i ever did...i don't know if there's an adult version of it...i know a friend of mine who likens his Marine training to being in the Man-Scouts, but I'm not quite sure that's for me...