Camp Cooking – Outdoor Skills
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 Camp Cooking – Outdoor Skills

 Camp Cooking – Outdoor Skills


Camp Cooking – Outdoor Skills

Camp Cooking – Outdoor Skills

THE way in which an average party of summer outers will contrive to manage—or mis-manage—the camp and camp-fire so as to get the greatest amount of smoke and discomfort at the least outlay of time and force, is something past all understanding, and somewhat aggravating to an old woodsman who knows some better. But it is just as good fun as the cynical O. W. can ask, to see a party of three or four enthusiastic youngsters organize the camp on the first day in, and proceed to cook the first meal. Of course, every man is boss, and every one is bound to build the fire, which every one proceeds to do. There are no back logs, no fore sticks, and no arrangements for level, solid bases on which to place frying-pans, coffee pots, etc. But, there is a sufficiency of knots, dry sticks, bark and chunks, with some kindling at the bottom, and a heavy volume of smoke working its way through the awkward-looking pile. Presently thin tongues of blue flame begin to shoot up through the interstices, and four bran new coffee pots are wriggled into level positions at as many different points on the bonfire. Four hungry youngsters commence slicing ham and pork, four frying-pans are brought out from as many hinged and lidded soap boxes—when one man yells out hurriedly, "Look out, Joe, there's your coffee pot handle coming off." And he drops his frying-pan to save his coffee pot, which he does, minus the spout and handle. Then it is seen that the flames have increased rapidly, and all the pots are in danger. A short, sharp skirmish rescues them, at the expense of some burned fingers, and culinary operations are the order of the hour. Coffee and tea are brewed with the loss of a handle or two, and the frying-pans succeed in scorching the pork and ham to an unwholesome black mess. The potato kettle does better. It is not easy to spoil potatoes by cooking them in plenty of boiling water; and, as there is plenty of bread with fresh butter, not to mention canned goods, the hungry party feed sufficiently, but not satisfactorily. Everything seems pervaded with smoke. The meat is scorched bitter, and the tea is of the sort described by Charles Dudley Warner, in his humorous description of "Camping Out": "The sort of tea that takes hold, lifts the hair, and disposes the drinker to hilariousness. There is no deception about it, it tastes of tannin, and spruce, and creosote." Of the cooking he says: "Everything has been cooked in a tin pail and a skillet—potatoes, tea, pork, mutton, slapjacks. You wonder how everything could have been prepared in so few utensils. When you eat, the wonder ceases, everything might have been cooked in one pail. It is a noble meal.

The slapjacks are a solid job of work, made to last, and not go to pieces in a person's stomach like a trivial bun." I have before me a copy of Forest and Stream, in which the canoe editor, under the heading of "The Galley Fire," has some remarks well worth quoting. He says: "The question of camp cookery is one of the greatest importance to all readers of Forest and Stream, but most of all to the canoeists and the Corinthian sailor. From ignorance of what to carry, the canoeist falls back on canned goods, never healthy as a steady diet, Brunswick soups and eggs. The misery of that first camp-fire, who has forgotten it? Tired, hungry, perhaps cold and wet, the smoke everywhere, the coffee pot melted down, the can of soup upset in the fire, the fiendish conduct of frying-pan and kettle, the final surrender of the exhausted victim, sliding off to sleep with a piece of hardtack in one hand and a slice of canned beef in the other, only to dream of mother's hot biscuits, juicy steaks, etc., etc." It is very well put, and so true to the life. And again: "Frying, baking, making coffee, stews, plain biscuit, the neat and speedy preparation of a healthy 'square meal' can be easily learned." Aye, and should be learned by every man who goes to the woods with or without a canoe. But, I was describing a first day's camping out, the party being four young men and one old woodsman, the latter going along in a double character of invited guest and amateur guide. When the boys are through with their late dinner, they hustle the greasy frying pans and demoralized tin ware into a corner of the shanty, and get out their rods for an evening's fishing. They do it hurriedly, almost feverishly, as youngsters are apt to do at the start. The O. W. has taken no part in the dinner, and has said nothing save in response to direct questions, nor has he done anything to keep up his reputation as a woodsman, except to see that the shelter roof is properly put up and fastened. Having seen to this, he reverts to his favorite pastime, sitting on a log and smoking navy plug. Long experience has taught him that it is best to let the boys effervesce a little. They will slop over a trifle at first, but twenty-four hours will settle them. When they are fairly out of hearing, he takes the old knapsack from the clipped limb where it has been hung, cuts a slice of ham, butters a slice of bread, spreads the live coals and embers, makes a pot of strong green tea, broils the ham on a three-pronged birch fork, and has a clean, well-cooked, plain dinner. Then he takes the sharp three-pound camp axe, and fells a dozen small birch and ash trees, cutting them into proper lengths and leaving them for the boys to tote into camp. Next, a bushy, heavy-topped hemlock is felled, and the O. W. proceeds leisurely to pick a heap of fine hemlock brouse. A few handfuls suffice to stuff the muslin pillow bag, and the rest is carefully spread on the port side of the shanty for a bed. The pillow is placed at the head, and the old Mackinac blanket-bag is spread neatly over all, as a token of ownership and possession. If the youngsters want beds of fine, elastic browse, let 'em make their own beds.

Sears, George Washington. Woodcraft. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing, 1884.

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