Camping food should be easy to cook, but that doesn't mean it has to be uninspired. With not much more effort than it takes to buy, pack, open and heat canned meals, you can put together appetizing dishes of your own. Then eating does more than merely maintain stamina; it becomes one of the pleasures of the trip.
Here are some ideas for a typical weekend camping trip for a family of four who take daytime hikes, and return to the campsite in time to make supper. Bulk and weight are kept to the minimum, but this is not a backpacker's regimen. Crackers, hard cheeses, Danish or other salamis that do not require refrigeration, and dried fruit make easy, portable lunches. Other tips on packing and preparation are given in the recipes. CAMPFIRE BAKED POTATOES
(4 Servings) 4 medium baking potatoes 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) 1 teaspoon instant minced onion 1 teaspoon salt or to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
At home, scrub potatoes. Pack in a paper bag with a small cutting board and a sharp knife.
At the campsite, start the fire about 1 hour ahead so you will have a good layer of coals in which to bury the potatoes. Just before cooking, cut potatoes into very think slices. Rub 4 sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil with some of the butter. Arrange slices on foil in an overlapping pattern (like crackers on a platter). Sprinkle with onion, salt and pepper, and dot with remaining butter. Fold top and edges of foil to make secure packets. Bury packets in coals and cook until potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove packets with tongs. Use foils as a plate. GRILLED CHICKEN
(4 Servings) 12 frying chicken drumsticks 2 whole lemons 4 cloves garlic 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1 teaspoon salt or to taste 1/5 teaspoon black pepper or to taste.
At home, put chicken in a double plastic bag. Cut lemons and garlic into thin slices and put in bag with chicken. Add oil, thyme, salt and ppper. Seal bag. Pack in cooler chest and let chicken marinate during drive to campground. Pack a wire cake rack to use as a grill in case one is not available at the site.
Start the fire about 30 minutes ahead. Arrange chicken on grill; discard lemon and garlic. Cook, turning chicken occasionally, until skin is crisp and meat is tender, about 30 minutes. Eat with your fingers. TRIAL BARS
(Makes 12) 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) 1/2 cup dark or light brown sugar 1 cup flour 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup old-fashioned or quick oats.
Make these cookies in a jiffy at home; they are useful on a camping trip because they are substantial and tend not to crumble or become soggy. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rub a 7-by-11-inch baking pan with butter. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour, sprinkle on baking soda and salt, and stir into creamed mixture. Stir in oats. Press into prepared pan. Bake until firm and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Cut into bars while still warm.
When cool, wrap individual bars in paper towels and put them all in a plastic bag. Serve for a hiking snack or for dessert. CORN GRIDDLE CAKES
(4 Servings) 1 cup yellow or white corn meal, preferably not degerminated 1/4 cup soy flour 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons butter 1 cup water, approximately 2 eggs Honey or maple syrup
At home, mix corn meal, soy flour, milk powder, baking powder and salt in a double plastic bag. Insert a slip of paper that identifies contents and gives cooking directions. Seal. Pack a nonstick frying pan or, if weight is of no consequence, pack a seasoned cast-iron frying pan.
At the campsite, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan. Let cool. Put most of the water, and the eggs and butter, into the plastic bag. (Make sure butter is cool; hot butter will melt a hole in the bag.) Seal top of bag and mix by squeezing contents gently. Add more water if necessary to make a medium thick, pourable batter. Heat frying pan to moderately hot. Pour in enough batter, about 1/2 cup, to make a large pancake. Cook on first side until firm, about 1/2 minutes, then turn and cook on second side until done, about 1/2 minute. Rub pan with some of remaining butter and repeat procedure until batter is used up. Serve with honey or maple syrup. ONE POT PASTA DINNER
(4 Servings) 1 1/2 pounds ground beef 1 tablespoon instant minced onion 1tablespoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon dried basil 1 teaspoon sugar Pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste 1 can (35 ounces) Italian tomatoes 1 cup water 1 teaspoon salt or to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste 2 tablespoons butter 1 box (8 ounces) shell marcaroni Parmesan cheese
At home, pack meat in cooler chest. Pack onion, oregano, basil, sugar and red pepper in a small plastic bag. Insert a slip of paper that identifies contents and gives cooking directions. Seal and tape to can of tomatoes.
At the campsite, cook meat in a 3-quart pot. Stir with a spoon to break up pices. Drain fat. Add herbs and spices, tomatoes, water, salt, pepper and butter. Mash tomatoes with a spoon. Bring to a full boil and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat until flavors blend, about 20 minutes. Sauce will be thin. Bring to a full boil again, add shell macaroni and cook, stirring frequently, until pasta tastes done, about 10 minutes. It should be cooked through but not soggy. Serve in bowls with parmesan cheese. FRAN'S BANANA BOATS
(4 Servings) 4 slightly under-ripe bananas 1 package (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
At home, pack bananas carefully so they don't get crushed. Let bananas ripen during trip.
At the campsite, start the fire about 1 hour ahead so you will have a good layer of coals in which to bury the bananas. Just before cooking, peel back a flap of skin about 3/4-inch wide on the inside curve of each banana, leaving the skin attacked at one end. Cut out a triangular wedge of fruit that runs the length and most of the depth of the banana but does not go through it. Fill the wedge with chocolate chips and cover chips with flap of skin. Place each banana on a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Fold top and edges of foil to make secure packets. Bury packets in coals and cook until bananas are soft and chocolate melts, about 15 minutes. Remove packets with tongs. Lift flap of skin and eat, like pudding, with a spoon.