Often around this time of year when the kids are watching too much television, I fantasize about putting an end to this by dragging us all out to the middle of the woods to live in a tent for a few days. But this strikes terror in my urban soul. How could anybody survive July without showers, a blender and easy access to ice cubes? How can one possibly bring disposable diapers into that lovely environment? How much fun could it possibly be to spend the days chasing my boys, nomadic souls that they are, through an uncharted forest primeval?
But the mothers of older children tell me all this can be a lot of fun, especially if the dads and boys all go out for the weekend together and mom gets to stay home and do her needlepoint and play tennis. Often enough, though, she still gets to play family cook in absentia. That is, she gets to plan and pack the food.
This is not so awful when you consider that any food eaten in the wilderness after a physically active day, and food enhanced by the crackling campfire and twinkling stars, is bound to taste better than that exact same food would at home. And it is not so awful when you consider that serious backpackers, people whose idea of a good time is hiking all day, recommend eating little snacks on the road. These snacks should have the highest possible calorie content and the lowest possible bulk and weight. Therefore, an item such as the toothsome Gorp (house recipe follows) would be far preferable to a bunch of celery. Boys already know that.
My own two favorite recipes from camping days were Girl Scout Stew and S'Mores. Girl scout stew was made by browning hamburger in the bottom of a pan and pouring a can of vegetable soup on top. Today, of course, we try not to traffic in canned soup, and any serious backpacker would blanch at the thought of having to carry a can of soup, which involves both excess weight and potential litter. The S'Mores, however, are classic goodies that no amount of anti-sugar propaganda will ever knock off the kid-camping menu. Even for grown-ups, they're so good that they're almost worth going camping for.
My husband has fond memories of camping as a boy. His favorite part was rising at dawn to catch a fish, and then cleaning and frying it for breakfast. Every part of this experience seems repugnant to me, but vive la difference, anyway.
Here are some camping cuisine tips from the experts:
*Keep items that need refrigeration to an absolute minimum. If you're camping in a vehicle, you can have a cooler, but save it for the necessaries.
*Margarine keeps longer than butter; it even keeps without refrigeration. Store it in a screw-top jar.
*This is not a good time to garnish your main dish with a side of freshly poached asparagus. Limit dinners to one-pot meals.
*Foods that are nutritious, dense and keep without refrigeration include dried fruit, peanut butter, onions and potatoes, cheese (cheddar keeps best), salami and dried beef jerky, soup bases, whole wheat and spinach pasta, and cocoa mix that requires only water.
*Write out projected meals and make sure you are packing the right utensils for each preparation. Don't forget hot mitts.
*Take off as many wrappers as possible before you leave home, to eliminate fuss and litter. Pack as much as possible in disposable plastic bags. Bring extra bags in case of breakage. And don't forget garbage bags.
And here are the recipes. NED'S FRIED FISH IN THE WILDERNESS (2 servings per medium fish)
1 (or more) fish, freshly caught in lake, stream or surf -- perch, bass, bluefish, trout or just about anything else with scales
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
Catching the fish is the only difficult thing about this recipe, and the closer it's done to mealtime, the better. Use a sharp fishing knife to sever the head and tail from the body of the fish, then apply a standard fish-scaler, available in any bait shop, to scrape off the scales. Finally, slit the fish open along the bottom and use your index finger (or the knife, if you're queasy) to pull out all the intestines. The fish should be devoid of everything except skin, white meat and bone before you cook it. Then, separate the fish into two neat fillets by cutting right through the backbone. Rinse the fillets thoroughly in fresh water. While they're still dripping, flip them around in the flour, add salt and pepper, and fry in butter until the flesh is tender and flaky and the skin crisp. Add a fried egg or two and a cup of coffee, and this, without question, is the finest breakfast ever devised. SAUSAGE STROGANOFF (4 servings)
5 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons beef bouillon powder
2 tablespoons dried onion
4 tablespoons dried mushrooms
6 sausage links, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cups egg noodles
5 tablespoons dry sour-cream mix (available in camping-supply stores)
1 tablespoon powdered milk
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Put water, butter, beef bouillon, onions, mushrooms and sausage links in a pan, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil a few minutes until vegetables soften, then add noodles. Give noodles a quick stir to keep them from sticking together, then cover the pan and let them boil for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix sour cream and milk with some water. (Add the water a little at a time until it resembles cottage cheese). When noodles are soft, stir in the sour cream mixture and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes, then serve. Sprinkle parmesan on top. From "The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide," Simon and Schuster, $17.95 GORP (Makes 20 handfuls)
12-ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate bits
2 8-ounce packages of butterscotch bits
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped, dried apricots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal
1/2 cup muesli
Butter for pans
Melt chips in top of double boiler, adding honey. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; add melted chip mixture and blend well. Pour mixture into greased pans and cool. Cut or break into hand-sized chunks. Wrap tightly in plastic. Store in refrigerator until needed. From "The Best About Backpacking," Sierra Club Books S'MORES (1 serving)
This is for one S'More. After you eat it, you'll want S'More.
1 whole graham cracker (4 quarters)
1/2 plain chocolate bar
Snap the graham cracker in half horizontally along the short line in the middle. Place the half candy bar on one half cracker. Roast a marshmallow until it is hot and slightly drippy. Put the marshmallow on top of the chocolate, top with the other half of graham cracker, and squeeze until the hot marshmallow starts to melt the chocolate. Eat. Sigh.