“Are those meatballs cooked?” I asked. Mom had prepared a bunch of meatballs for camping. Meatballs don’t exactly strike me as camp food, but she was also bringing a round of brie cheese, which will tell you exactly what my mom thinks about camp food. “No, they’re not,” she replied. “We’ll slow cook them in a spaghetti sauce, boil up some noodles, and yum Yum YUM!” she stated afterwards. “It’ll be easy.”
See, one of the major issues I previously had with camping was camp food. Most of my friends who are hard core campers aren’t exactly gourmets. Everything is freeze dried and eaten out of a pouch. Sometimes they’ll bring out an MRE, the Meal Ready to Eat rations that are given to soldiers serving in the army. Eating oatmeal for breakfast every day isn’t my jam. I’m a prissy city boy hipster who’ll take up issue when I don’t have a selection of at least three kinds of lentils available to me. This is a fact about myself.
When my mother suggested spaghetti, though, something in the back of my mind started twisting. Spaghetti is easy to make at home. Out in the woods, on the other hand, there’re a couple of challenges that are presented.
1) Spaghetti noodles need a big ass pot to boil in. Noodles need a big pot to swim in or else the water gets starchy and the noodles suffer because of it.
2) If you’re cooking a spaghetti sauce with raw meatballs, it’s going to have to slow cook for a long ass time. The kinds of pots that are super lightweight for camping are also super thin – anything that stays in the pot too long will get burnt. Normally, the sauce should sit around for a period of time so all the flavours can get cozy and talk to each other. At the very least, the sauce should be cooking for an hour.
The problem I ran into was we’re cooking on a little camp stove. Don’t get me wrong, Kat spared no expense when she got the Primus camp stove. The stove can boil water in a minute. It wasn’t meant for low and slow, though. Not to mention the fact that the largest pot we have was meant for two people, not the seven I was feeding.
I made it work, but it was a goddamn hassle. I had to boil three separate batches of noodles, and I burnt the shit out of the bottom of the sauce. It was a total pain in the ass to clean up. Simple and easy my crotch. It also went through two bottles of propane. So it was a slog and it was expensive. Mom then mused if we should do butter chicken the next night. Tasty, but also low and slow.
Between the seven of us, we had three burners, and cooking anything was going to eat up propane. Low and slow was costly, inefficient, and I wasn’t having a good time cooking. We had to get away from the idea of using the stove to cook our big dinner feasts. I turned to the fire. If I had my way, every single meal out camping would be cooked over hot coals in the fire pit. After seeing how spaghetti turned out, I decided internally that we’d do most of the cooking over the fire. The stove would be reserved for side dished.
Cooking on a fire is pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. Start a fire, get it going until it doesn’t have a problem burning bigger pieces, then get some glowing coals going. You want those coals, that’s where the toasty, easy to maintain, heat is coming from. My brother Kelly was thinking the same thing I was because he brought a grill to put over the fire pit. Then you just have to cook on the fire. With those coals going, I was treating it like an oven that was only cooking from the bottom. Potatoes, corn, and fish went into tinfoil bags and then were flipped every now and again. Sausage and steak were cooked right on the grill, and everything came out all tasty.
Here’s the weird thing, though. Until this camping trip, there was a stigma that cooking over a campfire was this incredibly tough thing to do. There was this strange mystique to the whole procedure, that somehow this was going to be difficult. I was under the impression that people who cooked over wood fires were some sort of wizards. The truth is, cooking over the fire was one of the easier cooking tasks I’ve had to deal with. It was easy!
Some clown in a suit somewhere has convinced people that cooking over a fire is tough. I’m here to tell you it’s not. You don’t have to be stuck to hotdogs when you’re cooking on a fire. Get a cheap little stand grill, and you can start whipping up meats and veggies just like you were grilling at home on the BBQ.
But it begs the question. People have been cooking all sorts of things on the fire for centuries. You can do low and slow on the fire. You could get a bowl of rice with just some hot coals. Bread, aka the staff of life, has been around as long as people have lived in houses, and the electric oven isn’t that old. This can only mean there’s going to be some crazy experimentation in the future because I’ll be damned if I can’t make a tasty loaf of bread out in the woods.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. Brie? In the woods? Totally a good idea.