Review by Stefanie Bondra
Camping is a wonderful pastime. Fresh air, nature, sunshine, and nights around the fire are something everyone should try to experience. Whatever the images are that leap to mind when camping is mentioned, the one question we all ask is: “What are we going to eat?” While you can get by with GORP, trail mix, and “hot dog on a stick”; I say, “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” If it is all you have, absolutely, eat it. Then find civilization, because you aren’t going to last long on just that. If, however, you are planning a day, weekend or longer (like I do) you are going to plan meals and pack for the adventure.
The Campfire Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (Thunder Bay Press) meets this basic need of life, and while trail mixes are included, it is not the only offering. From foil packet suppers, to zabaglione and snacks in between, there are recipes sure to please most palates. Though the cover of the book says “eating well in the wild”, it is worth noting that this book is not simply a camping cookbook. Rather it is a cookbook and mini guide to camping in one.
The first thing you will note about this book is its plastic zippered cover. A great idea for a camping book, as things tend to get wet; whether it be from dew overnight, a spilled cup or pot, or the sudden rain cloud floating by your campsite. The book can be removed from its protective cover, which is nice because plenty of times, I’ve spilled right on top of my cookbook. Being able to remove the cover to clean behind the plastic, is a nice touch. Another idea is to store extra recipes in the jacket flaps inside the cover.
Inside the book is divided into four parts: “Way to Go”, “Campside Kitchen”, “Get Set…Pack”, and the actual recipe section. The first section is an overview of camping etiquette such as, leave nothing but footprints. I’m sure seasoned campers realize this, but some are not and so it bears repeating. This section also includes an overview of basic weather forecasting, such as what the different cloud formations look like and what type of weather is common with their presence. Other “tells”, such as a heavy dew in the morning, usually indicating a dry day is something I never knew until this book.
While I thought the recipes would be my favorite part of this book, I’m finding that it actually ties with the section on nutrition. The Philpott’s cover the calorie needs of an adult taking part in various activities as a starting point. They go on to say that energy requirements on your trip will determine the level of calories you should consume. Continuing on, they touch on what types of ingredients a diet should contain (Protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and that combining them properly fuels your body for better performance. They also mention the importance of increasing your fluid (water) intake, which many neglect while out and about. I know that in the group we camp with in the summer, it’s something we are constantly reminding each other about, because dehydration is really not pleasant. Speaking of dehydrating- the last part of this section is a good beginner guide to dehydrating foods. They even cover dehydrating in a conventional oven, which is super helpful. I don’t have the room for another kitchen gadget.
Campside Kitchen covers how and where to set up your kitchen. Considering things like shade, light, storage and cooking methods are introduced first. From backpacking stoves to Dutch oven cooking (my preference); the Philpott’s do a great job of briefly explaining a few methods to give you options, for example, a backpacking stove is great for a short, one man trip, while the Dutch oven lends itself more to the static camp. This section also touches lightly on foraging, fishing, finding natural water, and some tips about what to avoid eating. While this list is by no means comprehensive, it is sound advice.
“Essential equipment” for the camp cook is also covered. Understanding that what kind of method you use to cook your food can affect what utensils you will need is helpful so one does not over or under pack. Of course, you can get by with only a knife, pot and spoon (for a solo trip), but if you know you will be camping, why not be prepared? Maybe that will be the only things you require, but I know when I camp, that is definitely not the case.
“Get Set…..Pack” is final section before diving into the actual recipes. Packing is covered-not just food, but sleeping bags, tents and food. My favorite thing is included here-lists! I am a great believer in writing things down. Pen to paper, engaging the senses to encourage memory growth. That and I can be super forgetful in the frenzy to get ready. These lists are not meant to be packed in their entirety-rather it is meant as a reminder for the things that we may or may not think about packing. Anyone ever forget their toothbrush because you just “weren’t thinking about it?” yeah….me neither. Sample menus and pack lists finish this section.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for- the meat and potatoes (see what I did there?) of the book. This could be another whole article reviewing the recipes included (there are about 80). The common things are definitely included (trail mix, foil packets, and bannock) and while they are mainstays of the camping tradition, there are many other meals that are just as easy to add into your repertoire.
It is worth mentioning that while most of these recipes can be made at camp, some should be made at home for brevity’s sake. Make the granola, energy bars and cookies before you leave. In addition, every recipe states if it requires an “at home” component in addition to the “at camp” directions. The directions are very well laid out and easy to follow.
Some of my favorite recipes are the breakfast casserole, curry couscous, goulash, and jambalaya. With the exception of the couscous, they all include a protein, carb, and some fat, so they are great to eat at any time of the day. Our camp usually has a “leftover” cooler, so sometimes there is jambalaya for breakfast-but not for long. Also, the tomato, cucumber, and red onion salad is super delicious. It reminds me of tabbouleh without the bulgur wheat.
One thing I saw was the inclusion of “boil in bag” recipes, like “scrambled eggs n’ coffee (page 68). I have never cooked anything in a plastic bag, so like anyone these days, I “googled” it. For as many folks out there that use thick zipper close bags, there are as many that say “ACK! Never do that!” Even a name brand zipper bag recommends NOT using the bags to boil food. I wracked my brain because I know boil-in-bag rice is a thing. I haven’t used it, but I know it exists. So back to the internet. I found that one online site sells “boil-able bags”, but they weren’t cheap. I pondered and wondered for about a week. Then I had to go to the store for more vacuum seal food bags and when I opened them, eureka! Right on the bag it said, freeze, microwave, BOIL! So, your local big-box, blue (or red) department-type store probably sells them in the kitchen/housewares aisle. What a relief, you can make your scrambled eggs in a bag without worry now. You are welcome.
I have to say that I have not tried all the recipes in the book. I am not big on fish and lamb is really expensive here, but as with most cooking (not baking) recipes proteins can be swapped, carbs exchanged, and spices substituted with abandon. As I always say, “add what you like, leave out what you don’t”.
The authors have numerous years of experience under their belts. Both as travelers and with writing books on food, drink, and travel. At an MSRP of $15.95 and as low as $11 online, cookbook and guide in one, this little book packs a mighty punch. Practical tips, techniques and a substantial amount of recipes are just a few reasons to add this book to your collection.
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