Is there anything more gastronomically satisfying to an outdoorsman than a meal prepared in his own element? Be it a far-removed woodland or a full-facility campground, food cooked in camp can be pure manna, a veritable godly feast.
Now, my friends, I unequivocally stand by what I just wrote. However, I have one request. I need you to note before reading further that I distinctly said, “Can be.” While I consider Nature perfect, she is, I’ll admit, often apt to make one’s outdoor culinary endeavors less than such. Maybe that’s just the price paid for being human, but it’s no less vexing.
Nature can, for instance, get herself a sudden urge to drop the overnight temperature to just above freezing. FYI: when she gets this notion, it takes approximately 40 years for coffee and eggs to boil on a portable camp stove. Frostbite and hypothermia arrive much sooner.
Ever been cooking in camp, proud of the goulash you’re creating, when a freak wind gust appears from nowhere? It is the only wind you’ve felt all day and it lasts only a few seconds, but, wouldn’t you know it, you’ve just that instant removed the lid from the stewpot. The breeze abates and your smoke-closed eyes reopen to discover your entrée “seasoned” with ashes and every flying insect species known to man. On the plus side, the bugs and ashes lend interesting textures and flavors. On the negative? Well, they’re bugs and ashes!
Don’t you just love lying in a tent for hours during a rainstorm waiting for an opportunity to cook a little something? I’m hungry, I’m in the middle of a national wilderness area and there isn’t a McDonalds within 50 miles, let alone walking distance. Finally, the rain lets up. I gather deadfall for a cookfire. I have no trouble starting it; I’m adept at lighting fires under all conditions, even wet. Trouble is, wet wood smokes. Given the right circumstances, it really smokes. Smoke in a national wilderness draws attention. Whirling blades on Fire/Rescue helicopters put out campfires, no matter how hard it was starting them. People who fly Fire/Rescue helicopters can get really miffed when they’re called out in dangerous flying weather to discover the “emergency” is only me, trying to fry a little bacon.
Nature has other ways of making outdoor cookery “adventurous.” Try fighting off hordes of food-pilfering raccoons in campgrounds where foolish people have intentionally fed the masked bandits for years. And don’t forget bears. They never appear in raccoon-like numbers and are seldom as obstinate. They can, however, totally destroy a campsite while rifling it for one’s leftovers. They’re also big enough to eat the camp chef. Just thought I’d mention it.
If you’re far enough south, you get gnats. Gnats fly into any available animal’s body orifices (human included) and then land on your food. On the one hand, that’s gross and disgusting. On the other, it’s not such a big deal. After all, it’s hard to tell a smattering of gnats from a sprinkling of black pepper and they can impart a rather delicate sweet taste that isn’t at all unpleasant. Provided, that is, one refrains from thinking of all their previous landing sites.
It’s remiss to blame Mother Nature for all my outdoor cooking foibles. Many are just plain human miseries. I forget to tie back my beautiful long locks and they get singed in the fire or fall into the soup. On a hot, humid day I invariably sweat profusely into the coffeepot. And, speaking of coffee, I often forget good old camp coffee boiled the way my ancestors did it should never be completely quaffed from the cup. I take that last swallow and my mouth fills with coffee grounds, which cannot be completely expectorated, even with two days’ worth of spitting. A certain brand of coffee may indeed be “Good to the last drop,” but boiled in camp it is good to the last “bite” as well.
On second thought, brethren, just forget that first paragraph. Despite the romance, it just ain’t worth it.
Pass the potted meat and Vyeenees, please.
Bob Kornegay writes a weekly outdoors column for The Albany Herald.