On a dew filled August morning, the sun leaks into my tent, brushes my face, and I am comforted by the smell of bacon cooking on a nearby fire. On this particular morning, I will be making our Mountain Man Breakfast. There are no mountains here on the Eastern Shore, but a late night of card playing by lantern, fire gazing and star watching can make teenage boys’ appetites mountainous to say the least.
Mountain Man Breakfast is a relatively new tradition for us; it was the brainchild of Boy Scout Troop 532 in Easton and quickly became their “go to” before a day of serious hiking. On this particular day we will be expending much less energy at the beach, but this August morning air is crisp and mountain man feels just right. By the time I have finished the bacon and am throwing the hash browns into the cast iron skillet, my boys have emerged from their tent, hair askew. Kissed by the intoxicating smell of morning bacon, they smile. They, too, are excited to see mountain man well on its way, as they stretch and rub their stomachs in anticipation. They reach for a slice of fresh ambrosia cantaloupe and turn their faces toward the sun.
I think about the two incredibly tall loblolly pines under which we pitch our tent and stoke our campfire every year. In the early mornings when the campfire is in its infancy, I love to lean back in my camp chair, cup of coffee in hand and look straight up the trunks of these auspicious trees, their presence year after year is encouraging. Even in the gentlest of breezes their hypnotic sway is a soothing way to begin a camp morning. Paradoxically, we burn pine wood under the watchful eye of these loblolly pines, which are surely older than I. As the strength of the fire grows, I contemplate this irony.
For many, tent camping can be an escape from modern chaos, a chance to connect with nature, test survival skills, satisfy a yearning for simplicity or perhaps invoke an even deeper philosophical experience. For our family, it is all these things and a chance to cook meals over a fire. In the weeks prior to our trip, many discussions about the upcoming vacation are centered around meal choices and requests. Ingredients, cookware and utensils are gathered, and the menu plan is reviewed with contagious enthusiasm.
With the convenience of the modern kitchen left behind, campfire cooking can be a challenge matched only by the rewards of accomplishment and the satiety of a meal well prepared. We have found there are a few essential items needed to experience a safe and successful cooking experience. Namely: fresh water, large cutting board, quality chef knife, tea towels (you can wrap these around the knife for travel), dish pan, dish soap, dish rag, very long handled cooking utensils, metal grate preferably with legs, heavy duty tinfoil, pot holders and paper towels. If your campsite doesn’t have a picnic table, a small table will make preparations much easier. Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.” So true with campfire meals.
There is something very real about cooking over a fire, and you don’t have to pitch a tent to try it, a backyard fire pit will do. Box ovens are wonderful inventions, but an oven hides the magic of the cooking process and watching food transform can be a mesmerizing experience.
There are innumerable recipes to try when it comes to campfire cooking, anywhere from roasting marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick to more elaborate meals prepared in a Dutch oven. If you are new to campfire cooking there are many treats and dishes you can make with little prep or clean up, therefore, I have shared several recipes ranging in order from easy to moderately challenging. I hope you will enjoy the challenge.
As a shout out to the Scouts, please remember to always make sure your fire is completely out before stepping away. And…kindly leave no trace.
Cathy Schmidt writes from Trappe where she and her husband Chef Brian Schmidt own Garden and Garnish Catering. A food explorer, Cathy loves to garden and cook from scratch.
We can thank the Girls Scouts for the most iconic of all campfire treats, the S’more. Credited with the first S’more recipe in print, S’more is actually a shortened version of “some more.” From the 1927 Girl Scout Guide book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts:
16 graham crackers
3 bars plain chocolate (any of the good plain brands, broken in two)
8 sticks for roasting
Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crispy gooey state and then put them inside the graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich. The heat of the marshmallow between the halves of chocolate bar will melt the chocolate a bit.
From the Boy Scout Handbook 2016 Edition:
“Corn on the Cob”
Dab butter or margarine on an ear of corn, wrap it in foil and roast on the coals for 10 minutes. Turn it several times while cooking.
Mountain Man Breakfast
12-inch cast iron skillet
12 oz bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
16 oz of frozen diced home fries
6 eggs, scrambled
When the fire has settled down so there are more coals than flame, place a sturdy grate across the coals. Place your cast iron skillet on the grate and add the bacon. Cook the bacon until done and then add the home fries. When home fries are crispy, add the eggs. Mix it all together and continue to cook until the eggs are done. You can add cheese or Old Bay, if desired.
Dutch Oven Sloppy Joes
2 pounds ground beef or venison
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup green or red bell pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbs prepared yellow mustard
1 1/2 cup ketchup
3 tsp brown sugar
Salt & Pepper to taste
When the fire has settled down so there are more coals than flame, place a sturdy grate across the coals. Place a 10-inch Dutch oven on the grate and add the meat, onions and peppers. Cook until done, stirring often. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover and simmer over the fire for about 20 minutes or until hot. Check often. Serve on a roll.
Dutch Oven Potatoes
10-12 large Russet baking potatoes
1 red onion, diced
1 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
Prepare a fire of hot, grey coals. Place bacon in 12-inch Dutch oven with feet and cook over the coals until bacon is halfway done. While bacon is cooking, slice potatoes into ¼-inch thick slices. Remove the bacon and layer it with the potatoes and onions evenly. Add salt and pepper. Cover and place in the fire over a full bed of grey coals. After about a 1/2 hour pull 1/3 of the coals from the bottom and place on the lid. Every 15 minutes or so stir ingredients and rotate the pot and lid 1/2 turn in opposite directions. This helps to evenly distribute the heat. Potatoes are done when fork tender. This dish should be done in about an hour or so. Remove from coals, add shredded cheese and cover for a few minutes until melted. Tip: For Dutch oven cooking, a charcoal chimney can be helpful for jump starting the coals.