Summer Camp Cuisine
Well, camping season is here and you don’t have to ask me twice to pack up and hit the road. Our family already has two adventurous trips to the outdoors on the books and has several more planned this summer. Just like the love of cooking is in my DNA, so is the love of camping.
My family camped often when I was a youngster. My sister and I would ride up top in our cab-over camper gazing at the open roads. I would play waitress and chef at the same time as I would take orders from the front crew (Mom and Dad) and whip up loaded salami sandwiches on sourdough bread, passing them through the back window of the cab of the old Ford truck as they drove on. Our camper was a diner on wheels, just another playhouse for me with a tiny kitchen.
Dad always grilled and Mom always made delicious yet simple travel food. As fantastic as Mom’s camp meals were, when my sister and I reminisce about camping we always laugh about the fact that camping was the only time Mom allowed us to buy treats that were normally off limits. For whatever reason, we always picked the mixed variety pack of mini cereal boxes. So cute and tiny. Remember the variety pack that came with Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops and my favorite, Sugar Corn Pops? Good times for sure, as all of those cereals were never allowed in our house but somehow got approval just for camping.
Whether it’s a fun treat or a camp meal, is it just me or does everything taste better when you are camping? There must be something about the wilderness that seasons food to an entirely different level. (I am not talking about sugary cereal anymore, as that tastes great anywhere.) I cannot put my finger on it, but I think it might be the ruggedness of the fresh, open air around you that makes everything you do feel just a little more special. I can sip chilled rosé and nibble on prosciutto in the backyard with enjoyment for sure, but there is something more to it when immersed in nature.
The easy feeling of the outdoors, the no-rush attitude, and the communal gathering and eating when camping all create a calmness in me. I love the anticipation of getting away, the fun of packing for our specific destination and planning menus with our kids or joint meals with friends. When camping, no one is scrambling to get out the door to piano or soccer. Everyone is present at meal time and we seem to eat slower. It creates a happy place for me — so much so that I just want to press pause.
I, too, let the kids pick treats. However, each time we camp, I try different fun food ideas that we can all participate in. It doesn’t really matter if it is an oldie but a goodie recipe or a new surprise, every time we sit down to eat in the outdoors it seems like a treat. Simple grilled meats and veggies, camp potatoes and even sandwiches and s’mores taste better. Meals that we routinely have at home get glowing reviews from the kids and anything cooked in a foil packet appears gourmet.
I actually think part of the reason camp fare tastes so good is that it is simple. The limitations of camping can actually work in your favor in keeping it modest. No stress is best.
My family’s favorite camp breakfast is camp potatoes. Usually made with the addition of leftover grilled steak or sausage, I simply melt a generous amount of salted butter in my 12-inch cast iron skillet, toss in unpeeled chopped potatoes (my favorite is Yukon gold, chopped small), and a diced yellow onion. Toss and cook until potatoes are browned and tender. Season with coarse kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add in chopped leftover steak, top with an over easy egg and cheese. It’s a great way to fuel up before a hike or a day of fishing.
For camp lunches our go-to is either sandwiches or anti-pasta platters, the latter being my favorite. It is so simple to set out a platter with a little medley of something for everyone. Fresh and dried fruits, sliced veggies, cheeses, meats, crackers, sliced bread with some olives or nuts and some type of spread. Minimal prep, minimal mess. Arrange it like a feast and you will not only be visually impressed, your appetite will be satisfied before you even take a bite.
For camp dinners, I love easy one-pot meals or foil packets. Easy to plan, prepare and clean up. This past week’s camping trip we each packed our foil packs with different types of sausages, baby potatoes, corn on the cob chopped into chunks, onions, garlic and other veggies. Drizzled with a little olive oil, butter, salt and pepper, then double wrapped in foil, they came together in a jiffy. The foil packets were set on the grill over the campfire and 20-30 minutes later silence fell as everyone was savoring each bite.
Of course, s’mores are a given when packing for camping. Honestly, s’mores are not my favorite, but I normally submit. This last trip I played with a spin on s’mores with roasted bananas. They were not only fun to make, they were a big hit. I used firm bananas, keeping them in the peel, I sliced them open lengthwise, gave them a little squeeze to allow room to be packed with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips. In my daughter’s version, she used cinnamon chips. I wrapped up the bananas in foil, placed them on the grill and about 10 minutes later we had warm, gooey goodness that could only get better with a little whipped cream. Spoons were passed around and everyone dove in. The perfect end to another great camping day.
With a little forethought, camp meals can come together in a snap.