Heading out into the wilderness this Labor Day weekend? Whether you’re an expert adventurer or a “cautious camper” like our guest blogger Mackenzie Kincaid, it’s never too late to pick up some tips and tricks when it comes to eating in the great outdoors.
I have a confession to make: I’ve never really gone camping.
I know, I know. I’m a disgrace to the state of Utah, but I just didn’t have anyone to teach me those skills when I was a kid. I took a horsepacking class in college (yep, that’s an actual thing I took as an actual course credit, we live in truly amazing times), so I know how to balance a load, tie a diamond hitch, and convince a mule to cooperate, but my only “camping” experience involved a sheltered building, running water, a fireplace, and someone with a clue to help me set up my tent and cook our supper. It definitely felt like cheating; it was kind of like going camping, but the kind of camping where you’ve brought along a butler.
Which is why I’ve hesitated as an adult to even give any sort of real camping a try: what kind of gear would I need? How would I plan a trip that wouldn’t end in my horrible death due to utter inexperience? How exactly does one cook food that doesn’t involve an open fire and hunting down a wild boar with your own bare hands? (It’s possible I’ve watched too many movies. And I have an anxiety problem. It’s not a great combination.)
I figured I’d start myself off easy, with some car camping, but even with all the comforts of a vehicle — and an easy escape if I got in over my head — I wasn’t sure where to begin. I finally decided to start with my most pressing question, which was food, and sign up for the Camp Cooking class offered through Lifelong Learning.
I’m not sure I’ve ever made a better decision in my entire life. I’ve taken some terrific classes in my time blogging for Lifelong Learning, and I’ve learned a lot and had a seriously amazing time, but this was the first time I’d ever had a class end in a literal feast. And let me tell you, I could get used to it.
Sometimes volunteers can be hard to find, but when it comes to the preparation of delicious foods it’s all hands on deck.
So picture this: you’re at a beautiful, well-shaded park on a gorgeous summer evening. There’s a very nice man who’s brought a load of food, and he teaches you how to cook by more or less just dumping a bunch of ingredients into a pot. (Finally, a type of cooking I can handle!) While the glorious stack of cast-iron dutch ovens are heating the first part of the smorgasbord through a genius arrangement of hot coals, you dive into more simple recipes and other cooking styles. Two-burner propane camp stove? I can handle that. (Maybe after I read the manual.) Tiny backpacking stove? I totally believe in my ability to use one of those now! Oatmeal? Breakfast casserole? Tinfoil dinners? Lasagna? Dump cake? Breakfast burritos? We can create them all even in the most primitive of Gilligan’s Island conditions through the power of modern food science!
Dutch ovens full of delicious are heated with surprisingly few charcoal briquettes, piled on and underneath the stacked ovens.
Some of the techniques don’t translate well if you’re really heading into the wilderness — even with pack mules I don’t think I’d want to try packing in those heavy dutch ovens — but the course offers such a great variety of cooking techniques and equipment that you’ll get some great ideas for all occasions, whether you’re preparing a huge spread for a gathering at a well-equipped campsite, or carrying the lightest possible load into the wilds with nothing but your backpack. The course also thoroughly covers the kinds of equipment you might need, and how to shop for it, with an emphasis on simple everyday items that won’t cost a fortune at the outdoor store.
Everybody gets to do their part in preparing the food. I personally dumped some sauce in a thing. I was super good at it.
I can’t say that I’m feeling fully prepared to set out for a hike the Appalachian Trail or anything, but after taking this class I definitely feel more confident that wherever I decide to start with my extremely cautious camping adventures, I’ll be well-fed. A detailed handout lets you take the recipes home so you can always refer back to the techniques, recipes, and equipment checklist, even long after your delightful Camp Cooking experience is over.
The class is only a few hours in a single evening, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule, and when it’s all over you get to “help” with the clean-up by serving yourself seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths. I’d like to state for the record that I was extremely helpful. Just make sure you don’t eat before this class… you’ll want to leave plenty of room to enjoy the fruits of your labors. And the eggs of your labors. And the cake of your labors. All that learning sure can give you an appetite.
Just one small portion of A MIGHTY FEAST FOR MIGHTY WARRIORS. And also just really hungry people. Like me.
Learning to cook up a delicious egg breakfast with a plastic bag and hot water.
You’ll want it all to cook faster, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.