Campfire Cooking: The art, the nostalgia, the pain in the neck …

Back in the good ol' days ...

Back in the good ol’ days …

There’s something nostalgic about cooking over a campfire. Supremely primitive, yet a refined art. How hot the coals, how high the flames, how near the skillet … Like everything in my life, I’m drawn to whatever is the hardest challenge, the oldest method, and the most endangered art form.

Molly and I have been doing living history reenactments for years. I have a ton of respect for the members of our group who are as comfortable cooking over a fire as on their home stove tops. But like a close-guarded secret, they’ve never let me meddle further than putting water on to boil.

Hence my struggles during my first attempts at campfire cooking for Molly and me. (Not that I’m blaming my friends, but if you’re trying to preserve a dying art …)

So it was my lucky day when I bumped into the book, The Complete Book of Fire by Buck Tilton (Menasha Ridge Press, 2005). One chapter concerns cooking. The highlights:

  • You don’t need a blazing inferno–a small fire is better
  • You don’t want flames, you want coals
  • Hard woods make the best coals
  • Your bed of coals should be a couple of inches thick
  • The right temperature is when you can hold your hand six to eight inches above the coals for six to eight seconds

All of which makes me wonder why the campgrounds outfit you with those big, honkin’ logs that take forever to light, forever to burn to coals, and forever to die.

So I’ve invested in a new piece of stunning equipment: a hatchet. I’ll let you know how it works, next time I camp … and after I’ve found someone who can sharpen it for me. Right now, it makes beautiful dents in soft wood …

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