Scott Cookman wants campers to wake to the earthy aromas of morning then enjoy a savory, wholesome breakfast which is part of the experience of being in the natural world. "The secret to great American camp cooking today is using the fresh, natural 'comfort foods' of the good old days," states Cookman in the introduction to The Great American Camping Cookbook. He reminds us that some of our favorite foods started over an open camp fire: "
clambakes, succotash, country ham, baked beans, cornbread, roast turkey, wild rice, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, sourdough bread, tortillas are original American camp dishes."
Cookman gives a brief history of camping, starting with the explorers and settlers who experienced camping in its most rigorous form. He tells us that the advent of canning destroyed the concept of fresh camp foods, and that these first canned foods were highly processed military supplies, intended solely for use of armies on the move, not for people enjoying nature. Arguing for a return to the natural as we all do today, Cookman has given us an indispensable guide to great eating in the outdoors, whether canoeing, camping, backpacking, or car camping on a short holiday.
The book is thorough and Cookman has made it easy for us. He provides lists of fresh foods that will keep for up to three to four weeks, a second list for foods that will keep for two to three weeks, and a third for foods that will keep for up to a week, probably the average camping trip. The list is surprisingly extensive, and we wonder why anyone would think that prepared foods, whether dried powders or cans, would be a viable substitute. He follows this with complete lists of calculated food portions.
Eat well, says Cookman and offers recipe for breakfast of Fried Ham and Red-eye Gravy (ham is a major 'keeper'), Wild Rice Pancakes or a Johnny-cake, originally called a "journey cake" because of its keeping properties on long journeys. Fish is classic for campers, often there at lakesides catching their own, and he offers recipes such as Trout Hemingway, Ernest (a great outdoorsman as well as a writer), a Mini-Fish Fry, or a Sauteed Walleye with Wild Rice and Mushrooms. If it's soups and stews that regenerate and fuel you for the next day, you can try Camp Style Bean Soup, Quick Camp Squash Soup, Carolina Bog (a special stew from the Carolina lowlands, adjusted for general use). For sides there are Spit-Roasted Acorn Squash, Roasted Ears, Skillet-fried Corn and a classic Succotash.
Cookman knows that we need our coffee and gives a formula for that drink that so often disappoints on a camp trip. And if it's a special drink at the end of the day that mellows you while the fire glows, he has recipes for Hot Buttered Rum, Hot Brick Toddy and a Basic Grog.
The book has sidebars throughout giving entertaining glimpses into the legends associated with camping, from chuck wagons to sour dough bread to old Daniel Boone himself. There is a comprehensive directory for purchasing anything from Camp Cookware or Stoves to dried beans and other foodstuffs. Don't leave home without this book!
About the author: Scott Cookman has written cooking features and how-to advice for Field & Stream since 1997. He's the author of two outdoor adventure histories: Ice Blink and Atlantic.