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Ch. 6: The Cook Outfit

Most people take into the woods too many utensils and of too heavy material. The result is a disproportion between the amount of food transported and the means of cooking it.

I have experimented with about every material going, and used all sorts of dishes. Once I traveled ten days, and did all my cooking in a tip cup and on a willow switch—nor did I live badly. An ample outfit, however, judiciously selected, need take up little bulk or weight.

Tin is the lightest material, but breaks up too easily under rough usage. Still, it is by no means to be despised. With a little care I have made tin coffee pots and tin pails last out a season. When through, I discarded them. And my cups and plates are of tin to this day.

Sheet iron had its trial—a brief one. The theory was all right, but in practice I soon found that for a long time whatever is boiled in sheet iron pails takes on a dark purplish-black tinge disagreeable to behold. This modifies, but never entirely disappears, with use. But also sheet iron soon burns out and develops pin holes in the bottom.

Agate or enamel ware is pleasing to the eye and easily kept clean. But a hard blow means a crack or chip in the enameled surface, and hard blows are frequent. An enamel ware kettle, or even cup or plate, soon opens seams and chasms. Then it may as well be thrown away, for you can never keep it clean.

A very light iron pot is durable and cooks well. Two of these of a size to nest together, with the coffee pot inside, make not a bad combination for a pack trip. Most people are satisfied with them; but for a perfect and balanced equipment even light-gauge iron is still too heavy.

For a long time I had no use for aluminum. It was too soft, went to pieces, and got out of shape too easily. Then by good fortune I chanced to buy a pail or kettle of an aluminum alloy. That one pail I have used constantly for five years on all sorts of trips. It shows not a single dent or bend, and inside is as bright as a dollar. The ideal material was found.

Short experience taught me, however, that even this aluminum alloy was not best for every item of the culinary outfit.

The coffee pot, kettles, and plates may be of the alloy, for it has the property of holding heat, but by that very same token an aluminum cup is an abomination. The coffee or tea cools before you can get your lips next the metal. For the same reason spoons and forks are better of steel; and of course it stands to reason that the cutting edge of a knife must be of that material. The aluminum frying pans I have found unsatisfactory for several reasons. The metal is not porous enough to take grease, as does the steel pan, so that unless watched very closely flapjacks, mush, and the like are too apt to stick and burn. In the second place they get too hot, unless favored with more than their share of attention. In the third place, in the case of the two I have owned, I have been unable to keep the patent handle on for more than three weeks after purchase.

Premising, then, the above considerations, as regards material, let us examine now the kind and variety necessary to the most elaborate trip you will take, at the same time keeping in mind the fact that you can travel with merely a tin cup if you have to.

Do not be led astray into buying a made-up outfit. The two-man set consists of a coffee pot, two kettles, a fry pan, two each of plates, cups, soup bowls, knives, forks, teaspoons, and dessert spoons—everything of aluminum. All fit into the largest kettle, plates and fry pan on top, and weigh but five pounds. The idea is good, but you will be able to modify it to advantage.[4]

Get for a two-man outfit two tin cups with the handles riveted, not soldered. They will drop into the aluminum coffee pot. Omit the soup bowls. Buy good steel knives and forks with blackwood or horn handles. Let the forks be four-tined, if possible. Omit the teaspoons. Do not make the mistake of tin dessert spoons. Purchase a half dozen of white metal. All these things will go inside the aluminum coffee pot, which will nest in the two aluminum kettles. Over the top you invert four aluminum plates and a small tin milk pan for bread mixing and dish washing. The latter should be of a size to fit accurately over the top of the larger kettle. This combination will tuck away in a canvas case about nine inches in diameter and nine high. You will want a medium-size steel fry pan, with handle of the same piece of metal—not riveted. The latter comes off. The outfit as modified will weigh but a pound more than the other, and is infinitely handier.

There are several methods of cooking bread. The simplest—and the one you will adopt on a foot trip—is to use your frying pan. The bread is mixed, set in the warmth a few moments to stiffen, then the frying pan is propped up in front of the blaze. When one side of the bread is done, you turn it over.

The second method, and that almost universally employed in the West, is by means of the Dutch oven. The latter instrument is in shape like a huge and heavy iron kettle on short legs, and provided with a massive iron cover. A hole is dug, a fire built in the hole, the oven containing its bread set in on the resultant coals, and the hole filled in with hot earth and ashes. It makes very good bread, but is a tremendous nuisance. You have the weight of the machine to transport, the hole to dig, and an extra fire to make. It also necessitates a shovel.

Folding Aluminum Reflector Oven.

That the Westerner carries such an unwieldy affair about with him has been mainly, I think, because of his inability to get a good reflector. The perfect baker of this sort should be constructed at such angles of top and bottom that the heat is reflected equally front and back, above and below. This requires some mathematics. The average reflector is built of light tin by the village tinsmith. It throws the heat almost anywhere. The pestered woodsman shifts it, shifts the bread pan, shifts the loaf trying to "get an even scald on the pesky thing." The bread is scorched at two corners and raw at the other two, brown on top, but pasty at the bottom. He burns his hands. If he persists, he finds that a dozen bakings tarnish the tin beyond polish, so that at last the heat hardly reflects at all. He probably ends by shooting it full of holes. And next trip, being unwilling to bake in the frying pan while he has a horse to carry for him, he takes along the same old piece of ordnance—the Dutch oven.

"We may live without friends, we may live without books, But civilized man cannot live without cooks"

This is no exaggeration. I have been there myself. Until this very year I carried a Dutch oven on my pack trips. Then I made one more try, purchased an aluminum baker of Abercrombie & Fitch, and have had good bread at minimum trouble.

I realize that I seem to be recommending this firm rather extensively, but it cannot be helped. It is not because I know no others, for naturally I have been purchasing sporting goods and supplies in a great many places and for a good many years. Nor do I recommend everything they make. Only along some lines they have carried practical ideas to their logical conclusion. The Abercrombie & Fitch balloon silk tents, food bags, pack harness, aluminum alloys, and reflector ovens completely fill the bill. And as they cannot be procured elsewhere, I must perhaps seem unduly to advertise this one firm.

Their aluminum baker, then, I found to be a joy. I put the bread in the pan, stuck the reflector in front of my regular cooking fire, and went ahead with dinner. It required absolutely no more attention. By the time I was ready to dish up grub, the bread was done. That was all there was to it. The angles are correct, and the aluminum is easily kept bright. When not in use it folds to an inch thick, and about a foot by a foot and a half. It weighs only about two pounds. A heavy canvas case protects it and the bread pan. I pack it between blankets, and never know it is there; whereas the Dutch oven was always a problem. The cost was three dollars.

Food is best transported in bags. Cotton drill, or even empty flour sacks are pretty good on a pack horse; but in canoe and forest traveling you will want something waterproof. Even horseback a waterproof bag is better, for it keeps out the dust. Again I must refer you to Abercrombie & Fitch. Their food bags are of light, waterproof, and durable material, and cost only from a dollar to a dollar and a half a dozen, according to size.

Use of Parallel Logs.

Of course on a tramp you will carry no extra conveniences in the way of fire irons, but will use as cooking range two green logs laid nearly parallel, or rocks placed side by side. But with a pack horse, there is no reason why you should not relieve yourself of this bother.

Usually two pieces of strap iron about thirty inches long and an inch wide are employed for this purpose. The ends are rested on two stones and the fire built beneath them. In case stones lack, a small trench is dug, and the irons laid across that.

Use of Ordinary Fire Irons.

The Ernest Britten Fire Irons.

Mr. Ernest Britten, a Forest Ranger, has however invented a contrivance that is much better. The irons, instead of being made of strap iron, are of angle iron. To the inside of the L and at each end sharpened legs are swung on a rivet. A squared outer corner next the angle iron prevents their spreading, but a rounded inner corner permits their being folded flat. When used, the legs are opened and stuck upright in the ground, the irons being arranged parallel at an appropriate distance from each other. Mark these advantages: The irons can be driven to any height from the ground according as fuel is plenty or scarce. They can be leveled absolutely, a thing difficult to accomplish with stones and strap irons. In case the ground is too hard to admit the insertion of the legs in it, they can be folded back, and the irons used across stones in the manner of the old strap irons. Moreover, and this is important, they weigh no more.

I have had presented me by Mr. Robert Logan of New York, so simple, transportable and efficient a device for kindling fires that I have included it in my regular outfit. It consists of a piece of small rubber tube two feet or so in length, into one end of which is forced a brass cylinder three or four inches long. The extremity of this brass cylinder is then beaten out so that its opening is flattened. Logan calls this instrument an "Inspirator."

To encourage a fire you apply the brass nozzle to the struggling blaze, and blow steadily through the rubber tube. The result is an effect midway between a pair of bellows and a Bunsen burner.

Until you have tried it you will have difficulty in realizing how quickly wet wood will ignite when persuaded by the Inspirator. I have used it over five months of camping, and never have failed to blow up a brisk blaze in the foulest conditions of weather and fuel. No more heavy chopping for dry heart-wood, no more ashes in the face empurpled by stooping, no more frantic waving of the hat that scatters ashes. Furthermore, the Inspirator's use is not confined to wet days alone. If ever you particularly desire any individual kettle to boil in a hurry, and that utensil sullenly declines to do so, just direct the Inspirator beneath it, and in a jiffy it is on the bubble. When out of use you wrap the rubber tube around the brass nozzle and tuck it away in your waistcoat pocket.

There remains only the necessity of cleaning up. Get three yards or so of toweling and cut off pieces as you need them. Keep them washed and they will last a long time. Borax soap and a cake of Sapolio help; but you can clean up dishes without soap. Long tough grass bent double makes an excellent swab. For washing clothes I have found nothing to equal either Fels-Naphtha or Frank Siddal's Soap. You soap your garments at night, rinse them in the morning—and the job is done. No hot water, no boiling, little rubbing. And the garments are really clean.


Minimum for comfort:
1 tin cup with riveted handle
1 aluminum coffee pot
1 aluminum pail
1 knife, fork, spoon
1 aluminum plate
Fry pan
Food bags
Dish towel
Fels-Naphtha or Frank Siddal's soap.

Maximum comfort:
Tin cup
Aluminum coffee pot
2 aluminum pails
Knife, fork, 3 spoons
2 plates
2 fry pans to nest
Reflector oven
Food bags
Milk pan
Fels-Naphtha or Frank Siddal's soap.
Fire irons
Dish towel
Borax soap

Footnote[4]: Abercrombie & Fitch handle the aluminum alloy.

Stewart Edward White

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