The secret of successful camp cookery is experimentation and boldness. If you have not an ingredient, substitute the nearest thing to it; or something in the same general class of foods. After you get the logic of what constitutes a pudding, or bread, or cake, or anything else, cut loose from cook-books and invent with what is contained in your grub bags. Do not be content until, by shifting trials, you get your proportions just right for the best results. Even though a dish is quite edible, if the possibility of improving it exists, do not be satisfied with repeating it.
This chapter will not attempt to be a camp cook-book. Plenty of the latter can be bought. It will try to explain dishes not found in camp cook-books, but perhaps better adapted to the free and easy culinary conditions that obtain over an open fire and in the open air.
After bacon gets a little old, parboil the slices before frying them.
Bread.—The secret of frying-pan bread is a medium stiff batter in the proportion of one cup of flour, one teaspoon of salt, one tablespoon of sugar, and a heaping teaspoon of baking powder. This is poured into the well-greased and hot pan, and set flat near the fire. In a very few moments it will rise and stiffen. Prop the pan nearly perpendicular before the blaze. When done on one side, turn over. A clean sliver or a fork stuck through the center of the loaf will tell you when it is done: if the sliver comes out clean, without dough sticking to it, the baking is finished.
In an oven the batter must be somewhat thinner. Stiff batter makes close-grained heavy bread; thin batter makes light and crisp bread. The problem is to strike the happy medium, for if too stiff the loaf is soggy, and if too thin it sticks to the pan. Dough should be wet only at the last moment, after the pan is ready, and should be lightly stirred, never kneaded or beaten.
Biscuits are made in the same way, with the addition of a dessert-spoonful of cottolene, or a half spoonful of olive oil.
Cornbread is a mixture of half cornmeal and half flour, with salt, baking powder, and shortening.
Unleavened bread properly made is better as a steady diet than any of the baking powder products. The amateur cook is usually disgusted with it because it turns out either soggy or leathery. The right method, however, results in crisp, cracker-like bread, both satisfying and nourishing. It is made as follows:
Take three-quarters of a cup of either cornmeal, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or Germea, and mix it thoroughly with an equal quantity of flour. Add a teaspoonful of salt, a tablespoonful of sugar, and a teaspoonful of olive oil or shortening. Be sure not to exceed the amount of the latter ingredient. Mix in just enough water to wet thoroughly, and beat briskly; the result should be almost crumbly. Mold biscuits three inches across and a quarter of an inch thick, place in a hot greased pan, and bake before a hot fire. The result is a thoroughly cooked, close-grained, crisp biscuit.
Corn pone is made in the same manner with cornmeal as the basis.
Flapjack flour is mixed with water simply; but you will find that a tablespoonful of sugar not only adds to the flavor, but causes it to brown crisper. It is equally good baked in loaves. The addition of an extra spoonful of sugar, two eggs (from your canned desiccated eggs), raisins and cinnamon makes a delicious camp cake. This is known as "flapjohn"—a sort of sublimated flapjack.
Puddings.—The general logic of a camp-baked pudding is this:
You have first of all your base, which is generally of rice, cornmeal, or breakfast food previously boiled; second, your filling, which may be raisins, prunes, figs, or any other dried fruit; third, your sweetening, which is generally sugar, but may be syrup, honey, or saccharine tablets; fourth, your seasoning, which must be what you have—cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, etc., and last, your coagulating material, which must be a small portion of your egg powder. With this general notion you can elaborate.
The portions of materials, inclusive of other chance possessions, the arrangement of the ingredients determines the naming of the product. Thus you can mix your fruit all through the pudding, or you can place it in layers between strata of the mixture.
As an example: Boil one-half cupful of rice with raisins, until soft, add one-half cupful of sugar, a half spoonful of cinnamon, and a tablespoonful of egg powder. Add water (water mixed with condensed milk, if you have it) until quite thin. Bake in moderate heat. Another: Into two cups of boiling water pour a half cup of cornmeal. Sprinkle it in slowly, and stir in order to prevent lumps. As soon as it thickens, which will be in half a minute, remove from the fire. Mix in a quarter cup of syrup, some figs which have been soaked, a spoonful of egg powder, milk if you have it, and the flavoring—if you happen to have tucked in a can of ginger, that is the best. The mixture should be thin. Bake before moderate fire.
I am not going on to elaborate a number of puddings by name; that is where the cook-books make their mistake. But with this logical basis, you will soon invent all sorts of delicious combinations. Some will be failures, no doubt; but after you get the knack you will be able to improvise on the least promising materials.
Do not forget that mixing ingredients is always worth trying. A combination of rice and oatmeal boiled together does not sound very good, but it is delicious, and quite unlike either of its component parts. I instance it merely as an example of a dozen similar.
Tea.—The usual way of cooking tea is to pour the hot water on the leaves. If used immediately this is the proper way. When, however, as almost invariably happens about camp, the water is left standing on the leaves for some time, the tannin is extracted. This makes a sort of tea soup, at once bitter and unwholesome. A simple and easy way is to provide yourself with a piece of cheesecloth about six inches square. On the center drop your dose of dry tea leaves. Gather up the corners, and tie into a sort of loose bag. Pour the hot water over this, and at the end of five minutes fish out the bag. Untie it, shake loose the tea leaves, and tuck away until next time. The tea in the pot can then be saved for the late fisherman without fear of lining his stomach with leather. Also it is no trouble.
Coffee, too, is more often bad than good in the field. The usual method is to put a couple of handfuls in cold water, bring it to a boil, and then set it aside to settle. Sometimes it is good that way, and sometimes it isn't. A method that will always succeed, however, is as follows: Bend an ordinary piece of hay wire into the shape of a hoop, slightly larger than the mouth of your pot. On it sew a shallow cheesecloth bag. Put your ground coffee in the bag, suspend in the coffee pot, and pour the hot water through. If you like it extra strong, pour it through twice. The result is drip coffee, delicious, and without grounds. To clean the bag turn it inside out and pour water through. Then flatten the hay wire hoop slightly and tuck it away inside the pot with the cups.
Mush.—The ideal method of cooking mush is of course a double boiler and just the amount of water the cereal will take up. Over an open fire, that would result in a burned product and a caked kettle. The best way is to make it very thin at first, and to boil it down to the proper consistency.
Beans will boil more quickly if you add a pinch of soda. An exaggerated pinch, however, causes them to taste soapy, so beware. If the water boils too low, add more hot water, never cold; the latter toughens them. When soft smash them with a fork, add water, and cook with fat in the frying pan.
Hardtack.—A most delicious dish to be eaten immediately is made of pilot bread soaked soft, and then fried. The same cracker fried in olive oil, without being previously soaked, comes out crisp and brown, but without impaired transportability. When butter is scarce this is a fine way to treat them in preparation for a cold lunch by the way.
Macaroni should be plunged in boiling water, otherwise it gets tough. What remains should be baked in mixture with whatever else is left—whether meal, cereal, or vegetable.
Corn.—After you have eaten what you want of the warmed-up, mix what is left with a spoonful or so of sugar, some diluted milk, and a spoonful of egg powder. Bake it.
Salmon may be eaten cold, but is better hashed up with bread crumbs, well moistened, and baked before a hot fire.
These are but a few general hints which you will elaborate on. The Price Baking Powder Co. publish gratis a "Mine and Ranch Cookery" which is practical. Also read Nessmuk's Woodcraft.
A LIST OF SOME OF THE DISHES POSSIBLE WITHOUT TOO MUCH TROUBLE FROM THE GRUB LIST GIVEN IN THE LAST CHAPTER
1. Fried bacon
2. Fried ham
3. Broiled ham
4. Boiled ham
5. Plain bread
7. Johnny cake
8. Oatmeal or cereal muffins
9. Pancakes or flapjacks
10. Buckwheat bread
11. Corn pone
12. Unleavened bread
13. Spice cakes
15. Boston brown bread
16. Brown bread gems
17. Boiled hominy
18. Fried hominy
19. Hominy pudding
20. Indian puddings (three or four sorts)
21. Cereal puddings (three or four sorts)
22. Oatmeal mush
23. Oatmeal and rice mush
24. Fried mush.
25. Boiled rice
26. Rice and raisins
27. Rice cakes
28. Rice biscuits
29. Rice pudding
32. Baked potatoes
33. Boiled potatoes
34. Mashed potatoes
35. Fried potatoes
36. Boiled onions
37. Fried onions
38. Stewed fruits
39. Boiled beans
40. Fried beans
41. Baked beans
42. Fried hardtack
43. Boiled macaroni
44. Baked macaroni
46. Corn fritters
47. Corn pudding
49. Baked salmon
50. Baked corned beef
51. Fried corned beef
53. Scrambled eggs
54. Soup (several kinds)
56. Julienne, boiled or fried.
This leaves out of account the various hybrid mixtures of "what is left," and the meal and fish dishes in a good sporting country. As a matter of fact mixtures generally bake better than they boil.
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