31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Life, Day 27: Cook over a campfire
As the weather cools, gathering around a campfire begins to sound more appealing, and having something special to eat just adds to the fun. The Camp Fire Girls handbook of 1925 said, “Outdoor cooking is being appreciated more and more every day. One of the best sports and most healthy and invigorating pastimes is to strap a few necessities on one’s back and go away for one or two days’ trip. To be able to get far into the woods, away from houses, stores, and restaurants, and depend on one’s own resources is a delightful experience.”
(CAVEAT: Safety first! Follow your local fire and burning laws and regulations, tend your fire carefully, drench it completely before you leave the area, and always make safety your first priority.)
To start, of course, you must build your fire. The manual advises, “In choosing a spot on which to build a camp fire, make sure that there is no flammable, dry grass near. Note the direction of the wind and relative locations of buildings, brush piles, roots, dry grass, etc. If the wind is high, fire should be protected by earth banks, which will prevent sparks carrying. The lee side of a rock, stone fence, or bank makes a good place for a fire where there is danger of the sparks being carried.
“A fire for cooking should be very small. Always choose dry wood. In laying the fire, it is well to make a small, tent-shaped structure of the shavings having an opening in which to insert a match. Always be sure that the finest material is at the bottom and have other materials at hand so as to be ready to lay on larger twigs or sticks, letting no bit of kindling burn up without igniting a larger stick above it. A skilled woodsman does not use paper for kindling his fire and he seldom finds it necessary to use more than one match. The finely shredded bark of the yellow birch, which is found in the northern forests, makes the best kindling known.
“Having secured some dry wood, make “fuzz sticks” by whittling long thin shavings, but not cutting them off completely. The inner bark of standing, dead cedar trees makes excellent kindling, while dead twigs from the lower branches of standing trees, especially hemlock, balsam, and spruce, if dry, ignite very easily.
“Build a wigwam of small sticks around a bunch of little twigs or fire sticks. Around the wigwam lay in cross-cross fashion a pen of sticks about one inch square. Light the fire in the center, and in a few minutes the pen will fall to a bed of hot coals. After this is burning briskly, lay side logs either parallel or closer together at one end (to hold the pot or pan). The fire is then ready for cooking.”
When you think of cooking over a fire, does your mind immediately go to hot dogs and s’mores? Those are traditional campfire fare, to be sure, but this Fudge Feast from the Camp Fire Girls sounds mighty tempting.
Menu (for six people):
Bread and butter
Corn chowder: 1 can corn, 4 cups parboiled potatoes, 1 small onion, 1/4 lb. bacon, 2 cups milk, 1 cup water, 6 crackers, salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bacon into small dice, fry until crisp, add the onion diced and fry all together until a light brown, stirring constantly. Then add corn. Cook until hot. Add potatoes (diced) and water. Season with salt and pepper. Add a few broken crackers and milk. Take from fire and serve immediately.
Fudge: 3 cups sugar, 3 squares unsweetened chocolate, 1-1/2 cups milk OR 1 can evaporated milk and 1/2 can water, 1/2 tablespoon butter (if using evaporated milk, omit the butter). Cook together in the frying pan until it forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Set to one side to cool. Then beat until creamy.
When you’re through eating and have finished enjoying your fire, it’s time to put it out. The manual emphasized, “Never leave a fire until you are sure that it is out. If there is sufficient water near, drench them thoroughly. If there is any doubt, throw fresh, moist earth over the fire, stamping it to smother all coals”