A Sparkling Vintage Life

Camp Fire Girls

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Life, Day 27: Cook over a campfire

campfireWhen’s the last time you ate a meal that had been cooked over an open fire? If you don’t camp regularly, it’s probably been quite a while.

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):

Corn chowder
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”


31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 18: Have a Bird Hunt Breakfast

birdsTurning once again to my trusty Book of the Camp Fire Girls, circa 1913, I find instructions for a Bird Hunt Breakfast. This little jaunt will get you out in nature and help you learn something about our feathered friends:

The writer starts out on a note of sympathy. “We all feel sorry, and justly sorry, for children and dogs that have to live cooped up in a city apartment with no out-of-doors to play in. . . . There is no fun in the whole world like the fun to be had out-of-doors.” To that end, she suggested the Bird Hunt Breakfast.

“Did you ever had a Bird Hunt Breakfast?” she asks. “It sounds as if you went out early and found a robin or a hummingbird and fried him up for breakfast, doesn’t it? {ed.: facepalm!} Well, it does not mean quite that. {ed.: sigh of relief}

“You do go out for a walk early in the morning, when the trees and the grasses are still wearing their pearl earrings, and you do hunt, not with a gun, though, but with your eyes, plus perhaps some field glasses, and find an early robin and some warblers and many other kinds of birds. And instead of scrambling or frying them for breakfast, you write down their names in a book, and after each name you write down the characteristics of the bird, or if you don’t know the name of the bird, you just write down a description of it, so that you can identify it with your bird book later.

“Perhaps your group has divided into teams, and the team that sees the greatest number of different kinds of birds has the privilege of sitting down and resting while the other team cooks the breakfast over a fire. . . . Sometimes the girls have a Bird Hunt Tournament. They go for early morning bird hunt walks once or twice a week all summer and each girl keeps her list. When the final scoring comes, each girl must have identified from her notes each specie she has seen. The girl who has the longest list (with no repeats) wins the tournament.”

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 16: Learn to swim, Camp Fire style!

camp fire girls swimmingBack on Day 9 I suggested that you all take a dip in a nearby lake, pond, or pool. But if it so happens that you don’t know how to swim, that could end rather badly! So today I’m offering up some advice about learning to swim, from The Book of the Camp Fire Girls, circa 1913.

“Now the first and most important step to take in learning to relax in the water is to discover how friendly it is to you, how readily it will support you, if you don’t stiffen up! You will be interested to see how beautiful the light is if you open your eyes under water and how long your breath will hold out if you don’t try to be too greedy about storing up a lot before going under.

“Keep your body relaxed and your mind full of the assurance that it is hard to sink. Make a game of learning to exhale under water. Watch the bubbles catch the light as they float to the surface. A number of jolly little games make it fun for a group to grow to fee as much at home under the water as on top. Once you feel that way and have mastered the art of breathing, the learning of the different strokes is merely a matter of patience and practice and perseverance.”

The Camp Fire Girl philosophy of being of service to others comes through loud and clear. “All this skill falls short of our highest goal if it gives gratification to ourselves alone. It is fine to reach the point where we know ourselves to be no longer a risk to others, but how much greater happiness comes when we are capable of helping others. It is a fact that a number of times girls who have learned a method of resuscitation at camp have been instrumental in restoring life at public swimming places.. Even actual rescues have been made by old campers.”

Camp Fire designated several levels of swimming skill. To be declared a Pollywog, the swimmer had to be able to duck three times and bring up stone or sand from the bottom of the lake; float motionless for fifteen seconds; swim two strokes; and jump off the dock three times into water over her heads. A Frog had to swim twenty-five feet, turn around, and swim back to the starting point, open her eyes underwater, float on her back or tread water for two minutes, and do a kneeling dive off the dock. A Fish had to swim one hundred yards; make a standing front dive; swim using only her feet or only her arms; tow a person fifteen feet; and assist the Pollywogs. And to reach the coveted Flying Fish level, the swimmer had to handle a boat in moderately windy weather; tie a slip knot; make three good landings at a dock and on the shore; demonstrate resuscitation techniques; swim five hundred years; swim one mile over three days; pass the Red Cross Life Saving requirements; and handle boat patrol during swimming periods.

They were no slouches, these Camp Fire Girls! But the writer clearly understood she was addressing young girls when she added, “Don’t shriek for the fun of it. It makes it very hard for the instructor’s voice to be heard but worse than that, it makes it impossible to distinguish a real call for assistance.”

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