Rediscovering Camp Fire Cooking

(These photos were taken by Bernadette Mckeever)

A few mini-tours ago, Chris, my touring mentor, made us some rather fancy quesadillas over a campfire. At first, I thought it was for the sake of being quaint and rustic. We had, after all, 4 Trangia stoves between us and could have made short work of the cooking.

However, as we began to cook, I saw the utility of using a small stick camp fire, not a “white man’s” fire as you see here in Huntington Beach during the summer months, where people burn whole wood pallets at a time :) The more experienced outdoors persons have to forgive me. I grew up in Los Angeles and when we went camping as a child, the fire was for looking and for occasionally burning marshmallows over. The idea that you could cook over the fire is rather new to me.

So after that mini-tour where we cooked over the fire, I decided to try it out on our last trip, hence, the hatchet. The first night we did it was in Joshua Tree. Firewood was a few uphill miles away and we were tired. We sent Jenny to ask for some wood from another camper. She came back with one largish log. Having the log alone would have been useless without the hatchet.

I split the single log several times until we had pieces about the width of your thumb. It was enough wood to get a burn for about an hour. We flipped the grate on the fire pit and put our pots there. We heated up a quart of water and cooked a tin of canned corn beef hash.

Was it fast? Heck no.

But that’s ok sometimes.

It was relaxing and gratifying to build the fire and watch it grow and feel in touch with your surroundings. We could have used our stoves and cooked up everything in about a quarter of the time, but sometimes speed isn’t the point.

There were practical advantages as well. We were burning through our alcohol for the stove pretty fast and in the desert, the task of finding more was pretty inconvenient. Using the campfire to cook stretched out our fuel. Fires are also great for keeping a constant pot of hot water on. We made some water for tea with our kettle and when we drained it, we just filled it up again and put it over the fire, providing a constant source of hot water. To do this was a Trangia, or any stove for that matter, is very costly fuel-wise.

While I’m still pretty new to cooking with a camp fire, I’m learning and enjoying it. I just ordered a Wetterling “bushcraft” axe from Ben’s Backwoods (my new favorite bike touring store). It should come in a week and I hope to learn how to sharpen it and wield it a little better for our trips to come.