Campfire Cooking: Lesson One

Now that it's finally camping season here in NW Pennsylvania I thought it might be fun to run a series of Campfire Cooking Lessons.

Campfire cooking takes a bit of skill and practice, so let's start out with some basics. You want to make sure that you follow all the rules of the campground you're at to start with. Here are some general guidelines;

Campfire cooking requires a clean-burning, hot fire. This is only achieved with dry, seasoned wood. Stripping trees of green wood is fruitless - your fire will be smoky, will burn poorly and create unnecessary pollution. If dry wood is not available, it will need to be packed in. Many public campgrounds supply firewood - call ahead to see what's available.

Most public campgrounds have fire rings or fire pits at each site. However, if you are out in the woods here are some general guidelines for building your own;

Prepare the site - Select a fire site at least 8' from bushes or any combustibles. Be sure no tree branches overhang the site.- Make a U-shaped perimeter using large rocks or green logs. If using logs, they'll need to be wet down from time to time. If breezy, have back of firepit face the wind. - Put a large flat rock at the rear of the firepit to act as a chimney. The "chimney rock" will help direct the smoke up and away.

Lay the kindling - Fill the fire area with crumpled paper or tinder.- Lay kindling over paper in layers, alternating direction with each layer. Use thin splits of wood or small dead branches. Do not put kindling down "teepee style". The whole fire area should be covered with the kindling stack.- Set a bucket of water near the fire area. Light the paper to start your fire.

Build the fire, grade the coals- When kindling is ablaze, add firewood. The wood should be all the same size, as much as possible. Use hardwood or hardwood branches if available. Distribute wood evenly over fire bed. - As soon as the last flames die down leaving mostly white coals, use a stick to push the coals into a higher level at the back end and lower level at the front. This will give you the equivalent of 'Hi', 'Med' and 'Lo' cook settings. Or, level the coals to your preference.

To cook, set the grill on rocks or wetted green logs. Put food directly on grill or in cookware and prepare your meal. If cooking directly on the grill, a small spray bottle or squirt gun is handy for shooting down any rogue flames, usually caused by food drippings.As the fire diminishes, bank the coals to get the most heat from them.

After cooking, add wood for your evening campfire. Before retiring, extinguish thoroughly and soak with water. Turn rocks in on fire bed. It will be easy to reassemble the next day if required.

The first recipe is called "Bannock". Bannock is a type of flatbread usually made in a griddle, about the thickness of a scone.

Bannock is simple to make, four basic ingredients, one bowl to wash. This kids' favorite is tasty, nutritious and fun to cook on a stick over the campfire. It can also be cooked in a skillet. Bannock can be a meal in itself.

2 - 3 cups flour
1 - 2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (optional)
2 - 3 Tbsp oil, butter or lard
2/3 cup warm water

Directions: Put everything but the water in a bowl and mix with your fingers until crumbly. Slowly add water and mix until dough feels soft. It may seem that you don't have enough water, but keep working the dough till it holds together. Don't add more water!Take a small handful and wrap around the end of a green stick, like a marshmallow roast. Knead it so it stays together. Cook over coals for about 10 - 12 minutes, rotating to cook evenly. Eat as is, or add a bit of jam or honey.

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