Sizzling and crackling over a fire gives instant satisfaction to cooking outside. Even without pots, pans or casserole dishes, there are still plenty of recipes you can recreate over a campfire, and more than just the traditional s'more.
Your ingredients list will depend on the type of camper you are. Most backpackers hiking long days can't fit as much into their pack and might use prepackaged meals that are freeze dried or items such as dry rice and granola bars.
While some campers make typical meals in their RVs or recreational vehicles, others bring meat or prepacked food. Ellie Adams at Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington, Vt. said that it helps being close to a grocery store.
Bill McFarland, Scoutmaster of Troop 8 in Pittsfield, Mass., takes his troop on camping trips once a month during the school year and also on summer trips.
"A basic necessity for campfire cooking is patience," he said. "It's a skill anyone can do, but you have to learn to appreciate your mistakes. It's like Schrödinger's cat, you never know if the food underneath the toppings (leaves, weeds and other material used to cover the cooking food) is good or raw until someone is brave enough to take a bite."
When cooking outdoors, McFarland, who by day is systems director at New England Newspapers, said his essentials include a cast-iron Dutch oven, spices, a plan for the meal, aluminum foil, cooking oil, matches and cleaning supplies.
Before building a campfire, McFarland said, be sure the area is clear of burnable material and have a bucket of water or sand nearby to quell any stray embers.
"I try to find a flat rock to build the fire on, so as not to disturb any of the ecology," he said. "Try to keep the fire directly off the ground."
To build a fire, start with a pile of small dry twigs no larger than your pinky finger, and place them in a teepee shape, perhaps adding paper or a wax-based firestarter, McFarland said. Once the fire is going, pile larger pieces of dry wood around it in a log-cabin pattern, with the ends of the logs overlapping.
"The fire is ready for cooking when there are plenty of good hot coals," he said. "If using a Dutch oven, make sure there are enough under it and enough to cover the top."
When using a Dutch oven, he stressed the importance of using oven gloves or a lid lifter as it will be extremely hot.
Once the meal has been made and the campfire is no longer going to be used, it should be doused with water or sand, stirred, doused again and stirred, McFarland said. Leave it only when you can put your hand directly on the cold ashes.
Some of the simple campfire goodies McFarland makes are:
Wash and core an apple. Make a small ball of aluminum foil to serve as a plug in the bottom of the apple. Place a pad of butter in the apple and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Insert another small ball of aluminum foil in the top of the apple. Place the apple in the center of a square of heavy duty aluminum foil and then bring the edges of the foil up to the top wrapping the apple. Tightly twist the foil at the top to seal the apple. Place the apple into the campfire coals for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the fire and enjoy spooning out the baked apple.
• Add raisins or other dried fruit to the center
• Replace the brown sugar with "red hots" candy for some cinnamon goodness
Orange peel cake
Wash an orange and then with the peel still attached, cut the top off and set aside. Take a spoon and scoop out (and enjoy) the fruit inside the orange leaving a hollow shell of the peel. Remove or drink any juice left. Fill the orange peel container with cake batter about 2/3 full and place the top back on the orange. Place into the campfire coals for about 35 to 40 minutes. The orange peel helps lend a good flavor to the cake.
Use brownie batter instead.
Dutch Oven cakes
Guantanamo Bay Dump Cake
(A family and troop favorite)
In a 8- or 10-inch Dutch oven place the following in order: 1 can cherry pie filling, 1 small can crushed pineapple, 1 package yellow cake mix, 2 sticks of butter cut into pads, and a 1 cup coconut. DO NOT MIX just "dump" the ingredients in and put the top on the Dutch oven.
Place on campfire coals and put some coals on the top of the Dutch oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. CAUTION THE TOP OF THE DUTCH OVEN WILL BE VERY HOT.
Note: The family recipe calls for 8 ounces of walnuts, but McFarland said he leaves them out in case of nut allergies.