Possessed by the spirit of our straitened times – and the rubbish value of the pound against the Euro – The Man and I decided to have a staycation and spend a week’s summer holiday camping in the Lake District. Key words to note here: camping; Lakes; England. What can I say? The Man must have caught me at a weak moment. Perhaps I was distracted by a Queen of Puddings or some other delicious fancy.
While not virgin campers, we are definitely novices and our previous test runs coincided with a spell of perfect English summer weather – blue skies, puffy clouds, burbling brooks. On these occasions it seemed only a matter of time before Ratty and Mole punted past our tent. We hadn’t taken cooking equipment on the brief test trips and I’d been equally impressed and alarmed by the other campers’ kitchens and what was considered essential camp cooking kit (a fruit bowl? Really?). So with visions of warm evenings grilling some little something picked up at a local grocer, we booked a week in a tent in the Lakes.
We’ve stayed in those vast, tarmaced caravan parks before (on honeymoon in Dorset in a 1979 Kombi camper van) and this time specifically sought out a camp site that would be a bit closer to nature. The first site was absolutely beautiful – a few farmer’s fields littered with boulders, criss crossed with dry stone walls and with long views across the valley to the fells above.
Well, I say that now. I only discovered these charms on about day 3 when there was a brief break in the pelting rain and gale force winds and I could actually take in the surroundings rather than scuttling between car and tent, head down and zipping the fly sheet behind me.
It rained. It poured. It blew. I’d taken the warning about not cooking in a tent very seriously and at first thought that was the end of my cooking plan. But our first day’s walking had gone a bit awry, ending up as an 8 hour tour of the valley rather than the 2 hour scenic tramp that I had packed light snacks for. Sod the fire safety instructions. I was wet, cold and had been trudging along for more hours than my hips could handle and I wanted hot food. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, half a spoon of rosemary improves bog standard beans no end and I’d remembered to pack a jar. Never have baked beans tasted so good. Truly manna from Heinz.
So having successfully not set the tent on fire, and getting fed up with pretty ordinary pub food down the road, I started to really enjoy the adventure of indoor one pot camp cooking, especially the new discipline of having everything in its place (including The Man) and prepped to begin with. And, just because we were in a tent and it was p$%*ing down, there was no reason to let standards slip and cocktail hour was adhered to. Note: that is chardonnay-viogner in the mugs. I know it looks a bit, um, questionable…
I’m quite chuffed with my range of one pot wonders, although you can see a bit of a theme emerging in my repertoire:
– eggs with onion, potato and paprika sausage;
– chickpea stew with onions, olives and paprika sausage
– pork saussies with onion and bruised apple (they’d been in the boot)
It might not have been quite the lolling about of a warm evening after a trip to some lovely farmers’ market that I’d imagined, but those pork sausages, made on a National Trust tennanted farm from heritage breed pigs, are the best I’ve ever eaten. The leftovers also made an excellent addition to (yet!) another potato, onion and paprika sausage stew.
One up side of the constant rain and our under-preparedness for the weather was that I had a good excuse to seek refuge in the tea houses of the Lake District and launch a one woman search for the perfect scone. Also, I’d forgotten the little trivet thingie to sit the coffee pot on the camp stove = need for a caffeine dispensing establishment = tea house. We struck gold first try at the Yew Tree Farm, which was owned by Beatrix Potter and used as a stand in for her real house in the film ‘Miss Potter’. The cheese scone was a sterling example of its kind, but the plain scone with damson jam and cream was a masterclass in how to achieve light (and enormous!) scones. And they served proper tea in a proper pot.
Some of the keen hedgerow foragers in the cooking press over here make quite a fuss about damsons (like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall etc) and about sticking them in gin, but I hadn’t encountered them before. We’d found they really are common in the hedgerows as we did our epic tour of duty around the Duddon Valley the day before. When I was a kid my mum made a really outstanding plum jam, halfway between sweet and sour, that we used to eat with sausages and cheese (correct this memory if I’m wrong Mum). This damson jam had that same tartness that went really well with the cream so I’ve also brought home a jar, inspired to make scones, but also to eat with cheese and crackers. Post script: last night I made a last minute plum crumble using crushed amaretti biscuits in the crumble and a spoon of the jam mixed in to boost the uninspiring plums, which got the thumbs up from The Man.
The Man knows my weaknesses and inveigled me to try this camping lark with promises of jaunts to local markets for fresh produce and al fresco meals under the stars… The rain was a bit of a dampener on that, but sitting on a boulder in a rare dry(ish) moment, eating one pot fried eggs with paprika sausage, looking out over the imposing expanse of the Fells with only a farm house in the distance was pretty magical.
So, I’m a novice camp cook. What’s your camp cooking speciality and what do you do when it rains?