Emica’s camp cooking challenge; or, the search for the perfect scone

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.

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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…

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I’m quite chuffed with my range of one pot wonders, although you can see a bit of a theme emerging in my repertoire:

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– eggs with onion, potato and paprika sausage;

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– chickpea stew with onions, olives and paprika sausage

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– 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.

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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?

15 comments ↓

#1 Zoe on 14.09.09 at 9:02 pm

I make a mean camping quesadilla, and paella‘s in one pot. I don’t mind elaborate cooking camping, because what the hell else is there to do? Apart from all the healthful walks, etc.

And if it rains too much, I drink cocktails.

#2 Laura on 14.09.09 at 9:44 pm

Emica, I enjoyed that very much. When it rains, I go to the pub and eat whatever food they have got in there. Same as when it isn’t raining.

#3 oanh on 15.09.09 at 12:39 am

You must have been camping last week of August! What horrid weather to finish up with summer for ol Blighty (but lovely beginning to autumn!?)

My camp cooking is a bit different because I hike – so everything is pre-packaged (by me) and it’s my fave part of packing for hiking … On the menu is usually: couscous with spices (baharat or cumin and garam masala) or pasta (with tomato paste and dried basil and oregano) or noodles (with Chinese 5 spice) with rehydrated Surprise* veggies, brought over from Australia as there are NONE in the UK or Europe, dried porcini mushrooms and SDT.
(* Surprise is a brand)

Risotto is a brilliant camp meal!

And if it rains? Don the waterproofs and keep on chugging along with whatever it was we were doing. We once wild camped in Dartmoor NP and I had just started up the stove for a brew when I heard this weird pinging sound. It was our 2nd night of a 4 night overnight hike so my first thought was that something horrible had happened to the stove. Naturally, I panicked. Then I realised I was getting wet and it was hailing and the pinging sound was teeny tiny hail stones hitting the pot. Imagine my relief! I quickly put on waterproofs and kept boiling that water because a brew was now even more welcome!

#4 Pamela Faye on 15.09.09 at 7:28 am

Great post! Nothing quite like a bit of wild weather to test a woman’s dedication to fine fare.

We sleep out, sans tents, when camping in the desert lands of Western Australia because it so rarely rains. But when it does rain, it rains big. Which means hiding in the car until it passes. I do believe I may have boiled a billy in the back of the car, but not attempted a hot meal. At moments such as those I tend to stick to my tinned dolmades.

#5 elsewhere on 15.09.09 at 9:03 am

Risotto is good until it sticks to the camp oven.

#6 dylwah on 15.09.09 at 9:53 am

Nice post Emica

When it rains i keep walking, or if i’m car camping i head for the nearest wine region and start filling the car up. of course these are memories, as well as a manifesto for the future not a description of my present existance.

car camping i make a mean lazy rissotto and for breakky i love smoked salmon and parmesan omlettes.

#7 kazari on 15.09.09 at 10:15 am

Most of our camping involves hiking away from the car, so the meals I cook are really, really basic. Having said that, it’s possible to make a pretty good flat bread on a camp burner, and there’s some interesting freeze-dried curries available in the supermarket, not all of which taste terrible.
We always take a couple of emergency meals for when it rains. This means noodles-in-a-cup, plus capsicum, snow peas, spring onions – any easy to pack veggies. You can chop the vegetables in the time it takes to boil water for the noodles, and kid yourself it’s healthy. And minimal washing up.

#8 Zoe on 15.09.09 at 10:57 am

Our plan for next camping trip is to vac pack a bunch of nice homemade meals with our Aldi-purchased vac packer, then reheat them.

#9 fxh on 15.09.09 at 8:48 pm

was there a bustle in your aforementioned hedgrow?

and pig slurry – surely farmer over there would be spreading pig slurry near happy campers?

#10 kate on 15.09.09 at 11:42 pm

Oh my Zoe, Aldi vac packer? I can’t believe He Who Checks the Aldi Website Every Frickin’ Thursday didn’t see or neglected to mention one!

#11 emica on 16.09.09 at 12:50 am

FXH- you know, there were bustles in the hedgerow! squirrels and the like. Very busy places, those hedgerows. Sadly, the mist meant I couldn’t see if there was a stair way to heaven

#12 emica on 16.09.09 at 12:52 am

Thanks all for the suggestions. I’m intrigued by camp risotto. what’s the best method for that?

Yes, I will go camping but hiking-camping is a bridge too far. You hiker-camp-cooks are hardcore! Thank goodness we had the car as a general dumping ground and pantry ;)

#13 FDB on 16.09.09 at 8:07 am

I tend only to camp near where I can fish, so my speciality would probably be whole fishies stuffed with butter and a slice of lemon (parsley if any was brung), foil wrapped and then snared in a jury-rigged wire frame over the coals.

Also, mushroom jaffles, chickpea curry, and beef and red wine stew have been pulled off with some success. A camp stove is easy, but a fire is fun.

#14 dylwah on 17.09.09 at 8:25 am

camping/lazy risotto is pretty much the same as normal, up till you start the intro of teh stock, it also needs a solid pot with a good lid. instead of adding the stock bit by bit, turn the heat right down add about 80% of the stock, bring to a simmer, put the lid on, wait 15 minutes, add your favoured amount of the rest of the stock so you get your favoured al denteness, give it another few minutes and add the rest of the ingredients, plenty of cream is good for hungry climbers.

I started doing this at a climbing crag, arapalies in western vic, after someone tipped over the risotto while stiring it. it is essentially an absorbtion method. i think that the guy at spiceblog once had a rant against the stiring of the rice.

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