I come from a proud lineage of cattlemen. These were the guys that conducted the cattle drives of the Wild West, moving from Texas and Oklahoma all the way up north to Chicago, Indiana and even New York. It was a long trail often taking months and months to cross the nation.
So now when I go camping and want to teach my kids how it was done back then, I return to basics. That means cooking is pretty primitive, and whenever possible, I use game and fish that we catch while on the trip.
When it comes to kitchen utensils, I make sure we have a camp stove – just in case we can’t get a fire going – a good cast iron skillet, the proper material to start a fire, and some basics like beans, a little ham hock, eggs, aluminum foil, and saran wrap for storing food.
You’re probably wondering, “What can you possibly find out on the trail to eat?” You might just be surprised. The following are a few basic recipes I use when camping.
Everyone loves a good cup of beans when they come back from a long hike, so I always keep a pot available. That way, all you need to do is warm it up when everyone comes in. Some of the best beans I’ve ever tasted came from a camp fire. There is just something about beans cooked over a wood or coal fire that makes them especially delicious. Simply place the pot slightly above the hot coals and stir regularly so they don’t stick to the pot. You can even use something like this adjustable campfire grill and rotisserie spit so that your bean pot doesn’t turn black.
Here is a great recipe for campsite brown beans and ham hock.
1 pound dry pint beans
½ teaspoon salt
8 cups chicken broth (use two to three chicken broth cubes when camping)
1 pound of ham hock
A dash of black pepper.
Hand clean the beans to make sure there are no rocks or dirt in them. Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl with ½ a teaspoon of salt and just enough water to cover the beans.
The following day, drain and rinse the beans, and place them in a large pot. Then you can add the chicken broth cubes and the ham hock. Add the salt and pepper and boil over the camp fire for five to six hours. Make sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate by continuing to add water as necessary.
Southern Cactus Salad
This is a really easy recipe, and best of all, you can get the cactus from the hike – if you are camping in the southern states. Find three or four cactus leaves. These should be the new shoots that are the smallest and the most tender. With a good camping knife, remove the cactus needles.
Cactus (nopal). You can also get jarred nopales at the grocery store
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers
½ cup of cilantro leaves
½ teaspoon of garlic salt
Chop up each of the cactus leaves into very small pieces. Boil them in a pot over the fire until all the water dissipates. Place the cactus in a bowl, and add the tomato and onion. Dice up the cilantro and add to the mixture. Mix it thoroughly as you would a salad. Squeeze the limes over the salad and serve.
These make a great protein rich dinner or lunch and they are great for making at a camp site because they don’t take a long time to make. You can use a good cast iron griddle or skillet, or just set them on the warm grill to heat.
Corn or Flour Tortillas
Mexican Oaxaca Cheese (you can find it in any store)
2 to 3 tomatoes
2 to 3 Jalapenos
Salt to taste
Place the two tomatoes, the jalapenos and the onion on the grill. Allow the skin to blacken. Leave them on the grill for five to ten minutes. Remove and chop the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Using the bottom of a tin cup (or if you have it, a pestle) to squish all the ingredients together. Continue squishing until the mixture becomes a thick sauce.
Open a tortilla on the grill and shred the cheese over it. Fold the tortilla in half and allow the cheese to melt. Serve the meal with the salsa over the quesadillas or place a dollop of the salsa inside the quesadilla.
In the End
Whatever you do, when you camp you want to keep meals as nutritious but as simple as possible. You want to go back to basics so you don’t carry as much gear or food. If you’re near a lake, you can always catch fish (provided you have a license) and grill them up on a warm night. Remember, camping is about going back to simpler times.