I come from a camping obsessed family. My Dad is, by trade, a camp manager. My Mom likes to take her blanket outside and sleep under the stars (she also wants an outdoor bath tub, but I digress.) My sister, Jess, and her family are certifiable trail and tent nuts. My brother, Luke, digs the camping but forgets to pack important things, like hats, and has been known to wear underwear on his head to keep it warm in cold weather conditions. I have photographic evidence. Maybe, if enough people ask me to, I might share it. (I’m open to bribery.) My sister, Christina, has the cutest little pup tent ever; I think it’s a defense mechanism to keep my children from piling into the tent with her. My baby sister, Airlia, is the camping-est 16 year old of all time; she is working on getting her driving license with the goal of being able to camp by herself or with her best girlfriends. My stepmom, Val, is the queen of camp cuisine. She made my oatmeal-hating boys into oatmeal lovers; The only catch is that they have to be outdoors in cold weather to eat it.
My husband would be content to stuff a couple pairs of underwear and some energy bars into a backpack and scoot off into the woods for a couple of days. I, on the other hand, am slightly more high maintenance as a camper. My rules are these:
- I need toilet facilities. Flush toilet is optional, but the potty is non-negotiable.
- I need accessibility to some clean, running water within one half of a mile of where we’re sleeping.
- Girlfriend does NOT sleep directly on the ground. The back and the hips do not like accommodating the not-pillowtop ground.
- If it’s raining I want shelter that does not leak or require bailing out.
- I need a well-stocked cooler and I need to bring my favorite camp cookery set-up.*
*“Camp cookery set up?” I hear you say. The Evil Genius once noticed that my favorite massive cast-iron skillet**($20 at Walmart, thankyouverymuch) was a perfect fit with my propane turkey frying rig ($25 after shipping on eBay andthankyouagain.) This is the perfect outdoor cooking space for anything you would pan fry; eggs, fish, stir-fries, fried potatoes, etc… All you have to do is find the most level spot at your campsite (in this case, it was the parking space) and set up your rig. Ta da! Have a gander at the ultimate camp cooking set-up:
**Let me tell you about this pan. It is the largest size cast-iron skillet you can get at Walmart. It’s not in the kitchenwares section. Oh no. It’s back in the camping/outdoors department. You just have to know where to look for appropriate sized cooking vessels when you’re trying to feed a family of 7. If you own/buy one of these bad boys and haven’t seasoned it yet, you’re in luck. Try this trick on for size. Position a cooking rack as low as you can in a charcoal grill over a good pile of hot coals. Rub the inside and outside of the pan with neutral vegetable, canola or peanut oil. Place the pan, upside down, directly on the cooking rack in the grill. Cover the grill and allow it to cook until the coals run out. Wait until it is cool to remove it. Voila! A beautifully seasoned pan that would impress your Southern granny. (My pan impressed my Southern granny both with its size AND it’s beautifully seasoned finish.)
When we camp, it is all about the relaxation. Camp food is an integral part of a fun time. You have to have the obligatory hot-dogs-over-open-flame meal night, and you’d better bring the goods for s’mores because you haven’t faced angry children until you’ve gipped them of their campfire s’mores, let me tell you. But we like to try a couple non-traditional camping fare meals each trip. One year we brought the fryer rig and our wok and made campfire stir-fry. It was LATE (because we foolishly decided to make it the same night we arrived and set-up camp) but it was delicious. Another year, I made several dozen crumpets to toast over the open fire after reading (and drooling over) the accounts of Sophie toasting crumpets for Jack in the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian. They were out of this world when slathered with homemade ginger marmalade. And there were many sticky fingers afterward.
And here’s a paradox for you. In the real, non-camping world, I don’t do breakfast. Don’t hate. I just have never been a breakfast person. I forced myself to eat breakfasts when pregnant, and believe me, it was a real test of willpower. But when I’m camping? Oh heaven help me, I need breakfast. I need a hot, fatty (and phatty), massive breakfast. Val’s campfire oatmeal, cooked with dried fruit and brown sugar and served with monster pats of butter and/or cream and/or maple syrup fits the bill. When it comes my turn for cooking breakfast or when we’re camping without extended family, I break out my trusty cast-iron enforcer and whip up either campfire scramble (fried potatoes and veggies with scrambled eggs) or the ultimate camp home fries.
Last weekend, when we camped at the gorge-ous (Oh, I just slay myself with the puns) Letchworth Park, I opted for home fries. Picture this.
You wake up in your tent or camper. It’s cool out and you tug your socks a little higher. You step out in to the majestic woods, give a good stretch, and within moments, you’re standing in front of a hot, sizzling pan of roasty-toasty, brown, fat-laden potatoes. How is this possible? It’s part of what my Dad calls ‘Campcraft’. Simply put, you prepare everything you can before you even leave home to pitch your tent. Once at camp, you keep two steps ahead of what you need. In other words, I cut all my food that will need to be cut and package it carefully in my cooler. We make sure we have dry firewood AND an axe to cut kindling or keep us covered if the park bans imported firewood. The more you camp, the better you get a campcraft. You know what you absolutely need to take, what you can make once you’re there and what you don’t need at all. It’s one of the beautiful parts of camping that is unrelated to the splendor of nature. It just feels good.
Let’s get back to the home fries for a moment, yes no? In my book, great home (or camp) fries only require 4 non-negotiable ingredients. Potatoes, fat (and LOTS of it), salt and black pepper (and LOTS of this, too!) Surely onions and garlic add something amazing, but when you’re out in the woods, sometimes you just have to keep it simple.
For our home fries, I used a great many left-over salt potatoes. *Full disclosure moment: I deliberately cooked triple the amount of salt potatoes that I would normally cook because I wanted the home fries at camp. You can use any leftover boiled potatoes you have or you can boil up potatoes in advance. The key here is starting with a boiled potato. I’ll share my salt potatoes in a future post. This is admittedly putting the cart before the horse but these home fries are so sublime I wanted to share them with you toute de suite. Feel free to add onions and garlic to the mix. I always add onions and garlic when I make these at home, so I put a little note in the recipe to indicate when you should add them. It goes without saying that this recipe can be prepared on a standard stove-top. (But then I just said it, didn’t I?)
And I feel an explanation is in order on the fat. I use a combination of butter, bacon fat, and canola oil both at home and at camp. I use a lot of fat in this recipe but there is no getting around it. If you want to sit down in front of a steamy bowl of crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, beautiful mahogany brown potatoes there is no substitute. As a courtesy to my thighs and rear, which already are bordering on requiring their own zip codes, I do not make this half as frequently as I would like to. But when I do it, I do it right.
Oh, and you can expect a few more camping-related recipes in the coming weeks. Did I mention we’re nutso for camping? And that we’re camping a couple more times this year? Par-tay!
For a photo-free, printer friendly version of this recipe, click here!
Campfire (Kind of) Home Fries
- about 4 pounds of waxy type potatoes, boiled and chilled. (We prefer salt potatoes with their skins still on.)
- 1/3 cup bacon fat
- 1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup- 1/3 cup canola oil (or other clear, neutral oil)
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- Optional: 2 cups chopped onions, 2 Tablespoons minced garlic (or 1 Tablespoon onion powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder.)
- Serve with hot sauce, ketchup or your preferred condiment. (I know someone who only eats this with maple syrup. I will not name names.)
Before leaving for camp (or before going to bed), chop all of your potatoes into cubes that are approximately 1- 1/2 to 2 inches at their widest points.
Place in an airtight container near the top of the cooler. Alternately, you can double bag them in zipper type bags to keep water from the cooler out of the potatoes.
Once you’re ready to cook the potatoes, place a heavy-bottomed skillet over a medium to medium-high flame or camp fire (or on a medium to medium high burner on a stove top).
Add bacon fat and canola oil to the pan and allow it to heat with the pan. When pan is hot and bacon fat is melted add the butter and stir until butter is completely melted and foamy. Add the chopped potatoes.
Stir vigorously to chuff up the edges of the potatoes and to coat with oil. After the potatoes are evenly coated, allow to cook without stirring. The potatoes will pop, sizzle, and protest, but try to ignore your impulse to mess with them just yet. (An obvious exception to this would be loads of smoke coming from the pan…) Once a brown crust has formed on the bottom layer, flip or turn the potatoes over in sections. Allow that to brown on the bottom without stirring. (If you’re using onions and garlic or the powders, add them here!) After that layer has browned on the bottom, stir to break up the big sections and expose the as-yet unbrowned sections to the hot pan surface. When potatoes have nearly reached desired doneness, remove the skillet from the heat (or turn off the burner) and allow the pan to cool slightly. This will continue cooking the potatoes somewhat, and you should have beautifully browned, crispy potatoes to doctor up as you wish.
Oh my gracious. There are no words to describe how delicious these are. They’re beyond delicious; they are an experience. When you sit down at your campsite over a hot bowl of these potatoes with a bottle of hot sauce at your elbow you just know that everything will be alright in the end. Really. Just look at them one more time.
Do you have any foods that make you feel that way? If you don’t, feel free to borrow these. But if you do, I’d love to know what it is. What food makes your heart sing?