When the U.S. Forest Service began building its network of campgrounds across America, few would have predicted that these havens from city life would ultimately help preserve the time-honored tradition of camp cooking.
But on any given weekend, thousands of outdoor lovers pack their cars, minivans and motorhomes and head to one of some 17,000 forest campgrounds to hike, fish and, of course, roast marshmallows over a fire, cook pancakes on the propane-heated griddle or simmer stew in a Dutch oven.
Forest rangers reigned as the camp cooking masters, says Beth King, editor of Camp Cooking: 100 Years (Gibbs Smith, $9.95), a new cookbook that celebrates the centennial this year of the Forest Service.
When the agency was founded in 1905, rangers were asked to furnish their own supplies for the job, says King, a technical information specialist with the U.S. Forest Service office in Ogden. "The pay was about $60 a month and part of the job was furnishing two horses, one to ride, one to pack gear, a gun, a saddle and enough food for a few weeks."
A ranger's food supplies were limited to flour, sugar, cured meats, dried beans, rice and a few canned items, according to the manuscript of noted ranger Sterling Righteous Justice, who started his career in 1908. Rangers slept in small teepees, which were light and could withstand any storm. And they carried small Dutch ovens for baking and cooking. Pay was $2.50 a day.
"It was a hard life but it was a joyful one because they loved the outdoors," says King, whose years of work with maps and aerial photography has also made her the de facto keeper of the historical photographs for the Intermountain region, which includes Utah.
The idea for an anniversary cookbook started as an Intermountain project, King says, but quickly gained the attention of her national bosses and was expanded to include employees and retirees from around the country
Besides nearly 140 recipes, the book includes dozens of historic black and white photographs as well as newsletter and diary entries that chronicle the solitary lives of the early rangers and forest guards who lived in mostly primitive conditions.
"It gives people an opportunity to get a glimpse of the agency from a different format," says King.
All proceeds from the book go to The National Museum of Forest Service History in Missoula, Mont. The nonprofit agency is raising money for a permanent building. Cooks can order the book online at http:// http://www.nmfs-history.net/. The book is also available at Amazon.com and Utah bookstores.
King currently is in Washington, D.C., cooking recipes from the book for those who attend the Smithsonian Institution's annual Folklife Festival, which continues through July 4.
Dan Krutina, a retiree from Ogden, moved all over the country during his Forest Service career.
"One of the ways we get to know one another, moving as often as we did, is through meals and potlucks," says Krutina, who spent the last four years of his career in Utah. "Every time I look at recipes I got for someone I remember that person."
Utah outdoor cookbook author Dian Thomas also has fond memories of the Forest Service. Her father, Julian, was a district ranger in Utah's Manti-La Sal and Wasatch-Cache national forests.
The family lived near Monticello in the ranger bunkhouse, part of a 10-building complex with the forest as her backyard. Her father loved making dinners in the Dutch oven; his specialty was sourdough biscuits and pancakes, recipes he learned from his sheepherding parents.
"It was an idyllic childhood," says Thomas, author of 12 outdoor cookbooks, most notably Roughing It Easy. "I attribute my love of the outdoors to that experience."
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Camp cooking can done in a simple way. Some planning can make it even easier.
For more tips and recipes, see Page D2.
* Write down a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu for each day of your trip.
l Do prep work at home, including chopping onions and peppers, boiling noodles and rice or measuring and combining dry ingredients. Pack in resealable plastic bags.
l Prepare soups, stews, chili or other meals ahead of time. Freeze and keep in cooler. Reheat for a quick meal.
l Freeze uncooked meat beforehand. It will last longer and will keep other foods cold.
More ideas for packing camp food
l All items in your cooler should be packed in watertight bags or containers.
l Block ice lasts longer than cubed.
l To save packing space, bring small amounts of cooking and kitchen supplies (such as flour or dish soap).
l Buy a small plastic cutting board so you will have a clean food-preparation surface.
l Take a small portable charcoal grill in case the one at the campground isn't usable.
l Metal measuring cups won't melt if accidentally left near a fire.
l Pita bread packs better and stays fresher than regular breads.
l Bring energy-boosting snacks, such as trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit and beef jerky.
l Use a separate cooler for drinks so food cooler is not opened too often.
l On your last day of camp, use your leftover meats and vegetables to make omelets.
l Try "squeeze" margarine; it's easier to use than tubs or sticks of butter.
l Get double duty from your pots and pans - use them as mixing bowls.
Green River chili con queso omelet
1 dozen eggs
2 (7-ounce) cans whole green chilies
1/2 pound cheddar cheese, sliced
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, diced, or 2 (4-ounce) cans mushrooms, drained
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup milk
Chili salsa, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, pan or whatever you have. Mix well. Heat griddle or large frying pan on camp stove or over hot coals. Spread mixture onto griddles and divide into 4 servings. Fold over and continue cooking until eggs are cooked through and slightly browned. Serve with chili salsa.
- Don Duff, "Camp Cooking: 100 Years"
Campfire apples in tin foil
1/2 cup butter (1 cube), melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup chopped walnuts
3 to 4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
Combine melted butter, maple syrup and nuts in a bowl. Place a small handful of apple slices onto a piece of aluminum foil. Top apples with a large spoonful of nut mixture. Fold the foil, leaving an opening. Place on the campfire and cook 30 to 40 minutes or until apples are soft, but not mushy.
-Janet Thorsted, Forest Service Utah Regional Office, "Camp Cooking: 100 Years"
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
1 (4 1/2 -ounce) can blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup shredded coconut
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, oats, butter, wheat germ, orange peel with 1/2 cup brown sugar until just mixed. At medium speed, beat 2 minutes (mixture will look dry). With lightly floured hands, pat into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl, mix eggs with remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Stir in almonds and coconut. Spread over mixture. Bake 35 minutes. Cool and cut into bars.
-Mary McDonough, Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, "Camp Cooking: 100 Years"
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup dry pancake mix
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon sugar
Milk, if necessary
1/4 teaspoon baking soda, if necessary
To make the starter, combine flour, yeast and sugar in a crock or plastic container. Add warm water. Leave at room temperature for 3 days, adding 1 cup new flour and 1/2 cup warm water each day until batter is active - odor is pungent and surface is bubbly. At this point, the starter is ready for use. Remember to set aside 1 to 2 cups starter for the next batch.
To make pancakes, blend 1 cup sourdough starter, dry pancake mix, eggs, oil and sugar. Do not over-stir. If batter is too thick, add a small amount of milk. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda if the dough is too sour. Ladle batter onto a hot griddle. Turn when light brown. Serve pancakes warm. Makes 10 to 12.
-Dian Thomas, "Camp Cooking: 100 Years"
1 1/2 pounds hamburger
2 quarts (8 cups) sliced potatoes, put in cold water
1 quart (4 cups) diced carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds link sausage, cooked and cut into 4 pieces each
1 1/2 pounds grated sharp cheese
Brown hamburger in a 12- or 14-inch Dutch oven. Lightly drain potatoes. Add potatoes to oven along with carrots, onions, salt and pepper. Mix and cover. Place 10 charcoal briquettes on lid and 15 briquettes underneath. Cook until vegetables are tender. Add sausage and grated cheese, do not stir. Cover and cook until sausage is heated and cheese is melted.
-Dan Krutina, retired ranger, "Camp Cooking: 100 Years"