It is the rare cookbook that has even the camping-averse actually contemplating a weekend of mosquitoes and sweaty sleeping bags, but Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young's just-released Campfire Cookery: Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities For The Great Outdoors does just that.
Sure, we were instantly charmed by their use of the formal third person voice to describe hilariously charming ideas (“Take a moment to collect one's laundry lint, discarded newspapers, and other scraps of fluff from under one's bed. All will make excellent starter fuel for the fire”). And the cookbook is refreshingly free of sales pitches from the publisher's end — perhaps by sheer necessity, as the hardcover book lacks the book jacket on which we typically endure wondrous praise about the contents inside and the authors immeasurable (really?) contributions to the world's dinner tables.
But really, we simply love the recipes. Turn the page.
Before they get to all those recipes, the authors offer up ways to fill that “Well-Stocked Trunk” in the first chapter. It includes the usual list of suspects: An iron skillet, Dutch oven, Swiss Army knife, and of course (we agree), a corkscrew as “one must always, always carry into the wild a means for uncorking wine or other stubbornly stoppered spirits.” But here you'll also find some unexpected nuggets to tuck away before your next trip: Take bricks wrapped in foil to weigh down meats for searing, a coal shovel (“essential for baking, which requires one to shuffle coals about the fire pit”), and vinegar in a spray bottle to keep cutting boards and other surfaces clean.
Still, we really just made the drive to that mountainside campsite for the food. With Huck and Young (we keep envisioning a 1970s cop show with these two wrangling up errant campers), you're likely to be offered bruléed brown sugar grapefruit brochettes for breakfast and striped bass with grilled fennel and saffron-citrus pilaf, with a sidebar lecture on cleaning a fish, for a pond-side lunch. For supper, perhaps that rabbit ragù with green olives (“if one has mastered the art of falconry, catching a hare for the stew pot is a simple matter… as a last resort, we find rabbit increasingly abundant in city butcher shops”). In between the recipes, Huck and Young tell luscious stories of fairies among the firewood, the “marriage of the magical and the mundane.” Okay, then.
For the tent-averse, the recipes are interesting enough to stand on their own sans the camping trip. We'd be inclined to make that garlicky sautéed dandelion and wild spinach at home after a fruitful farmers market trip, and once you understand the authors' heat index code (from a medium-low campfire to a high-heat roaring flame), you can pretty easily adapt that Madiera cake recipe for the home oven with a little experimenting. And hey, if it doesn't work, you'll hardly notice once you've washed down the bottle of Champagne the authors recommend drinking “posthaste” with the cake.
But our favorite little nuggets in this book are the occasional moments when the authors turn off their campfire fire-building technique lectures and step away from those apple and cheddar dumplings (p. 216) cooking in the Dutch oven. The “Seven Wonders of the S'more” is what they call an honorary tribute — there is honeyed chocolate orange version, a dulce de leche-fleur de sel morsel, and a “Petit Écolier” s'more “for swift campfire gratification” (toast marshmallows and sandwich them between two dark chocolate-coated Petit Écolier biscuit cookies).
The book doesn't end with those campfire desserts but with a chapter offering up tips on “Elementary Stargazing” (“if one has been blessed with clear blue skies, it is time to rustle the binoculars and maps from the trunk for a clear, dark night is likely”) and sure, why not? Tarot card readings. There are various poems by Emily Dickinson and friends for your read-aloud pleasure (“it seems poetry terrifies many an otherwise well-read soul, as if only an experienced cryptographer might crack its hidden code”).
Normally, we'd roll our eyes and wonder why the authors didn't stick to those cast-iron crumpets and cream (p. 120). But toss in plenty of Champagne, as Huck and Young suggest (actually, we'd argue Prosecco is more camping-trip appropriate) and heck, who knows. Maybe we'll learn to relish fireside poetry readings and mosquito repellant latherings as much as we do the idea of making the author's open-flame merguez sausage and red pepper brochettes.