Old-Time Camp Food

Tired of freeze-dried? Try hardtack and corn dodgers for a tasty change of pace.

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The one time I went backpacking with my friend Chris, I found out what it’s like to go the “all-natural way,” as he calls it. He wears wool, sleeps on a sheepskin after wrapping himself in a wool blanket, and cooks in a black iron pot on open flames. “All natural,” I found out, also applies to his cotton food bag with rawhide drawstring: the contents include cornmeal and flour, beans and dried meat, maybe a few raisins.

Chris likes to experience the backcountry much like the grisly mountain men did in the early 1800s. In those days of yore, there was a lot of truly wild and rugged land to wander through, and wilderness adventures lasted for many months, even years. The original outdoorsmen saw food as fuel, rather than as an epicurean delight. Not that the first “backpackers”–the ranks included Native Americans, explorers, soldiers, pioneers, cowboys, as well as trappers–despised a tasty meal. Just the opposite, I reckon. Those who spent most of their days outdoors learned to whip up a culinary delight or two from some seriously basic foodstuffs, like dried beans and meat (satisfied the protein needs), plus flour, various forms of oats and grains, and cornmeal. Dried fruit, sugar, pepper, salt, and fat straight from the carcass of a fresh kill also figured into the daily menu, and all in all, these travelers managed to maintain a balanced, albeit predictable, diet that kept them relatively healthy.

Since that excursion with Chris, I’ve been intrigued by the prospect of making dinner from similarly slim pickins and have experimented with recipes gleaned from the pages of history. The resulting foods offer interesting variations on the traditional trail diet, not to mention edibles that’ll outlast your favorite pair of boots.

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