By Gerald Duffie
My first campouts were in a neighbor’s woods, and we didn't have much in the way of camping equipment. We were lucky to have a couple of army blankets and an iron skillet purloined without a mother’s knowledge. We had no way to keep perishables cold, so our food supplies usually consisted of apples, a loaf of bread, and a can of spam.
Campfire snacks were sometimes marshmallows roasted on a stick (I had never heard of s’mores), and breakfast was fried spam sandwiches. We discovered that an apple slowly roasted on a stick made a delicious hot dessert.
A few years later, at Boy Scout Camp Tuscazoar in Dover, Ohio, I had my first encounter with a Dutch oven. A staff member made and shared a pineapple upside-down cake; this was camping at its finest. It was many years later that I finally purchased my first Lodge Dutch oven, an eight-inch one. Many delicious cobblers, pies, and yes, pineapple upside-down cakes, have been made and consumed around many campfires. I have learned that any recipe I make in my oven at home can be replicated in a Dutch oven. Many campers think that baking in a Dutch oven is difficult and requires major cleanup. That is simply not the case, if they know a few simple tricks.
Seasoning The Oven
The first thing is to have a well-seasoned oven. Many Dutch ovens sold today are pre-seasoned. Cast iron is porous and when heated, the pores in the iron expand. Seasoning involves causing oil or grease to be pulled into these pores. So, if you have an old oven or buy an unseasoned one, you need to season it before cooking certain types of food. To do this, I preheat the electric oven at home to 200 degrees. I rub the inside of the Dutch oven with Crisco or cooking oil and then put it into the oven and turn the oven off. Hours later when I remember it (usually when my wife tries to use the oven and finds it full of cast iron), I take the Dutch oven out and, using a paper towel, wipe off the excess oil. Then, using the greasy paper towel, I wipe the outside of the oven, the lid, and the handle. This may need to be repeated several times to get a good seasoning on a new oven.
An Alternate Method
An easier and more fun way to accomplish this seasoning is to make fritters! I mix up biscuit dough (Bisquik, Aunt Jemima, GFS, or my favorite—Jiffy Mix), using the shortcake recipe. This basically means adding some sugar to the regular recipe. Then I cut up some raw apple into chunks and add them to the mix. While doing this, heat up several inches of cooking oil in the Dutch oven. When it is hot (I usually put a drop of mix in and watch for it to bubble and fry), drop the fritter dough by the spoonful into the oil. Start with just a few. When they have browned, roll them using a big spoon so they are evenly done. Take out the browned fritters and let them drain on a paper towel. Once they have cooled, I put them into a Ziploc bag with sugar and cinnamon and shake them until they are coated. This is a good job for campers or gawkers, as it keeps them busy and out of trouble. It will be hard to keep up with the demand once campers start eating them! When finished, dispose of the oil and wipe out the interior of the oven with a paper towel or clean cloth. The outside of the oven (if you cook like me) should be spattered with grease and can be wiped clean. The soot from the fire adds to the patina on the outside, so I don't wash it away, but rather rub it in.
Campfire snacks don't require a lot of equipment. Banana boats were a popular outpost offering at 4-H Camp Ohio when I directed there. Split a whole banana lengthwise and fill it with pieces of chocolate bar or chocolate chips, and mini marshmallows, and then wrap it in foil. Place the banana in the coals of the fire for a few minutes. Remove it with BBQ tongs or welders’ gloves and carefully unwrap to enjoy a personalized snack. I still love apples cooked on the fire. Wash and core an apple and fill it with Craisins and brown sugar. Be sure to sprinkle some sugar on the outside of the apple as well. Wrap it in foil and bake in the coals for 10 to 15 minutes. I do a bunch of apples, prepared this way, in a Dutch oven for a group dessert.
Caveman Cream Puffs
Another popular snack at outpost was caveman cream puffs. This one requires a roasting stick approximately one or two inches in diameter that has had the bark removed from the first six inches of the handle. Wrap biscuit dough, as was done for the fritters, around the stick and roast over the coals until browned. Gently slide the dough off the stick after it has cooled and fill with frosting, whipped cream, or fruit filling. In this way, campers can customize their snack and participate in its creation. There is nothing better than making and enjoying a warm snack around a campfire.
Campfire snacks don't have to be just s’mores. Snacks can range from something simple and quick like banana boats to a to-die-for pineapple upside-down cake. Use your imagination and experiment. I often tweak a recipe after I have tried it once to get it the way I like it. A recipe is a guide, not something set in stone.
I have included recipes for pineapple upside-down cake and a simple cobbler recipe that will turn out great.
Gerald Duffie is the Food Service Manager for Camp Big Silver in Pinckney, Mich. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10-inch Dutch oven
6 medium apples
1 Tbsp. butter
Butter the inside of a Dutch oven. Wash and core apples. Fill cavity with Craisins. Sprinkle with brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, 20 to 25 minutes.
Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
12-inch Dutch oven
1 stick of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 15 oz. can of pineapple (tidbits, chunks, or rings)
1 yellow cake mix (made according to manufacturer’s directions)
Heat 24 charcoal briquettes. When the briquettes are ready, place the oven over nine of them. When oven is preheated, put in butter and brown sugar and allow to simmer and carmelize. Add drained pineapple and prepared cake mix. Put lid on oven and add 15 briquettes to lid. Rotate oven 1/4 turn and lid opposite 1/4 turn every 15 minutes. This will take 35 to 40 minutes. Cake should be browned on the top. Serve plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
8 to 10 ripe peaches (or two 29 oz. cans)
1 cup red raspberries
3/4 to 1 cup sugar (omit if using canned sweetened peaches)
Jiffy Biscuit Mix or Bisquick
Butter or spray a 10-inch Dutch oven and then peel and slice peaches into the preheated oven (drain canned peaches).
Rinse raspberries and add to peaches. Using the shortbread recipe, mix in Jiffy Mix or Bisquick. Spread dough over fruit. Put on coals and put coals on the lid. Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees until dough is browned.