Campfire Cookery is one of those cookbooks you need to buy two of. You need one in the kitchen so you can assemble ingredients before you pile into the van for an adventure in the Adirondacks, and you need another for your bedside table to peruse before you slip into dreamland, because the often-hilarious literary gems spicing every chapter and alongside every recipe are such delicious reads.
“It’s simply astounding what a teensy bit of forethought and a smidgeon of effort may accomplish.” So say authors Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young, who live in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill respectively and who subtitled their backpacker’s guide “Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities for the Great Outdoors.” Besides the 100 or so easy-to-follow instructions for cooking—and baking!— over an open fire (start the kindling with a magnifying glass, or a match if all else fails), there are some wonderful instructions: how to call a duck, clean a fish, tell time by the sun and stars, perform water divination, whittle and forage for wild greens, pine nuts and snails. (I’ll skip that last excursion, if you don’t mind.)
There’s plenty of spritely sass to fill wide-open spaces: “Set out one’s finest doilies and linens, the heirloom silver service, the samovar and the creamer. Venture into the nearest pasture for a spray of violets or sweet clover to grace the fireside. Inquire whether one’s companions prefer one lump or two. Our standards of refinement and grace are never to be lowered; only our pretentious pinkie fingers.”
I wager that all the recipes within the book’s 302 pages are easily doable in the home kitchen and certainly on the barbecue. They are precise in detail and far more culinarily creative than the burgers and franks at most park gatherings.
Take the duck breast. The authors make it sound like such a simple thing to cook (in that indispensable cast-iron skillet), but what makes it sing is its sauce of port, plums and balsamic vinegar. “More addictive than opium or snuff, the claret-colored glaze boasts a sweet-savory piquant brilliance that makes a fine match for duck,” explains the headnote.
Other mouthwatering wonders include risotto with garlic scapes, boeuf bourguignon, tender game hens with their “crackling mahogany crust” weighted under foil-wrapped forest stones, rab- bit ragu with green olives (I don’t know about you, but I prefer to buy rabbit from Union Market than attempt to snare a hare in the wild), bean stews, figs with honey and mascarpone, apple and cheddar dumplings, beignets, pancakes and, if the tug of the must have all-American barbecue is too great, a true blue-blooded bon vivant burger. Some dishes you must prepare at home, like lemon curd, the flakiest pie crust ever and a masterful vinaigrette: “It is the jewel in the crown,” trill the authors, “la pièce de résistance, the hinge upon which the triumph of a salad swings.”
S’mores, you ask? The book gives six variations on the classic campfire confection, from ones with peanut butter or white chocolate and strawberry to my favorite: honeyed chocolate layered with thin slices of orange. For the must-do-from-scratch types, there is a recipe to bake your own graham crackers.
The book’s final chapters bring you beyond the food into the realm of nights under a star-studded velvet sky with everyone lounging around a log fire. Like a Boy Scout at a jamboree, you’ll learn all about tarot cards, star gazing and shadow puppetry. Huck and Young get you in the mood with songs and, in the unlikely case that you might have forgotten either the tune or the lyrics, include song sheets for such favorites as “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Of course, ghosts slither from behind the trees at the telling of gothic tales as you act out mysteries for your terrified audience.
From stocking the trunk with supplies and building a proper fire to preparing a three-course meal (at the very least) over burning embers to postprandial titillating spirit-awakening séances (with everyone’s glass topped off with spirits), Campfire Cookery is a true delight, full of a “sense of fun, whimsy and adventure,” says Melissa Clark in the foreword. Only trouble is that until it comes out in paperback, you’ll have to pack a hardcover copy on your excursions alongside your field guide to birds. Which, come to think of it, might mean you’ll need to buy three.
Forget the frankfurters. Two Brooklynites’ delightful new book, Campfire Cookery, will have you dishing up pine-smoked salmon, foil-roasted mushrooms and skillet-seared rainbow trout.
Photo credit: Excerpted from Campfire Cookery (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Tara Donne (photographer).