We’re going camping come what may, and need good food for not-so-good days.
As Winnie the Pooh so wisely put it, “When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles”. But happy campers also need equipment. Top of the kit list for live-fire cook and author of Foolproof BBQ Genevieve Taylor is a portable barbecue and fire table: “You can cook on it, but also chuck logs on and gather around in the evening.” Claire Thomson, author of Camper Van Cooking, pitches her tent with a “pot-bellied stove that you feed charcoal”, a gas stove for cuppas and an AeroPress – “Good coffee is necessary when you wake up at 6am because it’s light.”
You then need supplies. “There’s no time a good store-cupboard is more necessary than when camping,” Thomson warns. “If you take ingredients that bring flavour and ease to your cooking, you’re winning.” Spices, tinned pulses, good oil and hot sauces are her essentials, as is coconut milk for laksas made with local fish. “Be boy-scout about it,” Taylor adds. “Couscous is amazingly quick, especially when you take it ready-seasoned.” She pops uncooked couscous in a zip-lock bag with dried herbs, a crumbled stock cube and spices (chilli, cumin, coriander, etc), then, once camp-side, pours over boiling water.
Damp days mean cooked breakfasts. Taylor tears mushrooms and adds them to a “big, old pan over the fire” with garlic, butter, olive oil and parsley, and, once they’re cooked, makes a few holes in the mix and cracks in some eggs. A flask, meanwhile, makes the perfect vehicle for drop scone batter. “It’s lovely to do with kids,” says Taylor, who chucks in an egg, shakes, then adds milk and her dry ingredients. Alternatively, bring back porridge (with banana, cinnamon, walnuts, ideally). “My kids love it when we’re camping, because it’s so warming,” Thomson says.
For cosy dinner vibes, Feast’s Thomasina Miers tucks two spice mixes – “one Indian, one Mexican” – in her tent for curries and chilli con (or sin) carne. “Jacket potatoes thrown into the fire and eaten with baked beans is also a great thing.” Thomson whips up a cheat’s fondue, AKA bechamel with a load of cheese, and eats it with charcuterie and crusty bread. The bonus? “You could make it in a tent or camper van.”
It’s worth having some ready-to-go dinners in your arsenal, too. “You want to open your cool box, pull something out and chuck it on the grill,” Taylor says. “I marinate meat – chicken with turmeric, lemon, garlic, cumin, say – at home, freeze it, then shove it in my cool box frozen.” It will defrost slowly, and keep everything else in the box cool, too.
Nothing cossets and hugs quite like a big bowl of dal. Again, Taylor gets ahead: “At home, pack red lentils with cumin, chilli and whatever else you fancy. Then, once you’re camping, chuck it all in a pot with onion and loads of water.” Pasta is also critical: Thomson’s store-cupboard go-to is a tinned sardine, fennel seed, chilli flake, olive oil and spaghetti number. Just add lemon.
Perhaps the simplest solution, though, is melting chocolate malt loaf. Thomson slices a shop-bought loaf, “reforms with chocolate buttons”, wraps in foil and chucks the package straight on the embers. Mint hot chocolate should also keep Martin from Reading sweet: “Stick in mint tea bags while it’s warming over the fire – it’s delicious.” Scout’s honour.