The cook wore a greasy apron and, on his belt, carried a holster that bore a single large bottle of hot sauce.
“What’s the hot sauce for?” I asked after watching him work for a while, no longer able to resist offering what I felt certain was just the set up question he’d been hoping for. I was not disappointed.
“For emergencies,” he said with a laugh.
As it turned out, the main emergency of the week was his cooking.
At the moment, he was slicing unpeeled potatoes into a pot that bubbled with an assortment of other foods, all fine on their own but dubious in combination. There was celery and onions and carrots of course, but also several artichokes, two whole chickens, bones and all, butterbeans, beets and a can of Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin soup.
Though we hoped things would improve, in fact, they only deteriorated. Meals later in the week included the world’s largest pot of clumped grits, then a bowl of pheasant and dumplings whose primary flavor was scorch.
The only thing about hunting camp that can be controlled is the food, so it’s best to control that well into the range of comfortable.
Usually the term “comfort food” refers to simple dishes, containing no surprises, which evoke memories of staples from our mothers’ kitchens. For the purposes of hunting camp cooking, the term can be extended to include any food the camp cook is comfortable preparing.
Whether you’re looking to knock out a good midday meal after a morning on a deer stand or supper after a full day, cooking for a camp full of hunters is a challenge that doesn’t have to be a dreaded chore.
To the point of making the cook in question comfortable, the following tips and suggestions come in handy:
First, be aware of food safety and the potential for cross contamination, situations where food ready to serve might come into contact with utensils or surfaces that have touched raw food. If you’ll be cooking in a setting with little water handy, handle and move food through the cooking process strategically, and use antibacterial wipes generously in between.
Find out in advance if anyone has any food allergies, and also find out if there’s anything you’re likely to be preparing that anyone in camp will refuse to eat.
The latter half of this may be more impactful on the general morale. Usually, people who have legitimate problems with dairy or gluten or anything else are up front about it, whereas guys who behave like three-year-olds when they’re served something they don’t like will wait until it’s on the table to complain.
Testing in progress
Test your recipes and cooking times in advance, keeping in mind how each given recipe will be scaled up for larger crowds.
Recipes cooked in foil pans or casserole dishes, for example, will generally require the same amount of time to cook from one size to another, so long as the depth of the contents in the pans remains the same. Other items, like oven barbecued chicken, may have to be prepared in shifts to produce the required volume.
Whether you’ll be cooking indoors or out, disposable foil pans are your friend. They’re ideal for baking, roasting, marinating and serving. It’s best to make certain larger pans will fit into the oven you plan to use, and it’s easiest to rearrange racks before the oven has been preheated of course.
Heavy duty, name-brand aluminum foil far outstrips foil in any other thickness. There are places to cut corners and economize in every scenario, but if you buy cheap foil you will swiftly come to regret it.
Soups, chilis and stews are great options, especially once cold weather arrives. Frozen soups thaw and heat very well and are easy to transport and store in their solid state. Blocks of soup, secured in plasticware or plastic bags, can take the place of ice in ice chests and serve the same purpose until ready to use.
With a little care and planning, you won’t have to pack bottled heat to deal with emergencies.