Camp Out Cooking – Practical Advice for the Outdoor Adventurer Based on the Experience of a Civil War Soldier

An Excerpt from How to Camp Out: Practical Advice for the Outdoor Adventurer Baed on the Experience of a Civil War Soldier by John M. Gould

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COOKING, AND THE CARE OF FOOD

When living in the open air the appetite is so good, and the pleasure of getting your own meals is so great, that, whatever may be cooked, it is excellent.
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You will need a frying-pan and a coffee-pot, even if you are carrying all your baggage upon your back. You can do a great deal of good cooking with these two utensils, after having had experience; and it is experience, rather than recipes and instructions, that you need. Soldiers in the field used to unsolder their tin canteens, and make two frying-pans of them; and I have seen a deep pressed-tin plate used by having two loops riveted on the edges opposite each other to run a handle through. Food fried in such plates needs careful attention and a low fire; and, as the plates themselves are somewhat delicate, they cannot be used roughly.

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It is far better to carry a real frying-pan, especially if there are three or more in your party. If you have transportation, or are going into a permanent camp, do not think of the tin article.
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A coffee-pot with a bail and handle is better than one with a handle only, and a lip is better than a spout; since handles and spouts are apt to unsolder.

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Young people are apt to put their pot or frying-pan on the burning wood, and it soon tips over. Also they let the pot boil over, and presently it unsolders for want of water. Few think to keep the handle so that it can be touched without burning or smutting; and hardly any young person knows that pitchy wood will give a bad flavor to any thing cooked over it on an open fire. Live coals are rather better, therefore, than the blaze of a new fire.

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If your frying-pan catches fire inside, do not get frightened, but take it off instantly, and blow out the fire, or smother it with the cover or a board if you cannot blow it out.

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You will do well to consult a cook-book if you wish for variety in your cooking; but some things not found in cook-books I will give you here.

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Stale bread, pilot-bread, dried corn-cakes, and crumbs, soaked a few minutes in water, or better still in milk, and fried, are all quite palatable.

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In frying bread, or any thing else, have the fat boiling hot before you put in the food: this prevents it from soaking fat.
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BAKED BEANS, BEEF, AND FISH

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Lumbermen bake beans deliciously in an iron pot that has a cover with a projecting rim to prevent the ashes from getting in the pot. The beans are first parboiled in one or two waters until the outside skin begins to crack. They are then put into the baking-pot, and salt pork at the rate of a pound to a quart and a half of dry beans is placed just under the surface of the beans. The rind of the pork should be gashed so that it will cut easily after baking. Two or three tablespoonfuls of molasses are put in, and a little salt, unless the pork is considerably lean. Water enough is added to cover the beans.

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A hole three feet or more deep is dug in the ground, and heated for an hour by a good hot fire. The coals are then shoveled out, and the pot put in the hole, and immediately buried by throwing back the coals, and covering all with dry earth. In this condition they are left to bake all night.

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On the same principle very tough beef was cooked in the army, and made tender and juicy. Alternate layers of beef, salt pork, and hard bread were put in the pot, covered with water, and baked all night in a hole full of coals.

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Fish may also be cooked in the same way. It is not advisable, however, for parties less than six in number to trouble themselves to cook in this manner.
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CARE OF FOOD

You had better carry butter in a tight tin or wooden box. In permanent camp you can sink it in strong brine, and it will keep some weeks. Ordinary butter will not keep sweet a long time in hot weather unless in a cool place or in brine. Hence it is better to replenish your stock often, if it is possible for you to do so.

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You perhaps do not need to be told that when camping or marching it is more difficult to prevent loss of food from accidents, and from want of care, than when at home. It is almost daily in danger from rain, fog, or dew, cats and dogs, and from flies or insects. If it is necessary for you to take a large quantity of any thing, instead of supplying yourself frequently, you must pay particular attention to packing, so that it shall neither be spoiled, nor spoil anything else.

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You cannot keep meats and fish fresh for many hours on a summer day; but you may preserve either over night, if you will sprinkle a little salt upon it, and place it in a wet bag of thin cloth which flies cannot go through; hang the bag in a current of air, and out of the reach of animals.

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In permanent camp it is well to sink a barrel in the earth in some dry, shaded place; it will answer for a cellar in which to keep your food cool. Look out that your cellar is not flooded in a heavy shower, and that ants and other insects do not get into your food.

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The lumbermen’s way of carrying salt pork is good. They take a clean butter-tub with four or five gimlet-holes bored in the bottom near the chimbs. Then they pack the pork in, and cover it with coarse salt; the holes let out what little brine makes, and thus they have a dry tub. Upon the pork they place a neatly fitting “follower,” with a cleat or knob for a handle, and then put in such other eatables as they choose. Pork can be kept sweet for a few weeks in this way, even in the warmest weather; and by it you avoid the continual risk of upsetting and losing the brine. Before you start, see that the cover of the firkin is neither too tight nor too loose, so that wet or dry weather may not affect it too much.

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I beg you to clean and wash your dishes as soon as you have done using them, instead of leaving them till the next meal. Remember to take dishcloths and towels, unless your all is a frying-pan and coffee-pot that you are carrying upon your back, when leaves and grass must be made to do dishcloth duty.

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This is an excerpt from How to Camp Out: Practical Advice for the Outdoor Adventurer Baed on the Experience of a Civil War Soldier by John M. Gould, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardcover, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF download editions starting at just $3.95

Originally published in 1877 – just 12 years after the Civil War ended – John M. Gould’s How to Camp Out: Practical Advice for the Outdoor Adventurer Based on the Experience of a Civil War Soldier is at once a down to Earth guide to recreational camping and a must-have, “you are there” handbook of 19th Century American military methods, sure to please any fan of Civil War reenactment. From Boy Scouts seeking to “rough it” in the wilderness to contemporary wearers of the Blue or the Gray, How to Camp Out: Practical Advice for the Outdoor Adventurer Based on the Experience of a Civil War Soldier is an indispensible addition to any well-stocked library of outdoor wisdom.

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