NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665


June 24, 1999

Prairie Fare: Camping and My Slapstick Experience

I did a fair amount of camping as a kid with Mom, Dad, cousins, an aunt, an uncle and a grandmother. We all camped at North Dakota's Lake Metigoshe a lot before my uncle and aunt, Cliff and Goldie, bought a lake place.

The best part of my early camping experiences was the food. Particularly memorable was the charbroiled steak, its intense flavor and delicate texture, red and barely warm inside. That's how Cliff and I ate our beef, along with a cup or two or three of strongly brewed coffee (which contrary to the warnings didn't stunt my growth).

Also fresh in my memory is the crunch of the fried potatoes Dad would make for breakfast and the smell of onions frying in a cast-iron skillet—onions that were destined for a savory stew topped with dumplings. Sure, we ate hamburgers and hot dogs and other types of simpler camping grub, but the best outdoor meals were those requiring extra effort, and in return, offering something special.

Likewise, my best camping experiences involved going an extra mile, or two. For our 1963 vacation, we spent two whole weeks camping our way out to and back from Calgary, Alberta, home of the Calgary Stampede, the main event of which continues to be a rodeo, along with a colossal midway and other attractions.

When we arrived in Calgary, Dad asked me again if I wouldn't really rather go to the rodeo, but my mind had been made up for miles, weeks really, because one of the stampede's other attractions was The Three Stooges, as in Moe, Larry and "Curly Joe" (a.k.a. Joe DeRita).

As The Stooges wound up their eye-gouging, head-bonging act that day, I recall either Moe or Larry saying something to this effect: "Now remember, boys and girls, don't try this at home." That admonition is fitting for camping food too. You should make meals in the great outdoors that you might not be inclined to cook at home. And might not the following recipe fall into that category? As the original Curly would say, "Soitenly."

Foiled Chicken
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 small green pepper, chopped
small red pepper, chopped
10 mushrooms, chopped
4 chicken breasts (4 to 6 ounces each)
1 can pineapple slices (8 ounces)
nonstick cooking spray or 1 teaspoon butter
garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste
four squares heavy duty foil (16 x 16 inches)

Procedure:
Divide the bell peppers and mushrooms into four equal amounts. Coat a small area in the center of the foil with cooking spray or a small amount of butter. Place a portion of peppers and mushrooms on the greased area of the foil. Top with a chicken breast and a pineapple slice. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Fold the foil securely and check for leaks. Place on the coals for 10 to 15 minutes per side, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a chicken breast reads 170 F.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

Camping certainly evokes memories. My family was not what you'd call "outdoorsy," so my first camping experience was at age 19 with college friends. Unfortunately, it poured and the tent leaked, and the temperature, hovering at 50 F, did not ward off mosquitoes. But the food was pretty good and no wild animals ate us alive (but I'm quite sure they were outside my tent licking their lips).

While you can't always predict the weather, you certainly can do some advance planning so your camping adventure isn't a total washout. Plan menus that use common ingredients to reduce your load. Use airtight containers and resealable plastic bags to keep items dry and fresh. Do some of the work ahead of time: measure dry mixes for pancakes, waffles, muffins and meat-coating mixtures in portions called for in recipes. Pack loaves of bread in sturdy plastic or cardboard containers to prevent crushing. Include some nonperishable snacks such as trail mix and dried fruit with your other dry goods too.

And of course, don't leave your knowledge about food safety at home while you're convening with nature because there's ample opportunity for temperature abuse and cross-contamination when you're away from a refrigerator.

Pack foods directly from the refrigerator into an insulated cooler, and try using block ice instead of ice cubes as a base in your cooler. This way your food is less likely to get wet as the ice melts. Use one cooler for meat and another for ready-to-eat foods such as salads. Remember that perishable food should be kept at 40 F or cooler—so that means replenishing your ice supply too.

When you're all packed, put the coolers in the passenger area of your vehicle which is more temperate than the trunk. Once you've established your campsite, keep everything clean. If water isn't available at your site, bring a package or two of moist towelettes to clean your hands after handling meat or poultry, or bring a bottle of water and some hand soap. Use disposable plates to lessen chances for cross-contamination.

If you're the head chef, be sure to cook all meat thoroughly, especially ground beef. Since research has shown that brown color isn't necessarily a good indication of doneness, be sure to toss your meat thermometer in with your camping supplies. Ground beef patties should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F, but steaks are safer to eat in the pink form because the bacteria is mainly on the outside, which would be seared in the cooking process.

Also remember to make your camping excursions active ones by hiking your way to 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days. And with healthfulness in mind, consider this: a serving of Foiled Chicken contains only about 190 calories and 4.5 grams of fat.

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Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136 and Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187

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