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

June 29, 2000

Prairie Fare: Camping Meals Not Always So Rustic

Nothing can get me salivating quicker than the smell of frying onions wafting across a gentle summer breeze. If there's a hint of wood smoke accompanying that aura of onions, then I'm ready to eat--even shoe leather perhaps if it's been poached and there's a tangy barbecue sauce on the side.

There are a lot of outdoor cooking aromas to enjoy if backyard chefs and campers are willing to make an effort. For example, I've been known to bring a kettle-style barbecue grill along on camping trips for the purpose of serving a whole turkey complete with stuffing out in the wild. And one time when we were camping near Brainerd, Minn., I even cooked up some wild rice to round out the meal.

At other times, the camping feast du jour has consisted of meaty chicken thighs, which I've browned and then cooked in a mixture of chicken broth and white wine until the meat falls off the bone. My strategy has always been to remove the bones and skin from the thigh meat and place big chunks of fork-tender chicken back into the simmering broth, along with golf-ball-sized new potatoes and onions, sliced carrots and celery and whole button mushrooms. After the vegetables are cooked crisp-tender, I'll usually thicken the sauce a bit and if it's still daylight, I might whip up a batch of dumplings to perch on top of the bubbling stew.

Of course, not all of my elaborate camping meals have turned out as intended, or as tasty. While roughing it in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora about a decade ago, I tried to make a smoked corned beef, one encased in a lot of black pepper--pastrami, in other words. I was using a smoker with a large container of water so the meat would be steam-smoked, flavorful and tender. But in my haste to create perfection, I put the meat into the smoker before the lighter fluid had completely burned off the charcoal. Talk about aftertaste.

The recipe that follows features corned beef, but prepared in a way that won't create the same kind of indigestion I had on my Medora camping trip.

Corned Beef Hash with Beets
(Adapted from a recipe appearing in "The Original 1896 Fanny Farmer Cook Book.")
Yield: 6 servings

2 cups chopped lean corned beef
2 cups grated cooked potatoes
1 cup finely chopped cooked beets
1/2 cup minced onions
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 poached eggs

Mix together corned beef, potatoes, beets and onions. Pour canola oil into a skillet and bring to medium-high heat (300 F). Add corned-beef mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until potatoes are brown and onions are translucent. Divide hash among six plates and top each serving with a poached egg. Garnish each serving with a sprig of fresh dill, if desired, and serve with toasted pumpernickel bread or an English muffin.


What's Your Take on This, Julie?

Even though this recipe is 100 years old, it meets current consumer interest in recipes with a short ingredient list. A serving of Corned Beef Hash with Beets contains about 335 calories and 19 grams of fat, which may seem a little rich, but keep in mind it's a one-dish meal. Balance the fat content of this recipe with fruit and veggies on the side. This corned beef recipe could be modified to use canned corned beef, diced beets and potatoes so it could be taken along on a camping trip quite easily.

Thankfully, life in the kitchen has become much easier than a century ago because of the 20th century innovations in commercial foods and home appliances. Years ago home refrigeration consisted of wooden cabinets filled with ice. These so-called ice boxes led to a commonly held food safety myth: Warm food should be allowed to stand at room temperature until it cooled to room temperature. Back then the idea had some merit, because hot food would cause the ice to melt. Today our modern refrigeration equipment can withstand the temperature change, so it's safest to refrigerate leftover perishable food quickly after serving--even if it's still warm. Improper cooling is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness.

Besides refrigerating in ice boxes, early protection from foodborne illness included drying, smoking, pickling and salting foods. Drying, or desiccation, remains a way of preventing bacterial growth in meat (like jerky), pasta products and fruits. Bacteria need a certain level of moisture to grow. That's why we can store dry foods like cereal, flour, pasta and rice in our cupboards. Smoking often was used in addition to drying to flavor meat as well as introduce antioxidants from the wood, which also helped preserve the meat. Sugar also was used to tie up water and make it unavailable for bacteria to use for growth, thus helping to preserve jams, jellies and syrups.

The principle of acidification with vinegar, or pickling, also was used to keep food safe. Most bacteria won't grow or survive in acidic conditions. Salt was often used in conjunction with pickling because salt further reduced the likelihood of bacteria growing.

Corned beef, used in this recipe, is an example of a food that was cured, or corned, with salt only. Coarse pellets--"corns"--of salt were rubbed into the meat to keep it from spoiling. Now a salt-water brine is used instead of the dry salt cure, and spices like peppercorns and bay leaf are used to impart the characteristic taste.

In some ways camping is like going back in time, but today we have the advantage of modern canned and dried foods. For safety on camping expeditions, plan simple meals that only require a few ingredients and minimum equipment. Invest in a good cooler and plenty of ice, and pack frozen foods in the center of the cooler with nonfrozen perishables around them. Cook foods thoroughly and measure doneness with a meat thermometer. Also bring plenty of nonperishable items like peanut butter, jerky, crackers, cereal, dried fruit and canned goods.


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