Monday, February 9, 2015

BLOG 83. A Practical Cook-set for the BWCA and Beyond

by Cliff Jacobson

Commercial cook-sets are like drugstore first-aid kits; you get just enough to survive the day, but not enough to enjoy it.   So if your idea of canoe cookery is one pot boilinglop, read no further.  This advice is for those who like good food and are willing to take the time to prepare it. Don't misinterpret: you don't need to slave for hours over a hot  stove to produce tasty meals.  The right tools and 30 minutes will do it.

For a party of four, I carry:
Two nesting pots with covers, the largest of which should hold 16 cups so you can boil pasta without gluing it to the bottom.  Pots may be stainless steel, aluminum, or porcelain-lined carbon steel.   Some studies suggest that aluminum may be linked to Alzheimer's disease and lung damage. But given the light weight of aluminum, and the limited days most of us camp out, I hardly think it’s a problem.  

As a rule, your largest pot should allow a three cup serving per person, plus “two cups for the pot" so you can stir without slopping over the sides. Since the bulk of your cook-set is determined by the size of your largest pot, you might as well fill the space inside with nesting pots and bowls that will fit. You’ll note that a coffee pot or tea kettle fouls up the packing system.  For this reason, I pack my tea kettle separately or, if space and weight are a concern, I leave it at home.

Wire bail handles that lock upright and flip neatly out of the way when not in use are best if you cook on a fire. If you cook exclusively on a stove, a removeable spade handle works fine.
Tea kettle with warming cozy


Coffee pots tip easily and you need two hands to pour.  A wide bottom tea kettle--which can be operated with one hand--is better.  My 16 cup, fire-blackened kettle is ideal for four, especially on rainy days when the "coffee pot is always on".
            Tip: carry fresh onions, green peppers, celery and other crushable vegetables inside your tea kettle.
If there's such a thing as a good lightweight camp skillet, I haven't found it!  I buy a high quality 12-inch diameter Teflon-coated skillet, then I remove the fixed handle and install a removeable one.
Discount store skillet

I like an oven that can double as an extra pot, corn popper, broiler, or food warmer.  For years, I carried a (no longer manufactured) Bendonn dutch oven, which consists of two nesting deep-sided aluminum skillets.  Since I do nearly all my cooking on a stove, I seldom use the Bendonn for baking.  Instead I use the two pans to rig a "triple-pan" oven.

Tripple pan oven
Procedure: You need two nesting skillets (or one skillet and a pie tin), a high cover, and a handful of stones. Scatter the stones onto the bottom of the large skillet and set the pie tin on top. Put your bake stuff in the pie tin and cover the oven. Turn your stove down low and relax; the air space which separates the two pans will prevent burning.
                 Note: To use the triple-pan oven on a fire, just set it on the hot coals.  For quicker baking, pile more hot coals on the cover.  Now you have a "Triple-pan Dutch oven"!

You should have a tight-fitting cover for every  pot and pan you own.  A skillet that substitutes as a pot cover is adequate only when you don't need to fry and boil at the same time.  Each cover should have a metal D-ring or nylon loop so you can easily remove it.
A cover is especially important when you're cooking in frigid weather or for large parties.  Consider this scenario:
                 It's 34 degrees and the wind is howling bloody murder.  You place 18 cups of cold water into your largest pot, dump in the oatmeal, and turn your stove to high.  The intense localized heat of the flame suggests you'd best "stir constantly" to prevent burning.  Fifteen minutes pass and still the porridge hasn't boiled.  Even with a makeshift windscreen, enough cold air reaches the pot to rob it of needed calories.  What to do?
                 Place the water, sans oatmeal, into the pot.  Cover the pot and turn your stove to high.  When the water boils, add the oatmeal.  Quickly stir until the water is absorbed, then cover the pot and set it on a piece of closed cell foam. Snug a wool shirt and jacket or two over the pot.  Now, go watch the sun rise for 15 minutes while your "slow cooker" works. Your makeshift "cozy" saves stove fuel and the displeasure of cleaning caked carbon off the inside of your pot.  Note: For a more elegant approach, make fitted “cozies” for your pots. My books, Basic Illustrated: Cooking, and “Camping’s Top Secrets” shows how.