Camp food: The importance of being prepared

  • Campfire nachos cooked on a camp stove in upstate New York. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Andy Castillo Staff Illustration/Andy Castillo

Published: 8/7/2019 8:00:20 AM

Thunder crackled. Lightning flashed. Rain poured onto a tent covering the picnic table where my wife, Brianna and I cooked dinner over a gas stove at our campsite in upstate New York. A few years ago, a soggy forecast might have made for a miserable camping experience. 

That was then and this is now.

These days, we store bins filled with gear in our attic for just such an occasion and, as such, we’re ready to camp in any weather at a moment’s notice. Among those containers is one that’s filled with cooking utensils, dried food and other kitchen staples — garlic salt, chicken seasoning, mac and cheese, pre-cooked rice, olive oil, taco seasoning and a variety of other useful ingredients. Of course, it’s still necessary to pack perishable foods beforehand. (Frozen foods work particularly well because it takes time for them to thaw.)

As we’ve found, having these necessities readily available at the campsiteencourages culinary creativity and last-minute improvisation. This past weekend in New York, for example, could have been dampened by bad weather. Instead, we spent much of our time cooking. One night, we loosely followed a recipe for jambalaya and realized halfway through that we’d forgotten to bring uncooked rice and Cajun seasoning. We substituted the pre-cooked rice and taco seasoning from the bin.

The dish was savory and filling, enhanced by the cool air and towering thunderclouds. 

We decided to put together a dried food bin after visiting friends in California earlier this year. As part of that trip, we camped on our own for a few nights in Joshua Tree National Park. It didn’t make sense to take outdoor gear on the plane and instead borrowed our friends’ equipment. It took us about 10 minutes to pack our rental car with enough equipment to survive in the wilderness for a week.

We were inspired.

Since that camping expedition in California, our campsite culinary creativity has enhanced 10-fold. Gone are the days of peanut butter sandwiches and individually packaged oatmeal (although there’s still a place for those meals occasionally).

Now, we eat better while camping than we do at home.

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ pound smoked sausage, cut into ¼-inch thick slices

½ large onion, chopped

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

1 cup chopped celery

½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning, or to taste

1 cup uncooked white rice

1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, with juice

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups chicken broth

3 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the sausage, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery; season with salt and Cajun seasoning. Cook and stir until the vegetables are soft, 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the rice until evenly coated in the vegetable mixture, then pour in the tomatoes with juice, garlic, chicken broth, bay leaves, and thyme leaves. Bring to a simmer and simmer 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, stir in the shrimp, and cook 10 minutes uncovered until the shrimp turn pink and are no longer translucent in the center.

Remove the pot from the heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves before serving. Recipe adapted from 50 Campfires. 

Andy Castillo is features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at

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