It takes a good while for a fire to get hot enough to cook over. Strange as that may sound, it is absolutely true. Under ideal circumstances, you'll cook over a fire in which nothing but well dried hardwood is being burned. It will be a fire that, when you cook breakfast, some early riser has been so thoughtful as to fuel well with good, dry hardwood early in the morning before you even though of stirring from your bed; and for dinner and supper, the fire will have been well maintained by every camp member who walked past it during the day. When you come to cook over that hardwood fire, the wood will mainly have burned down to an evenly distributed bed of hot, glowing coals from which there are only small licks of blue flame that flare up here and there fairly regularly, undistributed by a breeze. In that situation, you'll be cooking over a fire that has a concentrated, consistent heat that is just right for cooking.
In all likelihood, though, you'll most often be cooking over green (or relatively green) soft wood such as pine. Pine by itself will never give you the desired nice, even bed of coals so important to consistency in your cooking. Pine will tend to smoke much more than hardwoods, and will smoke all the more when it's somewhat green. The more green the wood, the harder it is to keep it burning consistently and well, and the harder it will be to cook over. A pine wood fire will coat your pots and pans with a fairly heavy layer of soot. But the fact is, that is the sort of fire you're more apt to have to cook over than the ideal. That being said, you need to know how to put it to work.
Site conditions and events rules will tend to dictate the way in which your fire is built. Some events cannot or will not permit you to dig a fire pit over which you would place your grill. A fire pit is the preferred method of cooking over a wood fire since it will be less affected by breezes than the a fire amount of the heat generated by the fire. That's why there are three reasons to remove the dirt for a fire pit and heap it around the fire pit itself.
As is true with cooking on an electric or gas range, if you are cooking for a large number of people at one time, you might do well to use a multiple number of skillets or pots rather than using one large skillet or pot. Some things cook far better in smaller containers or in smaller quantities than do others.
An important matter to remember is that you won't have immediate access to a dishwasher of the mechanical kind until you get home. It's always prudent to put a kettle or pan or coffee pot of wash water on the fire to heat up as soon as you have taken the food off the grill. That way, the water can be heating while you eat. It makes it far easier to wash the plates and utensils.
In fact, it's a good idea to have hot water available all the time. Hot water comes in handy for washing dishes, washing your glasses (eyeglasses, that is), coffee, tea, grits, oatmeal, cream of wheat, and even for getting a running start in making soup or stew.
Cooking With Cast Iron
New cast iron cookware has a grey metallic colour. In order to prepare it for cooking, and to attain the black, relatively non-stick surface that is cast iron's hallmark, it must first be seasoned. When you season cast iron, the process results in imbedding grease into the pores of the cast iron cookware. Cast iron requires seasoning because it is its nature to rust when it comes into contact with water. Most cast iron cookware manufacturers recommend a solid vegetable shortening like Crisco instead of the lard that your grandmother once used. Unless you intend to use the cast iron cookery daily, lard is not advised. The seasoning process will take a while, so you will be well advised to begin the process in the evening. Before applying the solid vegetable shortening, warm up the cast iron pot or skillet and then rub a thin layer of shortening all over it, both inside and out. Lay the pot, pan or skillet upside down in an oven up, enabling it to absorb the shortening. It's not advisable to use a large amount of shortening, however, since cast iron can only absorb so much. Let the empty skillet, pot or pan cook for an hour in the oven before turning the heat off. Leave it in the oven until the cookware is cool to the touch. This should not be regarded as a one time proposition. It will be necessary to season the cookware regularly. Cast iron will rust if you do not season it after each use. More than that, cooking acidic foods (especially tomato sauces) will eat away to a cast iron pot's seasoned finish.
When you clean your cast iron, never use soap. Instead, use boiling water and a high quality scrub brush to clean it. Those who are un familiar with cast iron may question the sanitary aspects of the seasoning, but the combination of boiling water and a scrub brush will rid and sanitize the cookware, and the seasoning process will kill whatever crawls into it afterward.
Cooking with cast iron is far more difficult than it might appear, particularly when the cooking is done over an open fire. Cast iron retains heat well, and for protracted periods of time. The entire skillet or pot gets very hot, and it retains heat in a way that aluminium or stainless steel cookware cannot. With no means to regulate the heat level as we have on modern ranges, other means must be used, including marking the amount of time the cast iron cookware has been over or on the open flame.. DO NOT POUR ANYTHING COLD INTO THE HOT CAST IRON OR IT WILL CAUSE THE CAST IRON TO BREAK!
Always preheat the cast iron before you put food in it. As you preheat it and prepare to cook over a wood fire, you'll find it wise and prudent to check the relative temperature of the cookware before you fling food into it. Test the cast iron with drops of water. If you sprinkle few drops of water into the cast iron cookware and the water evaporates upon contact, the cookware is too hot and will burn anything that is placed into it. If the water drops land in the cookware and does nothing, then it is not hot enough. If the water sizzles, each drop takes on a ball-like shape and rolls around the cookware almost as if it has a life of its own but the water "balls" do not immediately disappear, it is then hot enough to cook with.
Before you start cooking with a Dutch oven, familiarize yourself with cooking with cast iron, and cooking over an open fire. One of the most useful cooking utensils was the Dutch over, a thick, heavy, round, cast iron pot with a flat bottom handle, three legs and a cast iron lid that has a half-inch diameter lip all the way around the edge and a handle in the centre. Sizes range from 8" to 24" in diameter, and a 4" to 6" deep - a heavy but durable piece of cooking gear. The Dutch over is place in the hot coals that had been raked directly onto the hearth. The oven and lid were preheated, the oven on the coals themselves while the lid would be preheated directly on the fire. When the oven and lid were sufficiently hot, whatever was being prepared - could be poured into the oven. Then the lid would be set on top of the Dutch oven with a pair of tongs or hook. Coals would then be piled on top of the lid to add heat and to keep the heat even; thus the appellation "oven" was appropriate. The lip around the edge of the oven could prevent the coals from rolling off. Guesstimating the temperature of the coals of a fire is quite a feat. If you are using charcoal briquettes, which is highly doubtful, to make your oven bake like the oven most of us are more familiar with, most manufactures agree that a temperature of 350 degrees is reached with 6 to 8 evenly distributed briquettes placed under the over and another 14 to 16 evenly placed on the lid. If you know how many briquettes you would use to heat the oven to 350 degrees, it maybe a small help in assessing how close you'll get with the coals from a wood fire.
Cooking With Tin
Since tin is relatively thin, cooking with tin seems like a great idea for those who are in a hurry. Heat transference is very quick with tin, and putting a tin coffee pot or tin cup on the fire for some coffee (instant or otherwise) seems like a good idea. While it certainly can be done, there are several cautions that need to be observed. Don't lose sight of the fact that tin cups and pots are soldered. Solder has a relatively low melting point, soldering guns generation about the same amount of heat as a wood burning tool. If the solder that holds the handle on the cup or pot melted at a low heat when it was constructed - and it did - then it will certainly melt on a roaring fire, or even over a nice bed of hot coals unless you observe prudent practices.
If the fire's flames are high, don't put the cup or pot on the fire. Flames that can reach the handle(s) or spout will most likely melt the solder and destroy your tin ware. Always make sure that the liquid in the tin ware reaches a level at least as high as the cup or pot's handle, or spout. So long as there is plenty of fluid in the container, it will keep the temperature of the container at the same level as that attained by the liquid as it heats. Since water boils at 212 degrees F and solder melts at a slightly higher temperature, so long as the liquid is below or at boiling point, the tin ware will be safe.
SWEET MILK GRIDDLE CAKES WITHOUT EGGS
MARYLAND BEAT BISCUIT
Wash and peel some potatoes, then pare them, ribbon-like, into long lengths. Put them into cold water to remove the strong potato flavour; drain them, and throw them into a pan with a little butter, and fry them a light brown. Take them out of the pan, and place them close to the fire on a sieve lined with clean writing paper to dry, before they are served up. A little salt may be sprinkled over them.
From Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey's Lady's Book, Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding, editors. Recipe from 1865.
1 1/3 cups grits
Stir grits into salted boiling water and return to boil. Cover...Reduce heat and cook about 8 minutes. stir often. Cook bacon until crisp; drain, crumble and set aside. Add vegetables to drippings; cook about 2 minutes. Drain any water grits did not absorb and add vegetables, stir and cover. Cook about 5 minutes. Sprinkle bacon over top. Season with pepper. (OPTIONAL: one cup shredded cheddar cheese can be sprinkled on top if desired....cover about 2 minutes to allow it to melt.)
1 small onion, minced or grated
Mince, grate or chop onion very fine. Stir together all dry ingredients. In separate bowl crack egg and bead, add onion and stir up well, then add milk and stir some more. Pour that bowl into the dry ingredients and mix all together well. Get shortening in fry pan good and hot. Dip out one good spoonful of batter and scrape off into fat. Repeat until pan is reasonably full, but not overcrowded. Hushpuppies will first sink, then float, then turn golden brown which means they are done. Scoop out as soon as each one is finished, and repeat with remaining batter.
Note: there are those who say that frying the puppies after the fish will sop up the fish smell from the grease in case you want to use it again for something else. Then there are those who say that if you only have one pan you should cook the hushpuppies first because they hold their heat better than the catfish does. We take no sides in this disputation.
1/2 c. chopped corned beef
The best hash is made from boiled corned beef. It should be boiled very tender, and chopped fine when entirely cold. The potatoes for hash made of corned beef are the better for being boiled in the pot liquor [liquid the corned beef was boiled in.] When taken from the pot, remove the skins from the potatoes, and when entirely cold chop them fine. To a coffee-cup of chopped meat allow four of chopped potatoes, stir the potatoes gradually into the meat, until the whole is mixed.
Do this at evening and, if warm, set the hash in a cool place. In the morning put the spider on the fire with a lump of butter as large as the bowl of a table-spoon, add a dust of pepper, and if not sufficiently salt, add a little; usually none is needed. When the butter has melted, put the hash in the spider, add four table-spoons of water, and stir the whole together. After it has become really hot, stir it from the bottom, cover a plate over it, and set the spider where it will merely stew.
1 c. sugar
Take one cup of white sugar, three tablespoonfuls of flour, two eggs, one grated nutmeg, and one good-sized cocoanut grated fine, two teacupfuls of new milk and a tablespoonful of good fresh butter. Bake like tarts without an upper crust.
3 cups of flour
Mix above ingredients together thoroughly, leaving no lumps of flour. Knead the dough thoroughly and roll out into 3 inch pieces no more than 1/2 inch thick. Heat shortening in your skillet until melted and smoking (depth of about 1 to 1 1/2 inches). Drop the doughnut batter into the oil carefully and cook. The doughnuts will expand and should cook within seconds. If the oil is too cool they will become oily, too hot and they will burn. A little experimentation will produce a delicious treat. Roll them in sugar and cinnamon for added flavour.
Easy stuff. Slice the potatoes about 1/4" thick.
Throw some lard in a frying pan or skillet, coat the potatoes with corn meal.
Place a little lard in a skillet.
1 1/4 cups of yellow cornmeal
Combine cornmeal, flour, slat and baking powder; mix well.
Bake in a hot oven (220 degrees Centigrade) or until lightly browned on top.
Melt the butter/margarine with the syrup, then mix in the sugar and oats. Press into a greased 8 inch shallow square tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180C/350F or Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes. While still warm cut into squares.
200g/8oz Self Raising Flour
Add all dry ingredients to a mixing bowl. Add fruit and mix it thoroughly. Beat the egg, add to mixture and mix to a dough. Roll out to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
Fold and glue the bottom of the paper as shown above.
Remove the dowel and start again (40 needed per battle)