Cooking with wild thyme, wild garlic or flavouring with wild fennel or sprigs of juniper becomes a sort of spiritual experience which affects the perception of taste as much as the actual ingredients themselves.
As much as I love cooking in the comfort of home, where ingredients and gadgets are limitless, the primal simplicity of cooking over a fire (preferably in the wild) can feel like the absolute pinnacle for someone who enjoys nature and all it has to offer in sustenance both mental and physical.
Cooking outdoors celebrates a joyous lack of sophistication
In truth the food we make outdoors (as when we barbecue at the weekend) is probably not better than that which we make in our kitchens, but the circumstances seem to alter this fact and add to the beauty of doing it.
Cooking outdoors celebrates a joyous lack of sophistication, which in this day and age is to be welcomed. I am not one to turn down a Michelin-starred culinary experience (if you’re offering) but I also remember two slightly tough bits of venison which I simply held over a fire until they looked ready to eat. Dan and I had walked half the day in rain and ankle deep mud and the honesty of that meal, coupled with the warmth of a small fire, seemed to hold magically restorative powers.
My first experience of cooking in the wild was as a 6 or 7 year old. My brother (3 years older) lit a fire and in the embers we blackened some potatoes that we'd nicked from my grandfather’s garden. We did it again many times, because it transported us to another world, another time. Were they delicious spuds? Absolutely. Back then it was also common to find ourselves at a large family gathering in Italy, fresh trout thrown on a super-heated slate and a large black cauldron of polenta being stirred over an open fire.
Now it is still as much fun as it was then. Add into the mix the fact that 35 years later I have a daughter with whom to share new outdoor culinary adventures and you have a recipe for more enjoyment. So, I am planning on doing more “outdoor cooking”, as opposed to heating up food whilst in the outdoors. We did it for 30 Days Wild, albeit on a stove, and since then a couple of times when wild camping. I also hope to couple this with more foraging- another area in which I have much to learn.
Of course, as perhaps this summer has taught us more than most, fire in the wild needs to be limited and done carefully, so it may be that we also embark on some “cooking microadventures” in more controlled circumstances such as the garden. It’s also worth mentioning that some of this cookery stuff is so far from being lightweight that going far from home is pretty impractical unless you are in a vehicle.
Some outdoor cooking tools
What is the point of these ramblings you may legitimately ask yourself? Well, I have resolved to investigate outdoor cooking in the coming months (it’s too easy when it’s sunny). I hope to share a few adventures in “wild cooking” but as a start here are some tools I have recently “invested” in to help me along the way:
This is an epic piece of kit and about the only one that can be considered anything like lightweight (it’s all relative) at around 1kg. It’s made of stainless steel, has 3 heights and packs up nice and small in two pieces: a stand and roll-out grill (see above).
Weighing in at 3.8kg this definitely one for home use. Waffles are a great treat but if you are loath to buy this “analog" version over an electric one, let me tell you the Skeppshult waffle iron (others are available) works also on your hob, including induction ones (see above).
I first saw this pan in Niklas Ekstedt’s book: Food From the Fire - very much worth a read if this kind of cooking interests you.
I have actually been using a couple of these carbon steel pans for a while in the kitchen and they are simply great. Providing you “season” them properly they are amazing to cook with. Although they are very heavy so you might pack one for one or two nights out, but no more if you are transporting everything on your back.
Gentlemen’s Hardware Portable Barbecue (see below)
This is quite neat but perhaps bit of a novelty item. It folds up well, is self-contained and not too heavy. The main downside is the size which is fine for cooking very small items but it can be difficult to get the coals to the necessary heat (and indeed maintain it) to cook anything substantial on the barbecue. I have used it as a “safe” base for a fire to cook on, which has worked as you can simply keep adding wood.