Why Does Camp Cooking Taste So Good?

It is 8 a.m. in the Datil Well Campground. On this early September morning, the campground is almost empty. I’ve just finished a delicious breakfast of two fried eggs, sausage and potatoes. A pinyon jay is perched in a tree a short distance away. He is waiting for me to leave the table. To my right, a little cottontail hops behind a juniper bush. I slowly sip my coffee. What is it that makes camp food taste so good and the coffee so perfect? Maybe it is the memories.

Here are five of my memorable camp cooking moments.

• Mary Donato reached into the ashes and embers of a campfire in the Jemez Mountains and with a tool lifted off the lid of a dirty old cast iron Dutch oven, revealing the most beautiful peach upside-down cake ever. It shone like a jewel in the ashes. Everyone there applauded!

• Dave Plotsky pulled a somewhat frozen chicken out of his backpack and proceeded to thread it onto a stick. It was during a cold, drizzling rain somewhere on the trail to Beatty’s Cabin in the Pecos Wilderness. The smoke hung low and heavy over the whole affair as we and our sons waited three long hours for that bird to cook.

• Enrique Lamadrid, who had once cooked for the Boy Scouts at Philmont Scout Ranch and had a matched set of BSA kitchen utensils, treated our little band to an incredible crown roast done on a campfire near Borrego Mesa in the southern Jemez Mountains.

• Ron Taylor and I, backpacking up the Santa Barbara Divide on the north end of the Pecos Wilderness, pulled two-inch thick porterhouse steaks out of our packs, grilled them on a bed of hot coals, and ate the best tasting piece of meat I ever had in my life. It also lightened our packs considerably.

• And speaking of backpacks getting lighter, many trips out of the interior of the Pecos Wilderness follow the Rio Mora through a large meadow called Mora Flats. The route from there to the trailhead at Iron Gate is uphill and steep. “Throw everything you’ve got in the pan and fry it up!”  was the cry. Thus was born the Mora Flats Omelet. It really didn’t matter what it tasted like — it was a celebration of the end of another trip into the wilderness… and a nod to each other’s friendship. Meals are sometimes like that.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at  johnny_mango@yahoo.com.

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