Suburban Fire Craft (Part One)

I have been making big plans for how I’m going to spend another summer of limited travel and quasi-lockdown in my little suburban backyard.

See, for at least five years we’ve had a small fire bowl set up in our yard. It has served the purpose of gathering friends and family around some burning logs, roasting some marshmallows on warm summer evenings, and sipping cold beers under the autumn twinkle of a clear night and the glow of a warm backyard fire.

We even kindled it up this last New Years Eve, sipped hot chocolate in the winter chill and ceremonially burned our 2020 calendar. Good riddance!

But after five years, and yet another long cold winter in the harsh Canadian elements, our trusty portable firepit is probably due for a replacement.

I’m looking at this an an opportunity rather than a loss.

The current bowl is simple and meant to be nothing more than a safe way to have a small fire. We’ve cooked hot dogs or made s’mores with it, but anything more substantial would be pushing it’s functional limits. It’s just not meant to cook over, for example.

As a kind of “Saturday Projects” series, and as summer approaches, I’ve got a few big ideas about how I’m going to bring some of my wilderness adventure to my suburban backyard. First on the to-do list is a series I’m calling “suburban firecraft” where I’ll be upgrading my fire bowl situation with a new set-up that will allow us to build safe, useful, and (of course) legal bylaw-compliant fires right out our back door.

I’ll be figuring out a way to not only cook marshmallows, but make use of some of our cast iron to cook campfire meals and test out some recipes before we take them out to the wilderness.

How would you build a backyard fire pit: a portable fire bowl that can be moved and stored or a permanent fire pit?

Recipe: Cast Iron Campfire Waffles

Even far from an electrical socket, when I wake up in the woods I still have a few morning rituals. I need my hot cup of coffee brewed in one of a variety of ways: steeped, perked, or filtered. I usually try to eat a piece of fruit to start my day off right. And then I set out to cook a hearty breakfast for myself and the family.

Recently, and thanks to an amazing find at one of our local camping shops, that hearty breakfast has included fresh campfire waffles.

Yes, waffles. Over the campfire.

The easiest way to do set yourself up for campfire waffle success is by prepping some of your ingredients at home first.

In a plastic zip bag at home mix:

2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt

In a bowl at your campsite mix:

1 bag of dry ingredients (as above)
2 eggs
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups of milk

Also, pack some extra oil for cooking and for caring for your waffle iron.

My waffle iron needs about five minutes to heat up over a cooking fire after you’ve oiled it. Having a grate or other surface to rest your iron on is useful.

When the iron is smoking hot (yes… literally smoking) open the iron wide (using heat-proof mitts) and add 1/3 cup of your waffle batter to one center of the grill plate. Close. Flip (and I do a gentle whirl to spread the batter out inside.) And return to the heat.

Add a bit more oil to the iron between waffles.

Figuring out when the waffle is done cooking without that handy beep of an electric iron is as much an art as a skill. Added to the complexity is that you’re cooking over a fire with irregular temperatures. Look for less steam. Look for visible doneness at the edges. Get a feel for the time it takes and be prepared to over/undercook your first couple waffles.

Then… serve. Hot. Add fruit. Syrup. Whatever you like.

Book: Campfire Cuisine

For Thursdays I was thinking about starting a regular feature called Tuck & Tech that would let me muse about gear, books, recipes, and other kit. I’m neither sponsored nor provided any of these things. I just find them interesting or useful.

A curious recipe book showed up in my stocking this past Christmas: Campfire Cuisine by Robin Donovan seems to be a hearty collection of tasty dishes that meet a couple basic criteria around food transportation and storage as well as ease of preparation over a hot campfire.

A lot could be said about the fact that the wife and I have already conversed about trying some of the collection of marinades, breakfasts, sandwiches, and main courses at home first. There is nothing necessitating a campout cook style for many of the dishes … which, I guess, means that the collection is a solid book of hearty dishes that also happens to be amenable to cooking and eating in the great outdoors.

It’s the middle of deep winter as I write this, and I did have a short campfire in the chilly backyard for New Year’s Eve, but we used it to symbolically torch the 2020 calendar and I wasn’t comfortable cooking on those flames afterwards. Our simple go-to would likely have been pulling out the marshmallows to make s’mores, after a round of grilled hot dogs.

Yet this book definitely seems to be more than one-dish meals or meats-on-sticks.

I re-read the introduction this morning again and it lit a feeling of kinship between myself and the author. There was a symmetry of philosophy in those words, even as I set off (it’s still my first week) to write a daily blog checking boxes that Donovan checked long before me, and in print to boot.

Living to eat well.

Travelling to taste and experience.

Savouring experiences.

I’ve yet to try any of the recipes, and definitely not over a firepit, but for that synergy alone I’ll be pouring over the hundred-ish recipes in the book now (and as warmer tent camping weather approaches) to construct the menu for our next outbound excursion.