By JILL COLLINS
Camping season is just around the corner. Easter marks the first camping trip of the year for many. It is the practice camp trip where everything that was stored and put away for the winter is wiped of cobwebs and tested to see if it can last another camping season. It is also the practice cooking camp trip where methods of cooking on open fire, with camp stoves or not cooked at all meals are put to the test.
Last year my family and I were fortunate to experience a method of cooking that was completely new to us. An earth oven or pit cooking is one of the oldest methods of cooking that has been used by every culture on every continent. Friends invited us to their annual family Thanksgiving camping trip where the holiday meal is cooked in an earth oven. A trip to celebrate the end of the season and give thanks for the memories created while camping. Who could say no to that?
There are no special tools or equipment required to create an earth oven. All that’s needed is a shovel, rocks, seaweed, fire, burlap sack and an adventurous spirit. Creating the earth oven is easy enough. Dig a pit about 2 feet deep, line the bottom of the pit with rocks, and then build a fire on top of the rocks. After the fire has burned for a few hours the coals need to be removed. The great thing about doing this while camping is it becomes an endless source of entertainment, conversations, jokes, and impromptu visits from fellow campers wanting to see what is going on. Curiosity gets the best of people especially when they witness a fire being moved. After coals have been removed a thick layer of seaweed is placed on top the hot coals. At last the burlap sacks of food are placed on top the seaweed. Remember the dirt removed to dig the pit? It’s time to shovel most of it back on top of the burlap sacks of food. To add to the experience, the fire was also returned on top of the earth oven and for the rest of the day we sat around the fire watching and wondering how our Thanksgiving meal was doing.
A few notes to mention when cooking with an earth oven. Anything you cook in a traditional oven can be used. Wrap food in tin foil before placing in burlap sacks. Wet the burlap sacks before placing on hot rocks. Fresh herbs, salt and pepper is all that is needed to add to the fresh food but feel free to experiment. No need to peel or cut potatoes or yams. Keep corn in their husks. A wide variety of meats can be cooked like pigs, chicken, turkey, lamb, and seafood. Keep the food buried for at least 8 hours.
Everyone gathered around with excitement when the meal was ready to be dug out. Yes boys, time to use those shovels again! Once again move the fire and carefully dig until the burlap sacks are located. It is a triumphant moment when the first sack is spotted. It is immediately followed with the wonderful smell of the meal we have been waiting and waiting for.
Cooking in an earth oven does not limit what can be cooked. Our meal was like any other Thanksgiving meal. We enjoyed rosemary chicken, garden potatoes, yams, corn on the cob, mushrooms, and garlic all cooked in the earth oven. The meal was finished off with fresh buns, a few salads, dessert and plenty of wine. It was one of the best Thanksgiving meals I have ever had. This year I am adding a shovel to our camping cooking utensils and hope to add a new method of cooking to our camping again this summer. How does a traditional clambake along the west coast of Vancouver Island sound?
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