One of the most important elements of hunting camp is food.
Good food, which requires good cooks, makes for a fabulous hunting camp experience.
Pedestrian food, and bad food, diminish or ruin the camp experience.
Some of my most memorable meals have been in hunting and fishing camps. Most notable are the gravel bar steak dinners during overnight float trips on the Buffalo River with Bill Eldridge, Rusty Pruitt and Ed Kubler. The first night’s dinner always features hubcap size ribeyes grilled by Kubler and seasoned with Kubler’s secret sauce. It was always excellent, but it got even better in 2020 when we marinated the steaks all day in Worcestershire sauce. It’s worth it just to hear Kubler, a Pittsburgh native, try to pronounce Worcestershire. It’s like a needle skipping on a vinyl record.
The steaks are always done to perfection. I like mine just barely medium, pink, with a ribbon of red in the middle.
In addition to the steaks, Kubler also wraps big ears of sweet corn in aluminum foil and buries them in the campfire. You think they would burn, but they don’t. They always come out evenly cooked and firm. He bakes potatoes the same way.
We must, however, dispense with the squeeze bottle of Parkay margarine. It is disrespectful, a blot on the sun. Henceforth, I shall bring real butter. Food of that caliber deserves the best.
Breakfast consists of Taco Boats, an Eldridge specialty. He scrambles eggs and fries bacon on a camp stove. These are served in flour tortillas shaped like boats. I cover the bottom with sharp cheddar cheese, fill with eggs and bacon and top it with picante sauce. We wash it down with camp stove cowboy coffee and orange juice.
The menu never changes, but it never gets old.
Turkey camp cooking
Fine dining is the essence of civilized hunting, but it takes discipline to live that way when you camp alone. It is easy and convenient to eat lunchmeat sandwiches, peanut butter and cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but a hunting trip requires better.
I am anti-social during turkey season, so nobody else partakes of my turkey camp feasts. You’re welcome to drop and share, of course. Just don’t ask where I’ll be hunting in the morning, or any other time.
My specialty is camp stove stir fry. Here’s how it all goes down. I marinate a quality cut of steak in Worcestershire sauce. That’s “Woost-a-shur” for our readers in Pittsburgh. I prefer ribeye, but a good sirloin or strip steak is good, too. I cut it into thin strips.
I cut up a green pepper, a red pepper and a yellow pepper. There are subtle flavor differences, but mainly I use them for the colors. I also dice a white onion, and I slice a generous quantity of fresh mushrooms.
Garlic is very important to this recipe. Sometimes I dice fresh garlic into the mixture. Sometimes I use garlic from a jar. Sometimes I just use garlic powder. The powder is plenty tasty, but it lacks the satisfying crunchy texture of diced garlic.
I cover the bottom of a cast iron skillet with a generous quantity of extra virgin olive oil. That term puzzles me, as I do not understand how there are degrees of virginity, but whatever…
I add the beef strips to the olive oil and let them sizzle a bit. Then, I add the vegetables and mushrooms. I mix them with a spatula and serve it hot on a bed of ramen noodles.
Occasionally I substitute medium shrimp or sea scallops for beef. Sometimes I use them all together. The combination of surf and turf is truly magical.
Afterwards, I kick back beside a roaring campfire with a moderate amount of fine bourbon on the rocks. I like to let the ice melt a bit to cut the spirit’s bite and sip on it sparingly for an hour or more. The result is a deep and satisfying sleep that almost always presages a classic turkey hunt. Many of these you can read about in my soon-to-be-published book, “St. Tom’s Cathedral. A Turkey Hunter’s Quest for His Best.” We hope that copies will be available for Christmas.
I recommend a few bourbons for campfire dining. By far my favorite is Blade & Bow, followed by Jefferson’s Reserve Ocean, Droptine 12-Point and Buffalo Trace.
A fine substitute is The Dubliner’s Irish whiskey. It is really, really good in an evening camp setting. A glass of good pinot noir is also very nice if you want a mellower libation.
Moderation is the key.
On opening day of modern gun deer season, the members of Old Belfast Hunting Club always look forward to Mike Romine’s venison chili. It has no established recipe as best as we can tell. Romine always adds a slightly different twist, but it is always delicious, and it is almost always completely consumed, except for the patina that burns to the bottom of the pot.
As good as Romine’s chili is, one camp meal stands out to me above all others. Romine and I were the only hunters at the club one morning when he invited me by text message to join him for lunch at the camp.
The weather was rudely cold, but instead of chili, Romine whupped us up a couple of fried bologna sandwiches, with toasted white Sunbeam bread. Mustard was the only condiment. I think we might have had a white onion.
That bologna smelled so good sizzling on Romine’s skillet, but the aroma paled to the flavor, and the way the bread pasted to the roof of my mouth made the flavor linger in a most pleasant fashion.
You just might be a redneck if you eat fried baloney sandwiches at deer camp, but that was one of the best sandwiches I ever ate.