RECIPE: Save Your Life Stew

Okay, I admit the headline of this post is a little misleading. This was originally a recipe for something we call Fireside Brunswick Stew, but after one fateful trip, the name suddenly and permanently got changed!

There’s a trick to packing your food for a camping trip. You see all these great cookbooks and websites with camping recipes, mostly awesome-looking gourmet concoctions that you’re supposed to prepare over a campfire. Like I’ve brought a lemon to the woods with me, just so I can place lemon slices on fresh trout and sprinkle it with fresh cilantro and kosher sea salt? Give me a break!

Those recipes have some major flaws. First of all, how are you going to keep all those ingredients cold for several days in the woods and not give your family salmonella or e. coli while you’re camping? How are you going to cook them when you have to start the fire, get it going, place those foil packets down in the coals, and let them sit for a couple of hours? Oh, your family was going to go hiking alone while you babysat the campfire?

So here’s one of my little cheats about camping trips: I almost never bring anything raw. The only raw food I cook over a fire is fish that we’ve just caught, if we caught anything. If you really must bring raw meats, plan those meals for your first night or two in order to prevent death. Even more important is the timing-to-interest-level ratio: the first night or two it might be pretty exciting to set up camp and cook over a fire. By the third day, you’re gonna be so weary of getting that fire going and cooking dinner that you’re gonna pass your kids the bag of marshmallows and a can of Pringles and tell them dinner is served, and there’s not a parenting expert on the planet who would fault you for it.

By bringing essential foods already cooked, you really just have to warm them up. I also almost never cook directly over the campfire, unless we’re doing the nostalgic hot dogs on sticks meal. I use a Coleman propane stove or a mini backpacking stove, depending on whether I’m actually cooking something or just heating water to dunk our pre-cooked meal pouches that I made at home.

So back to this recipe: it’s really just Brunswick stew, but I’d made it ahead of time. We arrived at our campsite and met up with the different friends who would be joining us, and this stew was my contribution of one night’s dinner for everyone (that’s another hint: if you’re meeting up with friends on this trip, have everyone each take responsibility for one full meal). That weekend turned out to be the coldest weekend on record for that month in the entire history of the state. Yes, since the day they first began writing down the temperatures, that weekend in October was colder than any other year, before or since.

One faction of the friends called it quits and went home, which left me, my two girls, and one other couple, meaning there was plenty of Brunswick stew. And we ate it for every meal. I could pop out of the tent for a minute, heat it in a skillet on the propane stove, then duck back inside the tent with our tin plates . And it was absolutely perfect. It saved the trip, even if claiming that it saved our lives is a bit of a stretch.

So here’s the recipe for it, and you’ll notice it includes pre-cooked foods that won’t kill you. There are no measurements on purpose, just combine enough of the ingredients for your family’s needs. You’re also free to leave out anything they don’t like!

Fireside Brunswick Stew

Beef roast, cooked in the crock pot ahead of time.

Large cans of chunk chicken

Cooked ham, cubed

One bag frozen corn

One bag frozen peas

Bottled barbeque sauce

Tomato sauce (yes, spaghetti sauce is fine since the BBQ sauce will overpower it)

A-1 sauce

Combine the meats and frozen vegetables, then stir in barbeque sauce and tomato sauce to the desired consistency. Add A-1 according to your family’s taste for spiciness. Add water to bring it to the right consistency for how much “soupiness” your family likes. Place in large ziplock bags and freeze. Carrying it frozen in your cooler will help serve as a refrigeration source while you travel.

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