The Outdoor Kitchen
Every camp must have a kitchen. Even if your chosen campsite is very basic or only temporary, it shouldn’t mean that the food you cook in it needs to reflect the surroundings.
Everyone enjoys a good meal, and when working hard outdoors, you will find that mealtimes are often the most important part of the day. You must strive to make them something to look forward to, making the most of what you’ve got. If dipping into Mother Nature’s larder, the wild ingredients you have available may be unfamiliar, so a knowledge of how to prepare certain basic foodstuffs is important.
With everything we eat being well and truly processed before we get it, many of us aren’t used to seeing meat clad in fur or feathers or vegetables covered in mud. It’s one thing to know how to hunt and gather, but you must also know how to take that raw ingredient and transform it into something edible.
Of course, in a survival situation, food is primarily fuel, but this is definitely not just about aesthetics or trying to win some kind of wilderness Michelin star: some wild foods need to be prepared and cooked to make them edible and many are bitter or woody before cooking.
In order to overcome this, you must know how to grill, steam, boil, and roast without any pots and pans, how to glean all the nutrients from your hunted and gathered goodies, how to keep clean and tidy to avoid illness and how to store food in the short and long term.
Cooking on the move
If you’re on the move, a small campfire under a handy natural canopy is all that’s required. If I have a choice, I’ll set up somewhere that has a source of water nearby providing washing-up water, a place to replenish water stocks and a guaranteed method of putting out the fire.
Your cooking fire should be small and unfussy, with two logs either side as a cooking pot rest or a simple pot crane with adjustable height settings. The supporting log is moved back and forth to lower or raise the pot.
Fixed camp kitchens
Camp kitchens can take many forms, from a communal campfire in a large group shelter right up to a separate kitchen area away from the living quarters with its own form of shelter and dedicated cooking fire.
However big or small your camp kitchen is, the keyword is ‘organization’: pots and pans will need to be suspended over the fire in any number of different ways; food will need to be stored properly; equipment must be cleaned; food waste must be disposed of correctly, and a meat-preparation area must be designated well away from the main camp.
Large foldable water containers are handy items to pack, providing an onsite supply so that you don’t have to constantly walk back and forth to a distant water source. (Never set up a fixed or semi-permanent camp kitchen next to a water source for fear of polluting your only supply.)
For slightly more permanent camps, you may want to improve conditions by knocking up a few useful gadgets around the camp kitchen. In open, rocky areas this might only be at best an arrangement of suitable rocks made into pot rests and windshields; but if you happen to be near or amongst a source of timber, then you can really go to town.
A cooking tripod with an adjustable pot hanger is one of the first gadgets I make in camp. It forms the centerpiece of a well-organized fireplace and provides somewhere to suspend the cooking pot or kettle, a drying rack for preserving food and a useful place to hang cups and billycans.
Select three strong forked sticks, around 2m long, and lash them together with a natural binding where the forks interlock. Hang a sturdy fixed loop, also made from the same binding material, from the apex.
A carved adjustable pot hanger, capable of supporting your biggest pot, will hook onto this.
Drying racks can be added to the top of the frame for meat and fungi (and socks?). Further spars can be lashed in place to support one end of a cooking spit or an extended pot-hanging rail.
Rig up a sturdy hanging rail away from the fire, maybe between two convenient trees. Use this like a woodland kitchen cupboard to hang any unused cooking pots, spatulas, carved pot hangers and stirrers, water storage bags and tea towels.
This way all your equipment is kept clean and centralized in one place so that it’s there when you want it rather than lost amongst the leaves or tripping you over in the darkness.
In the kitchen, get in the habit of washing any cooking equipment after use so as not to tempt rats into camp or make yourself ill. Metal pots and utensils have the advantage of being easily sterilized before use by simply heating them over the flames from the cooking fire. Also, give some thought to how you are going to dispose of your food waste.
Always burn any rubbish, and if it won’t burn, bury it well away from camp. Leftover animal products that can’t be used (which in a survival situation won’t be many) should also be burnt or buried at least 100m away from camp.
Regularly give your camp a good brush out with an improvised broom of twiggy foliage to get rid of any hidden food scraps.
Natural soap substitutes
There are several plants that can produce a natural soapy lather due to their saponin content. Horse chestnut leaves and silver birch leaves are a few good ones.
This soapy lather is much kinder to the skin than heavily alkali soaps, so is a good soapy substitute.
Sphagnum moss makes an excellent biodegradable abrasive scrubbing pad for hands and eating utensils, as it contains small amounts of iodine.
Paul has had an interest in the outdoors since he was a young kid. Walking, tracking and exploring the wilderness around him, from disused overgrown railway lines to the vast wilderness of the UK national parks. Over the last few years Paul has honed his skills into specific areas of bushcraft and survival. He is an expert in map reading, shelter building and knots, traps and fishing.