Camping can be as varied as the people who enjoy it. It can be a campout in the garden with the little ones, a back-pack hike, a holiday in a campground, a caravanning expedition around our vast country or a full "glamping" experience in a decked-out motorhome. Depending on which one you choose, you will find a little planning goes a long way towards a relaxed trip.
Whatever your camping scenario, the first things to think about are: how much space will you have, how are you going to keep food cold and fresh, and what will the cooking source be? Plan meals and equipment accordingly.
We haven't used any electrical appliances in this book - all the food prep can be done by hand.
We did however include one recipe for brownies in a mug, cooked in the microwave for those who are glamping.
Barbecues and salads are staple camping fare, so we haven't included many of these. We have however, shared some great one-pot ideas such as pastas, roast dinners and freshly "baked" sweet things. We have itemised equipment and pantry basics overleaf to help with packing. Cook your chosen recipes through in your head (mime them if you need to!) to see exactly what you'll need.
Don't take your best pans, especially when cooking over a fire. Check out camping supply stores or second-hand stores for good cast-iron pans or light pots that are easy to carry. While a camp oven is not absolutely necessary, if you're going to be doing a lot of camping and if you're mostly cooking over an open fire, you will find a camp oven is versatile to cook a roast dinner, crusty damper or a winter pudding. Follow the instructions to clean and care for your cast iron pan or camp oven and it will serve you and your family for many years. It's a good idea to buy a lid-lifter as well.
- Gas stoves and camping rings are quick, clean and easy to use.
- Open fires are a more exciting cooking option and sitting around a campfire at the end of the day is the epitome of relaxation. The drawbacks are the weather, fire bans and the time it takes to let the fire die down to glowing embers for cooking (about 1-1.5 hours). It's good to have a back-up gas option if you're planning on using a camp fire. Scavenged wood can be used to build a fire - you will need several kilograms to make a fire to last a couple of hours.
- Another easy fuel source to use is chemical-free smokeless natural wood charcoal. It's light to carry, easy to light and is ready in about 30 minutes. You can move the pieces around with long tongs and it's less messy.
- It's best to have some dry bricks or large pieces of wood to elevate the pan or camp oven over the embers, or a tripod to hang a camp oven from. It's very important not to use wet bricks or stones as they can explode when heated. Move some of the embers to one side, using enough to get the pan to the right temperature. Use the embers to add more heat when needed, or to pile on top of a camp oven lid. Adjust the heat by the amount of embers or by elevating or lowering the pan or oven. It just takes a little practice.
- Make sure the fire is completely extinguished when finished. The ground will remain very hot for many hours afterwards so make certain the area is confined.
Prep and store
- If you have limited or no cooler box space, look for the recipes that have a "fridge-free" option at the end.
- Many of our recipes use fresh herbs which won't always be ideal - 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of dried. Start with less intensely-flavoured dried herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage.
- Most recipes that use milk or cream can be substituted with UHT (long-life) versions or canned coconut milk; keep a few in reserve.
- Pre-measure dry baking ingredients and pre-chop vegetables at home to cut down on prep time. Place in containers or snap-lock bags.
- Have one meal already cooked at home so that the first meal is quick and easy after setting up camp. For example, make a bolognese sauce at home and freeze it, allowing it to thaw in the cooler box during the day. Just boil the spaghetti and reheat the sauce when you arrive.
- Make up omelette, scrambled egg or pancake mixes at home in sealed containers or jars and keep in the cooler box for a day or two. It helps with space, time and reduces the chance of breaking eggs.
- Make up a jar of salad dressing at home.
- Have some empty jars and stackable containers for open packets or liquids.
- We've used whole cans and packets where possible to avoid leftovers.
- The oil from jars of char-grilled vegetables can be used for salad dressings or frying.
- Buy small packs of ingredients so you can use it all.
- Remove all your rubbish when you leave.
Food for Camping, by the Australian Women's Weekly. Bauer Books, $24.99. Pictures: Louisa Brimble
Tim the Yowie Man's Top 7 places to pitch your tent
- Wood's Reserve Campground, Namadgi National Park: spacious, close to Canberra and with hot showers this campground is very popular so make sure you book
- Mt Clear, Namadgi National Park: limited facilities and take the winter woolies as it can snow here, even in spring.
- Billy Grace Reserve, Wee Jasper: great for the beginner camper with kids playground and coin operated showers
- The Beach Camping area, Abercrombie National Park: small campsite sheltered on a bend in the river. Good spot for platypus watching and a bracing spring swim.
- Bungonia Campground, Bungonia National Park: stunning bushland campsites close to limestone caves and less than two hours from Canberra
- Green Patch Campground, Booderee National Park: discreet beachside walk-in and drive-in campsites
- Mystery Bay Campground: cold showers but views to die for
Big breakfast bake
4 pork sausages
4 large flat mushrooms, chopped coarsely
80g baby spinach leaves
12 cherry tomatoes
2 slices sourdough bread, torn coarsely
2 tbsp grated parmesan (optional)
1. Prepare a fire for a camp oven.
2. Cook sausages in a camp oven, flameproof roasting pan or frying pan over medium heat for six minutes or until just cooked through. Remove sausages from pan; cut into chunks.
3. Drain excess fat from pan. Add butter and mushroom to same pan; cook, stirring, for one minute or until tender. Add three-quarters of the spinach; stir until just wilted.
4. Return sausage to pan; stir in tomatoes. Make two indents in mixture; carefully break an egg into each one. Season; top with bread.
5. Place hot coals on top of camp oven or cover pan with lid or foil if cooking on stove or barbecue. Cook for 10 minutes or until egg whites are set and bread is golden. Top with remaining spinach and parmesan, if using. If bread is not crisp when using frying pan method, place it in a dry frying pan or barbecue and cook until golden all over.
Swap out: Try flavoured or beef sausages. Improvise with whatever you have on hand: swap spinach with rocket or kale, and flat mushrooms with swiss brown or portobello mushrooms, while the bread can be whatever you have left from the day before.
Spicy lentil, spinach and bacon soup
1 tbsp olive oil
250g bacon slices, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 litre chicken stock (see swap out)
2 cups water
400g can lentils, drained, rinsed
60g baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan; cook bacon, onion, celery, garlic and spices, stirring, over medium heat, for 10 minutes or until bacon is browned lightly.
2. Add stock, the water and lentils; bring to the boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from heat; stir in spinach and coriander. Season to taste.
Do-ahead: This soup is suitable to freeze at the end of step two for up to one month. For best results, add the spinach and coriander when reheating.
Swap out: To make this vegetarian, omit the bacon and add 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika in step 1, then use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock in step 2. Omit the chilli flakes if you don't like it spicy.
Serving suggestion: Serve with toasted sourdough.
Frying pan beef and spinach lasagne
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
375g packet fresh lasagne sheets
60g baby spinach leaves
900g ready-made fresh bolognese pasta sauce with beef (see tips)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups firm ricotta, crumbled
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated pizza cheese
fresh basil leaves, to serve (optional)
1. Heat oil in a large deep frying pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat; cook onion and garlic, stirring, for 5 minutes or until onion softens.
2. Meanwhile, tear lasagne sheets lengthways into strips; put long strips aside, save any small broken pieces. Sprinkle small broken pasta pieces and spinach into pan with onion; mix gently to combine. Pour combined pasta sauce and the water into pan; mix to combine.
3. Insert long pasta strips, standing upright on long sides, into the mixture. Sprinkle with both cheeses. Bring the pan to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, covered, for five minutes or until pasta is tender. Stand for five minutes before serving.
4. Serve sprinkled with basil leaves, if you like.
Tips: You can use a three litre capacity flameproof roasting pan instead of the frying pan. We used a ready-made fresh bolognese pasta sauce containing beef and herbs; you'll find it in the refrigerated section in most supermarkets. To brown the cheese on top, you can make this recipe in a camp oven; place the lid and some glowing coals on top and cook until browned lightly.
Pineapple upside-down doughnuts
125g butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 cinnamon doughnuts
440g can pineapple
1. Prepare a fire to glowing coals.
2. Combine butter, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; stir until combined.
3. Place six sheets of foil on a flat surface; top each with a slightly smaller sheet of baking paper. Place a doughnut on one side of each sheet. Spread tops of doughnuts with half the butter mixture. Top each doughnut with a pineapple ring; spread with remaining butter mixture. Fold paper around doughnuts; fold foil over doughnuts. Seal parcels by crimping edges together like a samosa.
4. Cook parcels, pineapple-side down, in the hot coals. Cook for five minutes; check pineapple is caramelised underneath. Reseal parcels; turn doughnuts pineapple-side up. Cook for further two minutes; serve warm.
Tips: This is a great way to use up slightly stale doughnuts and works just as well with muffins or cupcakes. If cakes or muffins are large, split in half crossways. There should be six pineapple rings in a can of pineapple. If you want to make the pineapple go further, split the rings in half horizontally.