It's all very well to embrace the zen of camping, with minimal tools and minimal kit, but it's a holiday and you still deserve to eat well. When your kitchen tools are merely a couple of good knives, a pan or two, chopping board and a can opener, a couple of burners on the camp cooker or portable barbecue and no kitchen sink, you have to get creative. With the prospect of a long, dusty drive to a minimally provisioned dairy, you eat only what you have brought or caught.
So while the smoky addition of campfire may add flavour to even the most basic can of beans or pot noodles, you and your campmates deserve better. Keep long-lasting dried herbs and spices permanently in the kit so you can pretty up any meal.
Use your noodle
Light, indestructible and savoury: those packets of instant noodles are a camper's best friend. Your Asian-style creations may not be as punchy as Singapore street food, but they'll still beat instant mash.
For your camp kitchen, bring stock concentrates, decant soy, worcestershire and chilli sauces, peanut and sesame oils, a curry paste and rice vinegar into small plastic pottles, pack ginger root, whole chillies and garlic and squeeze in a bunch of fresh coriander or two. When meat, veges and eggs are fresh, you can make a good noodle stir-fry with rehydrated noodles.
When you're down to the longer lasting supplies, canned shrimp or salmon are passable. Canned corn or mushrooms add substance to a noodle soup. With a chub of hard-dried salami or spicy sausage you can veer into Italian or Spanish territory with chopped onions, canned tomatoes and hard parmesan cheese being good keepers without a fridge. If you prefer, fast cooking rice noodles are just as good, without the added salt or fat.
Remember the old Scout camp cookery? Breakfast was canned baked beans, dinner was cooked in the bean can. You can make basic cheese pies (stale bread, grated cheese and/or onion, topped with a beaten egg or two, with leftover chopped vege or meat if you have it) for a savoury supper or add grated chocolate, chopped dried or fresh fruit and sugar to taste for a pudding. Instant bread or cake mixes can be baked into can-shaped loaves.
Rather than bringing plain frozen meat, pre-marinade your meat in zip-top bags, freeze into solid cubes (the more cubed the better, as there is less surface area so they thaw more slowly) and cook up an instant feast with the addition of water, rehydrated dried coconut milk or the remains of last night's bottle of wine. If you catch more fish than you can eat in one day (lucky you), do as the ancestors did and smoke the remains for afternoon snacks or tomorrow's dinner.
Bring hard cheeses - they are, after all, preserved milk - so even cheddars can survive some days without refrigeration, or bring solid bags of frozen pre-grated mozarella to make pizzas. Frozen pita breads can be turned into pizza bases, and with small cans of tomato concentrate, some chopped vege or sliced salami and you have yourself a smoky stove-top feast.
Bring nearly-ripe fruit and veges (green to just-pink tomatoes, hard avocados or stone fruit, green bananas or pineapples) that can gently ripen over the camp days.
When fruit gets a bit over-ripe, caramelise some sugar in butter in the fry pan, toss in the fruit and make up a caramel pudding.
*Catherine Smith is editor of Weekend Life and a member of the Food Writers' Guild.