Anyone who knows even a little bit about me, knows I hate to camp. No really, I think I’m allergic to camping. Dress it up and call it ‘Glamping’ and I’m still not jumping up and down with excitement brandishing tools for gourmet s’mores – rather I’m hiding under my Frette sheets in a cold sweat. I blame my mother. Her love of camping knows no bounds. Before I could walk I was driven around France in a Champ [The Austin Champ was the civilian version of a British Army vehicle made by the Austin Motor Company]. You can see it here in this photograph taken in the hills above Nice – and yes that’s me, naked, taking a bath in the plastic washing up bowl. Is it any wonder I don’t like to camp?
If only this had been the first and last camping trip of my life – but no – as a child I was tortured with trips around Europe in a VW Camper van – I guess this was an improvement on the Champ in that it had a roof! We would go from camp site to camp site in France, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, Italy – pick a country in Europe and I’ve probably slept under the stars there between the age of 0 and 16 – I think that was the age when I finally bowed out. Oh, how I longed to be normal and check into an hotel. We did a lot of traveling and experienced a lot of culture and for that I’m very grateful. My mother is a lot of things and adventurous has to be up there near the top – and for that I really do admire her, just as long as I’m not forced to go too to sleep under canvas.
Last year I received a copy of CAMPFIRE COOKERY:Adventuresome Recipes and Other Curiosities for the Great Outdoors by Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young and was puzzled about what to do with it given that I wasn’t heading into the outback to sleep in a tent anytime soon. As I flicked through I was drawn into this whimsical collection of recipes – Huck and Young’s love of good food leapt from each page in eccentric and fun ways, nicely complemented in the photos by Tara Donne. The mouthwatering recipes – seven in all for s’mores – and pan-roasted squab with syrupy port sauce or cast-iron crumpets with clotted cream and best of all truffled Toad in the Hole – had me reading more. Armed with a skillet and the 3 bottles of Champagne called for by Huck and Young might I be brave enough to camp? Okay, let’s not get crazy perhaps hiring an RV, loading it up with Champagne and heading out to the desert, the Grand Canyon or Yosemite might work? Do you know how many brownie points this would get me with my kids? This moment of madness quickly passed as I read on.
The book also leans towards being an instruction manual (albeit tongue in cheek)- think a Girl Scout Guide to surviving in style in the great outdoors. I now know how to make a campfire using the tepee method (which we all knows means hair that will smell of campfire smoke for days), how to wrestle a mountain lion (okay I don’t think that was covered – but something like ‘stand tall and don’t look kitty in the eye?!’) and how to know if a snake is poisonous ‘red on yellow will kill a fellow, but red on black venom will lack.’ Which leads me to ask again, why? Why do I want to risk being bitten by bugs, reptiles, large cats and even bears when as I am told in the book ‘really ones chance of surviving an encounter [with a large cat] are slim to none?’ Why do I need to have a life endangering encounter with a large hairy beast – ‘One must not trifle with a bear, as it will show no mercy in the pursuit of a good meal?’ The answer is I don’t. Most importantly the book offered no cure for my real hatred of camping – tents – and in particular sleeping bags on uncomfortable camp beds/mattresses/stony yoga mat… I’m staying home and getting a great night’s sleep in white bed linens or checking in to the Four Seasons. The good part is none of this aversion to camping will stop me from loving this book – I can use this charming book of recipes from the COMFORT and SAFETY of my own home.
On the back of the success of my Marmalade making I wanted to try my hand at making some blackberry jam and the recipe in Campfire Cookery looked nice and straight forward – and no I didn’t pick them wild from the bramble bushes like we do in France – I believe they came from Mexico.
Adapted from Campfire Cookery by Sarah Huck and Jaimee Young, 2011
Provides 1 1/2 cups jam – 2 small Weck Jam Jars
2 cups blackberries (about 12 ounces)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch fleur de sel
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
What I instantly liked about this recipe for blackberry jam was the quantity – it makes up two small Weck jam jars. Given the size of my kitchen and the lack of storage two jars is just about perfect. If you want to double the recipe to make extra to give away as the perfect hostess gift then it’s very easy. With the test plate in the freezer I put the berries into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and smashed them with a wooden spoon.
After adding the sugar, lemon juice and salt I placed the pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. I cooked it until the mixture bubbled and rose almost to the top of the pan, about 5 minutes.
I reduced the heat to medium low and allowed the mixture to simmer until it thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes. The book states the the jam will have the freshest flavor when it is lest cooked so suggests testing for doneness after 10 minutes.
Drop a spoonful of the hot liquid onto the chilled saucer. Using one’s fingertip, push the edge of the jam puddle inward. If it wrinkles at all the jam will set and it is time to take the pan off the heat. I also like to taste the cooled jam on the plate for sweetness and also for flavor. This batch of blackberry jam lacked flavor – I blame the store bought blackberries rather than the recipe – not particularly seasonal to be making blackberry jam in February either – a lesson in getting the most flavor from using fresh local ingredients at the right time of year. A quick fix I used is to add a 1/2 teaspoon of almond essence to the jam. This gives it added depth of flavor and reminds me of a Viennese pastry – a jam filled Linzer tart or cookie.
I carefully poured the jam into two little Weck jam jars that I had sterilized earlier and then very gently dropped the jars into a water bath and simmered for about 10 minutes to seal – you can watch little bubbles escaping from the top of the jam – this creates a vacuum which means the lid is pulled down tight as the rubber seal sets.
The jars will keep in a dark place for many months if sealed correctly. Despite the lack of real blackberry flavor from the simple recipe (I really do blame the berries) I will be making this up again in the summer – probably after blackberry picking in the lanes of Devon or Provence with Minty and Rémy – just like I used to do as a child. Hopefully we will forage enough to make that other all time favorite of mine – blackberry and apple crumble.
As for camping – I’m going to know my limits – this book will be extremely useful for the picnic I am planning – Minty claims she has never been on a proper picnic – Wind in the Willows has a lot to answer for – so we will be dusting off the hamper and setting out with potted meats, cucumber and cress sandwiches, cold chicken and lashings of ginger beer…