November 3, 2009

The Boy Scouts taught me to eat well

A couple of decades ago when I was a snot-nose kid right out of college I volunteered as an Assistant Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout Troop. we were an active bunch, camping, hiking, or canoeing every month -- year round.

One Saturday in early summer we scheduled a hike to a farm in the country. The distance was about five miles or so (one way). The farmer promised us access to water. We could camp in a copse of trees and fish in his pond. We promised to clean up a family cemetery nearby in return.

We set the rules to teach the boys a bit about camping and hiking. They could go as individuals, pairs or as patrols. One patrol decided to pool together, the other two went as pairs and individuals. The Scoutmaster and I paired up to teach the boys how it should be done.

We set out early on a Saturday morning. It did not take long for the boys who were stuck carrying the two-man tents to start bitching. At the half-way halt there was much switching and repacking of the loads. Eventually we made it to the campsite, blisters, aching shoulders and all.

The boys dug into their packs and pulled out the peanut butter or bologna sandwiches packed by their Moms. Steve (the Scoutmaster) and I set about lunch with hardly a word between us. He started a fire and I pulled out my trusty coffee pot. I filled it with water and pulled out a bag of rice and a cloth bag of creole seasoning. As the water boiled I added the rice and seasoning. Steve began to slice up some smoked sausage. We each had a small aluminum skillet. It served as a cooking and eating utensil. Steve fried the sausage and then we added it to the cooked rice. I tossed in a few wild green onions we found nearby and we had an excellent lunch. By the time it was ready the boys were standing around our fire drooling. Lesson number 1 was learned.

We cleaned the cemetery and then the boys spent the late afternoon fishing. I pulled out a couple of steaks from my pack. They were frozen when we left that morning and they were nicely thawed in their foil pack and plastic Ziplock bag packaging. I threw a few potatoes under the ashes. Steve caught and skinned a catfish. He placed it in the foil from the steaks with some more of the green onions and some of the left-over seasoning. He put it on the edge of the fire as I cooked the steaks.

Most of the boys were eating Spam or beef stew from a can. A few caught fish, but had no way to cook it. Several had brought hot dogs to cook on a stick. One boy had purchased some dehydrated food from the camping store. Again the leaders set the stage for the way to eat on the trail. A pot of coffee finished the feast.

Steve and I put down some plastic and unrolled thin blankets (much lighter than a sleeping bag). We slept under the stars. Had it rained, the plastic could have been rolled into a tube tent or just pulled over the top of our bodies. No heavy tent and poles for us!

Breakfast was sliced and fried bacon, and a chopped up potato from the night before fried in bacon grease. We then scrambled a few eggs into a proper breakfast skillet. The trusty coffee pot again provided the needed caffeine. Some of the boys ate dry cereal. Some did bring instant hot chocolate to drink. Spam again was on the menu for some.

When we hiked back the boys agreed that canned goods are not only heavy, they do not taste as good as fresh meat. They learned that with just one or two cooking pots you can cook about anything. It never occurred to any of them that a coffee pot could be used as a pan.

Why am I boring you with this tale? I opened a can of beef stew for lunch. I can eat better. I just need to put in the effort.

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