Put the marshmallows back on the shelf. Find a campsite with a fire pit, but leave the hot dogs at the supermarket.
Camping doesn’t have to mean settling for a spongy lump of bleached sugar and ground-up swine scraps anymore.
If homemade bread, roasted lamb and baklava don’t come to mind when you think camping, think again. A campfire cooking renaissance is alive on the pages of “Cooking With Fire.”
Author Paula Marcoux has produced 320 pages that would convince any chef that simplicity doesn’t have to mean bland. At the same time, she shows a novice that outdoor cooking doesn’t have to be complex.
“Cooking With Fire” unveils age-old techniques and recipes that were left behind during an era of Foreman grills and hybrid barbecue units.
“Fire allows you to actually access the flavors of the past,” Marcoux said. “There are people that are buying grills that are $1,000, and the food doesn’t taste like anything, and there are people that are cooking over nothing, and it tastes incredible – so there’s got to be something to it.”
An archaeologist, food historian, innovative cook and bread-oven builder, Marcoux embraces cooking-on-a-stick, but with a gourmet touch. She has compiled 100-plus wood-fire recipes, accompanied by colorful instructions, historical place-setters and drool-worthy images.
The book ranges from stabbing meat with the end of a stick and holding it near flames to creating multi-topping pizzas, and building the outdoor ovens to bake them in.
The cookbook guides a cook through each step – from where to find kindling for a small fire to how to choose the materials for a bread oven.
While her 1-acre property is scattered with homemade versions of historical ovens and experimental cooking contraptions, a backyard brick oven isn’t necessary to put the techniques Marcoux shares into action. For that matter, it’s not even necessary to have a backyard. Many of the meals can be made anywhere with few materials and very little preparation.
The author’s favorite meal in the book is one of the simplest: roasted lamb leg on a string.
A lamb leg is the perfect shape for a twisting-string roast, but any similarly sized and structured piece of meat can be cooked by suspending it on an open fire. All you need are a piece of twine, something relatively sturdy to hang it from, a pan to catch the grease and a few hours of spare time to watch the meat twirling above the flames.
“It is ultimate simplicity but it really comes out the most deliciously that a lamb roast could ever come out,” Marcoux said. “It is so laid-back. There is really nothing to do once you hang this thing up. You are happy just keeping your fire at the right level, and if it gets too cool you can move the lamb leg closer to the fire or build the fire up, and if it gets too hot you just move it away.”
Marcoux’s simple recipes provide an easy access point for people to get into cooking using ancient techniques.
The author, who lives in Plymouth, Mass., first became obsessed with cooking on wood fires in 1987 while working at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum. It all began with flipping flapjacks for her co-workers on a wood stove, and lead to a path of rediscovery.
The liberating feeling that comes with cooking on an open fire lead Marcoux to write a book that would make it possible for anyone to experience cooking on flames. She wanted to avoid losing would-be enthusiasts in what could have been dense content of food history.
Instead Marcoux weaves historical elements throughout the book to bring context to the old cooking styles, but keeps the tone conversational so as not to lose the budding cook’s attention.
As Marcoux has toured festivals and workshops around the country, her hands-on workshops have been swarmed by eager learners, backyard chefs, camping fanatics, backpackers, back-to-the-landers and “baking kooks like me,” Marcoux said.
Call The Bee’s Juniper Rose, (916) 321-1164.