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Now I’m Cookin’!

camping prep 025Some women love jewelry.  Some can’t live without chocolates or perfume.  There are those who live for furs. And don’t forget the flowers. My Deerslayer   knows what tickles my fancy, blows my skirt up, sends me swooning.

For our camping trip to Wyoming this year, he presented me with a Camp Chef propane cookstove, a full-sized griddle, and carrying cases for both.  I’m starting to get light-headed just sharing.  Truly my hubby is the most romantic man on the planet.  Of course, in the same way that some men benefit from the gifts they give their wives, like lingerie, my Deerslayer realized that he would also benefit from the gifts he bestowed upon me.  The pancakes, tortillas, toasted hamburger buns, and don’t forget the bacon!  With my new gifts, there was enough love to go around.

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I’d been coveting the propane cookstove that I’d seen during last year’s trip.  While I knew that the coveted cookstove would again be present, I knew that the group would benefit from an additional source of heat.  (And I really wanted one of my own for the hunting camp.)  I also  realized, then, the need for a full-sized griddle as we struggled to make pancakes using a couple of cast iron skillets and a small stove-top cast iron griddle.  Our feeble substitutions simply were not up to the task.  The new full-sized griddle (ordered from Camp Chef) exceeded my expectations!  Pancakes and tortillas, up to ten at a time kept pace with our hungry clan. The entire surface could be covered with bacon, precooked and just needing a quick crisp-up!  Hurray!
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I couldn’t wait to show off my new stuff, flaunt my wares, if you will.  It was truly a red carpet event that called for something kinda special!  There were those who thought the shoes were a bit over the top.  To them I say, well, I won’t actually share what I said.  It’s how we roll at the Deerslayer Clan camp. (Actually, the shoes filled with sand and spiked me firmly into the ground but I looked amazing and the milestone was given the pomp and circumstance that it deserved.)

The first night that I was scheduled to prepare a dinner for 40, a huge wind storm erupted, which kept blowing out the flames on my cookstove.  My deerslayer and several other chivalrous gents set up a plywood windbreak around my cooking area.  They really saved the day!

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You may have noticed that my new new Camp Chef cookstove is emblazened with the the “Browning” logo.  True enough.  But made by Camp Chef all the same.  The “Camp Chef” logo is embossed on the right-hand side.  Mine was purchased from Bass Pro Shop.  Camp Chef model: $169.00, Browning model (identical except for logo): $99.00.  Mine works beautifully, does everything that I need done, and with the difference (and a little extra), my Deerslayer ordered the griddle!  I’m loving my new toys.  I’d really suggest ordering the special carrying cases for the cooktop and griddle, as well.  Everything stays together and packs more easily.

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This is what love looks like!

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2013 in camping, Hunting, Recipes

 

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Too Many Coolers on a Camping Trip?

camping prep 004Welllllll… the Deerslayer’s wife would’ve said, “Yup!”  I would’ve drawn the line at the 6 other Igloo coolers that we already own.  But these are Yeti coolers!  And they’re made in TEXAS.  Talk to any hunter about coolers and a distinct reverence is suddenly detected.  Mention Yeti coolers and hunters begin to cast their eyes down and genuflect.

I’d heard the talk, detected the reverence so I knew what my Deerslayer would get for Christmas a couple of years ago.  I gotta tell ya, I really thought it would be just another cooler, a really upper-end cooler, but another cooler just the same.  I hate to admit that even I now share the respect for these coolers.  After years of melted ice, and lukewarm, waterlogged foods I was amazed by what the Yeti coolers can do.  They keep frozen foods frozen for days, all the way to Wyoming from South Texas and several days after that as a matter of fact!  Now, this entry was not intended to provide advertising for the Yeti company. However, when I find an amazing product that can so dramatically improve a hunting/camping experience, I’d be remiss not to share with my readers. While the Yeti coolers are pretty pricey, they really are worth a look at www.yeticoolers.com.

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It’s already been definitively determined that there is no such thing as too much bacon for any camping and/or hunting trip.  And while I haven’t discussed the fact, neither can there be too many enchiladas, gallons of beans or pico de gallo, pounds of fajitas or brisket or potato salad, (or Prosecco or beer)!  Our recent trip to Wyoming was for 40+ people who were extremely appreciative of my cooking, availability and willingness to prepare fresh percolated coffee, and my willingness to make pancakes for the many teenaged family members in the mornings.

While most camping trips won’t need to accommodate this many people, over the years, the Deerslayer and I have honed the art of safe food transport. I have to admit that we used every one of the coolers in the picture. There are several tricks we’ve learned over the years that really make a difference when keeping packed food cold and/or frozen.  Before a camping trip, we fill gallon jugs with water and freeze them.  The frozen jugs are then used to “pre-chill” the coolers prior to packing.  Starting with a pre-chilled cooler is worth the extra time.  The jug can also be placed with refrigerated foods so that they don’t end up sitting in water.  It’s always important to plan which foods will be prepared first.  Those items should be packed together so that coolers aren’t opened unnecessarily.  This year, we tried something new; we labeled the coolers so that we knew what was where, which prevented unnecessary loss of cold while rummaging through coolers.  This worked really well.

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The frozen fajitas and brisket were prepacked and vacuum sealed. They weren’t needed during the first few days of the trip and so were packaged together. Once the dry ice was added, there was no need to open the cooler again except to check the contents once or twice before thawing.

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All of these items except the tortillas were needed for the first meal. Once they came out of the cooler, it could be used for ice (a couple of trips to the ice house were needed for the non-Yeti campers.

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It saved so much time knowing what was in each cooler.

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I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now.

Two of the middle coolers, called “105’s” held all the frozen food we needed for 4 meals for 40 people. In a previous post, I mentioned that I freeze foods like beans and carne guisada flattened in one-gallon zip bags so they stack easily.   I added one block of dry ice, wrapped in a paper sack and kitchen towel to each cooler.  The bottom cooler  (a 125) held a week’s worth of iced beverages for four people.  The others held all of our refrigerated foods.  We used every single one and they performed amazingly.

Just an added note on how strongly the hunters feel about their Yeti coolers:  The Deerslayer’s sister and her spouse were recently on a trip to Italy.  Spouse received a text message (in Italy) that he shared. “Mike got a Yeti!”

Deerslayer’s sister asked, “Who’s Mike Gottayetti?”

It’s just a Deerslayer thang!

 
 

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Too Much Bacon on a Camping Trip?

bacon, lawyer 032 Don’t make me laugh! A vital part of the preparation for the much-anticipated Deerslayer Clan camping trip is deciding how much bacon to take. I have a previous post that explains how I prepare the bacon ahead of time and toss it on the griddle to crisp up once we get to the campsite.  The dilemma comes in the decision of “how much is enough?”.

This is a tricky question when it comes to bacon. Sure, everybody loves bacon and eggs for breakfast.  But let’s not forget BLT sandwiches, topping for burgers and baked potatoes, breakfast tacos!  Then there are the countless varieties available on the market.  Thick or thin cut, center cut, peppered, jalapeno, applewood smoked, cider-infused.

As for me, It’s gotta be thick-cut, maple bacon.  Granted, I’ve become somewhat of a “bacon snob” over the years.  There are PLENTY of wine snobs out there, those who turn up their noses at lower priced choices.  A box!?!?  OMG.  The way I look at it, If it suits your palate, and you’re with friends and family, drink it, damn it.  I love the research where boxed wine is poured into bottles from expensive vintners and is slurped up with gusto by the “experts”.  Bless their little, misguided hearts.  I truly believe that the quality of a wine is directly proportional to the quality of the company with whom it is shared.  Bacon is different.  There’s good bacon and exceptional bacon!

My deerslayer came up with a bacon-cooking idea the other day that I was eager to try.  I’ve been cooking bacon in the oven for several years now.  It allows me to prepare 10-12 slices at a time.  His idea produces perfect bacon.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

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Place a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil on a cookie sheet with a 1 inch edge.  I turn up the edges of the foil to catch the bacon drippings.  Place a cooling rack over the foil and lay 10 to 12 slices of bacon on top.  My deerslayer’s idea was to place an additional cooling rack atop the bacon to prevent it from curling.

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 The process was flawless as was the bacon.  Perfect slices after 20-25 minutes (depending on the oven)!

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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in camping, Recipes

 

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Camping Preparation Continues and Plain Ol’ Easy Venison/Wild Pork Hamburgers

burger 003As we gear up for the big trip to Wyoming and the date draws near, the mess in the kitchen piles higher and higher.  Every time I think of something that I won’t be able to get along without, it goes on the pile.

Yesterday, I worked on the medicine box. After many years of camping/hunting trips, we have, at different times, needed a variety of medications and/or first aid items.   Our box is clear plastic so that we can easily and quickly identify and put our hands on necessary first aid or meds and includes (for all camping trips):

Band-aids, all sizes (including waterproof and stretchy for knuckles), butterfly sutures, triple antibiotic ointment, tweezers, magnifying glass, a needle for spinters and thorns, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and sterile pads & surgical tape

Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, aspirin

Anti-diarrheal meds, Benadryl, Sudafed, Various sore throat and cough lozenges, sore throat spray

Sun screen, aloe gel

Thermacare heat wraps for backs and necks

Any prescription meds required by various campers in your group

Candied ginger (works wonders for upset stomach and motion sickness)

Benadryl capsules – I have discovered that, not only is this med. effective for allergy symptoms, but it has worked for us as a topical relief for itchy insect bites.  My junior deerslayer and I are particularly susceptible to mosquito bites.  We opened a Benadryl capsule, made a paste with water, and applied it topically to the affected bites.  The paste relieved the itching and reduced the swelling.  While I can’t vouch for others, know that we don’t camp without Benadryl capsules close at hand.

Remember, I’ve traveled with or camped with kids for many years.  “Always be prepared” is the mantra of all parents.  Also, I suffer from allergies so I keep a well-stocked medicine box that I update periodically to ensure that nothing is past its expiration date .While many may say that my first aid list seems a little excessive, keep in mind that everyone’s situation and needs are different.   Also keep in mind, though, that nothing can ruin a good camping/hunting trip more than a pesky intestinal or allergy-related problem or a cactus encounter that might have been remedied with just a little fore-thought.

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I’ve chosen to show some of the items that we always have with us. All items fit into the box with the lid closed except for the Thermacare wraps. Notice the magnifying glass.  It really comes in handy for thorns and splinters.

In addition to preparing the first aid box, I’ve continued to plan for our meals for the two weeks we’ll be on our trip.  I’ve prepared and frozen food for four dinners for 50 people.  I’ve decided to bake and freeze Cranberry-Rubbish Muffins for several breakfasts.  I made arrangements with my local source for farm fresh eggs and homegrown tomatoes to pick up plenty of both for the trip.  That will take care of several more breakfasts (huevos con chorizo) and BLT sandwiches for lunch. The homegrown tomatoes will also make for some superb pico de gallo. (My last entry.)

An old stand-by for a fast and fabulous camping meal is Plain Ol’ Easy Venison/Wild  Pork Hamburgers.  These burgers are so flavorful due to just a couple of key ingredients. Garlic and Knorr’s Caldo de Tomate con Sabor de Pollo (Tomato Bouillon with Chicken Flavor).  This stuff is worth its weight in gold.  It also adds beautiful flavor and color to Mexican Rice.  Of course, you doctor them up as you desire with things that you can transport easily.

Plain Ol’ Easy Venison/Wild Pork Hamburgers

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1 lb. ground venison and wild pork

1 egg

3 cloves garlic, chopped (or a tbsp. minced garlic to save time)

1½ tbsp. Knorr’s Pollo y Tomate bouillon (Chicken and tomato)

1 tsp, pepper

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This item is usually found down the soup aisle or with the ethnic foods.

4 Hamburger buns

All the trimmings

1.  In a mixing bowl, combine ground meat, egg, garlic, and bouillon.  Shape into four patties and throw on the grill.  Cook to medium.  Add good cheese (Awesome cheddar or blue cheese) and melt.

2.  Toast buns on a cast iron griddle in some butter or on the grill.

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3.  Doctor up as desired.  Easy Peasy!  Perfect for camping!

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I’ve recently discovered Plochman’s Mustard has a variety with Killian’s Beer. Yum! Also, McIlhenny Farms has a great spicy ketchup. I have very strong feelings about burgers.  There are times when one must be a purist and times to branch out, go crazy, enjoy the thrill of new tastes.

For a camping trip, it’s easy to prepare the meat with the seasonings before leaving home. Hamburger patties could also be prepared ahead.

 

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Camping and Pico de Gallo (and skinning fajitas!)

fajitas, pico, burgers, corn & poblano soup 021This is the time of year that I enjoy the most.  My younger junior deerslayer and I have finished up her homeschool year.  My older junior deerslayer turned 24 today.  With these milestones under our belts, the entire family has switched into camping mode.  We are pulling out camping lists, preparing menus, and beginning to cook and freeze the meals that we will prepare for the annual Deerslayer Clan camping trip to Wyoming.  This year we will be staying for two weeks.

With plenty of planning, the trip should be twice as much fun as in previous years.  The first thing that we did was to have our camper thoroughly checked out by a local RV place.  They did yearly maintenance that included checking seals all around to insure that everything is water-tight in case of heavy rain.  (It’s been an issue in the past.)  They also checked the batteries and electrical system. (It’s been an issue in the past) They checked the bearings and tire pressure.  (Also been an issue!)

We’ll be filling propane tanks and cleaning out coolers this weekend.

I’ve prepared and frozen 9 dozen wild pork enchiladas.  They were frozen in 9 x 13 casserole pans and transferred to gallon freezer bags. I’ll prepare the gallon of creamy poblano sauce a couple of days before we leave.  I’ve also prepared 1 ½ gallons of bean soup and transferred it to gallon bags which I lay flat on a cookie sheet.  I’ll be making Mexican Rice for 50 people this weekend.  I discovered that parboiled rice doesn’t get sticky and can be reheated in batches with a little broth in a large cast iron skillet and transferred to aluminum trays for serving.

Every year, my Deerslayer prepares fajitas for the entire crew.  This is no small feat!  Fajita meat, also called skirt steaks, requires removing skin (usually even the skinless ones).  For this reason, until the last 20 years or so, fajita meat was some of the cheapest you could buy in the South, because of the work involved in preparation.  With the increased popularity of fajitas nationwide, the cost has continued to rise.  Same amount of work, just quadruple the price.  Go figure!

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Fajitas, like I mentioned before, require skinning.  This process is very similar to removing the silver skin or fascia from venison or elk.  The skin can rather easily be lifted and removed using a sharp filleting knife.  I have my favorite that I bought in the fishing area at Academy Sporting Goods.

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  I keep 2 sizes in the camper and also at home.  I really, really like this knife. Its thin blade makes short work of what could become very tedious with a substandard, dull knife.  My deerslayer has instilled in me a real appreciation for good cutlery.

Last year, I skinned all the fajitas (25 lbs.) at home, packaged them up pretty flat in gallon sized bags so they would thaw easily, and froze them, in the bags on cookie sheets in the freezer.  That way they stacked easily with the other food I prepared.

Before the frozen foods are packed into the coolers on the day we leave, I place several flat gallon bags into a 2 gallon zip bag.  One year, the carne guisada began to thaw once we got up there.  The zip bag had split and we had a big mess in the cooler and no carne guisada!

It’s at this time of the summer in South Texas that fajitas begin to go on sale, usually around Memorial Day and again near the 4th of July.  Some are more flavorful than others.  Some require less skinning than others.  The Deerslayer family becomes guinea pigs right about now.  We purchase fajitas from various grocers and grill them up to see which are the best. Once we’ve come to a consensus on the best flavor for the money, we buy up lots, skin them, package them, and freeze them.  The process isn’t really that painful!  There are several weeks of great grilled fajitas in preparation for the trip.

I give my Deerslayer credit for being “grill-gifted”.  He prepares some amazing feasts.  Usually, he uses McCormick’s meat marinade, but just for a very short time, since it has papaine, a meat tenderizer in it that will turn good meat to paste if you’re not careful.

Even the best fajitas need good tortillas.  The packages that are available in the bread section at the local grocer SHOULD NOT be an option.  I DO realize that not everyone has access to fresh, hot corn tortillas.   There’s nothing to compare to the soft, melt-in-your-mouth fresh corn flavor that can only be attained from fresh hand-made corn tortillas.  In Texas, we are lucky enough to have cook-yourself flour tortillas available in local grocers in the refrigerated section, near biscuits and pie crusts.  They’re worth their weight in gold.  Once you’ve had them, you’ll never go back.  They even freeze!!!  My dear Deerslayer surprised me with a professional-sized griddle to take on our Wyoming trip.  It’ll fit on the Camp Chef propane cooktops.  I can cook about 10 tortillas at a time, or toast as many buns, or heat up thick-cut bacon that I cooked at home, or make about 15 pancakes at once.  That man knows what I like!   He also gave me a beautiful string of pearls for those times that I feel like Julia Child!  Guys, learn!  Girls, weep!  He’s mine!

I’ve gotta say that, without sounding irreverent, fajitas are only as good as the tortillas and toppings that you put on them.  When I say toppings, you need to know that there’s really only one acceptable topping for this meat of kings in the Deerslayer domain; and that topping is Pico de Gallo (the beak of the rooster). My deerslayer uses the recipe that he learned from his father.  The bright, fresh veggies, accented with garlic, vinegar, and oil compliment the meat perfectly.  Here it is, but only with permission!  I’m not sure how “authentic” it is, but it is truly from the Deerslayer Clan.

Pico De Gallo

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1 Large Onion, coursely chopped

2 Jalepenos, chopped, seeds and pithy membranes removed

Garlic, 6 cloves, chopped

Apple cider vinegar, enough to cover

6 Roma Tomatoes, chopped

Cilantro, 1 bunch, chopped, stems removed

Salad oil, a splash 

Kosher salt and pepper taste

Avocado, scooped and chopped

1.  Add chopped onion, jalapenos, garlic in a one-gallon zip bag.   Add enough apple-cider vinegar to cover.  Allow to macerate for at least a couple of hours.

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2.  Transfer to a glass serving dish.

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 Add tomatoes, salt & pepper, cilantro, and avocado.

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Toss with a splash of oil and serve with tortilla chips, homemade if at all possible.  There’s nothing like homemade corn tortilla chips!  Soooo worth the effort!

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3.  Start with corn tortillas from the store.  They don’t need to be fresh.  As a matter of fact, I always toss leftover tortillas into the freezer and save for a batch of tortilla chips.

4.  Add about an inch of cooking oil to a deep-sided cast iron dutch oven.  Heat to medium high heat.  

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5.  Be sure that tortillas are dry.  Prepare one tortilla at a time.  Using tongs, add tortilla to hot oil.  Allow to fry for a couple of minutes until crispy.

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6. Set on a cooling rack atop a cookie sheet.  Immediately sprinkle with kosher salt.

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7.  Enjoy!

 

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How to be the Queen of the Hunting Camp

(Percolated Coffee)

Things just aren’t the same as they used to be. In the old Westerns, the beautiful leading lady would ride up on a horse, her make-up fully intact, hair perfect. She’d slide off the side of said horse into the arms of John Wayne. He’d grasp her 18 inch waist and whisk her off to the camp site where she’d roll her own cigarette and make a pot of percolated coffee on the fire. Wow! Hold the phone! Everything else was lost on me. Percolated coffee? How the hell did she do that? Where did she plug that thing in? Surely camera magic was in play! Women used to be so amazing! (Sure, before I start getting hate mail, I know we’re still pretty damned amazing. We do more than percolate coffee. But you have to admit that there was something about those women…)
After years of apologizing in advance every time I arrived at any campsite for my embarrassing lack of knowledge of all things campy, I decided to take the bull by the …uh… horns, Master the campsite. Yes, I decided to become the “Queen of the Hunting Camp”.
The 18 inch waist was there (plus enough to make a few more leading ladies). I could master the make-up and a cute cowgirl hat covers a multitude of sins. I don’t smoke and rolling your own really leans toward the 70’s. Don’t want to give away my age.
However, I learned that any camp-goers will cheer and make a queen of anyone who will produce coffee in the morning! If that coffee is percolated, heads will reel, people will fall to their knees in awe and praise, everyone will want to have their pictures taken with the “chick who can make coffee in a percolator”.
It is within your grasp to don the title “Queen of the Hunting Camp”.

Here’s what you need:
A GOOD percolator! I bought 2 different cheap ones before I invested in a good quality model. It really doesn’t pay to buy a super cheap one because they have a multitude of problems that might make you want to give up and head for the nearest Starbucks. (Don’t do it. Your reputation is at stake!)

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Look for these things:
stainless steel construction throughout (including the insert) – I’ve seen some really nice enameled percolators. These are fine but usually don’t have an insulated handle, glass button top, or sturdy construction of the insert. If you find a great enameled one, look for these elements (and let me know)! They’re really cool and retro. I just haven’t found one that has everything I need.
a sturdy insert that doesn’t wobble, and (this is really important) a lid that fits securely on the insert basket so the grounds don’t spill out

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an insulated handle – It gets pretty hot. Mine is made of wood. Keep in mind your heat source. If you are intending to use a campfire or the like, you won’t want any plastic or rubber parts. By the same token, medal handles will require you to have a pot holder or cloth nearby.
a glass button on top – This allows you to see how your coffee is progressing as it perks up through the stem.
When purchasing a percolator, you also need to consider how many cups of coffee you will be preparing. When we go to Wyoming for the family camp trip, there are usually 40 to 50 people at any given time. I was tempted to get a huge honkin’ percolator from Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, or Army Surplus to accommodate them all. When we head out to the hunting camp, however, there’s usually just my immediate family, only two of whom drink coffee. I came to the conclusion that I can always make several pots of coffee for a larger crowd and that most of my camping during the year is for just a few people so I decided on the average sized percolator. Some of the larger models can, of course, do double duty as a hot tub.
Making percolator coffee
You will need:
coarsely ground coffee – I’ve made it countless times with regular canned coffee. The problem for me (maybe it won’t bother you as much) is that the grind used for automatic drip coffeemakers is slightly too fine for the basket of the percolator and grounds will inevitably end up in the coffee. By letting the coffee rest for a couple of minutes after it’s perked, and removing the insert before pouring, you can minimize the fiber from your coffee!  Most grocers have a “grind your own” section now. If grounds in your coffee bother you, you may consider going this route. Adjust the grind to “Coarse” and it will perc a great cup of coffee sans the stuff in your teeth!  My new favorite coffee of choice for the hunting camp is roasted right here in the great state of Texas, Brenham to be exact.  Jet Fuel is the variety. Deep, rich flavor. Independence Coffee Company (www.independencecoffee.com) is worth looking into.  I love to endorse local businesses!  I’m planning on a field trip to check things out (at Blue Bell Ice Cream, too, while I’m in the area)

good water – Bring several bottles of good drinking water just for your coffee. It really does make a difference in how the coffee disperses throughout.
a heat source – Know ahead of time what type of heat source you will be using; grill over a campfire, a camp stove, or a camper cooktop.

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Remove the insert from your coffeepot and fill the pot with water, using the coffee mugs from which you will be drinking to measure. Be careful not to fill so full as to reach the insert basket. Keep in mind that most coffee mugs are NOT 8 ounce cups. So a percolator that holds 10 cups will not fill 10 coffee mugs. My ruggedly cute enamalware mugs each hold 2 cups, for example.

Place coffee pot on your heat source so that it will begin to boil while you fill the insert basket.
Remove the lid from the insert basket and fill with one tablespoon of coffee grounds for each 8 oz. of water. Replace lid and place insert carefully into the percolator (it will be very hot at this point). Allow water to continue to boil for about ten minutes depending on how strong you like your coffee.* If using a camp stove or cooktop, once water begins to boil, turn down heat and continue to boil for ten minutes for strong coffee. You can check the progress of your coffee through the glass button in the lid.
I’d like to apologize for what may be considered unnecessarily drawn out and complicated instructions. Before I finally figured out how to be the hunting camp queen, I surfed the web and found many single paragraph descriptions for the perfect cup of camp coffee. They each seemed to leave out some important bit of info. Could it have been a conspiracy instigated by OTHER camping queens? Something to think about!

*Every heat source is different, as is each person’s preference for coffee strength. Sadly, this is really a trial and error endeavor. Don’t give up, however! After several tries, you will have perfected the process!

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2012 in Hunting, Uncategorized

 

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