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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

December 1998

Campfire illustration © T/Maker Company

Campside comfort

A cookout sparked a call to dish up your fireside favorites.

David L. Sperling

Blackened Fish | Grilled Summer Vegetables

I have to confess it was the odor that stirred up this idea. Here we were on a cool, crisp fall night, poking at the popping embers of our campfire, boiling some water and trying to warm up to the impending meal of ramen noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and cocoa. We needed to bulk up for the cold night ahead. We also needed to blot out the memory of the previous night's offerings – macaroni and cheese with kohlrabi – which had left repercussions all day, if you get my drift.

Knife illustration © T/Maker CompanySpoon illustration © T/Maker CompanyFork illustration © T/Maker Company

Here, amid the fall smells of leaves and light rain, a heavenly aroma wafted over from the campsite next door – apples! Sweet, roasting apples and a buttery squash smell. Oh my, for a spoonful of that concoction I would have gladly shared half our stash of freeze-dried, boil-em-ups.

There was really no need for us to have chosen quick-fix meals. We were tenting, but not backpacking. We were only taking day trips from our campsite. The car was parked nearby. Our cooler easily could have held more fresh fruits and veggies. And we certainly had time to prepare a more elaborate meal. In fact, longer meal prep would have kept the conversation going as we peeled onions, sliced up some fresh mushrooms, and slowly let the sauce and the stories develop.

We subsequently discovered many dishes that can be easily adapted for campsite preparation. Sometimes we cheated and merely brought some tasty leftover well wrapped in foil to heat up on the coals. But we also started experimenting a bit. A few baggies with herbs and spices added immeasurable pleasure to even simple meals. We challenged ourselves to invent outdoor casseroles that work well in a pot or Dutch oven. We added variety to our traditional "strip and dip" method of filleting fish and dipping them in crumbs for the fry pan.

We're betting that you have some campfire recipes that you would share with fellow readers. We'd like to publish them in our August issue next year. Here are a few ground rules for your submissions followed by two favorite recipes sure to add a little pizzazz to your fire ring repertoire.

  1. Only send recipes that you have cooked over an open campfire and enjoyed.
  2. Recipes should be easy to prepare and cook without employing special cooking utensils or electronic appliances. Assume campers are bringing a few campfire basics – a pan, a pot or Dutch oven, some tin foil, a plastic bag, and perhaps a cutting knife and board.
  3. It's okay if the recipes require some advance preparation at home as long as the components can be safely transported in plastic storage bags, don't take up much space and don't require refrigeration. It's ideal if the recipe is equally practical for a backpacker, canoeist or a campground camper.
  4. Consider selections from the entire menu - beverages, appetizers, main courses, side dishes and desserts. Also consider recipes that use seasonal ingredients. Send recipes in as many categories as you like.
  5. Submit recipes using generic terms rather than brand-name ingredients.
  6. Please use standard abbreviations for pound (# or lb.), cup (c), tablespoon (tbl.) and teaspoon (tsp.). Include preparation notes and suggest how many servings the recipes make.
  7. Include a phone number so we can call you if we need to clarify an ingredient or instruction.
  8. If you can include a photo of the cook preparing the recipe, so much the better. All photos will be returned for those who include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Send your recipes by April 1, 1999 to:

Campside Cooking
Wisconsin Natural Resources
P.O. Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707

Here are two recipes that have become family favorites.

Blackened Fish
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • tsp. white pepper
  • tsp. ground black pepper
  • tsp. dried thyme
  • tsp. dried oregano
  • margarine, melted
  • fresh fillets of a solid fish like bass, salmon or northern.

Mix the spices together at home and store in a shaker bottle. Dip fresh fish fillets in margarine and place on a paper plate lined with foil or plastic wrap. If the weather is really hot, put the fish in a cooler momentarily to congeal the margarine a bit on the fish. Sprinkle both sides of the fish liberally with the spice mixture.

Heat a dry cast iron pan over a warm campfire for six to eight minutes until it is really hot. Place the fish in the hot pan using a fork. The fish should smoke and sizzle immediately, nearly jumping from the pan as the hot fish quickly cooks. Cooking time varies with the thickness of the fillet. Plan on 1 minutes per side per half-inch of fillet. Turn fish with a metal spatula only once during cooking. Let the pan heat up again between batches. Allow 8-10 oz. of fish per person and serve with cool drinks.

Grilled Summer Vegetables
  • 4 six-inch yellow squash
  • 4 six-inch zucchini
  • one large sweet onion
  • one red pepper
  • one yellow pepper


  • 2 tbl. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbl. balsamic vinegar
  • tsp. dried thyme
  • tsp. dried oregano
  • tsp. garlic powder

Mix marinade ingredients and store in a small jar or plastic container.

Before your trip, clean and cut the squashes in half lengthwise. Peel and cut the onions horizontally into -inch round slices. Cut each pepper lengthwise into eight strips. Place all vegetables in a plastic, sealable bag, drizzle in a little olive oil, salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Seal and shake the ingredients.

At your campsite, pour the marinade into the bag of oiled vegetables and shake to distribute the mixture. Let the vegetables marinate for at least two hours and up to eight hours.

If your campfire has a closely-spaced grill, simply place the vegetables directly on the grill over a bed of hot coals and grill about four minutes per side. Otherwise, place squash and peppers in a single layer on aluminum foil. Top with the onion slices. Cover the vegetables with another layer of foil and crimp the edges to form a leakproof packet. Place the packet on a grill about three inches above hot coals and cook about eight minutes. Slide the packet off the heat. Open the foil and slide the packet back over the fire for another four minutes to absorb some woody flavors. Serves 2.

Editor David L. Sperling enjoys cooking up new ideas for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine readers.