Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food On Fire

The summer of campfire cooking has come to its fiery climax.

Last weekend I was in the Finger Lakes for an assignment and for what passes for a bachelor party these days: hiking, dining, wine tasting and reading poetry. Well, dirty poetry.

On the first night we made dinner on the campfire using entirely local ingredients. For dessert I baked a blueberry free form tart with a rye crust on top of stones in a Dutch oven, which we nestled in the coals and covered with a smoldering log. It wasn't the best thing I've ever had, but the fact that it worked at all was kind of amazing. I had picked up the technique from my story on the Revolutionary War reenactment cook. (The skillet was for presentation -- it really did bake on rocks.)

Also delicious were some crostini we seared in fat leftover from frying ham. (The topping was the fat.)

On the second night we dined out but returned to the campsite to sit around the fire. As the flames died out, we were left with a bed of perfect cooking coals, and even though it was one in the morning and no one needed any more nutrition, we couldn't resist.

We started by searing a small block of scrapple, which accomplished two purposes. First, it made the scrapple more appetizing, warming the slightly gelatinous meat and giving it a nice crust. Second, it dried the scrapple out after it had sloshed around in the bottom of a cooler for a while. Does that kind of logic apply at bachelorette parties, too?

As the scrapple sizzled, one of our party was struck by a bolt of genius, which resulted in the scrapple being struck by a bolt of fire. I believe the phrase "flambé that sh*t" was uttered. Never before had I heard the word flambé used as a command, and never had it seemed like such a good idea.

I stuck the long stick we'd been using as a poker into the coals until it was aflame. We splashed rye whiskey into the iron skillet containing the scrapple, which sat directly atop the glowing coals. I touched the fiery stick to the alcohol, and voilà! Was it the world's first scrapple flambé? Probably not, but Google seems to think so. And it was insanely good.

But when you've been drinking tiny amounts of Riesling all day and sipping on rye by the campfire, you can't flambé just once. My mind raced as to what else we had that could be set on fire and consumed -- oatmeal, Terra chips, a watermelon? And then it hit me: bananas.

Soon a larger iron skillet was sizzling with a fat lump of local pasture butter we'd pick up earlier. In went two ripe bananas that had been warming in a hot car all day. They quickly browned, and once flipped, I doused them with a dangerous amount of Glen Thunder, a corn whiskey from the region's only distillery. The poker stick was again lit on fire. The flame was passed to the pan, and along with the alcohol, Dave's previous life as a bachelor disappeared in a pillar of fire.

We reduced the jus that had accumulated in the pan, took the skillet off the coals and drizzled the bananas with local honey. What had started as a terrible/wonderful idea turned into one of the best desserts I'd ever had a hand in. Call it corn whiskey campfire bananas foster sans a la mode. We stood around the pan with a flashlight and gobbled them up. If it wouldn't have caught my tongue on fire, I would have licked the pan.

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