Season of Bonfires and Tailgate Parties

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Ahhh, September ushers in a cooler, quieter pace than summer’s frantic rush. OK, I understand that if you live in the Midwest, summer just arrived for us about a month ago and now it’s gone. Nevertheless, early fall definitely has its perks. It gives us time to take a breather and enjoy the out-of-doors before we get pushed in the rush of holiday mode.

Bonfires and tailgate parties are a great way to wind down the lazy summer days and ease into fall. There is no better way to gather friends round and have a good time with little to no expense. You can buy the fancy bonfire rings, but a circle of ordinary field rock works just as well. All you need is a space to keep the fire contained.

We have an old slab of cement where we placed rocks that works great. There is space to the side to stack the wood and for the chairs and nothing has to be moved to mow. My cousin Dick fashioned a rather unique bonfire pit that safeguards children and pets from getting burned.

He took landscaping rock and made the perimeter. Then around the top he made the layer a foot wide so little ones could not fall into the fire or step into it accidentally. It keeps the fun in the night but reduces the danger.

Of course while you are telling ghost stories and singing campfire songs, thoughts of campfire food come to mind. Roasted hotdogs and S’Mores are classic fare, but sometimes it is fun to put a new twist on things.

Here are some fun foods that are also quick, fun to make, and put a unique twist on campfire food:

Change up those S’Mores. Ditch the Hershey bar and replace it with a Reese’s or Kit Kat bar. Even better, think something gooey and caramelly that will just ooze with melted caramel when heated. Try chocolate-covered or cinnamon graham crackers and jazz up the whole S’More by throwing some fruit in the mix. Strawberries and bananas pair well with chocolate.

Speaking of bananas, try a grilled banana boat. Leave the banana in the peel and make a ½ inch deep slice lengthwise to about 1/2 inch of both ends. Stuff the crevice with chocolate chips, marshmallows, caramels or any of your other favorites. Wrap in foil and cook in the coals.

Make use of those fall apples. Core an apple, fill with peanut butter, raisins or cinnamon sugar then wrap in foil and bake in the coals for 15 minutes. Who says you can’t jazz up your healthy fruit!

Since we’re going with fruit, pineapple sticks are a tasty treat and so easy. Place long pineapple pieces on a stick and place over the fire, turning every 3 to 5 minutes until the fruit has caramelized.

Usually everyone has lingering tomatoes in early fall. Make use of that fire. Rub whole tomatoes with olive oil and place on the grate. Cook just until they are slightly charred. They can be chopped for salads, eaten with cottage cheese or any number of ways.

Campfire beans. Who doesn’t like these cooked slowly over an open fire. Just seems like the longer they cook, the better they taste. You can add about anything to this pot, with each ingredient tweaking the flavor in its own way. Molasses and honey adds a touch of sweetness. Bacon, ham or smoked sausage makes them a meal in themselves. Or you can go for the Mexican twist by adding onion, corn, diced tomatoes (how about some of those you just charred), chopped jalepeno and salt and pepper and then put in a taco shell with some meat.

Campfire Corn Dogs. Roll out pre-made biscuit dough while hot dogs are roasting over the fire. Wrap biscuits around dogs and, stick on a skewer and let cook until biscuits are done.

Frito Pie Bar. If you aren’t from the Lone Star State, the Frito Pie may be new to you. This may be more of a tailgate food instead of a bonfire food in the sense it doesn’t require cooking over the fire. In 1932, Daisy Dean Doolin, the mother of the founder of our present day Fritos, cooked Frito Pie for the first time in her kitchen. Layer Fritos, chili and cheese on top of your favorite meat (usually taco-seasoned ground beef). Add diced onions, pickled jalapeno rings, diced tomatoes, sour cream and whatever else your heart desires and pile on top. The sky is literally the limit as how high this can get.

Nuts. These can be so tasty when done over an open fire. For something spicy, take raw almonds, light canola oil, paprika, chili powder and cayenne, mix all together and roast. For a sweeter version, try raw pecans, canola oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. Don’t forget the traditional chestnuts either.

Fish. OK, bonfires and camping just naturally go hand-in-hand with fishing. If luck has been on your side that day, your trout, salmon, blue gills or whatever the fresh catch is never tastes better than when done over the open fire.

It doesn’t matter what food it is, everything tastes better when cooked over an open fire in the fresh air. The “up” side is that there is no mess to clean up in the kitchen, and who doesn’t appreciate that. There is no better season to get out in the cool, crisp air and enjoy some of nature’s bounty. All this talk about food is making me hungry, think I’ll head to the fire.