Campfire Cooking and Tin Plates Help Us Enjoy Winter

A campfire, and especially campfire cooking, and a walk in the woods jar memories of days gone by.

| March/April 2010

  • Campfire in the Woods
    A campfire in the woods, coupled with a tin plateful of beans, helps our family get the most out of winter weather.
    illustration by Michele Tremaine
  • Plateful of Beans
    Eating beans off of a tin plate with a metal spoon brings to mind watching Westerns in my childhood home.
    illustration by Michele Tremaine

  • Campfire in the Woods
  • Plateful of Beans

We shuffle around the fire, trying to escape the stream of black that undulates out of the pit. I dip the stainless steel cup into the pot of snow my husband has melted and lift it to my lips. I smell the smokiness a split second before I taste it; it has worked its way into the water, too. I give my daughter a taste. She crinkles her nose.

My husband unwraps some smoky bacon and slaps the slices into the cast-iron pan he has hiked into the woods with earlier today.

This must be how I fell in love with him.

Growing up, I spent winters watching Westerns with my dad in the living room after he came in from chores. When he’d fall asleep in the recliner, I’d wander to the kitchen and open a can of baked beans, pour them out onto a plate, grab a wooden spoon and slurp them up. I could hear the high hum of my mother’s sewing machine out on the porch, the only place we had any extra room for her to work. The machine drowned out my attempts at clanking the spoon into the plate as hard as I could, to make it sound like I was eating out of a tin plate. But I never felt quite satisfied. I wanted the beans hot, a metal cup of something to drink and a fire to sit around.



My parents weren’t the kind to indulge us in outdoor adventure. The northern Plains seemed to either be sweltering or blustery, and both my parents worked hard, one at farming, the other long hours in town so we could have health insurance. In my adulthood, I have forgiven them. But in my childhood, I inwardly longed for outdoor thrills: for ocean spray on my face, mountain trails beneath my feet, and, yes, a campfire with a plateful of beans.

Up north, winters can drag on – especially with a toddler. My husband and I play outside with our little daughter as long as we can take it. But the great expanse of white bores her after a while. Repeatedly tripping on snow chunks the size of her head soon loses its luster. Sometimes we still squeeze her into the baby backpack, and John hauls her into the woods, which are much more exciting. We catch glimpses of whitetails leaping up over logs and away. We whisper to our daughter, “Uh-oh, let’s hope we don’t wake up the bear.” Mystery waits just around the next bend. Way-up-there treetops harbor scolding red squirrels, and, the day of our fire, a porcupine.






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