De Grey River Rest Area 18th-23rd June
Here was the place where I was converted to the ways of the camp oven.
I had heard of it before and seen it done but never before had I experienced the “woman versus fire” wave of euphoria which passes over oneself when a meal has been successfully cooked over burning embers.
I have to give credit to our wonderful neighbours Len and Heather from Portland. It was them who sent me down the path I was now destined to travel. Just me and my caste iron camp oven.
The first afternoon when we arrived we said our hellos and quickly got chatting. They had their grandson, Josh, with them so our kids soon weaved themselves into his corner of the camping-spot. A camp fire pit had already been laid out and they mentioned that they would probably be cooking their dinner there. I was slightly intrigued at that point but had a lot of stuff still to unpack and set up so our dinner was made the tried and tested way.
It wasn't till the next day that any real discussion about meal preparation was more thoroughly explored. We had spent most of the day completing some long over due school work with the boys and were finally relaxing when our new friends came home from their days adventures.
One thing led to another and suddenly I was bending over a pot of spag bol which I was reheating while balls of tin foil filled with potato were baking in the hot coals. A hugely successful meal if I don't mind saying so myself.
The next day, as more school work was being done, I was thinking about what I would be cooking that evening over the fire pit. Although Rasmus spent most of his day washing the red iron ore dust from our clothes I would ask his opinion about what we should eat, trying to gain inspiration and direction.
I eventually settled on an egg curry dish that was well accepted by the family. However, I let myself down considerably by not only boiling the eggs on the caravan's gas burner but also cooking the rice there. I was crushed and although the curry itself was completed on the fire I never really forgave myself for this set back so early in my camp-fire-cooking career.
A new morning and another day spent going over the mistakes of the day before. What was I going to do to make up for yesterday's lapses?
It wasn't till a fated trip to check on my son that everything fell into place. The campground was situated next to a river and Ben had spent most of his time playing in the water collecting algae and small fish. After checking out his latest finds I wandered back to our own van but not before passing an elderly couple and starting up a conversation with them. They had noticed we had camp fires each night and wondered if we might like to borrow their camp oven. They were not going to be using it and suggested I might like to try baking a damper, supplying their own fail proof recipe into the bargain.
You couldn't wipe the smile from my face as a carried the heavy pot across the road back to our place. I told everyone what I would be doing that night for dinner and put Len and Heather on standby for their input with the finer details of my first baking experience.
Returning to our van I prepared the damper dough according to Jim's recipe and when it was mixed to perfection I laid it into the oiled and floured camp oven.
Rasmus had stoked up the fire and the coals where a glorious fusion of throbbing reds and oranges. We were ready for the baking.
The pot was lowered onto the coals and the waiting began.
Half an hour later we smelt delicious aromas wafting from the blackened vessel alerting us to the damper's readiness. We lifted the lid and there it was, the staff of life in all its golden goodness. We waited as long as we could before cutting into the loaf and it was perfect. And I was hooked.
The next day while Rasmus washed more dirty clothes and bed sheets, Molly and Kasper rode their bikes and Ben went on walkabout with Len to find some rocks worthy of Len's collection I spent my time cleaning the camp oven ready to return it to its owners. While I cleaned I dreamed of all the wonderful meals I would be preparing in future camping holidays.
When I finally went to return the pot the owners said I could keep it and use it again tonight, they had no plans for using it. Wow! I was excited. I took the pot home with me again and thought about the evening's meal. I had originally taken out the standby minced meat but with my magic pot I had more adventurous ideas. Deep in the freezer I had bought a roast. It must have been fate as it was the first roast I had bought on our trip and it had only been purchased a few days ago!! I pulled it out wondering if it would defrost in time. Only time would tell.
The rest of the day was spent doing much of nothing. The kids played with Josh, rode their bikes and drew pictures. I took myself off to the river and had a bath. It was so refreshing and I felt so clean after the dustiness of the campgrounds we had been living at. Rasmus was often seen reading his Kindle after a long morning of washing.
In between these activities I prodded and poked the frozen meat checking to see if it had sufficiently defrosted.
In the afternoon Len took some of the others to try their luck at fishing while Heather and I stayed back to drink wine and chat. Rasmus came back at one stage to get his snorkeling gear on as his line had gotten snagged. We wished him luck. We had been hearing an often repeated story about a 6ft Bull shark which had been caught last year, or last month, or 5 years ago, depending on who told the story so we thought Rasmus might need it, the luck that is.
At last the moment came to building the fire and getting the coals ready for the inaugural roast cooking. Unfortunately, it took a long time to get them to the stage we needed. The kids were getting antsy so I compromised my dinner menu and boiled some 2 minute noodles for them. It turned out to be good thing as Rasmus and I didn't eat before 8pm!
To cook the food Rasmus dug a hole and filled it with the burning embers, we then lowered the pot down and covered the lid with more coals. Now to wait.
After half an hour or so we had a look and added some vegies to the pot. Another 20 mins and it should be done!
And it was and it was so amazingly delicious. Melt in your mouth delicious.
In the morning we decided to extend our stay for yet another day. Our overnight rest stop had already been stretched out to a four night mini stay. But for me it was another opportunity to use the magic vessel.
It was Skt Hans tonight. The Danish celebration of the longest day of the year, and coincidentally, John the Baptist's birthday from which the day is named after. We spent the day doing the usual stuff. More study for the boys, going for walks and reading. When the afternoon came Ben and I designed a rusticly styled witch which we would be adorning our bonfire with that evening.
I cooked chicken noodle soup on the fire and had also prepared a big damper for the camp oven which we would have for dessert. I was nervous about this as the owners of the oven and Jim himself, writer of the damper recipe, would also be at our Skt Hans celebrations.
After dinner we placed the pot onto the beautifully glowing embers and waited the half an hour till it was cooked. As it was lifted out we could see how perfectly baked it was. I watched Jim as he ate his slice and finally he declared that it was delicious and was very proud of me. I was proud of me too.
We lit the fire again and watched the witch burn as we sang “Midsommer Visen”. It was a lovely evening and I one I would long remember.
They weren't all successes though. Each morning the fire would be relit and after the billy was boiled I would try and make the day's bread in the remaining coals.
The first time the loaf, although cooked, was burnt on the bottom and a thick slice had to be removed before we could eat it. On our second attempt, being over cautious, the bread was removed from the coals too early and when we cut into it there was a huge doughy center. We had rice cakes for lunch that day.
Each attempt has been a learning experience for me and I am happy for my six days initiation into the mysterious world of camp oven cooking.
Now we move on to new campgrounds to explore and new campfires to cook on.