Campfire Cooking Class Helps Nature Lovers Broaden Culinary Horizons

Photos by Scott McCloskey Local Webelos Pack 76 Scout Leader Tifani Fletcher sets a foil packet of different ingredients on the edge of a campfire ring near Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center, as her 7-year-old-daughter Patience watches in the background.

WHEELING — While just about everyone at one time or another has delighted in eating the traditional fire-roasted sweet treat known as s’mores — cooking over an open campfire can provide plenty of other delicious options for those venturing outdoors.

As Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center offered its fall “campfire cooking” class over the past two weeks, dozens of area residents turned out for two separate classes at the facility’s outdoor campfire ring and amphitheater to learn the basics of cooking over a campfire for a variety of reasons.

“The objective is to teach people the many ways you can cook around a campfire. Some people are familiar with cooking on a stick, whether it’s marshmallows or hot dogs — where we are going to show them a variety,” said Schrader Center Director Molly Check, who said it’s just a matter of getting people comfortable with the concept.

Whether it was cooking potatoes, onions and peppers in a simple foil packet or apple cobbler in a heavy, cast iron Dutch oven, Check said the objective was to show participants how to use the hot glowing coals from the campfire to make a variety of mouthwatering dishes. She said it is much easier to get things to cook evenly when using the heavier Dutch oven pots, because campers can stack hot coals not only around the pot, but on top of the lid as well.

After speaking to the class for almost 15 minutes, Check asked class participants to join in preparing several dishes before setting them around the outer edge of the campfire. She said when cooking in a foil packet it is important to put a little bit of oil or butter in the packet before adding the chopped-up ingredients.

“The foil packets, we will just put them right on the outside of our campfire ring … so it is not getting the direct heat. It’s going to be doing more of a slow cooking,” said Check, who is also a nature educator. “You can cook just about anything over the fire if you have the right kind of equipment.”

According to Check, it’s better to wait until the hot coals are glowing, rather than using the open flames.

While some of the recipes that required more cooking time simmered in iron pots, a number of participants elected to use cast iron “mountain pie” makers — which are placed on the coals for only a few minutes — to make fruit pies simply by sandwiching their favorite filling between two pieces of bread. Several Boy Scouts decided to use some of the cooking time to toast marshmallows on a long stick from a safe distance.

Scout Leader Tifani Fletcher of Webelos Pack 76 from Bethany said several children from the pack signed up for the class because it helps them fulfill one of their first-year required scouting activities called “Cast Iron Chef.” She said the Schrader Center class was a natural fit for what is already part of the Cub Scout curriculum.

“We’ve never done one of these before and thought it would be fun to check out,” Fletcher said.

Al and Patty Boehm of Martins Ferry said they signed up for the class because they have a lakefront house at Clendening Lake with an outdoor fire pit and the class would give them more options for outdoor cooking beyond just hot dogs and hamburgers.

Pat Jeffers of Wheeling said she decided to take her 11-year-old granddaughter, Patricia, to the class as a fun way for them to spend time together and because her granddaughter likes to go camping every summer with other family members.

Check said she loves being involved with programs like the campfire cooking class because it provides her the the opportunity to enjoy nature and the outdoors once in a while. She said the cooking class is a great family program that she has taught at many different places around the country and she finds it exciting that so many local people have taken an interest in the class.

Check recommends following basic fire prevention and safety guidelines and always use the appropriate equipment. She said to make sure to use a designated fire ring in a permitted area which is always supervised. She also recommends in teaching situations that one adult should be designated to add wood to the fire and to make sure the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the site.

Check said to make sure to have safety tongs or fire resistant oven mitts to aid in lowering kettles of food into the fire to avoid getting burnt. Some other safety tips offered by the National Fire Protection Agency suggest keeping campfires at least 25 feet away from any structure or flammable material, avoiding burning on windy days and making sure to clear away any dry leaves, brush or overhanging branches, never use gasoline or any flammable liquids and always have a hose, bucket of water or a shovel and dirt nearby to completely extinguish the fire before leaving the site.