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Camp Oven Cuisine

I quickly discovered that camp ovens were fantastic for virtually everything from frying to roasting and stews, and when you throw in baking and bread-making, you have virtually the whole cooking field covered!

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Alex Gale
Vegetarian: Indian word for lousy hunter.
Camp ovens
4APeople can be experts in their ignorance. I was no different. I’d come into hunting on the tail end of the great era of the deer cullers and, in a sub-conscious way, considered all that was current to be superior to the past. A typical trap of youth. The cullers, of course, used .303’s, whereas we had modern Mauser-type rifles. We were starting to use scopes, whereas they had used open sights, and in both those respects we probably had the right idea. The old .303’s, nostalgia aside, were military junk, and scopes are definitely superior to open sights, even in the bush.
However, in one key respect I missed the boat completely. For some strange reason, I thought that the camp ovens they used were, likewise, relics of the past, and so for years I discounted their use. Then, when I was living in Taupo in the 90’s I had my eyes opened and, swallowing my pride, I purchased one. I was amazed at how useful and versatile they are, and the culinary pleasures associated with my hunting trips, especially the fly-in trips, went to another level. I’ve always been one to appreciate my food in the hills and, with the added bonus of actually enjoying cooking, I was hooked. I quickly discovered that camp ovens were fantastic for virtually everything from frying to roasting and stews, and when you throw in baking and bread-making, you have virtually the whole cooking field covered! They made being stuck in a hut on rainy days an adventure in cooking, eating and reading rather than an endurance feat.
Camp ovens, or Dutch ovens as they are more correctly called, are a cast iron, thick-walled cooking pot. They were certainly not an invention of the old deer cullers; in fact as their name implies, they originate from Holland where they have been in use for several centuries. The cast iron cookware was also widely used by colonists and settlers in the USA because of its versatility and durability. The ovens were so valuable that wills in the 18th and 19th centuries frequently spelled out the desired inheritor of the cast iron cookware. Today you can buy a huge range of camp ovens, from 2 quart (1.9 litres) to 12 quart (11.3 litres), with rounded or flat tops. Some more recent ones are made of aluminium, but in my opinion these are inferior because aluminium doesn’t hold its heat like cast iron. Another option is a portable one made from stainless steel.
Camp ovens are not the sort of gear you’d carry on a pack-in trip, but for a fly-in trip they’re wonderful. We’ve feasted on chicken and beef roasts, great stews, scones and lots of other goodies. In fact my wife, Ros, used to reckon we ate better in the hills than she did at home! I have a 2 quart (1.9 L) model and I find it large enough for virtually all my needs.
While working on this book, and inspired by the thought of camp ovens, I came across a handbook of camp cooking, written by a guy from the now defunct NZ Forest Service. While some of it is a bit dated, it contains a wealth of great information for any aspiring camp chef who wants to use a camp oven, along with a bit of old time nostalgia. I have edited out significant parts, but the reader can go to for information on cooking tinned fish, tinned meat, eels, heart, liver, kidneys, brains, Canadian geese, and canned vegetables in a camp oven. Another good website for camp oven recipes, Aussie style, is

D.M. Cowlin

Thousands of excellent cookery books have been published but few, if any, are entirely devoted to camp cooking with the limited rations and cooking facilities involved. When camping for some months in the hills, as Forest Service hunters do, a knowledge of how to prepare nutritious meals is essential to good, healthy living under rugged conditions.

This text is intended to assist those whose cooking experience is limited and it may also provide the more experienced with some helpful hints. Recipes are mainly based on Forest Service rations as supplied to hunters and others whose work takes them into the mountains or bush. All the recipes have been tried and tested many times under camp conditions. If the measurements and instructions given in the text are carefully followed there should be little fear of failure. It will be noted that the methods for measure of ingredients vary – for example, one recipe may say “2oz of butter”, another may say “2 dessertspoons of butter”. Both are the same, but the book is written in this way to help the tyro (beginner) guess weights accurately. At the end of the text are appendices dealing with cooking terms, cooking heats, weights and measures, and use and storage of foodstuffs.

Cleanliness is most important in good cooking. One cannot expect a loaf of bread to be a success if the mixing bowl was used the day before to wash a pair of socks in. Likewise, clean hands and fingernails are a must when handling foodstuffs. Many harmful bacteria which the hands carry around are not destroyed during cooking and can cause serious stomach upsets.

Serving is also important. This may sound ridiculous in the bush, but an attractively laid out plate looks much more appetising than one where everything has been piled up together. It takes little time or effort to neatly arrange potatoes and vegetables on a plate, and believe me this is appreciated by even the most hardened back country men.

4CAn important facet in baking is the condition of the flour. Lumpy or flour with weevils or even old flour will not give such good results as clean fresh flour. (Flour will keep well for many months if stored in an airtight tin.) If your camp has a flour sifter, use it. In baking, do not be afraid to use butter that has gone rancid; it makes perfect scones and any harmful bacteria are destroyed during the cooking, which also destroys any unpleasant taste.

Camp-oven bread is often spoiled through poor preparation, and the following tips will assist in making a good loaf:

  • Ingredients must be kept warm but not too hot or too cold, otherwise the yeast will
    be destroyed. Blood heat is ideal. Yeast is a living organism and must be treated as such; hence the importance of warm temperatures which allow it to multiply (work).
  • Too much kneading will cause split crusts.
  • Too little kneading causes holes in the loaf.
  • Too much salt will result in slow rising of the dough.
  • Too little salt will result in the loaf rising too quickly and forming holes in the loaf.
  • Too much yeast and the loaf will have a strong taste. Too little yeast results in a slow rising loaf and a tough one.

4DA good bed of coals is essential in bread making. While waiting for the dough to rise
(about 1/2 to 1 hour), heap the fire up with good firewood (preferably round pieces
because these leave a better ember than split firewood). By the time the bread is ready to go on the fire the ashes should be ideal. Place the camp oven about 18 inches above the red hot embers and also cover the lid of the camp oven with red hot embers (using a shovel or other implement such as a large piece of tin). Do not put any more firing on while the bread cooks. (We cooked bread successfully with the camp oven sitting well to one side of the fire, heaped with ashes on the top –Ed)

When the bread is cooked (usually after 1 hour), carefully remove the camp-oven lid by slipping a billy hook under the handle of the lid and lifting. If the loaf is stuck in the camp oven, take a firm hold of the wire handle of the oven (use a cloth) and give it a sharp, circular twist. If two or three attempts still fail to shift the loaf, stand the camp oven on a well soaked cloth for a minute. The loaf should, however, come out quite easily if the camp oven was well greased before placing the dough in.

4EA loaf may be inspected during cooking by slipping the edge of a knife under the lid and raising it gently for an inch. As a rule the loaf cooks quite thoroughly in 1 hour. When ready, the loaf should have a hollow sound when knocked on the bottom and should be well risen and nicely browned with a crisp crust. To make sure it is cooked in the middle, a thin, clean stick may be pushed through the centre of the loaf. When withdrawn, it should be clean if the loaf is cooked. If the stick has wet batter sticking to it the loaf is not cooked.

Basic Bread Mixture – Full Camp Oven Loaf

  • Half a Camp oven (standard size) of dry flour4F
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons sugar
  • Stir in 1 level teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons (heaped) milk powder

Mix together thoroughly in a warm basin or camp oven.

Yeast Mixture

  • 1½ pint (.85 L) mugs warm water (blood heat)
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon sugar
  • 2 level dessertspoons yeast (dry)

To check yeast for freshness place a little in a mug half full of warm water with a little
sugar; the yeast should begin to “erupt” in a short time; if not, discard the whole bottle of yeast and use a fresh one. Check the date stamped on the yeast bottle (it usually states a date after which it may no longer be expected to work).

Make the yeast mixture first and while it is working prepare the dry ingredients. Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients after it has “erupted” (about 20 minutes). Mix to a firm dough, adding more flour or warm water if necessary and knead by turning the dough and pressing the knuckles firmly into it. Do this for a good 5 minutes. Place the dough into a greased camp oven (lid greased, too) and allow to rise in a warm place until mixture is about 1 inch from the top of the camp oven. (It is important that the dough is not bumped while rising, otherwise it will have to be kneaded again and allowed to rise once more.) Place oven carefully about 18 inches above a good layer of red hot embers, cover lid well with red hot embers, and allow to cook for 1 hour.

Turn loaf out onto a clean cloth when cooked and cover with cloth to absorb moisture for ½ hour before eating. There are numerous other bread making methods, but the above one is best for camp cooking.

Bread Rolls (Yeast)
Make a small amount of the basic bread mix. Break off dough in pieces the size of a
plum; allow to double their size in a greased camp oven in a warm place and cook as
bread for ½ to ¾ hour.

Yeast Buns
Basic bread mixture but with extra milk powder (approx 1 tablespoon). Prepare and cook as bread rolls, but paint top with sugar and water mixture when cooked (this prevents a hard crust forming).

Camp Oven Fruit Cake (eggless)
2lb flour (2 ½ x 1 pt. Mugs = 1.4L)
8oz butter (.25kg or 8 tablespoons)
1lb sugar (1 x 1 pt. Mug = .56L)
1 tablespoon golden syrup (not essential)
1 lb fruit (raisins, dates, sultanas, on their own or mixed) (a 1 pt. mug full = .56L)
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
Mix butter and sugar together until creamed. Add golden syrup and flour mixed with
baking powder and then the fruit, mix with prepared milk to a consistency that is not too stiff. Grease well a small camp oven, pour mixture in and let stand for 15 minutes. Bake as you would bread for 1½ to 2 hours.
Cheek with wooden splinter after 1½ – 2 hours. This cake is best left overnight before
cutting. It will last for several days and does not go dry. Very nutritious on the hill.

For good scones, the following tips should be noted:
Do not roll dough out hard – this makes tough scones.
Too much baking powder gives a salty taste.
Thoroughly rub butter into dry ingredients. (When flour feels like breadcrumbs, it’s right.)
After mixing with water, handle mixture as little as possible.
Cook immediately on mixing – waiting destroys baking powder raising effect.
Test baking powder by placing a little in a small amount of water; it should bubble.
Discard if it does not bubble.

Scones (Girdled)

  • 1 pint mug flour (.56L)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 level teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 heaped tablespoon milk powder

Mix dry ingredients together and rub butter well into the mixture. Add water and mix to a light dough. Press out with the hand on a floured bench to about 12 mm thick.

Do not roll out hard. Cut off squares with a floured knife, place into a greased camp oven, and cook over hot embers for 5 minutes each side or until brown. They can be cooked as bread, with the oven lid on and well covered with red hot embers. This takes about 20 minutes.

Scones (Fried)
Mixture as above and fry squares in deep hot fat until golden brown. Alternatively, fry in shallow fat and turn when brown underneath.

Pancakes or Eggless Pikelets

  • ½ pint mug flour (.28 L)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons milk powder
  • 2 level dessertspoons sugar

Mix with water to a medium paste, drop tablespoonfuls onto a hot, greased camp oven, turn over when many bubbles appear on top (2 or 3 minutes each side), serve hot with golden syrup or butter.

Doughnuts (Yeast)
Basic bread mixture (see previous), break off pieces the size of a plum, allow to double their size in a warm place and place in hot deep fat and fry until golden brown, remove from the fat and roll in sugar. Allow to cool before eating.

Doughnuts (Baking Powder)
Use baking powder bread mixture (see previous). Break off pieces. Roll into balls and fry in deep fat as above. Do not wait for these to rise but cook immediately after mixing.

Some Information on Meat
Fresh meat is best left to hang for at least 24 hours before cooking.

Frying Tips
Only use a minimum of fat, i.e. ¼ inch or less in camp oven.
Fat must be very hot.
Not too much steak in the oven at the same time.
Cook with the oven lid off to lose steam.
In frying steak, if the fat is not hot enough the outside pores of the meat are not sealed.
This permits the loss of juices, consequently toughening the steak. Very hot fat seals the pores instantly, retaining the juices and resulting in a tender steak. Too much meat cools the fat rapidly resulting in loss of juices into the fat and the meat is more or less boiled in its own juice, which toughens it.
Never cut steak with the grain, always across the grain. The fibres of a steak cut with the grain, on being placed in hot fat, will immediately contract, resulting in toughness.
Never fry steak too long – 3-4 minutes each side is ample; less for those who prefer it rare.

Roasting Tips
Do not put too much fat on the roast – it is unnecessary and the roast becomes greasy.
Leave the camp oven lid off occasionally to lose excess steam, or better still, only half cover the camp oven with the lid occasionally for up to 10 minutes.
Keep the roast well above flames. A medium heat makes a better job than too hot a fire.

Stewing Tips
Never boil, only simmer, as boiling toughens steak.
Place meat in cold water and bring up to required temperature.
Cook with the oven lid on to retain steam.

Fried Venison Steak
Place two tablespoons of fat into a camp oven and bring up to a very hot temperature.
Cut good frying steaks about 8 mm thick, place into hot fat and fry for 3 to 4 minutes each side; serve immediately.

Roast Venison
Select a choice piece of venison (eg. topside). Size according to the number of persons.
Sprinkle a little flour on the bottom of the camp oven and add about ¼ lb of fat (not too much). Lay the roast in and sprinkle more flour over the cut. Salt the roast and place the oven on the fire well above the flames. Turn the roast after each hour. A normal topside roast of about 6 lb (2.2 lbs to a kg) should take 2 to 3 hours to cook. Plenty of residue is left for a rich gravy if roasting is done in the above way. Occasional basting improves a roast and prevents its going dry. Note: Normal roasting time 25-30 minutes per pound.

Braised Venison Steak
Select 4 to 6 large stewing steaks and lay on top of 4 to 5 onions cut into rings in your camp oven. Add one dessertspoon of fat. Sprinkle with flour and salt and pepper, brown for hour, then add 1 mug (1 pint =.56L) of vegetable juice or water. Keep the lid on the camp oven while cooking. Simmer for l hour, stirring occasionally. Thicken, if required, with dry soup or a flour and water paste. Potato powder is also ideal for thickening for braised steak, but be careful you do not use too much.

Stewed Venison (Brown)
Cut 2 or 3 lb (about 1.5 kg) of stewing venison in one-inch cubes. Place this in a camp oven with a dessertspoon of fat, cook lightly until brown. Add the following:-

  • 2 or 3 onions cut in rings or a handful of dried onions
  • 1 large tin of mixed vegetables and juice
  • Pinch of mixed herbs
  • 2 dessertspoons packet soup or rice
  • 2 dessertspoons macaroni
  • 2 pints (just over 1 L) cold water
  • 1 teaspoon yeast extract (i.e. Marmite)

For a “white” stew do not brown the meat first, simply place the meat in cold salted water,
bring to the boil, and add the rest of the ingredients after 1 hour of simmering. Simmer for a further hour (add a little more water if necessary). Then add 2 packets of dried soup, any kind (optional). Simmer for a further 1 hour or longer if possible. Thicken further with a little flour and water if required and serve. A good stew should be cooked for at least 2 hours before serving.

Fruit Roly Poly
1 lb flour (1¼ 1 pint mugs – .7L))
2 teaspoons baking powder (slightly rounded)
½ lb good clean dripping (fresh and uncooked)
pinch salt
1 oz sugar (1 dessertspoon of sugar (heaped) weighs ½ oz)
4 oz raisins, sultanas or dates (4 tablespoons full – heaped)
Mix baking powder, salt and flour, rub in fat and mix with cold water to make a soft but not sticky dough. Roll out and sprinkle fruit and sugar over it. Roll up again, carefully tie a clean floured cloth over mixture, a clean tea towel is ideal. Place in boiling water in camp oven and boil for 3 hours, be sure water does not boil dry. Keep lid on. Cut off servings and pour custard over them. It is also good cold and eaten as cake. Very filling and nourishing.

Steam Pudding (Plain)
2 dessertspoons sugar
1 pint mug flour (.56L)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 dessertspoons butter
2 dessertspoons milk powder
Rub butter well into dry ingredients. Prepare a double boiler by quarter filling a large billy with water and bring to boil. Grease a small billy which will fit in the large billy with the lids on both. Add water to the ingredients and mix to a heavy paste. Half fill the small greased billy with the pudding mixture and cover the top with clean paper and press lid on tight.
Place in large billy and press lid on tight. Steam for 1 to 1½ hours. Add more boiling
water to large billy if necessary during cooking to prevent boiling dry.
By deleting sugar and adding two tablespoons of golden syrup a sweet brown pudding will result. By adding jams, sultanas or dates, etc., a variety of puddings can be made. A lighter pudding can be obtained by using a commercially prepared shredded suet instead of butter.

Steam puddings are best served with custard made as follows:
Prepare 1 pint of powdered milk and water (see instructions on milk tin). Mix 1 heaped dessertspoon custard powder with a little cold water to a smooth paste (Instructions on custard powder packet.) When milk reaches the boil, add custard powder slowly, stirring it briskly into the milk (remove from the fire while doing this) to a desired thickness. Sugar can be added if required to the custard powder paste before mixing in the milk. By rolling sultanas or dates well into flour before putting into the wet pudding mix and stirring them through gently, they will not sink to the bottom of the pudding while it cooks.
To tell if a steamed pudding is cooked, push a very thin, clean stick down the centre of a pudding to the bottom of the billy. On removing the stick it will be clean if the pudding is cooked. If the stick has wet batter sticking to it the pudding is not sufficiently cooked.

Rice Pudding
Prepare rice in the following manner. Add 1 pint of cold water to ¼ lb of rice, stir well and strain water off. Add a further pint of water and place over the fire. When the rice reaches the boil, strain water off again and add another pint of cold water. Repeat the process once more. When strained, add the following:
1 lb sultanas (.4kg)
2 dessertspoons sugar
2 heaped tablespoons of milk powder
1 pint (.56L) of cold water
Mix well and simmer over fire for 20 minutes. Strain and serve with stewed fruit.
The above method results in large separate rice grains. Rice can simply be placed in cold water, brought to the boil, and simmered for 20 minutes if desired, but it is inclined to be sticky.
If rice is required as a substitute for potatoes, cook it either of the above ways, but do not add any other ingredients, only a pinch of salt.

Stewed Fruit (Dried)
The best method of cooking dried fruit such as apples, prunes or apricots, is to place
sufficient for the meal into cold water, apply heat and simmer until tender. Boiling tends to make the fruit too mushy. Do not add sugar while cooking as the juice turns syrupy and reaches a high temperature. Sprinkle sugar over the fruit, if required, after it is cooked.

½ pint mug flour (.28L)
2 dessertspoons milk powder
1 level dessertspoon baking powder
Dash salt and pepper
Mix with water to a medium paste and let stand for ¼ hour and stir.

12 oz flour (one 1 pt mug or approx .56L)
4 oz butter (or 4 oz prepared shredded suet – 4 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon milk powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Rub butter well into dry ingredients or mix well with shredded suet. Add sufficient water to make a firm dough. Break off pieces, roll into balls and place into boiling water or simmering stew. Allow at least 30 minutes for cooking.

1 pint mug breadcrumbs
pinch mixed herbs
pepper and salt
1 onion
1 tablespoon butter or fat
Cut onion up finely and mix well into crumbs with herbs, salt and pepper. Rub butter well in until fairly moist – use extra butter if necessary. The stuffing can be used meat roasts also. Simply slice a pocket in the meat, then add stuffing, sew up, and roast.

A 1 inch (2.5cm) cube of bread will turn brown in 1 minute in fat that is approximately 190°C. If the hand can be held about 18 inches (45cm) over hot embers (such as used in bread cooking) for a fast count of five, the temperature is about 176°C (ideal for bread).
Fat will burn at temperatures over 230°C. Fat starts to smoke slightly at 190°C
Butter will burn at a little over 150°C. Milk boils at a lower temperature than water.
(approximately 85°C for milk) and the boiling point decreases as the altitude increases.
Water, at sea level, boils at 100°C. With increased altitude the boiling point decreases, e.g. at 6000 ft above sea level water will boil at 93°C (deduct 2° for each 1000 ft above sea level) and will not get any hotter. Hence the “floaters” when tea is made at very high altitudes. Coffee or cocoa is a better beverage at extreme heights.

Line drawings by I. Lyall (Hokitika), G. Anderson (Wellington), and Mrs J. Neil (Wellington).
Edited and re-printed by:
WJ Simmons
Senior Environmental Forest Ranger
Environmental Forestry Division
NZ Forest Service, Palmerston North
Surface protecting a new cast iron camp oven

(Taken from:
When you first purchase a new camp oven you will have to surface protect it. If you follow these simple steps on how to season a camp oven or how to surface protect a camp oven then your camp oven should last many years. Cast iron camp ovens are great for cooking awesome tasting camp meals and if you take the time to look after them they should last for generations of use.
When you bring a cast iron camp oven home from the shop you need to protect its surface. To do this you should first preheat your conventional oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you will need to ventilate your kitchen (and house for that matter) the best way you can. To do this open up your doors and windows, put on your oven’s range hood and switch on your ceiling fans. Also remove any pets or children that might be in the area and make sure they are supervised while you prepare your camp oven for surface protection. You need to go to these extremes as you will be baking your cast iron camp oven in your conventional oven and the smoke will cause headaches and irritations.
Now that your house is ventilated you need to coat your cast iron camp oven in oil. You can use cooking oils like vegetable oil, canola oil or olive oil to coat your camp oven. Make sure you cover the entire surface of the camp oven, even the bottom and the inside and outside of the cast iron lid. Now place your camp oven inside your conventional oven and ‘bake’ your camp oven for at least half an hour. You are trying to burn off all the oil as the oil penetrates into the cast iron surface. You will get a lot of smoke so you might have to cover or fan your smoke detectors.
Once your camp oven has been in your conventional oven until the oil has been burnt off you now need to carefully remove the camp oven and it’s lid from and place it outside or on a protected surface to cool. Don’t cool your camp oven with water otherwise it will crack; you should air cool your camp oven. When your camp oven has cooled enough to touch, you need to recoat it with oil and repeat the baking process. You need to do this again as you will notice the surface of your camp oven is patchy with glossy oil.
Once you have repeated this process your camp oven should have an even glossy coating and it should now be black and not the dull grey that it was when you bought it new.
Now your cast iron camp oven is ready to use! All you have to remember is after each use, clean it, then just apply an even coat of cooking oil with a cloth or rag before storing it away (there is no need to re-bake the camp oven).
You could do this baking of the camp oven in a camp fire, but you will end up with uneven surface protection because of the nature of a fire. In a conventional oven you will get a more controlled and even bake on your camp oven.
Hope these tips help you get the most life out of your camp oven.

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