So, what do you eat when you’re camping? Not summertime camping, mind you, when nature is full of delicious fungi and baby birds and centipedes to nourish you. No, I’m talking about if, for either work or pleasure, you decide to spend the Christmas season camping in a rather wintry outdoor setting, such as northern Michigan’s beautiful Wilderness State Park (pictured above).
The answer is, you eat beans. Now, it is important to realize and respect that there are as many different kinds of beans as there are methods of cooking them. For example, there is the salty (but saucy) Navy bean, and the slow-cooking Turtle bean. There is the indigenous Anasazi bean, and the Mung bean from Asia (best eaten with a heavy sprinkling of celery seed). Then there is the kidney bean (good for your urination), the Fava bean (my personal favarite), the Pinto bean (surprisingly large), the Lima bean (pronounced like Lima, Ohio, not Lima, Peru), and I could go on and on. There are lots of different kinds of beans.
But you’re camping, and it’s really freaking cold, and for camping in the cold, you want baked beans. These are typically Cannellini beans, but you can buy them pre-cooked in a big can at the supermarket. If you’re going to be camping for more than a few days, you’re going to need more beans than one person can easily carry, so make sure to distribute the weight evenly among the people in your party.
Now it’s important to say a few words about water. Although it’s unnecessary to add water to the beans themselves, at many points during your camping trip you will want water to drink. Your best bet is to camp near a fresh spring or babbling brook – if it’s babbling enough, it won’t freeze in subzero conditions. Don’t worry about bacteria… just bring the water to a rapid boil for a minimum of three minutes (more in high altitudes), and that will take care of anything living inside of it. It won’t take care of non-biological threats, but most of these pose only chronic, not acute, risk. You can also carry iodine tablets, available in any sporting goods store.
If you absolutely can’t find running water, you’ll have to melt snow. This is harder than it sounds. First of all, snow melts down to anywhere from an eighth to a tenth of its original volume; you will find yourself looking at a centimeter’s worth of water in your pot, and so you will continually have to venture out to find more snow. Of course you can pack the snow into the pot, but then you will be forced to deal with the fact that snow conducts heat much less efficiently than liquid water. The snow on the bottom will melt first and then quickly evaporate before passing its heat on to the frozen mass above. The snow level in your pot will shrink and emit steam, but you won’t get much water out of it by the end. Patience is the virtue here. Be aware that it may take up to an hour to gather enough snow for a full, boiling pot of water.
Now, as for the beans themselves. Open the can (it’s easy to forget to bring a can opener, but a strong metal knife will do in a pinch), dump them in your pot, and put them over the fire. Cover, not only to heat them faster, but also because rapidly heating beans tend to explode (you can test this in your microwave at home). At this point, a schism may arise among your party. Many believe that slicing bits of pre-cooked frankfurter into the beans improves the flavor of the dish and provides a certain camping ambiance. Others will argue that, since you are already camping, no further ambiance is required. I should note here that, no matter what you decide, vegan frankfurters work just as well as hoof/skin/brain frankfurters. Anyway, you can also cook hot dogs in the fire, and pour the beans over them. Works just as well, and makes a good compromise.
When you’re done, the bean residue on the pot will quickly freeze and congeal, mitigating the need to wash your pot between meals. Go forth and camp!