Camping is great. You’re out in the clean, fresh air, traveling through glorious unspoiled wilderness, free and self-reliant, sucking out the marrow of life, etc. etc. This is why people forsake the comforts of warm beds and indoor plumbing to sleep on the ground and poop in the woods.
And then, sometimes, things get rough. The temperature drops to 20 below, and the stars are gorgeous, but you have nowhere to sleep but out on a frozen lake, and, finally, after you’ve put on every item of clothing you have brought with you and nestled deep down inside your two sleeping bags so you’re all mummied up like King Tut, you’re warm—but oh shit you have to pee, and holding it requires more warmth than actually getting up and going, but then you have to get back in again and one of the sleeping bag zippers is detached and the other is stuck, and breathing warm air on the zipper only makes it worse because your breath condenses and freezes, and where the hell did your headlamp go, and your glasses have slipped out of their pocket and please, please, don’t roll over and break them because then you’ll be even more screwed, and it’s probably hours before the sun comes up and you’re going to freeze and only after half an hour of wrestling with those damned zippers do you dare wake someone up to help you because you are a helpless baby even though it’s four in the morning or something like that, and oh god, oh god, you will die out here on the ice, and this is what real panic feels like.
You waste several minutes arguing with yourself that your expedition leaders would rather be woken up than have to deal with you frostbitten, and then you finally go for help and get zipped back in, and somehow you sleep for a couple of hours, because the next thing you know, there is light and someone is yelling that the temperature has risen to a whopping 19 below. You drag yourself out of your sleeping bag and into your boots and start moving around, doing campsite chores—getting water from the ice hole, cracking sticks into twigs for kindling, stuffing your damned sleeping bags back into your backpack—because moving is better than standing by the fire, even though that’s all you really want to do. The temperature creeps up to 10 below, but in a few minutes, the sun will peep up over the hills and shine its glory down on everybody and it will be a steamy 20! Just have some faith!
But even more restorative than sunlight and a quick jog are coffee and doughnuts. This claim might not be backed up by science, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, both from city people and seasoned campers. (They serve them after religious ceremonies, don’t they?) Coffee is an essential camping staple, but if you are truly blessed, you will be traveling with someone who had the foresight to bring along the ingredients for campfire doughnuts and the dexterity to prepare them.
To be clear, you would probably not want to eat campfire doughnuts back home in civilization, especially if you happen to live near a really good doughnut shop or if you have conquered your fear of deep-frying. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere, cold and frightened (or suffering the humiliating aftermath of being cold and frightened), a campfire doughnut, like a lot of food cooked over campfires, is magical and restorative. It must be the carcinogens. And full sunlight at last.
Courtesy of Peter Gmitro, Nora DuBois, and the Voyageur Outward Bound School, Ely, Minnesota
- Bagels (Don’t get fancy; Lender’s are fine)
- Jam or jelly, any flavor
- Oil (Again, no need for fanciness; plain old vegetable or canola will do)
- Cinnamon sugar
Build a campfire and boil enough water for coffee. A French press would come in handy right about now, but if you’re desperate enough, instant coffee will also do. If using a French press, pour the boiling water over the grounds and wait approximately 4 minutes.
Split a bagel in half, spread jam or jelly over the cut sides, and then sandwich the whole thing back together. Repeat with as many bagels as you want.
Cover the bottom of a cast iron skillet with about half an inch of oil and then set it over the campfire to heat. You will probably have to hold onto the skillet handle to maintain its balance, so be careful and always wear gloves. When the oil is hot enough that a drop of water bounces, put the bagels in the pan and fry them until they’re crispy on the outside. Then flip and fry on the other side. You might burn them a little. That’s okay. The magic of campfire cuisine repairs a lot of damage.
Pour the cinnamon sugar into a separate pot or bowl. Use a fork or a spoon to transfer each doughnut into the cinnamon sugar and dredge thoroughly. By now your coffee should be ready. Hunker down around the campfire, give thanks, and enjoy.