Outback Camp Kitchen: a New Approach.

Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges
Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

Setting up a base camp in the outback takes organisation and planning. Supplies are available but they are usually extremely expensive and limited to the basics. While Mr Tranquillo takes charge of things like batteries, the fridge, testing solar panels, and setting up good lighting, I like to plan a functional camping kitchen.

Before leaving home, I tend to pack in this way:

  • tall bottles in one box (extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, tomato sauce, passata, good vinegar, other sauces depending on length of stay).
  • dry goods box, includes, jasmine rice, arborio rice, dry falafel mix, plain flour, atta flour, fast cooking oats, lentils, dried coconut milk, couscous etc.
  • cans box includes, tomatoes, chick peas, borlotti beans, baby beetroot, tuna large and small, other canned fish.
  • breakfast basket – muesli, spreads and jam, tea bags, coffee, small long life milk packets, cups, picnic set, bread board, bread well wrapped ( more important for days when travelling)
  • root vegetable bag, includes a big bag of Nicola chats, onions, garlic, ginger, beetroot, sweet potato, ( carrots best in fridge)
  • car fridge includes fresh milk,plain yogurt, tasty cheese, parmesan cheese, fetta, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables, butter or Lurpak. Fish as found on route.
  • the spice box. (more about this below)

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Along the way, I begin to rearrange these boxes. Despite our camping rule, to do the major cooking prep in natural light, sometimes this isn’t possible as long walks and day trips demand a later start. So a new method of sorting emerges, one based on ethnicity or cuisine.

The indian bag
The Indian/Middle Eastern bag

An example of this approach can be seen with the Indian cooking bag containing:

  • coconut milk powder
  • red lentils ( masoor dhal)
  • curry leaves
  • atta flour
  • chick pea cans
  • besan flour

The spice box is a permanent feature of the camp kitchen and stays in its own compartment in the kitchen, and is regularly refreshed. In it are spices, dried herbs, salts and black peppercorn, whole chillies and stock cubes.

The spice box
The spice box

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis new approach can be seen in action on the day I decided to make some chapatis on an open fire. I simply grabbed the Indian bag and started the chick pea curry on the gas stove, a simple dish involving four steps:

  1. Finely chop onion, garlic, ginger and gently fry in plain oil (canola) till soft.
  2. Add the following ground spices, coriander, cumin, turmeric, big handful of curry leaves. Stir through for one minute.
  3. Add 1 cup of reconstituted coconut milk plus a little extra water to loosen. Stir then cook for two minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add a can of chick peas, drained and well rinsed.
  5. Let cook slowly while making the chappatis. Taste, add salt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The chappatis are made with atta flour, water and nigella (kalonji) seeds. These were rolled out using an empty Riesling bottle, then cooked quickly on hot wood coal. Asbestos fingers are handy: so are tongs.

Chappatis ready for the fire.
Chappatis ready for the fire.
chappati cooked on open fire, raita, chick pea curry.
Chappatis, raita, and chick pea curry. Please pass the tamarind chutney.

Another Indian treat is a simple potato chat dish. Peel and parboil nicola (yellow fleshed) potatoes. Add Indian spices such as mustard seed, salt, lots of curry leaves, and fry in a little canola oil in a super hot wok over coals. Serve with then a squeeze of lemon if you have one. 

Indian chat, beer snack.
Indian chat, beer snack.

My new organisation also has a wonderful Italian bag -naturally. Basics like cans and sauces stay in the original boxes. 
I am keen to hear from anyone who enjoys packing food supplies for long getaways, especially where there are no shops and electric power is limited.
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25 thoughts on “Outback Camp Kitchen: a New Approach.”

  1. So impressive, Francesca! You would have to be that organised to camp for weeks at a time, though. Our camping was only for long weekends, no power or water except what we carried, and now has been many years ago. My husband had metal ‘tucker boxes’ purpose built and he was all set up when I arrived on the scene. Our method was to cook breakfast fresh in camp, but everything else was cooked ahead and taken with us and was just reheated or added to on site. And I would LOVE to visit Wilpena Pound, but perhaps have left it too late since the departure of the camping gear. Since I can’t eat the bread, I don’t think we could survive on the two remaining jaffle irons!!

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    1. hi Ardys, I have seen those big metal camping boxes and am envious. Wilpena Pound also has some beautiful safari lodges as well as a motel and a restaurant. The safari lodges are canvas sided but come with all mod cons.Next time I go there, I am definitely staying in one of those. As much as I love camping like this, I woud also like to try the easy approach too. We could then take a smaller car and no towing means savings on fuel.
      No, the jaffle irons would need to become decor. We rarely eat bread. One loaf lasted a week: I threw half out after the jaffle fest, then we made chappatis. Most of the food was based on lentils, chick peas, rice and so on, and the occasional fish and smoked fish.
      Go to the pound Ardys, you would love it there. It is like being in the middle of a Hans Heysen painting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very impressed! We regularly camp for a week at the South Coast, but while we have a good esky, and I also pack sauces, oils, cereals etc; I certainly rely on going into town for at least a couple of fish and chips meals…
    As the children are getting older we are thinking about also doing some longish hikes where we would be carrying everything, but I think we may just end up buying those dehydrated meals 🙂

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    1. I hate to say this, but de-hydrated meals are not nice, but are probably essential for hikes I guess.
      The South Coast is so lovely, one can always find a good source of fresh fish at Bermagui, although the fleets are slowly disappearing.
      In the outback everything quadrupels in price, hence the organised approach.
      Thanks for popping into my camp.

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  3. The longest we have gone between provision stops is 2 weeks when we travelled along the Gibb River Road. I carry nori, sushi rice, vac packed salmon and packaged pickled ginger to make sushi hand rolls. We aways include a frozen roast to bury in the camp oven, potatoes to roast in the fire, flour and beer for damper, the makings for buckwheat pancakes, canned water chestnuts and bamboo shoots to toss into a stir fry when fresh vegies get short. I do a this goes with that list so I can always make a balanced nutritous and delicious meal. Also lots of beer….

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  4. I am well impressed by your organisation, we have only camped in places close to supplies. But love the idea of ‘cuisine organisation bags’! Just got back from a few days in Merimbula, seriously gorgeous part of Australia. Love the oysters there, oh yeah!

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    1. The oysters around Merimbula and Pambula are so good: I hope you had more than your fair share. I can taste that sea brine, the soft plump oyster sliding down, and another quick tilt of the shell, in case I missed some. I love them, and I love that area, especially Tathra and Mimosa Rocks National Park.

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  5. Wow, so organised. I am impressed! Those chipatis look amazing and I bet really wonderful made over a fire. Intrigued by your mention of a car refrigerator. is it actually in the car? Energy generated how? Sounds like something that might come in useful, for example bringing back lots of cheese and salumi from Italy!

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    1. Yes, indeed, bring home all those goodies in a car fridge. It is a 40 litre fridge which runs off a dual battery system from the car, then when in a place with power, it runs off a normal power supply. As we were off the grid, we used a solar panel to re-charge it, and also went on day trips, re-charging with the car batttery. Ours has a dividier in the middle- one half can be freezer, the other half fridge- or remove the divider and it can be set to total freezer/or fridge. we only use the fridge as we don’t take frozen stuff away. Most Australians take frozen meats and eat that way when camping, with roasts in metal Dutch ovens, or BBQs. My camping stories are trying to explore a different camping food ( ie mostly veggo) with a lucky fish thrown in.

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      1. Looked up car “fridge” in amazon – smaller cooler sorts available that might suit us just fine! We usually subsist on bread/cheese/raw veg & fruit during travel times, but saw a couple (probably experienced travellers) in a picnic site in France with a wicker picnic hamper, a heavy-duty cooler and propane camp stove to heat water for tea. Was slightly envious as we chewed on our bread and cheese!

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        1. We use an Evakool and have also had a Waeco in the past. These are big industrial things. When we go bush, it is extremely hot and remote, so a fridge running off the car battery ( dual) is essential even if just for a chilled wine or beer. We buy these things in camping stores. I have never felt the need for one in Europe, but I only travel in Autumn or late Spring. And because we are going to/from some sort of accommodation, I can cool my cheeses overnight. Now you have me thinking about French country markets and those lovely little goaty things which I want badly for a song.

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  6. Our outback travel & camping is still very much in the planning stage, and this is info I’m grateful for, as while the G.O. has been there done that as a single young bloke decades ago, his methods won’t necessarily suit us… me… now. Wilpena Pound looks like a great experience.

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    1. I mentioned to Ardys that Wilpena Pound has these gorgeous safari lodges perched on a ridge overlooking the red escarpment. Next time I might go there in style, and aybe have a little Cornish cabin at Burra, and stay in the Parachilna pub in the desert, and eat out. But I will really miss the camping food.

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  7. Francesca, you’re certainly more international with your cuisine whilst camping, than we are! We’re usually limited for space with 2 to 4 children in tow, so it’s whatever I can pack in one 150L black box. I’ll take the pantry staples such as pasta, rice, spices, jars of ginger, garlic, spice pastes, coconut cream, stock powders, condiments and cereals. We have a big arsed Waeco fridge/freezer so we pre pack meats such as chicken, roasts, beef, bacon and bbq foods so we can get it out and defrost the day before we plan to eat it. We take frozen peas and corn, and vegies that will last in the fridge, along with fruit that be kept in the pantry. Hubby loves, loves, loves tinned fruit and custard and it’s his “treat” with the kids when camping. He also recently attempted a vanilla cake in the big camping pot thingy he bought. Hot out of the pot with cream, it was pretty damn good.

    I meal plan and make sure there is only enough for dinner that night so we’re not having to store left overs.We eat pretty well in comparison to a lot of other families we know, but I’m now keen to broaden our horizons just as you do.

    There’s nothing like cooking over an open fire with the Australian bush surrounding you, breathing real air into you.

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    1. It’s true- everything tastes so good in the bush, even tinned fruit and custard. The big arsed fridge must be crucial when travelling with a family. We now have have a 40 litre Evakool which does a good job. We don’t eat meat, but look forwaard to fish- either caught or purchased, but this is rare. So the planning and preparation of meals takes on a different slant. I am envious of those who take their baby Q Weber, and whack on some meat.
      Love the idea of a vanilla cake hot out of the pot. Delicious.

      Liked by 1 person

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