Our summer in Oregon came with many first time experiences. Although cooking over a fire was by no means new to us, 3 meals a day being prepared this way for 3 months was a new adventure for sure. Our host site, at Tollgate Campground, had a stone fireplace that was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The “Dutch Oven Side” needed only one small modification to work for our needs. I placed our tripod across the opening to provide a place to hang our ovens.
The campground had a virtually unlimited supply (for our use since the general public isn’t allowed to cut anything) of dead western cedar logs. Coming from the Carolina Mountains, I am used to burning hardwoods, which generate a bed of coals that are perfect for cooking. Learning how to cook on the cedar took some trial and error for sure. It burns hot, but extremely fast, and does not provide any long lasting coals. It is by far the easiest wood I have ever split by hand, splitting an 8″ diameter chunk of firewood with a hatchet is a crazy notion when dealing with hardwoods.
The “Grill” side of the fireplace was originally set up with a thick steel plate covering the fire. The smoke would travel under the plate to the chimney creating a draft so you could cook directly on the plate or heat up skillets, coffee pots, etc… The steel plates had been stolen for scrap over the past few years, so I modified it using the fire grate from the grill on the front of the bus. Piling rocks around the grate created a little draft to keep the fire going, it was a constant battle feeding small pieces to keep it going yet not getting it so hot it would burn your meal.
Pan fried trout that had been caught at Trillium Lake that day, homemade egg rolls, and fried rice were some of the amazing meals we prepared. The fried rice was requested by the girls several times each week, we even made shrimp sauce to go on top. To make the fried rice, we would make the rice in the Dutch Oven on the other side of the fireplace. Using frozen mixed veggies and fresh mushrooms, we would sauté them in butter for a few minutes before adding the cooked rice. Topping it off with soy sauce, we had a great meal in less than half an hour total.
We made steamed veggies in the Dutch Ovens almost every day, the brussels sprouts were always a favorite. As far as other meals go, we made a wide variety. Red Curry Chicken (turned out really good, but crazy spicy so I got to eat it all), Pork Ribs, Single Pot Potato Salad (we cooked the eggs and taters at the same time), Roasted Chicken Thighs, and Dutch Oven Popcorn were just a few of the dishes we fell in love with. We sat around the campfire many nights and had anyone that happened to stop at our site over for the popcorn.
The whole family participated in cutting, splitting, and preparing the wood for the fireplace. I even caught Chas lighting the fire early one morning to boil water for coffee.