April 25: Campfires + Parties

From “A Nomad Homecook’s Perpetual Almanac Cookbook (The PAC)” (c) 2020 OTBI

In the fall of 2012, I celebrated my return to Washington state after a 9 -month hiatus in Utah by soujourning for a month solo on the Olympic Peninsula. I sourced and chopped wood when I arrived at the Olympics, built a fire and tossed a Hobo Dinner onto the hot white coals. This popular, tasty camping staple actually had the humblest of beginnings. It was born out of the resourcefulness of hundreds of thousands of homeless people trying to survive after losing everything during the Great Depression (1929-1939). It’s possible that “Hobo” is short for “hopping boxcars” or for for Hoboken, New Jersey, where many rail lines converged, making the city a natural gathering point. Whatever food they could find, whether it was wild caught, wild grown, in the trash, or given from a neighbor, they would cook all the food over the fire.  Because they were hungry, they would use even the peelings of vegetables that others would throw away. Hobos lived in encampments and were loosly viewed by people who’d never been that desperate as some kind of rootless person who is lazy, steals and cannot be trusted.

Although certainly sometimes dangerous thieves, most were honest people willing to work for their keep. The slandererous blanket labeling of impoverished people has happened throughout the world for centuries although the name and usage has changed with the different struggles and prejudices of each generation (i.e., hobo, bum, tramp, vagrant, vagabond, serf, pauper, pee-on, peasant, needy, indigent, necessitous, straitened, destitute, penniless, poverty-stricken, poor, impecunious, impoverished, penniless). To people who would judge others for their economic status I say, keep your judgement to yourself and practice some compassion in your thoughts, words and actions. Life in poverty is hard enough without some stranger labeling you and discriminating against you for your economic status. Let’s be different than previous generations and teach our children to not label others and instead try use creativity and encouragement to help change the social injustics and economic disparity in our world.

Ironically, in our modern day another type of homeless has reemerged that romanticizes personal freedom so much that people leave their families, homes and well-paying jobs to pursue open nature and simple living. These Hobos have been renamed “Bobos” (Bohemian Bourgeoisie) and are viewed by some working people with great envy and confusion, as someone who refuses to plant roots so they may remain honest and free and is daring enough to work only when forced to.

Today a Hobo is defined in wikipedia as “a migrant worker or homeless vagrant, especially one who is impoverished. The term like originated in the Northwestern United States around 1890. Unlike a “tramp”, who works only when forced to, and a “bum”, who does not work at all, a “hobo” is a traveling worker.” Since I would be starting a seasonal job after leaving the pennisula, I found it an appropriate meal for a person like me, trying to survive after losing everything in the Great Recession (2007-2009).

After dinner, I nestled into a shelf in the tree grove and caught the frequency of a Russian broadcast on my crank radio while I watched the fire lick the sky and the stars filled the darkness. Sitting there with a full belly, I was overflowing with such primal satisfaction, like a rite of passage that I never had known existed had finally been achieved. The meal was simple but the point was I had cooked food on a fire that I had made. That’s something to ponder as we live in an emerging culture of fast-food delivery.

One should know how to build a proper campfire and practice cooking on it often with family and good friends. It will make you a better cook, a better friend, and likely a more level-headed person. Any kind of fire is your responsibility. You need to tend the fire and put it out properly to protect our forests and neighbors. When you can hold your hand on the spot where the fire was while you count to 25 and not feel any warmth, your fire is out. Until then, take your time with it, tend to it, tell it secrets and lies and simply love it for the renewing force fire has in a human’s mind and spirit. Over time, a fire will be a like having a long anticipated reunion with a long-lost friend. To this day, every time I light a fire I’m amazed with how much can transform with just one spark and the right conditions.

In order to burn a fire needs three elements: fuel, heat, and air. It will always burn upward and seek fuel to burn. Have water, sand, or soil on hand with a shovel before you strike a match. Try not to use more wood on the fire than you need.

The 5 Steps of Building a Woodfire are:

  1. Make a safe and suitable place.

  2. Have a supply of tinder, kindling, and fuel (different forms of dry wood, matchstick- to wrist-sized).

  3. Build a foundation fire in the shape of a triangle.

  4. Build it into the kind of fire you need (teepee, hunter’s, trench, criss-cross).

  5. Put out the fire as soon as you are through with it.

In our neck of the woods we often have to start fires with and burn wet wood. Build a big, hot foundation and turn it into a criss-cross and douse the ring with something flammable like used cooking oil or animal fat. Drop a burning piece of twisted newspaper into the tinder and stand back from the mushroom cloud.

*Show respect for fire in front of your children and teach them how to make, tend, and enjoy a fire responsibly.

Hobo Dinner Packets

makes 2 servings

Toss vegetables with oil in a large bowl or disposable plastic gallon bag. 

2 Tbsp olive oil

5-1″diced yellow potatoes

2-1/2″ sliced carrots

1-1/2″ sliced yellow onion

Layer ingredients in the center of 2-2″ long sheets of aluminum foil, seasoning each layer generously and ending with patties.

2-3 Tbsp Seasoned Salt (see below)

4-1/4 lb ground beef patties or pork sausage

Cover with 2 more 2″ long foil sheets and fold the edges together to seal the sides. Roll tightly towards the center of the packet before placing over hot coals. You will hear it steaming when it’s ready, after about 1 hour over white-hot coals, flipping halfway. Remove the packet from the coals with a shovel and let rest 30 minutes before serving. Be careful of steam and hot juices when opening the packet.

If you have extras, transfer it to a sealed container and hold it on ice in a cooler until Breakfast. Reheat in a skillet with 2 Tbsp olive oil topped with two overeasy eggs.

Seasoned Salt

makes ¼ cup seasoning

Combine in a sealable jar and mix well. Sprinkle generously over chicken, beef, pork, and veggies before roasting or BBQing.

8 Tbsp salt

3 Tbsp pepper

2 Tbsp paprika

1/2 Tbsp onion powder

1/2 Tbsp garlic powder

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