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Worst Camp Meals?



We had been running low on food and at Whetstone Rapids we found a sweet site but we were toast. Looking in the food bags we had some Bisquick, powdered milk and garlic powder and not a whole lot else. I cooked up some basically garlic pancakes

Doug’s garlic pancakes (which he declared tasty???) got me thinking about the worst tripping meals I have ever experienced. There are a number of choices, from the grits-based natural foods to other early tripping meals with inexperienced/inept “chefs”.

A teenage year’s friend who made a big pot of mac and cheese. Perhaps the first pot of mac and cheese he had ever made himself. He did not bring the instructions and figured mac and cheese could simply be dumped in a pot of boiling water and served immediately with the cheese packet dumped atop. Crunchy yet powdery, inedible mac and cheese.

Someone who shall be nameless managed to eff up the simplest of things, a can of pork and bean, adding hot sauce, more hot sauce, chili powder, red pepper and whatever else he could find. I think there may have been curry powder in the mix, but I distinctly remember someone sputtering “Only you could ruin a can of pork and beans”.

The worst, or at least most inept, was an Aussie friend who announced that he would show us how to cook steaks “outback style” on a coastal trip. He hailed from Sydney, and I think his outback experience came from watching Crocodile Dundee movies.

This outback style of steak cookery involved no grill, he simply laid the steaks sizzling on a bed of coals. Other Aussie traditions apparently involved being falling down drunk while cooking, and haphazardly turning the steaks, managing to drop each and every one in the beach sand. Repeatedly, until each steak was well encrusted top and bottom while muttering “Nah worries mate, that’el brush rought off”

He graciously served everyone, and I watched as every member of our party took a first gritty bite and eventually, not-so-surreptitiously, Frisbeed their steak into the surf. At least the sand sharks ate well that night.
Any meal, of any kind, with any type of SPAM. I always feel like heck for hours after. Too much salt.
Hmm, this will take thinking about. I truly don't recall any meal having been anything short of wonderful, seeing as how everything tastes better in the outdoors, even burnt bannock. I must admit that we've involuntarily become food/beverage snobs having been "bumped up to higher foodie brackets". That's reflected in our camp food as well as at home. eg. No instant coffee. But sometimes these decisions seem rather arbitrary, such as the inclusion of instant mashed potatoes for Shepherds Pie so long as there's real minced beef and gravy. I guess we're still in the bottom potato bracket. That's cool. Even pre and post trips we remember preferred eating establishments. Why start off or finish a trip with a regrettable meal? But our food snobbery is entirely of our own making, a real 1st world "problem" meaning it's no real problem at all.

I'll ask my wife what she thinks of this question, but I already know her and our grown children's responses. I'm reminded of the Long March whenever we laugh and reminisce about our trips. It went like this...Late afternoon we found an Algonquin creek too low to paddle. It twisted through very pretty beaver meadows, making our progress slow. Lining was only possible with the canoes nearly empty so my wife and kids chose to carry over the meadows making straight for Vanishing Pond. I don't recall but I might've wound up dragging the canoes through the tall grass. It was a beautiful day and I encouraged everyone to enjoy the moment. I did however notice an encroaching storm headed our way and the towering thunderheads looked threatening. We tried not to dawdle.
We arrived to find the aptly named pond having dried to an expansive shallow puddle-pond of very brackish water. I'd neglected to check water levels before our trip so this should not have been a surprise, but it was. This meant two things, first we'd have to portage around the vanished pond, and second we'd need to replenish our water, all this before the storm hit. Our drinking water was exhausted as were the crew, so I pumped "fresh" luke warm water through our filter while they splayed out in the tall grass for a well deserved rest. I tasted the water and it didn't taste bad, but it was not refreshing, warm water never is so it was decided to add Tang orange crystals to the water bottles and give them a shake. Rehydrating became a force feeding exercise. We passed the warm orange drink around with one eye on the next leg of the days journey and the other on the approaching storm. I've never tasted anything so disgustingly welcome as that warm Tang, all several litres of it. Let's just say that since that Algonquin afternoon our entire family has moved up to another OJ bracket, and we ain't ever going back.
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I have learned that grape Kool-aid is not an acceptable substitute for water when reconstituting split pea soup powder. I will also shun any freeze-dried entrée making claims to be Au Gratin.
Back in the day when I was backpacking we were in the Daks at a small lake on the Northfield/Lake Placid trail tucked away in a leanto. Christ, the rain came down in buckets so we had resort to the stove I had, only person with a stove. We cooked up some Bisquick "muffins" if you want to to call them that and before they were done the stove ran out of gas. Well, the "muffins" sure looked OK on the outside but I can unequivocally tell you that the insides were still a soggy mess. Did we eat them? heck yes! I recall telling my friend we sure could have used a beer to wash this mess down but we were too young at the time to buy the suds.

We got an early start in the morning with growling bellies because at the end of the trail at Piseco Lake was place to get a real meal. We walked in wet and drooling and the barkeep literally without a word handed us a menu, a beer and a cup of coffee. Breakfast was one of the biggest burgers I've ever seen with a healthy serving of fries.
Once when my scout troop was canoe tripping spaghetti was on the menu. The crew preparing it that night told a young scout to stir it occasionally as it boiled. He stirred continuously making something that resembled pancake batter. We drank it mixed with the sauce-no other choice.
At a BSA camp we always had Iron Chef cook-it-yourself each Thursday night. A box of standard ingredients was given to each troop, enough to make a main meal and desert, including a surprise mystery ingredient. When finished the staff sampled and rated each meal. Some were really impressive in presentation and quite tasty. One scoutmaster knew that pasta for spaghetti had to be boiled but knew little else about cooking. He tried to make spaghetti by throwing everything together into a pot of boiling water, including the raw ground beef. Truly awful.
Well since we are everything from scratch either at home and freeze or dehydrate it, there is no such things as bad food. but sometime we get on trips with other people that don't really have the experience we have on food prep and well the meals are not always awesome but generally acceptable!!

I couldn't see myself eating K&D or Spam or anything of that quality, life is too short to eat crap!!
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usually with youth groups I prepared the menu with simple but filling things like spaghetti, stews, or chili, with one big meal being bbq chicken, roast beef, or turkey, but on one trip the group leaders decided THEY would supply the food! (surprisingly, hotdogs for breakfast aren't TOO bad). One of the leaders decided he would make his own chili, with dried onion, chili powder, more dried onion, a few beans, and even MORE dried onion! It looked like a big pot of bleached worms when it finally rehydrated (all day affair) and the taste was indescribable! just the looks were enough to send kids running for the bush, and the continual retching sounds were unnerving to say the least. Even the snapping turtle swimming nearby wouldn't touch it.
Everyone (even the "cook") went to bed hungry that night:(
Please Pardon the fact that there's no canoes in this tale. We were camped at a lovely spot on the MacLeod River just south of Edson Alberta tho.;)
On a teenage adventure a few of us headed for Alberta to look for work and high adventure.
While in the Edson area we utilized social services and wrangled some food vouchers from them.
We met back in camp with the other lads who were meeting with a local friend who had a job lead for us.
We decided to pool our resources and sent Steve into town for groceries and beer. While Dave and I tried our luck with the rods. The current was fairly stiff and we had no bites again. I suppose the tackle was the main issue, lol being used with great effect in Ontario meant nothing to the Albertan fish.
Steve returned with food at least ...
for some reason he decided that the best use of our vouchers was to get a 10lb sack of white rice and a 10lb bag of onions :confused: ... with some explanation of how this combination was the best nutrition and caloric value for the money
at least he got the beer part correct ;)
Another bad scout canoe trip meal was we used real dry beans for a layover camp. they needed to be soaked a long time previous to the meal--didn't happen. On the other side of the coin concerning my story, there was a boy on one crew who could make any meal great. we were tempted to change the rotation so his crew cooked more--but we didn't. the other crews started pumping him for advice though. he ended up accumulating a lot of favors that way.
I don't remember any really bad meals but there were a couple that were memorable, and not in a good way. One was on the first trip that my wife was completely in charge of the provisioning. We had everything, roll up table, two burner Coleman stove, the works. Our first nights dinner was white clam sauce over pasta. It would have been perfect except we did not have any utensils what so ever.
Prior to the MRE days, C-ration spaghetti. Neither looked nor tasted like spaghetti and the Scoutmasters collected the smokes. I'm fairly certain it would have been dually effective for military rations, however, as the heartburn made you want to kill something.
What is it with disastrous spaghetti meals? How hard can it be to boil pasta and reheat sauce?
But I can relate. On a group trip on which we all agreed to divvy up the meal responsibilities I chose to cook one dinner. I thought a spaghetti bolognese would be stupid proof and tasty. It was neither. You know what they say about "a watched kettle never boils"? Well the flip side to that is a forgotten pot of water and pasta does boil, and becomes a bathtub of murky starchy sludge with some spaghetti dissolved and some still stuck together. I tried to disguise it with the sauce, except I'd forgotten to keep an eye on that as well. Have you ever noticed how any burnt bits can impart a burnt flavour throughout the rest of the food? I shouldn't have scraped the blackened sauce encrusted bottom to include it in the "sauce". I learned a lot that trip, mostly through trial and error. The guys were all nice about it, tasting it and hiding their responses. Suddenly nobody "had an appetite", choosing to go have a smoke instead. And everybody started packing snacks on the next trips. Live and learn.
Hate to come off as smug, but I don't think I've ever had what I would consider a bad camp meal. Most of my trips afield, canoe or otherwise were to fish or hunt.The areas where I was raised and still live there are lots of pan fish, catfish, frogs and turtles that are fairly easy to catch in sweet water. In the estuaries we'd cast net mullet, fish for seatrout, redfish and snook. Pretty easy to catch small sharks leaving a line out all night. Other than maybe reheating leftovers like chili or spaghetti we never tried to make fancy meals while camping. Still don't. I keep it very simple, canned vegetables, beans or rice and fried or grilled game and fish. We'd usually have game and fish from prior outings that we would bring or chicken, hamburger from home or the grocery store. Steak not so much back in the day, more so now that we can afford it. Even today there's not too many places to paddle and camp around here that you can't expect to catch enough fish to supplement some meals. Not a fan of dehydrated or freeze dried meals other than for contingency.
When freeze dried meals first came out a friend brought noodles almandine. He sweated a strong chemical smell for all the next day.
Probably the one that will live in my memory forever was my concoction of macaroni and cheese, with a couple cans of sardines stirred in. It honestly didn't taste toooo bad but just looking at those little dead fish tails poking out orange goo did not appeal. My brother named the dish "Lake Erie".
Years ago when working with a college outdoor program in the Adirondacks we were issued food from a company called "Chuck Wagon." One of their dinner selections was called Turkey Good 'n Hearty. Suffice to say, it should have been called GLUE STEW because it always stuck together regardless of how low the heat or how much you stirred the pot. Due to the limited number of selections, it was always on our menus regardless of our desires as a staff. When we went out on our 6 day canoe trips, the director of the program would visit with each group for one night. Unfortunately for him, as it turned out, he visited on the night that each group had selected to go with the faux turkey meal. While we didn't plan it that way, he got stuck with the short straw each night. We still laugh about that to this day and it's been almost 30 years since it happened.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.