Last year around this time in the season, my restless friends and I began to develop a new hobby. Refusing to be kept indoors by the cold weather, we set out to the woods in pursuit of a new kind of adventure. Perhaps it could be described as culinary hiking, or maybe extreme picnicking. Either way, I think we stumbled onto something pretty cool.
It began on a Sunday morning in the middle of January. At this point, outdoor activities were becoming less about deliberate plans, and more about frolicking around like children in the winter woods. As fun as that can be, if there is no plan or goal materializing, I eventually long for the warmth and comfort of the indoors. Catching a fish, taking a great photo, even throwing knives at tree stumps in my friend’s backyard are all good reasons to be outside when you can see your breath and can not feel your fingers. When the weather is in the 20s, I need a reason to be out there all day.
On this particular Sunday morning, the plan was to head out with the usual gang. Nate, Jay and I entered the snowy trails of Coventry with the simple plan of cooking lunch over a fire. There would be a good hike, some hot food and a little bit of whisky to go around. Nothing fancy, just a good ol’ bro-down in the woods.
We stopped at a dollar store on the way to stock up on supplies. For less than $10, we picked up some rice, beans and bottles of Gatorade. Nate brought a pepper for flavor, and some kind of compact cooking device. It was time to head out to the woods and cook.
We stumbled around over ice and snow until we arrived at our destination. It was a little path that jutted out over a frozen swamp like a peninsula. We were on dry land, but had access to the ice all around us if we wanted to slide around like little boys. Here we set up camp, which really just means that we put our bags down, put a little fire together, and passed the whisky around. There wasn’t anywhere to sit so we just crouched.
Soon after, the food was ready. The three of us dug through a pan of hot rice and beans like it was going out of style. We walked out on the ice where we threw tomahawks at dead trees. It took me a few tries, but I started to get the hang of it. We saw a bunch of wild turkeys travel by in the distance. We watched in silence as they migrated across the swamp until I let out an alarmingly loud, ridiculous sounding turkey call. This made my friends laugh, but the turkeys didn’t seem to care. They just kept moving.
Overall, it was an excellent first crack at our budding new hobby.
As the following week crept by, we pondered new ideas for a culinary winter hike. The next outing would prove to be better.
Sunday came, and we hiked over the same sketchy swamp. I had gotten better at throwing tomahawks into dead trees. Not only was I sticking about three out of four throws, I was hitting softball sized targets as well. An owl that looked perfectly adapted to the snowy landscape swooped close to us. We came across an old hunting cabin with a collapsed roof and admired it for a few minutes. Eventually, we found our spot and set up camp. This time, Jay rigged the cooking supplies to a sled, which made it much easier to pull them through the snow. There was a large field we had to cross where the snow was deep. With each step we took, Nate and I sank up to our knees. That got tiring real fast, but we had to cross it. Jay was the only one with the foresight to wear snowshoes. Nate and I just kept trudging through.
We arrived at our site and made a little fire. On this trip, there were bigger culinary aspirations. Nate and Jay cooked up strips of bacon, bite-sized pieces of chicken and corn with our rice and beans. Jay tried to make bannock, which is a round, flat bread usually cooked in a pan. It was his first attempt, and it came out alright, but not quite like the pancake-like bread he intended. We crouched down and dug into our meal, only this time there were rocks to sit on. Once again, a little fire and some tight friends made for an amazing day in the woods.
A tiny mouse came sniffing around and found its way over to our camp. It had no fear in coming right up to us to see what we had to offer. Jay threw a single kernel of corn near it. The mouse sniffed around and quickly found the offering. Nate and I joined in and threw the mouse more corn, which must have been unlike anything it had ever eaten. This guy was eating canned corn that was cooked in grease and oil from bacon. I bet it was delicious. It hung around for about 10 minutes, then moved on to other things. I wonder if that owl ever scooped it up.
The day was closing out, and the hike back was complimented by the sight of four deer running off in the distance. I was tired from a day well spent, and still had to treck back across the field of deep snow. At least I had a full stomach this time.
Once again, we had a full week to come up with next Sunday’s menu.
On the third time out, our friend Forrest came along. We went to a spot in Exeter. Jay brought marinated beef chunks, Nate considered what went wrong with last week’s bannock and corrected it and I brought an apple in case we cooked up something that would benefit from apple slices. If not, I still had an apple to eat. There was also the usual rice and beans to go around. We cooked the beef chunks on sticks and ate them kabob style. As I savored the amazing taste and gazed at the little frozen pond we were sitting by, I was beyond happy to be out in the winter woods.
We took a few turns throwing the tomahawks and pretty much stuck each throw. We were beginning to get this whole thing down.
At this point, we were sure we were on to something. With each trip, the meals got better and more refined. The hikes and destinations became more planned and strategic. Nature gave us the entertainment, and during the down time, we entertained each other.
If you can manage to get a few hours of free time, you might enjoy a culinary trip into the woods. Obviously, it would be better with friends. Spring will be here before we know it, and we will be adding trout and wild berries to the menu. It just keeps getting better.