And to teach the tenets of camping cooking I give a special nod to a cult classic novel written by Jack Kerouac. In it, Kerouac describes his account of the “most delicious meal of all time,” cooked at the base of a mountain in the high Sierras of California the night before attempting to climb it. In homage to this story, I recreate the meal before the biggest climb of my life, which I completed in the Rocky Mountains just a few weeks ago. Cooking and the outdoors, in turns out, go hand in hand.
The novel I will reference to help me explain to you how to cook outdoors is Jack Kerouac’s cult classic, The Dharma Bums. Like his seminal work On The Road, this work is part reportage and part autobiography, telling the story of rambling adventures around post-war America and his brushes with counter-culture. The first time I encountered this work was on a road trip across America in 2015, freshly having quit my job and about to start a half-year-long adventure of rock climbing and travel. Clean across Texas and all the way to West Virginia I listened to the audiobook version back-to-back over my car stereo. Perfect fodder for a impressionable 24 year-old who had quit his grown-up job in time to finish his car payments and experience the freedom of an open-ended road trip. But it wasn’t the stories of zen Buddhism and mountaineering and crazy San Francisco poets that got me the third time I listened to it this summer. No, for my third go-round of this book I listened to it for food references. And what I found was brilliant writing. Plot devices were often based around entire meals, characters explained through what they ate and drank. And because so much of the food stories Kerouac tell in The Dharma Bums revolve around cooking outdoors, I decided that diving into this book would be a great way to frame the story of my own experiences building up camp cooking skills on adventures in the wild.
In The Dharma Bums, Ray Smith (aka Jack Kerouac) learns about cooking outdoors while mountaineering with the book’s protagonist, the affable Japhy Ryder (aka Gary Snyder). Unlike the down-and-out city people Kerouac usually describes in his stories, Japhy introduces a refreshing love of the outdoors and a way of life marked by simplicity. He brings Ray on a trip to climb Mt. Matterhorn in the Sierras of California, and in Kerouac’s account of the adventure he explains with a sense of wonder the meals that Japhy prepares during the trip. It’s during these passages that Kerouac also famously predicts a “rucksack revolution:” a shift from young people’s attention away from cities and towards life in the outdoors.
Let’s jump into Kerouac’s story now and comb it for camp cooking references. Here Ray (Jack Kerouac) and Japhy are in Japhy’s shack in Berkeley preparing for their outing into the mountains. Ray knows little about life in the outdoors and is eager to learn. Japhy is an experienced climber who grew up in Washington logging and scouting fires for the forestry service. What's about to come is an account of mountain climbing that is nothing short of genius!
On what to bring
On what to leave behind
On good bread
On cooking the most delicious meal of all time
On doing dishes
On climbing mountains
More camp cooking tips
A few other things:
Written by Erik Veitch
Edited by Michael Lee. Thanks, Mike!
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.