Cabin Stay Brings On the Hobo Dinners
Whenever we go camping, I try to plan ahead what foods and provisions we will need for the duration. I always include hobo dinners on the menu. The ingredients are often available from the local farmers' market and do not need to be refrigerated, except for the ground beef which I usually buy frozen at my favorite vendor's booth. If I have it on our second night, the ground beef that I keep in a cooler is usually thawed and ready to use. But it could also be made as a vegetarian dish. And, really, you can change these ingredients as desired. Less onions, more cheese, add fresh corn and spices, turnips or squash, the list and variations are endless. What doesn't change is the home cooked goodness and delicious blend of flavours.
So, on our recent trip to Tennessee to visit one of my cheese suppliers, we stayed at a cabin in a state park. I asked Jim, "What do you want on the menu?". He immediately answered, "Hobo dinners,". I had almost forgotten our camping ritual. I gathered all the ingredients, but ended up buying salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce at the camp store. And our second night there, we made these in the grill on a bed of charcoal.
Start by making a nice sized fire. Let it burn until there are no more flames and the coals are glowing. While the fire is doing its things, assemble the dinners.
I start with two large pieces of foil, placed over each other in the shape of a cross. The cabbage comes next. And then, it's time to start making layers with the ingredients at hand. I usually salt and pepper every other layer to taste. Potatoes, onions, carrots, some meat, some cheese. Salt and pepper. Start over.
Here comes the final and most important layer. A second leaf of cabbage is placed over the top and tucked around the bottom leaf. This is what makes the inside steam and cook and gives it that extra flavour. Now close the first foil around the food package. Then bring the second foil around and close it. I usually close them by bringing the sides together and folding them down a couple of times. You want the package to be somewhat airtight so the heat can do its magic.
I always laugh at this stage because I think the packages often reveal a person's personality. Some people in my family fold them very neatly while others of us kind of crumple...You do need to ensure that in some way you will recognize your package when it comes out of the fire!
Whether you are using a wood fire or a charcoal one, the main thing here is to make sure that you have a nice bed of coals that is not too hot and not too cool. Place the foil packages among the coals and let them bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Then turn them over and bake them for another 12 to 15 minutes. At this point, we usually pull one out and carefully open it (the steam is hot!) to make sure the potatoes and veggies are tender, and decide to put them in for 5 or 10 minutes more.
Pull them out of the coals. Find your package. Place it on a plate. Open it carefully because the steam and the foil can burn. Again, here it's up to you. Some remove the foil; some eat out of the foil. Add ketchup if you want and dig in. My favourite part of the whole thing is the caramelized and slightly charred cabbage leaves. But be forewarned, that cabbage will later haunt you, especially if you are sleeping in a tent with other people.😄