Food, fire and the Slovenian wild

There is something about campfire cooking that brings me unparalleled satisfaction. It’s not all that smoke, wood, caveman thing. It’s the simplicity of it that I love.

Last summer, I spent a couple of glorious days hiking in Slovenia. There were six of us in total; two French, a Slovenian, a Bulgarian, a German, and me. We’d met in an eco-community in the south and had decided to take a weekend break to explore the Slovenian wild.

We headed for the Iška gorge – so named after the cold, clear river that threads its way through a valley of deep forest, just south of Ljubljana. Bear country! “Just don’t surprise them”, advised a local woman we’d hitched a lift with.

We spent the day wading through clear pools and climbing around waterfalls, jumping over gushing streams and winding our way upstream through the valley. After about four hours we came to a large clearing, protected by a canopy of tall, spindly trees and only the sound of a distant waterfall for company. No phone signal, no civilisation for miles, just total isolation. And the bears.

We had carried our weekend’s (limited) food supply and cooked it that night over the campfire. We hadn’t brought much, but this is where the joy of a fire comes in; the ability to transform a few ingredients into a true feast. We spiked corn cobs onto sticks and ate them blackened and salted in the firelight. The husks were saved to use as plates for our charred potatoes, which we pulled steaming from the ashes and stuffed with sweet slithers of roasted peppers. The ingenuity that is born of necessity is often so much better than a meal born of luxury.

And then we made bread. Literally bread on a stick, baked over the flames until golden, then torn apart in steaming, doughy bites of carb heaven. I had never heard of bread on a stick, neither had most of us, except our German friend. Is it a German thing? Have you heard of it? She told us it was standard campfire fare as a kid.

Still, a revelation! Such a clever way of getting hot food with minimal ingredients. We made the dough by mixing flour, a little salt and some water from the river, and shaped chunks of it into long sausages. We found some long, thin sticks, sharpened them at one end with a penknife, then twisted the dough around each end. We cooked them over the fire, keeping them away from big flames (I’ve lost a few to my inattention) until golden all over and cooked through. There is nothing better after a long day’s hike…

Bread on a stick
Combine 500g self-raising flour and 1 good pinch of sea salt in a bowl, then gradually add water, mixing continuously until it comes together into a dough. Knead until smooth, then break off chunks (about the size of an orange) and roll each into a sausage shape. Find some long, thin, sturdy sticks and sharpen the ends with a penknife, then twist the dough around the sharpened end, making sure it’s evenly spread out on the stick. Too thick and it won’t cook properly. Hover the dough sticks over the fire, keeping them away from big flames, and cook until golden, turning as you go. Eat hot!

We slept that night, crammed into tents, terrified of the bears we knew were roaming the forest. I kept thinking of the food we’d packed in a bag and hung high on a tree. What if they come to find it?

We woke the next morning, the bag untouched. After packing up our tents, we burnt our cardboard mats, no longer of any use, and set off again for another day in the wild.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *