Bush Cooking

Bush Cooking

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Camp Ovens

Camp oven cooking is part of Australian out back history. Over the ages the Camp Oven has been used by drovers, shearers, and bushmen on the move and by miners during the days of the gold rush. This type of cooking has definite advantages.

With the advent of the four wheel drive vehicle becoming so popular, more and more people are becoming aware that their vehicle is able to travel on more than a sealed road, and are taking advantage of this.

With this, a new adventure comes, the getting to places that up until a few years back, few people were seen in some of these areas of the Australian out back. The desert areas are now a destination that is not impossible to traverse for these new explorers.

All people have to eat, and part of the enjoyment of these trips, is to sit around a campfire at night, and cook up a nourishing meal, and what is better than to do it in a camp oven.

There are a number of different designs in camp ovens. There are the convensional style of oven which is made of cast iron and these are available in a number of sizes. These have been around for ever and used by the early settlers and on the gold fields.
“Furphy” was one of the well known brands and were manufactured in Shepparton Victoria. These are now valued by collector’s. This is the company that made the famous water cart used in the World War 1 and where the saying originated “Oh its a Furphy” with the meaning listed as ‘A piece of gossip, a rumour,a false report, or an erroneous or improbable story.
Droving camps in a bygone era came up with the idea of making a spun metal camp oven. This became the famous Bedourie camp oven named after the town Bedourie out in the Diamantina area in out back of Queensland. The town started in the 1880′s as a major watering hole and rest stop for drovers and cattle because of the arteasian bore.

This type of oven has gained in popularity and now there is a number of spun metal camp ovens on the market. The big advantage of this type is that they will not break if dropped, as could a cast iron oven. The disadvantage is the spun metal oven is that it does not distribute the heat like cast iron one and if not looked after and kept oiled will rust. I have included a video from Derrick to go through the different camp oven and cooking equipment so that you can see the difference and gain some knowledge for camp cooking.

Preparing your new Camp Oven

Print version of instructions to season your Camp Oven

A camp oven must be seasoned before it is used. Being of cast iron or of spun metal this material is porous to an extent, and the inside of the oven has to be treated so as to seal the surface especially the cast iron ones.

We will deal with the cast iron camp oven first.
Before you first cook in the cast iron camp oven it will need to be seasoned. There has been much written on this subject. Some of the camp ovens that are sold today are pre-seasoned and do not need this treatment unless you destroy the coating.

I have found from experience,to prepare the oven, give the oven a good wash to remove any coating that has been applied in the manufacturing process to stop it from rusting and dry thoroughly. If you warm the oven after washing, this will assist to dry the oven before the oil is applied. This is going to be the last time you should have to use detergent on the oven, as it will become non-stick if done properly. The oiling process may have to be repeated a number of times, this is to build up the coating on the oven to get the desired uniform black patina that provides the no-stick properties that the cast iron can obtain. This process will protect the oven from rusting.

This process will create quite a lot of white smoke so be aware of any smoke detectors you may have in the immediate area.

It is best to avoid acidic ingredients for the first couple of uses of your Dutch oven. Instead select ingredients high in fat such as sausage, bacon or chicken.

Rub cooking oil (olive oil is the best) inside and out with a cloth or paper towel. Repeat this 3 or 4 times over the next 2 days. Do not use spray-on oil, lard or other animal products as they don’t do the job. If lard is used this can go rancid and spoil the oven. This process is to get the oil to penetrate into the metal, as cast iron is very porous. After the above process has been carried out, place in a hot oven and bake at 300-350C. It can be done on a fire but even heat is best and time is not wasted when camping. Bake it for at least an hour applying more oil to the inside of the camp oven and don’t forget the lid. The oil will glaze on the surface and give it a protective surface.

Care of oven

Removing food residue

Using a plastic utensil or coarse sponge scrap off any remaining food residue and heat the oven with an inch or two of warm water in the oven. One thing you should NEVER do is to pour cold water into a hot cast iron oven as this could cause the oven to crack. Let the oven sit near (not on) the cooling coals or briquettes (Heat Beads)to allow the food to break away from the bottom and sides.

After the oven has simmered for a while, use a soft fibre brush or similar to scrub it clean as you don’t want to remove your coating. The food should come away easily. I have found that if the oven is rinsed immeditaly after serving, the food has not crusted onto the oven and is a lot easier to clean.

Allow the oven to dry completely. You may like to return it to near the warmth of the fire to assist this, but do not place it directly on the heat.

Before storing after use always give the camp oven a wash with just hot water but don’t use a scourer on it otherwise you will have to re-seal it. A soft fibre brush is best for the cleaning of you camp oven. Before storing give the oven a good oiling as this will stop rust forming.

Spun Metal Camp Ovens

The spun metal type camp oven is a lot easer to season. It is a case of washing the preservitive coating off it and oiling the unit
I have included a video on how it is done below .

The Camp Fire

When using a camp oven there are a number of ways of using it depending what you are cooking. To be able to get the best results there are some guide lines to follow. There is nothing that will beat experience of having done it, and been successful as this is something that can’t be replaced.

One of the big mistakes made is too much heat especially if it is put over a flame, as this will cause overheating of the camp oven and will usually cause the contents to be burnt. When cooking damper, scones, cakes or a roast etc, the cooking should be done not by heat from the bottom but from the top. By putting a bed of coals just to heat the bottom of the oven – Not too many as you only want to heat the oven bottom not burn the contents.

Place coals on the lid of the oven so that the heating of the oven is being done from the top. These coals will have to be topped up from time to time depending how long the cooking process will take.

What you are trying to achieve is the same as if you were using the oven in your kitchen at home. Too much heat could cause evaporation of liquids inside the camp oven and cause the food to burn. When using the camp oven to do a roast or cakes, it is advisable to use a cake rack in the bottom. This will assist in the cooking by having the food being heated without direct contact with the bottom. Hence it will assist in stopping the food being burnt.

Another method to use the camp oven is to dig a hole deep enough to put the camp oven in it, with enough room around it to place coals. Locate the hole for the camp oven near the fire as in the course of the cooking extra coals will have to be added. Place some coals in the bottom of the hole but not to many, you only want to warm the bottom of the oven. Once this is done place more coals around the sides and on the lid. This method gives a very constant heat and the bottom does not get burnt.

If you are using the camp oven to do a casserole or stew then the above method can be used or by placing the oven on coals. Just remember too much heat and you will burn the food. A bad experience will be a lesson and realise that time is the essence with this type of cooking

There has been a growing popularity in using heat beads for cooking with camp ovens. By using these one can control the amount of heat required by adding or subtracting beads. The heat beads take some time to get going to the stage where you can use them give them time to get going. Here is a tip, Once the packet of heat beads is opened they will age and not work as well. The way to keep them fresh is to store the unused ones in an airtight container otherwise they absorb moisture.

I have included information on the testing of the heat in your camp oven under the recipes and also a guide to using heat beads I hope these hints will assist you to having more enjoyable times.

Tools Required

When using camp ovens there are a number of tools that are useful to carry out the cooking To be able to check the oven a camp oven lifter will be required. Some use the good old multigrips or a pair of pliers or more use a multi tool commonly known as a peg lifter. This is a long strong hook with a handle. The more innovative make their own using 6mm steel rod or heavy fencing wire but they are available from camping stores like ours. This tool is useful for lifting the camp oven from the coals and also for lifting the lid from the camp oven.

If you are using a Bedourie Camp oven then you will need a Camp Oven Chucker. This is a pair of hooks with a piece of light chain between the top of the hooks. The rods are about 600mm long. This is because the Bedourie Camp oven does not have a handle in the middle of the lid but a ring on either side of the lid. If you look at the video that Derek Bullock has done he explains and shows a lot of the equipment required.

Here is a list of items that I feel is required to make your cooking experience successful:

  • A trivet for the bottom of the oven
  • Long Handle tongs
  • Camp oven lifter -depending on camp oven used
  • A pair of multigrips
  • Gloves or mitts- to handle hot items
  • Pie tray ( Alfoil pie trays are great for damper)
  • A pot scraper (Pot Spatula, paint scraper)
  • Roll of Paper Towels
  • Small brush to brush off the lid- not nylon
  • Olive Oil
  • Heat Beads
  • Matches

Testing camp oven heats by paper test

I came across these tables on the Mitsubishi 4WD Owners Club of Qld and have included it for information for those wanting to know how to test the oven for temperature and also how to use heat beads instead of coals

Below are charts to give you a way of regulating the heat of camp ovens when using heat beads,and also to determine the heat of an oven when using coals from a fire.

Pre-heat the oven on a bed of coals. Place a piece of paper inside the oven to find out what heat the oven is at. The paper will change colour according to the heat of the oven within a few moments.

Paper Heat Test Chart
Very hot oven 260 Dark Brown
Hot oven 190-200 Light Brown
Moderate oven 160-190 Yellow
Slow oven 120-160 Crust
TOO BLOODY HOT Black & on fire!

Heat Control in the Camp Oven

Heat control is the hardest thing to master when learning to cook with a cast iron camp oven. Here are a few tips to help you on your way!

Good quality heat beads rather than camp fire coals are recommended because they provide a long lasting, even heat source and are easier to use.

It is important to remember that these tips are a guide to help you get started. You will need to adjust the heat beads according to your recipe and keep in mind that the weather, temperature and soft ground can affect cooking temperature and times.

  • A strong wind or breeze will raise the temperature.
  • High humidity will lower the temperature.
  • Direct sunlight will increase the temperature.
  • Shade will lower the temperature.
  • Higher air temperature will increase the temperature.
  • High altitude will lower the temperature.

Various recipes and dishes require that you have the correct placement:

  • Stews, soups, chilli and other liquid dishes require more heat on the bottom than the top.
  • Meat, poultry, potatoes, vegetables, require even distribution of heat on top and bottom.
  • bread, damper, cakes etc. require most of the heat on the top and little heat on the bottom.
CONTROL USING HEAT BEADS (these numbers are approximate)
Temp 10 inch 12 inch
C Top Bottom Top Bottom
150 12 5 14 7
175 14 6 16 8
200 16 7 19 10
230 18 8 21 10

Each heat bead adds about 20 degrees.

Place the required number of heat beads under the oven bottom in a circular pattern so they are at least 1/2″ inside the oven’s edge. Arrange heatbeads on top in a checkerboard pattern. Do not bunch heat beads as they can cause hot spots.

To prevent hot spots during cooking, lift and rotate the oven a 1/4 turn every 10-15 minutes and then rotate the lid a 1/4 turn in the opposite direction.

©Harry Cramer 2011