Campsite Eats

Camping can be one of the great joys of living in the South – even if it’s simply spending the night in a tent in your backyard. However, if you are hankering to explore a bit more of the great outdoors, you are in luck! Alabama the beautiful is also Alabama the bountiful, blessed with a myriad of marvelous woods and waterways, offering opportunities galore.

From the mountainous north to the glorious Gulf, our state provides countless campgrounds (scroll to the bottom for a quick guide to local campgrounds), including facilities at 22 conservation parks and several historic parks. In our neck of the woods some of these include: Blakeley State Park, in Spanish Fort; Gulf State Park, in Gulf Shores; Chickasabogue Park, in north Mobile County; and Meaher State Park, off the Causeway. Cooking over an open fire, sleeping under the stars and telling stories are all musts for a classic camping adventure. Here, find a few recipes that make the experience easy on the chef and are sure to please the pack.

Jo’s Favorite Marinade

This marinade, from my friend and fellow foodie, Jo Bonner, can be used on meat, vegetables and more. The original recipe hails from the pages of “Seconds Please!, ” a cookbook that Jo’s cousin’s wife, Sara Engelhardt, of Montgomery, co-authored and compiled. Jo uses it mainly for rib-eye steaks, strips and filets, but says it is also quite good on chicken and pork. For easy transport and cooking campside, marinate the vegetables and meat for the outdoor meal separately in zip-top plastic bags or sealed plastic containers tucked into a cooler.

2 cups olive oil
1 cup tarragon vinegar
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1/3 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
4 bay leaves
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon sugar

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1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil for 2 – 3 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, cool and pour over meat.
4. Refrigerate. Marinate for 24 hours or more, turning several times. Makes approximately 4 cups.

Sallye’s Snappy Cheese

This pimento-less version of cheese spread has a sassy, zesty flavor. For the small set, or for those with timid taste buds, simply omit the jalapeño and banana peppers. It is also divine with a little crumbled cooked bacon on top.

2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 (4-ounce) block cream cheese,  softened
1/2 – 1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeños
1/2 – 1 tablespoon minced banana peppers
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use Duke’s.)
1 pinch garlic salt
1 pinch Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

1. Blend together all ingredients and enjoy. Serve with crackers or use as a spread to make quesadillas, sandwiches, or to top burgers. Makes about 2 1/2 – 3 cups.

Wilcox County’s Best Cornbread

This easy skillet cornbread is also compliments of Jo Bonner, a native of Camden, in Wilcox County. Prepare it before the big trip to savor at mealtime.

1 tablespoon cooking oil (Jo uses Crisco oil.)
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 1/4 cups Sunflower Cornmeal Mix (Jo says there is no substitute.)

1. Put oil in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Place in oven and allow it to preheat to 425 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, combine buttermilk, egg, mayonnaise and Sunflower Cornmeal. Mix well.
3. When oven is preheated, pour hot oil from skillet in mixture. Stir again.
4. Then pour the cornmeal batter into hot skillet, and cook for 15 – 20 minutes (until top of cornbread is golden brown).
5. Allow cornbread to cool. Then slice into triangles. Serves 6 – 8.

Wild Rice Salad

This is a nutritious, delicious prepare-ahead dish that holds up well for travel to a campsite and tastes terrific right out of the cooler or at room temperature. It is a festive blend of textures and tastes.

3 (2.75-ounce) packages quick-cooking wild rice, cooked and cooled (I use Gourmet House.)
1/2 cup pecan pieces, toasted
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
3/4 – 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook rice according to the package directions. Fluff and let cool.
2. Add pecans, cranberries, green onions, parsley, mint and feta cheese.
3. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Whisk. Pour over rice mixture, and toss to coat.
4. Season with salt and pepper and chill until ready to serve. Serves 6 – 8.

S’mores Cupcakes 

S’mores are a classic campfire treat. The following two twists on the tradition are perfect for satisfying that sweet craving when a fire is not an option, or while you patiently await the necessary marshmallow perfection before assembling the tried and true treat.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup water
1 egg, lightly whisked
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Marshmallow Frosting
4 graham cracker squares, crushed with a rolling pin, mortar and pestle or nut chopper
2 – 3 Hershey bars, broken into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking soda.
3. In a saucepan, melt the butter with the water, cooking over low heat until completely melted, stirring to combine. Remove from heat.
4. Whisk egg in a separate bowl and add to the flour mixture. Then add the butter and water mixture, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low until smooth.
5. Place cupcake papers into cupcake tins. Fill each cupcake paper half full.
6. Bake 18 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
7. Spread Marshmallow Frosting atop cupcakes. Sprinkle with crushed graham crackers and chocolate bar pieces. Makes about 14 cupcakes.

Marshmallow Frosting

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow cream

1.  Beat softened butter, powdered sugar and vanilla with mixer until smooth.
2. Add marshmallow cream, and stir to combine completely.

Chocolate Marshmallow Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter and sugar until smooth and well combined.
3. Beat in 1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks (reserving the whites for later).
4. Mix in the flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla.
5. Spread mixture into a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
6. Sprinkle marshmallows and chocolate chips on top of batter.
7. Beat reserved egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in brown sugar.
8. Spread this mixture over the chips and marshmallow to cover.
9. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Makes approximately 24 bars.

A Quick Guide to Local Campgrounds

Adapted from “Best Tent Camping: Alabama” by Joe Cuhaj

Find “Best Tent Camping: Alabama” at Alabama Outdoors • Legacy Village, 9 Du Rhu Drive. 340-0528.

Blakeley Historic State Park  34745 State Highway 225, Spanish Fort.

If you’re looking for a quiet getaway in the woods with plenty of beauty and history minus the tourist trappings of larger campgrounds, then this park is just for you.
Popular Nearby Activities Explore along the elevated boardwalk on the shores of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, trek 15 miles of trails in the surrounding forest, canoe or kayak on advanced waterways, or take in a Civil War reenactment the first weekend of April or the Blakeley Bluegrass Festival the first weekend in October.
Sites 28
Fee Adults, $6 / night; children (ages 6 – 12), $4 / night
Amenities Picnic table, fire ring
Facilities Flush toilets,  hot showers
Fire In fire ring only
Maximum Per Site 1 tent (4 adults / 4 children) / site

Chickasabogue Park  760 Aldock Road, Eight Mile. 574-2267.

This is one family-friendly park, offering something to keep even the most fidgety of youngsters occupied, while providing plenty for adults too.
Popular Nearby Activities At Chickasaw Creek, swimmers will enjoy sandy white beaches while fishermen can cast a line in pursuit of bass, crappie, catfish and pickerel. It’s also a great place to paddle, and canoes are available for rent. Hike or bike the park’s 11 miles of trails or pick up a game of disc golf on the Professional Disc Golf Association-sanctioned course.
Sites 47
Fee $5 – $18
Amenities Picnic table, fire ring with grill, water, power
Facilities Flush toilets, hot showers, laundry, museum
Fire In fire ring only

Gulf State Park  22050 Campground Road, Gulf Shores. 948-7275.

The Gulf Coast has miles of beautiful white beaches. In the heart of all of this, you’ll find Alabama’s most popular state park. Gulf State Park is as close to resort lodging at a state park as you can get.
Popular Nearby Activities Hike and bike at Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trails, saltwater fish at the largest Gulf fishing pier, freshwater fish in Middle Lake, scale the park’s new zip line course or take a dip in the beautiful Gulf waters set along pristine white beaches.
Sites 496
Fee From $34 – $49 (for 4 people) depending on site location, season and number of tents; cabins and cottages also available, see the park’s website for seasonal rates
Amenities Picnic table, grill,  water, power
Facilities Flush toilets, hot showers, laundry, boat launch, tennis, pool, camp store
Fire In grill only
Maximum Per Site 1 tent (8 people) / site with an extra tent for children
Minimum / Maximum Two-night minimum stay Friday – Saturday, May – November; three-night minimum stay major holidays and special events; 14-day stay limit April – October

Meaher State Park • 5200 Battleship Parkway East, Spanish Fort. 626-5529. 

Magnificent sunsets and tranquil bayside camping make up for what this park lacks in size. Time seems to slow down here.
Popular Nearby Activities Take in picturesque waterfront views, watch pelicans swoop overhead and possibly catch a glimpse of an alligator or two. Be sure to visit the nearby Five Rivers Delta Resource Center.
Sites 56
Fee $30
Amenities Picnic table, grill, water, power
Facilities Flush toilets, hot showers, laundry, playground, fishing pier
Pets On leash only
Fire In grill only
Maximum Per Site 1 tent (4 people) / site

Used With Permission of Menasha Ridge Press, Copyright 2013 By Joe Cuhaj

text by Sallye Irvine • photos by Nicole Quinn

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