You went to camp to get a break from the city. You went on canoe trips to get a break from camp.
One of the breaks involved the food. Canoe trip food was better than camp food. For one thing, we had steaks. We never had steaks at camp, except maybe for the dinner before Visitors’ Day. This was strategic menu-planning on the part of the camp. It allowed the Visitors’ Day conversation between parent and camper to go something like this:
“How’s the food here?’
“What did you serve last night?”
Case closed. They are not skimping on the food.
“What did you have last night?”
It’s a whole different story.
By the way, I have no idea what Welsh rarebit is. Suffice it to say, I didn’t go near it.
Canoe trips also included the delicacy of salami, a treat otherwise unavailable to campers, unless their parents send them one in the mail, in what were called “Care Packages.” (“Care Packages” kept me alive for fourteen summers. Though I did lose what added up to more than two hundred and fifty pounds.)
A traditional part of setting up the canoe trip campsite was finding an appropriate location to hang the salami. The canoe trip salami was a cellophane-wrapped sausage about three feet long, with a looped string at one end of it, for easy suspending from the branch of a tree.
Suspending the salami was necessary to keep it out of the clutches of bears, who would frequently visit our campsites, even when those campsites were on an island. I don’t know what incentive bears would have to swim all the way out to an island. Maybe it was the unmissible opportunity of seeing Jewish people sleeping outdoors.
Or perhaps the bears were just born on the island and they never swam off.
The problem is is that bears climb trees. So suspending the salami from a tree branch seemed to me at least to be entirely unhelpful. Also, lacking a ladder, you really couldn’t suspend the salami all that high, your efforts thus merely generating the dubious entertainment of watching a bear, standing on its hind legs, gnawing on what you hoped, along with scrambled eggs, would be your next day’s breakfast.
I don’t know exactly who they were keeping the salami from by hanging it on a tree. Fish, maybe; we were camped by a lake. On the other hand, I could have misunderstood the whole thing. Maybe it was simply a decorative gesture – a yard-long Chicago kosher processed meat flag.
Both canoe trip salami and canoe trip steaks tasted better, because they were cooked over an open fire. Everything tastes better cooked over an open fire. Even twigs. Which regularly dropped from overhanging branches into pots heating up the canoe trip vegetable of choice – creamed corn. To this day, when dining on creamed corn at my favorite gourmet restaurant, I can’t help thinking to myself, “Something’s missing.”
It’s the twigs.
I have held back the most delectable element of canoe trip cuisine to the end. To experienced canoe trippers, I need say only one word, and their mouths will immediately begin to water. The word is,
I don’t know if they’re still around, but Gumpert’s was a company whose specialty was powdered food that wasn’t actual food until you added water, when it then became really good food.
Besides being yummy, Gumpert’s offered the added advantage of being compact and light, way lighter than those ponderous tins of Donald Duck Orange Juice we were forced to lug around. I guess Gumpert’s didn’t make orange juice.
But they did make a lot of other stuff. I am not familiar with their entire line of products, but I have personally consumed and greatly enjoyed their hot cereal, their smooth and creamy mashed potatoes, their Chanukah-quality potato latkas and, if memory serves, the ingredients, or at least the partial ingredients, of a cake.
To me, the whole process was rather miraculous. You tore open a small bag, and inside was this white powder – sometimes it was flakes – which, with added water, cooked up into more than edible dishes, dishes you could actually identify as to what exactly they were. This was not always the case with the food they prepared at camp.
The amazing thing was that, to my eye, the contents of all the Gumpert’s bags looked pretty much the same. I wondered how the powder knew what it was supposed to become, whether to turn into mashed potatoes or transform itself into a cake. The secret was apparently cryptically encoded in the powder’s DNA.
Grilled steaks, mashed potatoes, twig-garnished creamed corn and dessert. That’s why we went on canoe trips.
Despite the fear that the bears might not be satisfied just eating the salami.