KEVIN TATE: The best camp cooking calls all of us back for seconds

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Breakfast was almost ready when Trey Cox, the breakfast short-straw-drawer, announced, “I spilled some pepper in the gravy. You will notice it.”
We were at my friend John Rush’s family deer camp in Greene County and it was time to eat. Trey had gotten the consistency of the sawmill gravy just right, then opened the sifter end of the pepper can and upended it over the cast iron skillet full of health food he’d prepared and discovered the can’s last user had left the big pour flap open. A cup of pepper to a quart of gravy is a little on the strong side, but we ate all of it anyway, along with bacon, biscuits, eggs, molasses and butter. Whatever that breakfast may have lacked on the healthy side, it more than made up for in memories.
Some of my favorite hunting-related stories center on what there was to eat, always a common theme in any camp anywhere, and something most of us take extra care to make sure turns out right. The weather will be what it will be, as will the hunting itself. There’s generally very little you can do about the accommodations, but what can be fully controlled is the quality of the food. If the food’s good, everything else can be so-so and we’ll all still have a great time. If the quality or, God forbid, the quantity of the food is lacking, the hunting better be beyond spectacular or there’s going to be more mumbling and grumbling going around than at a caveman convention.
Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland tells lots of stories about hunting camp food, but my favorite comes from a Western hunt long ago.
“I was in Colorado in 1979 with several pals from my hometown,” Strickland recalls. “We had a local fellow lined up to rent us a cabin. The guy met us and said he was going to do a little cooking for us while we were there. Sounded great to me, until later that night when he delivered a HUGE bowl of something to the table. It had at least one chicken or some type of poultry in it, boiled until the bones fractured and split apart, green peas, string beans, corn, some type of cubed dough stuff and beets. As terrible as that sounds, the sight was way more appealing than the smell, which was kind of a chemical scent with a tainted meat overtone. To this day I can still smell that bowl like it was right in front of me.
“We all got a big helping and pushed it around on our plates, waiting for the guy to leave. When he saw how much was still in the big bowl he smiled and said, ‘We can have these leftovers tomorrow.’ That night one of my buddies sneaked the bowl up the hill and buried it under the leaves. Thank goodness.”
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.