With so many public places and businesses closing down or changing hours this year, this summer seems as good a time as any to learn to live off the land. Those of you who really want to rough it might even be interested in foraging for food on your next camping trip. The question is, can you do it safely?
Foraging is something of a lost art these days, but it’s still entirely possible to find food in the wild as long as you have the proper knowledge and a few essential tools. Below, we’ll tell you more about foraging and give you the knowledge you’ll need to get started next time you head out to the woods.
Is it Possible to Forage for Food While Camping?
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve seen at least one episode of Survivor or Man vs. Wild. But don’t worry; you won’t have to eat bugs or drink your own urine to survive for a few days in the Canadian wilderness. Camping can be rugged without being… well, gross.
That said, foraging isn’t as easy as just walking into the bushes to pick berries off the nearest tree. You’ll need to know what foods are safe, how to test them, and where to find them.
Eat This, Not That: Safe Foods to Forage for While Camping
Here’s a quick list of safe foods you can commonly find growing in the Canadian wilderness. We can’t guarantee that they’ll all be tasty, but remember: this is what you chose instead of bringing canned food!
That’s right; these common lawn weeds are actually safe to consume—as long as you prepare them properly and avoid those that have been sprayed with pesticides (shoot for the wild dandelions growing in a remote clearing, not the ones sprouting up next to the campground manager’s office).
Morel mushrooms are common throughout most of Canada, and while they might look kind of scary, they’re also quite delicious. However, they’re also elusive, rarely growing in the same spot year after year.
Morels are often used as garnishes in restaurant dishes, but they’re perfectly fine to eat on their own as well. Just sautee them in your campfire skillet with a bit of oil, and enjoy!
Leeks are similar to onions and tend to grow in clusters from late April to mid-May. They tend to grow mostly in forested areas, so you might have to trek a little to find them—but since the entire plant is edible, you’ll be handsomely rewarded if you do.
There’s no great secret to preparing leeks, either—like any leafy green vegetable, they’re pretty versatile. Put them together with those sauteed mushrooms we mentioned and make yourself a nice salad!
You won’t have to venture too far off the beaten path to find rhubarb—in fact, you might not even have to leave your vehicle, since it often grows right by the side of the road! Of course, as with dandelions, you’ll want to avoid picking rhubarb from anywhere that’s likely been sprayed with chemicals.
We have to offer a disclaimer here: there is no universal rule for making sure foraged food is safe, and we’re not legally responsible if you eat something that makes you sick. However, we can offer a few general guidelines for testing your foraged food:
Whenever you find a plant you might want to eat, separate it into different parts. Test each piece at a time so that you don’t accidentally eat something you’ve overlooked.
Smell each part of the plant. Your sense of smell is a strong indicator of whether food is safe—if it’s too funky, err on the side of caution and stay away!
Place a small part of the plant on your exposed skin for a few minutes. If it stings, itches, burns, or causes numbness or a rash, don’t eat it. As my uncle used to say: what ain’t good for your outsides won’t be no better for your insides, neither!
Next, prepare the plant the way you’re going to eat it. We often recommend boiling, as this can help sanitize whatever you’ve picked.
Before putting the plant in your mouth, touch a small part of it to your lips and wait for 15 minutes. Assuming there are no unpleasant sensations, put it in your mouth and chew it. Then hold it in your mouth for 15 more minutes—but if you experience a bitter or soapy taste, spit it out.
After a part of the plant has successfully passed all of the above tests, you can swallow a small piece of it. If a few hours go by and you experience no adverse effects, it’s usually safe to assume that part of the plant is edible.
Signs that Foraged Food is Safe (or Unsafe!)
Here are a few things to keep your eye out for when foraging for edible vegetables:
Look for brown or tan gills on mushrooms. Some mushrooms with white gills are incredibly poisonous, including the notorious death cap.
Don’t eat mushrooms with scaled caps or spots, as these are more common amongst poisonous varieties.
Check under the cap for a second, smaller ring of tissue. If you see one, don’t eat the mushroom. Many toxic mushrooms can be easily identified this way.
Be cautious of plants with particularly shiny leaves, as these are a feature of many unsafe plants.
When looking for wild fruits or berries, it’s best to bring a field guide along. There are so many varieties that you won’t be able to use a simple rule of thumb in every case.
Never Go Hungry in the Woods Again!
Foraging for food in the wild might not make for the most decadent meals, but you can certainly sustain yourself for a few days or more with the right skills and knowledge. Use what you’ve learned here to get started, and remember: if you’re not sure something is safe to eat, it’s best to assume that it isn’t.
It’s hard to overstate the amount of satisfaction that comes from cooking and eating in the wilderness—as long as you’re cooking good food. Chowing down on a hearty meal at your campsite can be wonderfully fulfilling, but scrounging around for snacks and eating cold food from cans in the woods can feel woefully pathetic. Unless you’re really into post-apocalyptic LARPing, you probably want to go with that first option.
Fortunately, we’re here to show you some delicious—and simple—meals you can cook at practically any campsite. Keep reading, and try not to let your mouth water all over your merino wool base layers.
We thought we’d start with some hearty breakfast suggestions (after all, it’s the most important meal of the day). Pancakes might seem a little elaborate, but trust us—these are dead-easy to make, and you only need a few simple pieces of equipment.
Best of all, camping gives you an excuse to eat high-calorie foods for breakfast since you’ll be burning more energy than usual to stay warm. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to eat pancakes for breakfast, this is definitely it.
Look, we get it—not everyone likes pancakes (okay, actually we don’t get it, but we still want to provide alternatives). This french toast jam-packed full of strawberries (see what we did there?) and mascarpone is an excellent choice for those of you with other early-morning cravings, and you’ll even manage to get a serving of fruit!
This dish can be prepped in minutes and usually takes under half an hour to cook. Best of all, you can do the whole thing with just a camp stove and a skillet—along with the ingredients, of course.
It wouldn’t be right not to provide a savoury breakfast suggestion, so try these hearty taquitos filled with eggs, cheese, and sausage links. You’ll get a good mix of carbs, healthy fats, and protein for an energy boost that can carry you right through the morning.
Let’s talk about beer—as a marinade for this filling and flavourful chicken dish, that is! Chicken is an excellent source of protein that can give campers energy to spare, and this recipe helps spice it up to keep lunch or dinner exciting.
You can’t get away with just any beer for this recipe, though, so keep your Kokanee in the cooler and bring along a bottle of something dark and rich like Negra Modelo. You’ll also need a dutch oven to pull this one off (although you might be able to use a cast-iron skillet as a substitute).
Plenty of vegetarians and vegans like camping, too, so we made sure to include a few ideas on making vegetables sizzle (literally) for your outdoor meals. Check out this recipe for crispy and delicious veggies grilled with oil, sriracha, and red pepper flakes in a cast-iron skillet.
One of the best things about grilling vegetables is that you can pick and choose your spices. Not a huge fan of paprika? Try switching it with garlic powder for an entirely different flavour profile—or go crazy and use both!
Okay, this one’s ridiculously easy—but it’s also ridiculously delicious, so you’re welcome. Best of all, you can make it using almost anything that won’t melt over a campfire: a cast-iron pan, a baking sheet, a pizza stone, etc.
The ingredients for this recipe are simple too. All you need is some frozen pizza dough, tomato sauce, cheese, oil, and whatever veggies or meat you want to use for toppings. We’ve put this one on the list because it’s a great way to feed picky kids if you happen to be on a family camping trip where they aren’t thrilled about eating more adventurous fare.
While we admit that french fries aren’t the healthiest snacks in the world, we also can’t stress enough that how you prepare them matters. In fact, it’s not even really fair to call these “fries” since you’ll bebaking them in foil packets on top of the campfire instead of deep-frying them.
These potato wedges (there, happy?) can be made in minutes, and they taste even better when drizzled with sour cream or covered in bacon bits. Plus, they go amazingly well with the last item on our list, which is…
Chili is practically a campfire staple, with its origins in the cowboy culture of the American Southwest. However, while most people don’t want to simply eat pre-made chili from a can, they probably don’t have the time to prepare dry beans, either. This recipe saves some time by letting you use canned beans—but gives you control over the flavour with easily-customizable spices and veggies.
With a mere 35-minute timeline for the entire meal, this is a terrific way for hungry adventurers to warm up quickly in chilly (chili?) weather. Put it together with the cheesy garlic fries in foil listed above, and you’ll have the perfect camper’s comfort food.
Make Cooking Your Favourite Campfire Activity
With these recipes in your back pocket (or backpack), cooking while camping can be fast and fulfilling. Who knows—you might even start making a few of these dishes at home after trying them out in the wilderness! We wouldn’t blame you… after all, do you really need to head out to the middle of nowhere to justify eating garlic fries? In any case, we hope you’ll love making this food as much as we did! Bon appetit!
When you think about making food on a camping trip, you probably imagine cooking over a roaring fire. While the image of good friends eating hearty food around a firepit is iconic, there are also other ways to cook in the great outdoors — and it pays to know them, in case you can’t build a fire on your next adventure.
For your convenience, we’ve assembled a list of the best ways to cook while camping. This guide will tell you when to use each of these methods and give you helpful advice on how to master them.
Campfires: the Tried & True Method
Campfires are the most popular way to cook in the wilderness, and they’re one of humanity’s oldest methods of meal prep — short of just tearing raw meat off the bone like an animal. We’re guessing you don’t want salmonella, though, so let’s assume that’s not an option.
It’s also important to realize that there are numerous ways to cook with a campfire. You’re not limited to just skewering things and roasting them on the open flames! Moreover, cooking directly over fire can burn your food or cook it unevenly, making some meals unsafe.
Here are a few of our favourite ways to make use of the firepit at your next campground:
Bring cast-iron cookware: cast iron is denser than other common metals used in kitchenware. As a result, cast iron pots and pans are better at retaining heat and more likely to distribute it evenly.
Use a grill grate: these metal grids can be placed on top of a firepit and used for several purposes. It’s usually possible to cook meat by placing it directly on top since the metal will conduct heat and cook the food more evenly than an open flame. Grates can also support cookware — allowing you to do things like boil water without holding the pot yourself. They are typically made from stainless steel or cast-iron and have an enamel coating.
Wrap with aluminum foil: wrapping protein and veggies with foil allows you to place them directly in the coals, resulting in evenly cooked food that you can eat right out of the package. There’s no short supply of recipes that use this method, and foil can be used to line cookware as well.
When Can’t You Use a Campfire to Cook?
There are a few different situations where using a campfire for cooking just isn’t possible. Be aware of them so you can have a few backup plans ready.
Most areas don’t allow campfires under certain environmental conditions. Restrictions tend to be most common during dry and windy conditions when forest fire risk is highest. Before setting off on your adventure, it’s always smart to check the list of fire bans for the province where you’ll be camping.
Even when fires are allowed, sometimes it’s impossible to start one. Rain may extinguish a flame before it can spread from the kindling to the tinder. Damp wood may not even light with fire all around it, so starting a fire in clear conditions can still be difficult if it has rained recently.
The Fire Won’t Grow
Cooking over a bonfire is much easier than cooking over a weak flame. It’s like the difference between a kitchen element set to “high” and one set to “minimum”. If your campfire keeps going out or isn’t getting large enough to cook efficiently, it’s best to explore alternatives — that is, unless you feel like waiting an hour to boil water.
Other Ways to Prepare Meals While Camping
If you can’t use a campfire for cooking, try using some of these methods instead:
Portable Stoves & Grills
Travel-friendly kitchen appliances make it easy to cook without an open flame — just make sure you have enough fuel or a power source nearby. Most portable grills and ranges are either electric or gas-powered, so you may want to pack spare cylinders or a small generator if you plan on using them.
Pre-Cook & Pack Food Before Leaving
Some meals taste better cold, especially if you go camping in warm weather. Try cooking rice or quinoa at home before leaving for your trip, and use it as the base for a filling and nutritious salad.
Eat No-Cook Foods
Some foods don’t need to be cooked at all! Sandwiches, cereal, cold cuts, and canned food are all easy to bring on a camping trip and can be enjoyed with practically no preparation beforehand. However, make sure you store them in a cooler so that their scent won’t attract wild animals.
Many Ways to Cook While Camping
Your campsite may not have all the conveniences of a modern kitchen, but it still offers plenty of ways for you to cook creatively. Campfires are much more versatile than most people think — and when you can’t build one, smart packing and a portable stove will ensure that you have other options.