Waggons West Etsy Shop

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coralville Cuisine

In the interest of collecting recipes I've scattered across the internet, I am reposting my favorites here. This is another summertime favorite.

Every summer before we left on our westward journey my dad would dig up all the tiny new potatoes and my mother would pick all the green beans. The camper would be packed the night before and hitched to the back of our red Studebaker. My dad would wake us all up before the crack of dawn and pop us into the car sometimes still wearing our pajamas. We’d go until the sun was up and then stop at the first roadside table to eat our cereal and milk. We’d get a sandwich stop at noon and by mid afternoon we’d be setting up camp at the Coralville reservoir in Iowa.

The first thing out of the trailer would be the big green ice chest followed by the big wooden kitchen boxes my dad designed and built to hold the camping dishes and pantry. One of us was sent to the pump to fill the water bucket that was always kept filled and covered with a tin plate on the picnic table bench. I really think the water gig was designed to keep us out of the way while my parents struggled with unfolding and leveling the tent part of the tent camper.

Water at the ready and kitchen in place dad would break out the Coleman stove. He’d fill it with white gas, prime and pump it and then WHOOSH it was ready to go. The first night out we would always have hamburger gravy with green beans and new potatoes. I’m sure that mom, who is a perfect cook, browned the meat and made gravy with flour and cold water. I can still picture the clear plastic gravy shaker with the red lid (it is different from the metal one she keeps in her kitchen). By the time we were mostly grown and my parents started staying in hotels that shaker was held together with masking tape. It made the best gravy.

Not being as talented as my mother, I always end up with lumps when I try flour gravy. (No matter how many times she tries to show me I just can’t get the hang of it.) So I’ve come up with my own cheater version of this camping favorite. Before you read further you have to understand that this recipe is a heritage recipe. It is made with convenience foods and loaded with salt. We don’t have it often. Just when we need a taste of the familiar.

Hamburger Gravy.

1-1/2 lbs ground beef (use the best tasting beef you can afford. Most of the flavor comes from the browned meat.)
1/2 package Onion Soup Mix
1 can low sodium cream of mushroom soup
Water as needed
Pepper to taste

Brown the beef and drain the fat. Add enough water to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. (Sure you could go all up scale and use wine but we are talking camping on a budget with kids here.) Add the onion soup mix and stir until it is dissolved. Add the mushroom soup and enough additional water to get the consistency you prefer. We always keep it pretty thick. Let it simmer 5-10 minutes (not too long because you are taking up a burner and using up gas.) Season with pepper and salt if you must. Serve over boiled potatoes and steamed green beans.

In practice you boil the potatoes while you are browning the meat. Once the potatoes are done you take the pot off the stove and leave the potatoes in the hot water until you are ready to serve. This frees the second burner for cooking the beans. Start the beans. Add the soups to the meat. When the beans are done you drain the potatoes and serve the meal. Mmmmmm.

Some additional notes on how things have changed since I first posted this. I now chop up at least a cup of button mushrooms and add them to the pan as the meat is browning. In addition to the soup and soup mix, I add a few dashes of Penzy's English Beef Rub. I think the main flavor it brings to the mix is celery seed. You can try adding a dash of that if you can't get your hands on the Penzy's.

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