ONE of the many mammoth mail-order catalogs that come to my midget mansion unbade was being made ready for the sanitary disposal run, and my eye fell upon this: "Cook the Whole Meal in One Dish!" If there is great need for such a utensil, it merely means that not too many people have gone camping with John. The picture under this persuasive come-on showed a device with hinges and side-cars, and then I picked up the next catalog.
Bill and I, who spend a week together in the deep Maine wilderness every July, got things down to two dishes about 25 years ago. The second one is to heat water to wash the first. True, we don't attempt elaborate meals. If we start with a bisque, we then deploy a porterhouse apiece, with F. F. Pots and onion-mushroom garnish, creamed carrots, green beans or peas, either cauliflower or broccoli, a small green salad, some hot blueberry bread, and things like that. Nothing complicated.
We like a strawberry shortcake for dessert, and with his German background Bill has to have his Schlagsahne on it, whereas I let the strawberries suffice. It's enough. If we need more than that, we have a lunch at bedtime. We always wash our cooking dish and the supper things before we retire.
My training in the one-pot technique came from my grandfather, who was a sergeant in Company I of the 16th Maine Volunteers. If you remember, that was one of the regiments in the famed "Blanket Brigade."
For some reason never explained, five Northern regiments got lost from the supporting War Department, and for many months no supply wagons appeared. Food was scavenged. Uniforms disintegrated off the soldiers, and later when they marched through Washington on their way to battle the men wrapped themselves for warmth and modesty in their blankets. Hence, the Blanket Brigade.
My grandfather, a woodswise farm boy, called the search for food a "skirmish," and when anything to eat appeared he was the one who knew how to dress game and cook on a campfire. In my youth I would go to the woodlot with Gramp and at noonin' he'd whip up a cordon bleu masterpiece in a pail and tell me how he dressed out a hog the night before Fredericksburg, and two geese the evening after Pickett's Charge. According to him, Company I dined well.
He told me, too, about the Christmas dinner his father and mother had in 1790. Six miles away, over on what later came to be called Mosquito Hill, a "neighbor" family had moved in and built a cabin. It was the only settlement between our place and the seacoast village at Georgetown. So the two families had Christmas dinner together at the new home.
Austerity went with pioneering, and the hostess on this festive occasion was limited in her kitchen equipment. She had one pot, a fork, and a long-handled iron spoon. In the pot she had produced a venison stew, and the pot had been brought from the open fire on the hearth to be set on the table her husband had fashioned from split pine planks.
The husband had also fashioned beautiful dinner dishes from birch bark. Great-grandmother had the spoon and great-grandfather the fork, since they were guests. Mr. Curtis (their name was Curtis) had his woodsman's skinning knife, and Mrs. Curtis ate with a leather-working awl. As best each could, each dipped from the one and only central pot.
It was as fine a Christmas as anybody ever had.
I am reminded, too, of the time I surprised Old Walt as he was coming out of Bill Bauer's bakeshop. Walt lived alone in a camp up on the Rabbit Road, and he was a fantastic cook. Every time the Baptist Ladies' Aid had a bake sale Walt would bring in another masterpiece. But here he was buying!
He explained, "My oven door's brok' off." He said he tried to make do until the foundry sent a new hinge, and he said, "I just got hungry for things I ain't got."
He said he couldn't bake anything, and "for three weeks now all's I've et come out-a one skillet." Walt shifted the hot paper bag of goodies to his other arm, and he said, "Everything's tasted like fritters."