ROB INGRAM TALKS UP THE CAST-IRON CAMP OVEN — THE ONLY WAY TO PREPARE AN HONEST COUNTRY FEAST.
I DOUBT THERE WAS MUCH gossip when Lawson, Blaxland and Wentworth strapped the last pannikin in place and set off for the inland. Do you think their expedition had hardly turned the first corner before gossipers were speculating about how they had gone all ‘alternative’? Yet, when the Squire and The Chosen One followed in their tracks a sensible couple of centuries later, city colleagues seemed to assume that natural attrition had thinned out the herd (this, I proudly add, is a term I have picked up in the interim and they will never understand). That we’d turned a bit alternative. When we followed Blaxland out of town, we weren’t trying to get in touch with Mother Nature... or even just to drive slowly past her place. We weren’t into the wholegrain and handicraft dream of self-sustainability. I’d be perfectly happy to have somebody else sustain me, any day of the week. We were just a bit over the capitalist rat race that we’d never been very good at anyway. So we took vows of poverty and serenity and knew we’d succeed with at least one. We were looking for the honest life, and such a worthy quest deserved a symbol that would stiffen our resolve. We looked around... and there it was, the perfect emblem — a round black cast-iron camp oven. Food had always been a big part of our lives. We got into it when it was about taste, so that’s going back a bit. When pretension and snobbery washed over food like a tsunami, we headed for the hills. I knew I was trapped in a great big hoax when a fellow diner said to me one day, “It says here the barramundi is pan-fried. What else would they fry it in?” The camp oven has been a great friend to us here. Yes, our eating habits changed. We rediscovered the pot roast, the bush pork casserole and even jugged some venison. We gave away the scaloppine di vitello al tartufo nero and gained a taste for veal goulash. But mostly it’s been a totem for honesty and a life change worth making. A lot has been written about camp cooking, but, even within the honest little cast-iron pot, authenticity is starting to simmer away. There is great enthusiasm for the chicken and prosciutto parmigiana and the Mexican lasagne from new-generation camp oven enthusiasts, but I was hoping to find something that showed a little more bush provenance. Surely in the pioneering days, our forebears would run down a rabbit, tenderise it with a handy clog, and throw it in the camp oven with a sprig of snifflewort and a handful of stink beetles and contemplate a sumptuous supper. That’s what I wanted to know about. So I’m driving past the landmark Hotel Dunedoo the other weekend and it had a lairy banner draped across it. It’s the Camp Oven Cook-off and there’s enough smoke to suggest that things are under way. I’m just in time for the judging of the best stew category — the main event for me. Matthew Stopforth from Mudgee reigns supreme and his winning dish is... drums, please... Tom Yum Goong (Thai hot and sour prawn soup). I suspect my search is not yet over, but congratulations, Matt. Meanwhile, I bet there are a few old pioneers up there wishing they’d thought of the dish that won best signature dish: Tiny Lewis from Coonamble’s pork should, infused with apple and pineapple juice and served as sliced and pulled pork with a rum-and-coke barbecue sauce. Next year, I’ll sponsor a True Blue Dinky-di Jolly Swagman Billabong Jumbuck genuine pioneer category... and I’ll lift my lid to all who enter.
DI “WE GAVE AWAY THE SCALOPPINE GAINED VITELLO AL TARTUFO NERO AND A TASTE FOR VEAL GOULASH.”