by Gerry Rowan
Spring had been slow to start and was both wetter and colder than usual. More snow, more ice, and much less sun than last spring. It was mid-April in Pennsylvania, and trout season was about to start. That meant our annual pilgrimage to the north-central part of the state for some camping, hiking, and fly-fishing. We chose Clear Creek State Park, in Jefferson County, and selected a campsite right on the Clarion River. Located just south of Allegheny National Forest and featuring many streams cascading down the Allegheny Front, the park and surrounding area are ideal for both hiking and fishing.
As is the tradition in Pennsylvania, the opening day of trout season was on a Saturday. Our plan was to avoid the opening-day crowds and use Sunday as a travel day, spend the weekdays fishing and hiking in camp, and return home on Friday. We could enjoy the woods, streams, water, and sky at our choosing.
We pitched a 6-man dome tent, along with an E-Z Up canopy to shelter the tent opening from any storms. The tent seemed overly spacious for 2 guys, but it provided a lot of space to store gear and dry out wet clothing. We certainly were comfortable, with 2 folding cots containing inflatable mattresses, along with zero-degree sleeping bags and even a small, portable propane heater for warming the tent to allow our waders and other gear to dry. We also packed a Coleman camp stove so we could cook in the vestibule of the tent if it rained. Life has certainly evolved since the days of backpacking and sleeping on the ground.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, I swore I would never car-camp. I was a diehard backpacker. Somewhere in my 40s, I bought a 4-man tent, transitioned to car-camping, and even bought folding cots. Along the way I upsized the tent to a 6-man dome tent and increased the amount of gear. Sometime in my late 50s, I replaced the tent with a travel trailer. With age, sleeping on the ground was no longer possible, and a travel trailer didn’t seem to be a luxury.
After years of hiking, camping, and fishing, we were well equipped and provisioned. Since we were car-camping, we could include luxury items like a small, stove-top smoker. With hot showers available at the campground’s shower house and a week’s worth of provisions, we were living high and easy.
This was in the years before we decided to be catch-and-release fishermen. We would grill, fry, or smoke trout virtually every day. For breakfast, we usually included bacon and used the bacon fat to fry potatoes and trout. One of our favorite breakfasts was smoked trout, scrambled eggs, and buttermilk biscuits, slathered with butter and washed down with hot coffee. This was the kind of breakfast you’d expect fishermen and campers to eat—an image right out of a vintage Outdoor Life magazine. Those were also the days before I drank only decaf and when calories were not as important.
We day-hiked and fished our way through the week, sometimes hiking to remote spots. Each morning over coffee, we’d decide what to do that day. On days when the wind and cold rain made fishing and casting difficult, we’d find a hike that was protected by a dense pine or hemlock forest.
No trip to the Clear Creek State Park area would be complete without a side trip to the Forest Cathedral Natural Area of Cook Forest State Park. You stand in awe before a remnant of what Pennsylvania forests were once like: quiet, serene, majestic. God’s handiwork displayed in these silent, tall trees that swish in the wind. A place to smell the pine in the air and walk with a cushion of needles underfoot. For me, hiking among these trees has always a spiritual experience; no matter how many times I’ve been there.
Now, at 75, the wear of age has caught up with me. I don’t do long hikes anymore, and I appreciate the luxury of a travel trailer and a real mattress. I still camp, day-hike, and fly-fish every summer. Conveniences allow me to do what I love—being in nature whenever possible. An old-timer once told me that the secret was to keep moving. I’m looking forward to another season of exploring places where I’ve never been before. There is always another secret place to discover.
Pancakes are an ideal food for camping and backpacking. The dry ingredients can be assembled at home, and the on-the-trail prep time is short. An endless number of good recipes are readily available. Pancakes can be made savory or sweet and eaten for breakfast, dinner, or dessert.
Camp Whole Grain Pancakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons flax seed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
At home, add all the dry ingredients to a 2-quart ziplock bag. In camp, beat the egg and buttermilk together and add into the ziplock bag. Close the bag and work the mixture into a batter. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Clip a corner of the bag, drop about 4 to 6 tablespoons of batter onto the griddle, and cook until bubbles form and the edges dry. Flip; then cook until browned on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with butter and buttermilk, as well as honey, pancake syrup, or maple syrup.
Substitutions: Unbleached all-purpose flour for the whole wheat flour (makes lighter pancakes); ½ cup sweet cream buttermilk powder and 2 cups water for the buttermilk.
Additions: Blueberries, sliced bananas, strawberries, apples, dates, or figs sprinkled on top of the raw batter in the skillet; chopped nuts added as with the fruit; dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins; 1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.
Pie Iron Cakes
Batter from the Camp Whole Gain Pancakes recipe Crispy bacon strips
Build a fire and allow it to burn down into glowing coals. Make the pancake batter according to the Camp Whole Gain Pancakes recipe. Lightly spray the pie iron with cooking spray. Tear a strip of bacon in half and lay the pieces onto the pie iron. Squeeze about 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter over the bacon and close the iron. Place the pie iron about 6 to 8 inches over the hot coals and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn and repeat on the other side. Check the pancake for doneness; cook longer if necessary. Serve with butter and buttermilk, as well as honey, pancake syrup, or maple syrup.
Savory Version: Omit the sugar from the Camp Whole Gain Pancakes recipe.
Additions: 4 to 6 slices crumbled crispy bacon or ⅔ cup cooked whole corn kernels, shredded sweet potato, chopped ham, smoked turkey, smoked chicken, Spam, smoked salmon, smoked haddock, cooked sausage, smoked kielbasa, corned beef, cheddar cheese, shredded mozzarella or Swiss cheese, or chorizo; ¼ cup chopped chives; 1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped; one 4-ounce can roasted chilies, drained; 2 to 3 chopped green onions; ⅔ cup drained black beans; 1 teaspoon ground cumin.
The following recipe is for a syrup that started as a way of not wasting buttermilk but quickly became our favorite. Try over bread pudding or waffles; drizzle over fresh fruit.
1½ cup white sugar
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup butter
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, buttermilk, butter, corn syrup, and baking soda. Bring to a boil and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the vanilla. Serve warm. Make at home and reheat before serving.
Substitutions: ¾ cup brown sugar for the white sugar.
Additions: 2 to 3 tablespoons dark rum, bourbon, brandy, or Irish whisky.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
1 teaspoon vanilla
At home, measure out both sugars and add to a ziplock sandwich bag. In a small saucepan, combine both sugars and the water. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in maple flavoring and vanilla. Makes 2 cups.
Additions: 2 tablespoons molasses; 3 tablespoons dark corn syrup; 2 to 3 tablespoons honey; ½ cup butter (add after the syrup has fully cooked and is still hot; stir well).
Keystone Trails Association