Camping out in the ’50s

When I was growing up, the mother of my classmate Nancy Gay Hall was our scout troop leader, and she worked hard to make sure we had good scouting experiences.  I remember well the time Mrs. Hall  took us to the family’s lake house for my one and only camp out.  Girl Scout Troop 15 (Huntsville, TX) camped outside in sleeping bags under the stars while the adult chaperones retreated to the luxuries of the lake house and comfortable beds.

Before bedtime, however, we learned how to cook our supper in a coffee can.

Yes, that’s right.

Under the adults’ watchful supervision, we built a fire and then Mrs. Hall divvied ingredients. We’d been told to bring an empty coffee can, but I’d forgotten mine. My best friend Margaret Prentice’s mom graciously gave me hers. Margaret was fine with this… until the meals were “done.”

Our cooking pots were filled with of ground hamburger patties, chopped carrots, sliced onions, and chunks of potatoes and sealed with aluminum foil. We placed them directly into the fire, screaming excitedly as girls do, while Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Prentice warned us repeatedly, “Be careful. Don’t get burned.” I imagine we looked like little witches circling the fire and asking every five minutes, “Is it done yet? Can we eat now?” We asked at least nine times, maybe twelve before Mrs. Hall gave the go-ahead along with stern admonishes to avoid scorching our fingers when we peeled back the heated aluminum covering.

Margaret remembers how badly her food burned in its can–it was absolutely inedible while my dinner cooked in her mother’s can was “perfectly cooked.” She still recalls how she wanted to claim her mother’s can and its contents. She didn’t, of course, but she was not a happy camper at that point. Thankfully, Margaret was able to fill her hungry tummy with dessert.

The dessert was amazing!

Mrs. Hall laid out graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate on the family picnic table, and we broke off chocolate squares to fit our graham crackers. Then, we placed marshmallows on the ends of twisted coat hangers and stuck them in the fire. Mrs. Hall warned us: “Don’t poke out an eye.”

Some of the girls worked hard at getting their marshmallows a perfect golden brown, but most of us let the marshmallows catch fire and burn brightly till the outsides were blackened ash covering a sweet sticky center. (Occasionally, a marshmallow slipped off the hanger and splatted on the ground and we had to start all over.)

We placed the hot marshmallows on our chocolate and smashed down another cracker atop the concoction to make S’mores.  After a couple of gooey cookies, Margaret forgot about the main course, and our friendship survived.

Although I’ve never replicated the coffee can meal, I’ve made S’mores over and over and over again. This may have been the evening I became hopelessly addicted to chocolate.

I recently read there are 2.6 million Girl Scouts today and that in celebration of its 100 years of selling cookies, the organization is introducing new Girl Scout S’mores in select markets during the 2017 campaign. Well, let me say this, they can combine, refine, and tweak all they want, they will never replicate the amazing flavor (and experience) of the S’mores we made on that cookout back in the day.