FAQ - Cooking and Food

Send any comments to the maintainer Roger Caffin

All things considered, the most important question asked on any trip is "what's for tea?" - other than "where are we?" of course (for that, see the navigation section). Despite what some people have suggested, you do not have to eat miserable tasteless burnt food on any trip, even on a light-weight one. Not if you know what you are doing, anyhow.


Fires vs stoves vs cold food

It used to be the tradition in Australian bushwalking to light a campfire and "boil the billy". Well, you still can, at least in some places. But fires are not ideal for cooking, and in some fine walking areas like above the tree line in the Snowy Mts and in all of Tasmania fires are (rightly) banned. Other problems with fires include the following:

So many walkers with a bit of experience cook over a stove these days. Yes, you have to carry the stove and the fuel, but the trade-off seems worth it. In alpine areas and in the snow you don't really get any choice anyhow: you have to have a stove. Of course, you could just eat cold food. In tropical areas that may well be a satisfactory solution for some, but (having tried it) in the snow it is a very miserable existence. Try it if you wish. There is now a separate set of pages just for Stoves.


Fire Etiquette

Despite the comments above, sometimes a fire is what you want. Most of us have lit a few in our life. We suggest the following guidelines:

Some walkers have reported on an interesting way of minimising the impact of their fire in grassland areas. They create their fireplace by digging up a square sod of grass and removing it carefully. After they have extinguished the fire they remove any large lumps of wood or charcoal and replace the sod in the hole, and water it. A few claim to have revisited their old fire sites later on and not been able to see the traces. Of course, you have to have a means of digging up the sod of grass.

Lighting a fire on a sand bank by the waters edge is not too bad either. You can remove the ashes fairly easily; in some positions the next flood will do that for you. And the sand is not going to allow the fire to spread very easily either. You find sandy floors in caves under sandstone cliffs in NSW, but it is harder to clear up the ashes here. Some cave fireplaces have grown over the years and created a large area of very dirty floor. That's not so good.

Ultimately, what you do is up to you. Just have a thought to the generations (of our children) which will follow us, and what they will think of us.


Fire Lighting

No, this is not a Boy Scout lecture on how to light a camp fire. It's a short listing of different ways to create fire, and some interesting URLs on them. Any other URLs would be of interest.


Cooking gear: Pots and pans

You can use a whole range of cooking gear to make your three course dinner. However, you also have to carry it. This can be sobering. Some lessons learnt over the years are as follows:


Edible Gear

What a wonderful idea: gear you can eat as you go. Each day your pack gets lighter, until on the last day all you have left is some underwear. Although, come to think of it, I have heard that you can even get edible underwear down at Kings Cross. Ah well, check out the Edible Gear web site to learn more.


Billy Grips, or Spondonicals

There is no doubt that these are a marvellous invention, and (unlike so many trivial "accessories") a pair should be in your pack. They completely solve the problem of handling a full hot pot. They work like a bent pair of pliers, with the rim of your pot fitting into the notch shown at the tip of the arrow. Drop the grips over the edge of the pot and close the handles. The notch and the long handles mean you don't have to squeeze very hard to maintain a secure hold. There are several brands on the market. Some are rather expensive (like the MSR ones, but they have insulated handles), while others are simple and cheap (like the SIGG ones in the picture).

They are wonderful tools, but don't leave them attached to the pot while cooking: they will get very hot in the updraft from the stove. The best place to leave them is on top of the lid on the pot. That way they hold the lid down, keeping steam in, and you will know exactly where they are when you need them.

As to the correct name: opinions differ. The following extract from aus.bushwalking (19 Jul 2002) is presented with an entirely straight face in the interests of the unending quest for truth. It should be noted that the term really applied to the old ones made from several bits of wire: they looked as though they were meant for opening an incision or gripping bits of intestines.

"A campfire discussion over the weekend raised the question as to where & when the word spondonicals (billy tongs/grips/lifters) began. This was explained to me by Dave Kelly, who introduced the term to me on a rainy, multiday trip through Wollongambie on the Australia Day weekend of (I think) '72. It's from a Three Stooges movie where they are performing a surgical operation. Larry (the guy with the straight hair anyhow) is the surgeon and the other two are helpers.

Larry: "anaesthetic"
Helper passes large rubber mallet, Larry dongs patient on head.
Larry: "scalpel"
Helper (passes scalpel): "scalpel"
Larry: "scissors"
Helper (passes scissors): "scissors"
Larry: "spondonical"
Helpers:"spondonical?!" (rummage frantically through piles of instruments)

The pronunciation back in the 70's was "spondonical" or "spondonicle". For the original spelling, we'll have to go back to the Three Stooges script. I'm surprised people have forgotten this, it was common knowlege back then. I'm sure I've explained this before on the newsgroup, but I didn't find it in dejanews at least."
Joe Mack
SUBW, early 70's"


© Roger Caffin 1/3/2002