There really is something quite mesmerising about a fire. Perhaps it is do with some deep seated primal instincts that conjure up a feeling of safety, a feeling that tonight, ‘we will eat and we will be warm’. Understandably, many campsites in the UK don’t allow bonfires, but there are a select few that do, and they are growing in number.
For the bank holiday weekend, we headed to Pool Bridge campsite on Exmoor. It is tucked away in a wooded, steep sided valley with a small stream trickling through. Equipped with good toilets, running water and even a shower, this campsite has the right balance of getting back to nature as well as the useful amenities that make camping just that little bit more comfortable. As a result, it is great for families that are looking for a campsite that isn’t as regimented as some of the more established sites.
As I discovered, everyone has their own particular way of making a fire. We went for the small wigwam-like structure to get the flames going before adding the larger chunks of wood. Wait until the flames have died down a bit as the white hunks of wood are best to cook on. It’s good to have the fire split in two: one side for wood to put on, with stronger flames, and the other side to scrape across the hot ash for cooking. It’s fine to keep the fire going over night to keep you warm, but its best practice to smother it with water if you leave the next morning and it is still going.
We decided to have vegetarian chilli with wholemeal pasta. A good warm, filling, wholesome meal is just want you want after an active day. Of course, chilli isn’t normally served with pasta, but it is easier to cook than rice.
1 tub of mushrooms
1 red onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 cans of kidney beans (make sure they have a ring pull – or bring a can opener. Also – make sure they’re in water rather than brine)
200g red split lentils
Olive oil (bring a portion in a plastic bottle from home)
1 pack of pre-grated cheddar cheese
2 cans of tinned chopped tomatoes (make sure they have a ring pull – or bring a can opener)
Glug of red wine (optional)
500g pasta (I used wholemeal)
If you’re organised, bring a selection of the following spices in a tub with you: chilli flakes, cumin, ground coriander and smoked paprika
Or – you could buy a pre-made stir-in jar if easier
1 shallow pan
2 deep sided pans (with lids)
4 forks (or sporks)
Something to chop on (I just used the inside of one of the lids)
Stirring implement (or just use one of the forks)
Can opener (if tins don’t have ring pulls)
Bottle opener (for the red wine – if using).
There are three different pans on the go here – try to do all three pans at a similar time.
When the coals are the right temperature, fill one of the deep sided pans with salted water, put the lid on and when it begins to boil, add the pasta.
In the shallow pan, add the oil, then onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add the rest of vegetables and half the mixed spices and cook well. Then add one can of the tomatoes, and a splash of red wine.
In the third pan, fill the pan up to the half-way point with salted water and once it is boiling, add the lentils and leave to simmer until they start to soften. It’s important to cook the lentils in the water first (rather than just the sauce) as because it is on an outside fire, the heat can be unpredictable, and may take a very long time to soften in just the sauce. Once the lentils have softened, add the kidney beans (and juices), the other tinned tomatoes, another glug of the red wine and the rest of the spices.
When all pans are ready, tip pan 3 (the kidney beans and lentils) into pan 2 (the pasta) and stir well. Dish this out amongst the bowls, then dish the vegetable sauce out on top and finish with a serving of cheddar.
Tips – it’s hard to get the timing right when cooking outdoors as you can’t control the temperature of the fire. If you find that your pasta is cooked before everything else, drain it, and leave it with the lid on next to the fire to keep warm until the other pans are ready. Also – keep adding more water, or wine to the lentils if they start to dry out.
You could also serve this with sour cream, fresh lime, fresh coriander and nachos if you fancy.
Pool Bridge Campsite
Woodcocks Ley Farm
Tel: 01643 862502
It costs around £7 per person per night to stay at Pool Bridge campsite.
This website has an extensive list of campsites that allows fires across the UK.