There was a time when the members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society did their cooking over open fires. Trout were spitted on forked branches or fried to a crisp in heavy cast iron pans and, when there were no fish (due to no fault of their own, of course), they cooked beans right in the can. Clean-up was easy; throw the pan in the fire until most of the crud had burned off, scrape it out with a stick, rub it down with a little oil and salt and put it away until next time. After a meal of beans, one simply licked off one’s spoon, wiped it on one’s trousers and threw the can into the woods. It was a smoky, dirty, manly way of doing things.
Times change, though, and so did conditions here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. Sleeping under the stars or in leaky canvas tents began to lose their allure and permanent camps were erected — wooden cabins, each holding six bunks and a wood stove but not much more. Each cabin had an attached lean-to which served as at least a dry place to stand and chop onions while smoky fires sulked in the rain, but some members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society became too sophisticated for even these luxuries. A group of them began lobbying for actual indoor kitchens to be built, with wood stoves for cooking and sinks with running water, but other members urged caution in the face of these modern encroachments.
“What’s next, toilets?” they asked, “Why, before long we’ll have showers! Women and children are sure to follow!”
“We are tired of dirt and ashes and embers in our food and always smelling like smoke,” came the counter.
Epithets, and terms like “barbarian” and “Nancy boy” were exchanged, followed by the inevitable fisticuffs and so it went, like so many of the other great controversies that have convulsed the ranks of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society over the years. Acting quickly, the membership divided into three groups. “Certain Members” were in favor of indoor kitchens, while “Those People” stood opposed, and the third group was convinced the other two were crazy but could nonetheless see the points being made.
Meetings were held, a committee was formed, and eventually a consensus was reached that food cooked outdoors is fundamentally better for a man. It stimulates his senses, provides vigor for his activities and invites contemplation, but it would do that man no harm to at least consider some other, more sanitary, way to cook his food outdoors. The committee worked hard over the winter, searching for solutions to the problem, presenting a number of possibilities at the spring, 1947 Board of Directors meeting.
The combination of a charcoal stove and trash incinerator, cleverly disguised as a tree stump, had its share of detractors, primarily due to cost.
While less expensive than the stump, the swivel feature of the Kimes Outdoor Chef — allowing the cook to keep smoke from blowing in his eyes — wasn’t enough to sway some budget-minded members.
The Port-O-Stove burned liquified petroleum gas, with an adjustable flame like modern stoves back home but, with no nearby source for the gas, was likely of little use at Fish in a Barrel Pond.
The Tote-Master looked promising, especially its price, but when it was pointed out that the darn thing barely had room for two potatoes and a coffee pot, some considered the Tote-Master to be toast.
The Coleman Pocket Stove had its admirers but most realized it was too small to prepare full meals for groups of hungry men.
Some members felt the Coleman Two-Burner Stove was the stove for men like them. They could smell the bacon already!
With a stiff scrubbing of sand and a quick rinse in the lake, these new aluminum cook kits would almost take care of themselves and, with new camp cook books hitting the shelves every day, there would be no shortage of recipes to try (in a manly way, of course)!
(I wonder what he meant by “Instructions are written so that any hunter or fisherman can follow them.”)
The men of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society were anxious to make a big purchase but being practical — and also well-versed in the ways of men such as themselves — they chose to spend the season putting each of these possibilities through a series of tests to be sure they lived up to their claims, with a full report to be presented to the Board of Directors at the fall meeting of the membership.
The tests went fairly well, all things considered. The initial problems of cooking with gasoline (three fires and one small explosion) were solved, two Tote-Masters and a Kine Outdoor Chef succumbed to infernos they were never intended to withstand, and the incinerator stump never arrived, but in the end none of that mattered. The first electrical transmission lines were strung to this little corner of Vermont that fall and the camps around Fish in a Barrel Pond entered the 20th Century nearly fifty years late.
New electric stoves were brought in to take the place of smoky open fires. Shortly after that, plumbing was installed, naturally followed by hot water for showers and, as predicted, it wasn’t long before women and children made their first appearances at Fish in a Barrel Pond. Today, the camps also have refrigerators and other modern conveniences such as microwaves and stemware (“Quill, I can’t for the life of me find a martini glass!”).
The cast iron pans are still here, improperly soaped and scoured, to remind us of tradition I guess, but even with all the advantages available to today’s outdoorsman, one thing has not changed at all: some of these guys still can’t cook.
This is the second installment of “Flashback Fridays,” a semi-regular feature of The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond, usually appearing on Friday. Last week we found a wicked good deal on a bamboo fly rod. You can see it HERE.