The sun barely hemorrhaged in a southwestern sky, its underbelly seemingly scratched by the dominant, leafless, silhouetted oaken forests below, bleeding it’s beautiful salmon hues and soft pastels over the frozen wetlands from whence we camped. Off the shore, a large pond nestled like a flattened jewel in the forest primeval, frozen in time, and reflecting the last colorful rays of the day. My trail cronie and I watched, as the last sunbeams kissed the cold earth, and all the land tapered into darkness. We felt like a couple of Apollo astronauts, adrift, our orbit silently slipping around to the dark side of the moon.
You see, it’s the winter solstice here in Minnesota. And thus it gets dark, swiftly, and kind of stays that way for an exquisite amount of time. The sun was to set at 4:34 in the afternoon, they said, and not to rise again until 7:48 the next morning. I quickly did the math. It came to around 15 hours of darkness. Now I have no idea what it’s like, or how long it takes to orbit around the far side of the moon. Nor how those brave astronauts must feel abandoning all light and heat, sailing on faith through the darkness, but this may be as close as I ever get. Cold, dark and alone. Well not alone, I have a fellow patron with me today. We decided at the last-minute to celebrate the shortest day of the year with a little camping trip afield. A sortie to one of our favorite little woodland retreats, to get away from the urban throng a bit, and if the day would have it, to bake a pizza.
Turns out we did. The crust was just one of those easy ones. You know, the kind where you get to pop open one of them pressurized cans. When its 20 degrees outside, we figure, who wants to mess around. Anyways, oil the bottom of the pan, and spread the dough out accordingly. Season with olive oil, oregano and garlic. Earlier, whilst still the recipients of a sunlit encampment, we baked the crust first. Call this instincts, but not all cooking over a camp fire is a sure thing. With uneven heating, and scant equipment at your disposal, as is commonplace in a campsite, we figured we best see to it the crust got the best shot it could towards a delicious end game. So we cooked it separately, for to keep an eye on it and make sure it complied to our highest bidding. First, we placed it on the fire grate, over direct heat and cooked the bottom. Then tipped it on edge, indirect of the fire, to finish it off by reflection. Now the crust is done all the way through. Because we have no oven, and are just winging this cave man style, this seemed good strategy. Next we assembled the yum!
I believe we had about two layers of pepperonis on that thing. A can of olives. A can of mushrooms. A pile of red and green peppers. And enough cheese to block up an elephant. Man! Whence the creation was built, it was then laid indirect of a good blaze, and tipped towards the fire as much as possible without dumping everything into the ash. Oh it’s a dicey game we play when we dare to dance the flames of camp fire cooking. A better technique would have been to put a lid over the pan of pizza, and scatter some coals atop of it. To cook it like that intensely from above. But we didn’t have a lid. We didn’t have much of anything really. We were camping, you see, and didn’t wanted to be bothered by the clutter. Which is another way of saying, I wish we had a lid! But we didn’t. Turns out if your patient type, you don’t need a lid after all, to bake your camp fire pizza. You just need time and heat. And we had both.
So we let the pizza ride indirect for 20 minutes or so, and rotated it 180 degrees for even cooking. It was the slowest pizza we have ever baked, but it was getting there alright. By about 40 minutes into it, you could just start to identify the aromas of fresh-baked pepperoni pizza wafting through camp. Say what you will, but out yonder in the hither regions where no man goes, with a frozen ground below your freezing toes, and the stars shimmering above, and no running water nor electrical outlet for your vain amusement, and an eternal December night stretched out in front of you – well, to smell hot pizza in your vicinity, let’s just say there is no reward so sweet!
Low and slow pizza is what this turned out to be. Such are the antics of the campfire chef. But good is good, and pizza is always good! And under the soft LED glow of a head lamp, we sliced into it, making first tracks on the dark side of the moon. Amen.