At school camp, the children are banned from having phones, laptops, lollies, chocolate, money, cotton clothing or independent thoughts. They, are, however, allowed home baking – but it’s gotta be hearty.
How hearty are you? We are packing for a school camp. If you’re thinking that the middle of winter is not the best time for an extended kids’ camp in the wilderness, with no phones, flushing toilets, internet or double-shot macchiatos, you are not hearty at all. You are probably some soft-palmed smooth-haired city-type person, your brain befuddled with all of those traffic fumes and job options, wrong about a lot of things. Rural people feel sorry for you. Look at you, wasting 30 whole bucks on a beanie that doesn’t even roll down into a balaclava. You paid a lot of money for those boots but are they even Red Bands? Are you so rude that you walk into shops without taking them off? Shameos. I am guessing you don’t know about gluing carpet onto the bonnet of your Hilux so that your dogs won’t scratch it up, and worst of all, you’re not wearing a pink camo print shirt which means all the deer will be able to see you coming from a mile away. Country people know this is no way to live. It is not hearty.
Rural school kids are hearty and they go on real camps in real weather. I don’t know how this is educational – I would have thought rural kids are already pretty much down with nature and all of its weather. I would have thought a camp in which they go to a city and learn life skills they don’t actually have, like how to thrive in a constant halogen twilight or how to use public transport and an escalator without freaking out, might be more useful, but that’s literally just me.
Camping and tramping, fishing and hunting are believed in around here more fervently than any cult and my neighbours have all drunk the Kool-Aid. Every long weekend my townsfolk pack up the cage trailer and charge off to a heaving DOC facility to enjoy sleeping on the ground 5mm away from a lot of other outdoor enthusiasts. If you drive past the campsite on a soft summer evening you can see the tents jostling up against each other on withered grass turning to dust, towels and shirts drying on the chain-link fence. Sometimes groups of unsupervised kids will climb on the gate and stare back at you, bare legs filthy from the inescapable dust.
My family doesn’t camp because we have perfectly good dust at home, but my kids are at the rebellious age and they insist on signing up for these things at school despite my protests. My husband is no help – he says the kids will need to learn survival skills for the upcoming zombie apocalypse anyway. I am a resistance of one, silently resenting the miniature first aid kits, tin cups and ugly socks building up in our house for no good reason.
Packing for camp is hard. A lot of things are not allowed. The children are banned from having phones, laptops, lollies, chocolate, money, cotton clothing or independent thoughts during their camp. Writing letters is allowed. Reading books is allowed.
Playing games is allowed. If you were thinking of wholesome board games around the campfire, you were wrong again. Small town kids play hearty camp games like Battleshits. The simple aim of this simple game is to make the loudest splatter in the long drop and apparently the way to victory is by eating a lot of porridge and getting some height from standing up on the wooden seat. “But that can go bad for you too,” my child reports darkly. “If you get too much height you might miss the hole. That’s a lot to think about.”
The packet of super wines I bought for the morning tea contribution are also apparently on the Not Allowed list. An important part of preparing for camp is going along with the idea that we are still in 1962 and it is no big deal for Mum to whip up “four ice cream containers” full of home baking on a Thursday. It can’t be the kind of baking that falls apart on a long van ride or goes stale quickly either, and ANZAC biscuits are out because they “have bits in them”. Bulk camp baking is a specialist baking skill and I am prepared. My mother-in-law long ago gave me a very old recipe for these very nice bulk gingernuts, quick to make with simple ingredients and guaranteed to fill any number of ice cream containers.
- 250g butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup golden syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Get all of these ingredients melting together in a saucepan, and dig out your biggest mixing bowl to add the following:
- 3½ cups plain flour
- 2 dessertspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
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Mix everything together thoroughly. The mixture will be goopy and sticky; don’t panic. Do not add more flour, don’t do anything with it yet or the finished texture of your biscuits will be sad.
If you leave the goop alone for five to 10 minutes while you hassle your child “helper” into cleaning up the chaotic mess they just made, it will magically firm up into a not-so-sticky dough that you can roll into small balls. I would have said a cherry tomato-sized ball is perfect but my child tells me it is more like a Chupa Chup. Whichever speaks to you.
Flatten onto the baking paper with a fork. Once you have cooked them for 10-12 minutes they will have spread into a million pieces of dunking gold that are somehow both crunchy and chewy and just the right kind of spicy.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.