I love cooking. Whether it’s whipping up an old favourite – scrambled eggs and halloumi in a wrap works every time – or experimenting with new flavours, I get a buzz from crafting food from raw ingredients. Following carefully calculated recipes doesn’t cut for me, probably because I’m not actually all that fantastic at cooking, no matter how much I love it. Along the way of playing around with different ingredients and dishes, I’ve learnt a few truths that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The first is that if you leave a metal spoon in a pan of water, it gets really hot – surprisingly, it took more than one scar to learn that, too. More importantly, food left to cook for longer inevitably tastes better. You need to give flavours time to infuse and mingle, especially if the dish in question is a stew or pasta sauce – I’m talking hours at a time here. Lastly, and most crucially, is that food cooked and eaten outdoors tastes so much better.
The protestations will be immediate and numerous. “A kitchen has so many more utensils and cooking methods”, “cooking in a forest is less hygienic”, “spoons still get really hot outdoors, you know” – I’ve heard it all. And the thing is, they’re right. A kitchen is a far more obvious place to cook food and you’ll be able to create more extravagant dishes with access to fancier implements. But, frankly, it doesn’t matter – food cooked outdoors still tastes better.
Only last week, the WildBounds team met up for the inaugural WildBounds Autumn Gathering in Badgells Wood, Kent. Dinner in this remote setting was cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven on a tripod over an open fire, in the middle of a woodland clearing while sat on tree stump. It was ludicrously simple: beef, carrots, onion, water, flour, stock cubes (yep, not stock – just stock cubes) and a splash of red wine. With everyone pitching in and adding ingredients at random, it was as far from a well-crafted recipe as you could find – but it was one of the most amazing stews I have ever tasted, served in a mess tin with crusty bread and cheese.
The reason it tasted is so amazing is not just because it adhered to all three of my hard-learnt truths, but because of where we were. A meal eaten outdoors in front of a crackling fire surrounded by friends will taste immeasurably better than anything served up at home. Context is key – that’s why a McDonalds can’t compare to a burger barbecued on the beach with a cold brew in hand. When your senses all complement each other – sandy feet, wind in hair, a warm sun and the smell of the sea – your taste buds’ sensitivity is heightened, making everything taste so much better.
It’s why a simple meal of pasta, cheap tomato sauce and Pepperami will taste like beef wellington when cooked after a rough day in the wind and rain, huddling in a tent. It’s why waking up to the smell of coffee in a sleeping bag is so much more satisfying than in a hotel room. It really doesn’t matter what it is – flapjack, beef stew, smores – it will inevitably taste better outside.
Now I’m not saying that food cooked indoors isn’t tasty – we all know it is and can be the catalyst for some amazing memories. But the outdoors has an uncanny ability to make any experience far more enjoyable; yes, that counts for pretty much everything, too. Not only will you enjoy a delicious meal, you’ll create memories to last a lifetime. I’d rather head into the hills for a day and round it off with a simple stew than dine in a boutique restaurant. There’ll be far more to savour.