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Camp Cook

07/24/08 5:55PM By Casey Huling
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(HOST) As summer reaches its peak many Vermont towns play host to hundreds of young campers who descend upon our lakes and rivers for a few weeks of swimming, boating and waterskiing. And eating. Lots of eating.  Commentator Casey Huling thinks that whoever said that an army marches on its stomach - probably went to a summer camp - with good food.

(HULING) This is my second summer as head cook at Camp Billings on Lake Fairlee in Thetford.  I’m charged with feeding 250 people three meals a day for eight weeks.  And camp cooking goes beyond just providing plenty of sustenance to fuel the hungry kids; it becomes an integral part of the campers’ experience.

Part of the experience involves a sense of consistency and comfort.  For many returning campers having macaroni and cheese on the first night of the session signals that they’ve returned to their home away from home and that some things never change.  I actually use the same recipe my mom used whenever she left my sister and me with a  babysitter.  Of course for the campers I use 40 pounds of pasta, 25 pounds of Cabot extra sharp cheddar cheese and 5 pounds of bread crumbs on top.

Billings has over 100 years of traditions and many of them involve being in the dining hall.  There are plenty of songs and cheers and banging on the tables.  If the food is good and people look forward to coming together for a meal and its ensuing antics then the experience is heightened for everyone.  For example, the first Wednesday night of every month is Barry Manilow night.  Campers and staff get dressed up and enjoy the evening meal - usually spaghetti with chunky vegetable sauce.  Before dessert the director makes up a story about how Barry Manilow used to go to Camp Billings. And as a tribute to our most famous imaginary camper everyone gets up and dances to "Mandy", "I Write the Songs, and "Copacabana."  While the meal itself certainly plays second fiddle to Mr. Manilow’s Greatest Hits, having everyone comfortable and happy before the music starts certainly adds to the enjoyment of the evening.

And what reflection on camp food wouldn’t end with dessert.  One camp favorite in particular has the power to not only whip the entire camp into a table pounding frenzy but also to render everyone virtually speechless.  It’s pizza cookie.  Simple in execution and presentation it's nothing more than chocolate chip cookie dough spread into a 12 inch disk, baked, covered with whipped topping and sprinkles, and cut into 8 wedges.  Placed on a table of rowdy 9-year olds it becomes something much more.  As each group of kids comes to get theirs from the kitchen window the dining hall is deafening with cheers and chants: PIZ-ZA COO-KIE, PIZ-ZA COO-KIE.  Once all 31 trays are passed out and the window closes we sit in the kitchen waiting for the inevitable silence; 250 people slowly, quietly enjoying their own piece of quintessential camp.  

Within minutes the roar returns and if we’re lucky they might even sing for us to come out and receive their thanks.  But whether or not they do, it’s been another successful meal, and besides, there’s plenty to do to get ready for breakfast; they’ll be hungry again before you know it.
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