Hot-tent cooking

By Miche Genest          Photos by Cathie Archbould


Last October was so warm and beautiful my husband and I bought a hot tent to extend the camping season; we just wanted to be outside. (“Hot tenting” means any tent, generally smaller and more portable than a wall tent, that has a heat source.) We ordered a 10-by-10-foot Esker canvas tent (a pyramid design with no frame; just a centre pole and corner tie-outs) and a small wood stove to go with it. I started thinking of one-pot meals to cook on that little stove.

Tent and stove arrived within a week. We planned a try-out expedition to Conrad campground, near Carcross, and then there was a mishap: a whittling job, an Olfa knife, a sliced knuckle, seven stitches. Then it snowed. We are shoulder-season campers, not winter campers. The upshot is we have not yet been out in our hot tent.

Two of our neighbours, though, go out in their hot tents all the time. They both have young families, and they, too, wanted to extend the camping season. “It’s really nice to have it not be limited to our brief Yukon summer,” says Brook Land-Murphy. She and her husband, Malcolm Campbell, are parents to Ellie, seven, and Meg, six. “Our family connects really well in the backcountry.”

About a year ago, she and Campbell bought a 10-by-13-foot Snow Trekker with a frame. It’s perhaps not as comfortable as a bigger tent, she says, but her family travels on skis, pulling pulks. “More comfortable, bigger tents were outside of our capacity to physically haul,” says Land-Murphy. Her family might ski a few kilometres from the truck to the campsite, sometimes making two round trips, which really eats into the day.

Recently, they increased their carrying capability. On their last trip in, Ellie hauled the stove. “It was her idea, and she was pleased with herself for having the strength to do it,” says Land-Murphy. With their older daughter helping, the family can increase their travel range to five kilometres.

On a three-day trip, days one and three are travel days; day two is for tobogganing, skating, and skiing. Indoor activities are important, too, especially on dark winter mornings. Card games and colouring keep the kids happy after a simple breakfast of granola and yogurt. Land-Murphy’s cooking modus operandi is “go for easy.” Their go-to supper is quick cooking, fresh pasta. They don’t cook in the tent, but on a camping stove outside. “Four people in a 10-by-13 tent is cozy, and some members of our family are less aware of their surroundings—and pot pitfalls—than others,” says Land-Murphy.

My other neighbours, Jeanine O’Connell and Nathan Millar, parents of five-year-old Cyrus and four-year-old Reggie, cook both inside and outside their tent, an 18-by-20-foot Arctic Oven purchased three years ago. O’Connell says sometimes it’s nice to cook outside, even at minus 20. “I often volunteer to cook so I can leave the tent for a little while, the chaos of it. You have the tranquility of being outside when no one else wants to be there.”

Their family travels by snowmobile, which extends their range and ability to haul. Sometimes, the two families go out together, and there are dance parties, exploring between tents, and a place to stay warm while the other family is setting up and taking down. Sparklers (says Land-Murphy) and fairy lights (says O’Connell) bring a touch of magic into the tent.

As for the importance of food in camp, O’Connell says, “It’s basically all you do. You just live to eat.” The menu is kid-driven. Reggie really likes sausage so they eat a lot of sausage; sometimes it’s smoked tofu and fresh vegetables. Weather is a factor in determining whether to cook in or out; the cooking fire makes the tent too hot in warmer weather.

Land-Murphy’s daughter Meg turned six in late November, and her birthday request was a family camping trip and fresh cake. Land-Murphy took the opportunity to test drive the stovetop apple cake included here. “Delicious,” she says. “A total hit. We also tried the gnocchi. We had some happy campers that night courtesy of your recipe magic.” Music to a cook’s ears.

Now my husband and I just have to get our hot tent up and running. My youngest brother is coming for some backcountry skiing in April. I have tent-cooking aspirations.

One-Pot Sausage, Tomato, and Gnocchi Dinner

  • 1 lb (454 g) local farmer’s or game sausage of your choice
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) butter
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) fresh tomatoes or 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine (optional)
  • 1 lb (454 g) potato gnocchi
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Several thick slices cheddar, mozzarella, or Parmesan cheese
  1. Melt butter and oil on the stove in a cast-iron frying pan. Sauté whole sausage in butter and oil until browned. Transfer sausage to a plate and reserve.
  2. Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces, add them to the same pan, and sauté until softened and the juices are released. If using canned tomatoes, pour them into pan, break them up with a fork, and cook until slightly thickened—about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Chop sausages into rings and add to the pan along with the Parmesan rind. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until tomatoes are collapsed and there is plenty of juice in the pan. Add a splash of white wine (or water) if a little more juice is needed for the gnocchi.
  4. Stir in the gnocchi, cover, and simmer until gnocchi are cooked—about 5 minutes.
  5. Lay slices of cheese over top and cover until they start to melt. Serve while the slices are soft but still intact.

     Makes about 6 cups, enough for 4 people.