Hard sided totes are a good choice for your camp kitchen pantry. Totes protect delicate foods from getting smashed and bruised, and keep foods organized and gathered in one place. Totes keep most critters out. I say most because we all know nothing can stop a bear determined to have that last jelly donut!
And, critters are getting smarter. Some raccoons have learned how to open totes and even bear cans! For that reason, I always slide my totes under the picnic bench so critters can’t lift off the lid, or I use bungees or rope to secure the lids. You can also store your food totes in your car, but if you are in bear country, bears have been known to peel a car like an orange to get at the food stored inside! If you’re not familiar with the area, check with the local park rangers for food storage suggestions. Some ranger stations even have bear canisters that you can rent.
And, never, ever store any food in your tent or sleeping bag. One of our scouts learned that lesson the hard way when he had food in his tent and woke in the middle of the night to find raccoons chewing through his tent wall! He managed to scare them away but, needless to say, he didn’t sleep well the rest of the night.
At summer camp one year, there was a scout in a neighboring site who brought snacks into camp in his rolled up sleeping bag. While he and his troop mates were at the waterfront taking their swim tests, a squirrel chewed through the side of his rolled sleeping bag, ate the goodies, and then chewed its way out the other side. When he unrolled his sleeping bag, it looked like Swiss cheese! Luckily, for him, one of his Scoutmasters had brought an extra bag for just such an emergency.
Your camp pantry should be customized and built for each trip based on your planned menu. Below, are some items that you should probably always have in your pantry tote:
Salt and pepper shakers w/lids.
Cooking oil (small bottle). I prefer olive oil for its high smoke point.
Hot chocolate, apple cider, tea, coffee and/or Russian tea.
Sugar, creamer, cinnamon, and Mallow Bits. (For the awesomeness of Mallow Bits, see my blog post: “Product Review: Have You Never Been Mallow?”)
Seasonings for jazzing up your dishes on the fly or to individual tastes. Cook to the lowest tolerance level and let those who like it spicier layer on more to their liking.
Condiments (some people like hot sauce on everything).
Snacks and/or cracker barrel items. If dinner is running late, we can set out a small cracker barrel to stave off the bears so they don’t chew off a corner of the chuck box. If dinner ended up being early and/or we’ve had a late night of campfire, games or star gazing, a cracker barrel makes a great late-night snack before trudging off to bed. Little meats on crackers (like what you get in luncheables) make great cracker barrel fare (protein on a carb). A small veggie tray with a tub of ranch dressing is also good. Chips and a dip. Anything that is finger food with zero cleanup (think: pull it out, eat it, put it away). A sleeping warm trick is to eat a little protein before bed.
Jiffy Pop Popcorn or popping corn kernels. (My son can’t go 24 hours without popcorn!)
Peanut butter and jam. This can be a snack or can supplement or replace a meal.
Container of disinfecting wipes. Good for emergency decontamination.
Napkins. After eating, save your napkins and use them to wipe your dishes clean before you wash them. This will keep your wash water from getting gunky. If you’ve used them to mop up something greasy (like bacon grease), you could save them and use them later to start a fire.
Disposable grease receptacle (an empty tin can works). If you’re going to be cooking bacon or some other food that leaves a lot of grease, you need to have something that you can pour that grease into so it can cool, become solid, and be disposed of or saved for later use as a griddle lubricant or fire-starter.
So, what’s in your camp pantry? What do you think should be must haves in your food totes?