Souzz and I often spend New Year’s Eve in the backcountry or in a cabin, and we traditionally make risotto (along with some other fancy dish). The standard bearer of New Year’s absurdity was probably the year that we made risotto with lobster in a five burner kitchen while camping in the snow. We didn’t quite reach that level this year, but we at least thought about it.
Anyway, with cold rain in the 2019 forecast, we decided to head to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Dawson Cabin in Pennsylvania, about two hours drive from our home in Virginia. Dawson is one of the lesser visited cabins in the PATC system, maybe because the hike to the cabin is straight uphill. But the hike is short, and Dawson is a hidden gem that is worth the visit. The cabin is well appointed and very well maintained, and it has southern exposure and a beautiful view.
For our planned risotto and filet mignon feast, we hauled in a lot of cookware, as well as a five pound canister of propane and a two-burner camp stove. Utility wagons are a great tool for getting bulky gear into walk-in PATC cabins—but dragging them uphill through the mud and over tree roots in the rain might be an acquired taste.
When we reached the cabin, we discovered that there was a problem with the regulator on the camp stove, so the stove and propane were basically flammable barbells. The issue was clearly beyond what I could field-repair, and fiddling with high-pressure gas connections is exciting in any circumstance–but especially so in a remote wood-framed structure. I’m also kind of fond of my eyebrows.
As a consolation, at least we had some good appetizers.
With appetizers gone and still five hours to New Year’s, we had a new twist: how to make risotto without a modern camp stove. But there was a perfectly serviceable wood stove sitting right at our feet, so how hard could this be?
Tending a wood stove is always important in a PATC cabin in winter, although the goal is usually just heating the place. But now we had to figure out a way to keep the heat somewhat constant.
Ok, so I get that wood stoves have been around for generations, and my friends in bush Alaska are probably rolling their eyes by now (well, at least Ruby is…but in my defense, I don’t remember seeing a lot of risotto on “Life Below Zero“).
It took a little fiddling to maintain the level of heat on the cooktop, and there were times when we had to cool things off by lifting the pan onto a hastily made wire trivet (using a piece from a broken dartboard that we found in the cabin).
But we figured it out, and the risotto was quite good. And the keys to good risotto are the same whether on a modern range or on a wood stove: using homemade stock (way less salty), heating the stock quite a bit before adding, and cooking the risotto at high heat (ideally enough heat to finish the job in less than 20 minutes). With too little heat, things take a long time and the risotto gets sticky.
Lastly, our stove challenge gave us the chance to puzzle over why we go to primitive cabins and then haul in hundreds of pounds of fancy gear. That seems about as logical as getting the turbo option when you buy a Ford Fiesta. So maybe simplifying things should be our New Year’s Resolution? Well, that and preserving my eyebrows.
8 thoughts on “Cooking Old School In The New Year”
I love this! Great post and great resolution !
Simplicity is not my strong suit…but something to build on in 2019! And that snow camping experience is a high bar to clear. 🙂
Always make my mouth water, heart sing to read your wilderfun outtings. Any room on the swing for me?
Of course! I can totally picture you on that swing. 🙂
Love it. I was THERE!
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I stumbled across your blog post recently because I’ll be spending a few days at Dawson cabin in the near future. I can’t seem to confirm on the PATC or anywhere else, are there pots and pans at this cabin, or do you need to bring your own?
Thanks for reading and commenting, and happy to share what I know. Our visit was a ways back, but there were definitely pots and pans, and a few iron skillets. The kitchen inventory in most cabins can change around a bit as things are swapped out, but the overseer do a great job in general at PATC cabins in keeping those kinds of things in stock. With your welcome letter from PATC, you may have a contact email for the overseer and they can answer in more detail, I’m sure. In general we bring our own stuff if we are making something where it matters, and we always bring some good cleaning supplies as some cabins can be mouse-y. That said, Dawson is a wonderful cabin, underappreciated in my opinion! It’s a bit of a climb to get up the hill to it, but it’s a really cool spot. Have fun!!!
Thank you! 🙂