A tale of camping food and missing sleeping bags: Sloppy Joes for Campsite Cooking

Last weekend being a long weekend, the Boyfriend and I decided to abandon Christchurch and open our personal camping season with a trip to the small town of Geraldine. For me, camping is a challenge to see what I can cook with limited ingredients and resources and this, the first camping trip of the year, was an opportunity not to be passed up. The night before we took off, I dug out Nigel Slater‘s Real Fast Food – the perfect camping cookbook – and started studying the recipes. So intent was I on packing the bag of food and so concentrated was the Boyfriend on getting us out the door on Saturday morning that no one thought to pack those camping essentials – the sleeping bags.

All happily oblivious, we were on the road at a good time. As we headed down south towards Geraldine, we took time to stop on the way to check out the Darina Allen-recommended The Store at Dunsandel. Annabel Graham of Camla Farm has turned the main post office and dairy of this wee village into a welcoming and thriving café. Tempting foods, ciders and wines are stocked alongside the bleach and plasters necessary in any village store while a shelf-full of cookbooks kept me entertained during lunch. We picked up a couple of bottles of Camla Farm cider for quaffing later and our food – crumpled Iraqi flatbread with humus and olives for me and a lamb pesto fichelle for the Boyfriend – was a far tastier option than the normal pie-stop.

After setting up the tent in the central Geraldine Holiday Park more foodie pleasures were in store for us. I browsed through the fruit juices, jams, toppings, sauces and jellies in Barker’s shop, trying spoonfuls of chutney, smelling jars of mustard and limiting my spending to blackcurrant fruit juice syrup and passionfruit curd. A quick look around Talbot Forest Cheese (I was sorry to miss out on a chance of tasting their goat’s milk mozzarella) and Fellmann’s chocolate shop and it was time for coffee and a shared piece of Citrus Slice at the relaxed Easy Way Café.

It was only that evening, after a hearty meal of Nigel Slater’s Sloppy Joes, as we ate homemade shortbread from the local market, topped with spoonfuls of Barker’s passionfruit curd (a truly great combination of sweet and tart, crunchy passionfruit seeds and crumbly shortbread) that the Boyfriend suddenly realised that we had no sleeping bags. Worst still, we had also managed to leave our camping whiskey in Christchurch. Despite digging out the car boot liner to serve as a blanket, Saturday night wasn’t the warmest and that was the end of camping for that weekend.

Still, without that night under canvas I might have never got around to making Sloppy Joes. Fast and intensely savoury, this is a perfect one-pot meal for camping. Make sure that you have plenty of kitchen paper to hand because, as Nigel says, this will run down your chin and up your arm. Ideal for a casual environment!

Sloppy Joes for Campsite Cooking
Minced beef or lamb – 500g
Onion – 1 chopped
Garlic – 1 clove, sliced
Red pepper – 1, diced
Worcestershire Sauce – 2 tablespoons
Tomato ketchup – 2 tablespoons
Chopped tinned tomatoes – 1 tin
Tabasco or other pepper sauce – to taste
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper (yep, I do pack the salt and pepper mills while camping!)
To serve: hamburger buns or baps – 4

Heat a frying pan if you’ve had the presence of mind to pack one – otherwise borrow a pan from the campsite owners or your friendly local camper – and cook the mince until it starts to turn brown. While it’s getting on with it, grab one of the campsite kitchen’s chopping boards and get busy with the vegetables. You will, of course, have brought your favourite knife from home.

Land the onion and garlic into the pan and fry until the meat is completely cooked. Add the red pepper, Worcestershire Sauce, tomato ketchup, chopped tinned tomatoes and Tabasco to taste. Simmer the mixture in the pan for 10-15 minutes until mixture has reduced and it is smelling good and tormenting all the other hungry campers making their dinners.

Meanwhile, put your hamburger buns, preferably sesame seed-sprinkled ones, into the oven – if there is one – to heat. Otherwise throw them in the toaster for a few minutes. Do all your washing up and pack your food. Send the Boyfriend across to the tent with your food bag and to lay the picnic rug on the ground.

With the pan in one hand and the hamburger buns on a plate in the other leave the kitchen and carefully walk to the tent. Lay out the plates and roughly sandwich the Sloppy Joe mixture between the warm buns. Pour yourself a glass of rough red wine and see how much of the Sloppy Joe you can get in your mouth before it starts pouring out the other side. Pause as you realise why the dish is called Sloppy Joe but go back for seconds before it gets cold.

Finish with homemade shortbread, passionfruit curd and the realisation that you have no sleeping bags for the night ahead.

Adapted from my well-travelled copy of Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Caroline,Just came across your blog via Jules at Stone Soup. Checked out your NZ posts and turns out you’ve been to (well at least really close to) my old home town of Fairlie in South Canterbury. I played rugby in Geraldine and some family friends used to be dairy farmers in Dunsandel.So a belated comment i know…but i just got excited because i didn’t think I’d ever hear about people choose to go to Geraldine for a holiday :)Now to check out the rest of your blog…Cheerio,Matt

  2. Caroline says:

    Surprising thought it may seem, there are some great camp sites – and good eating – around Geraldine! We enjoyed our night in the area so much (despite the lack of sleeping bags) that we came back the following month, just before I headed home to Ireland, for a weekend at one of the DOC campgrounds near Peel Forest. The Boyfriend managed to keep me out of Barkers that time but we did spend all of a leisurely wet afternoon at the Easy Way Café again and I even got to the Fellmann’s chocolate shop. I’d go back there in a moment again…although it is nice to finally be in summer mode in Ireland after two winters in a row!

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