Comfort food from my days at summer camp

Camp Windywood at the Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, LA.

Updated 22 April to finally add a picture of the egg placed into your ring of bread. I’m sorry it took so long to get added.

When I was a kid my mom was a single mother, and my brother sister and I lived with our grandparents. Since my grandmother was a Girl Scout leader known as Cappy that meant every summer until I was old enough to be left behind I got packed off to Camp Windywood. Being a tween-aged boy I wasn’t thrilled with having to go to Girl Scout camp every summer, although now I wish I had been able to enjoy more of it. Back then I was a city kid who hadn’t fallen in love with being able to get out in the woods from time to time like I do now.

One thing I always enjoyed about going to camp was cooking on buddy burners, and the way we cooked fried eggs was so tasty that I still cook eggs that way 40 years later and refer to them as camp-style eggs.

What on earth is a buddy burner? Wikipedia calls it “a simple stove made from a can and part of a corrugated paper box.” Take an empty can of vegetables (cleaned out, of course), cut a corrugated cardboard box so it’s tall enough to fit inside the can, and roll up the cardboard so it fills the can with some space as the cardboard unwinds. Fill the can with melted paraffin and let it cool.

Get a 1 lb coffee can (if you can still find one), clean it and let it dry, then take an old school can opener with a triangular blade and cut some vent holes just above the bottom of the can (on the round side). Find a bare patch of ground (with no grass, and away from structures to practice campfire safety) and place the buddy burner on the ground and light it. Put a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom of the coffee can (without blocking the vents) for easy cleanup, and place it over the burner.

But you probably won’t be using a buddy burner so grab a small skillet. I use a non-stick skillet but if you have a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet you can feel free to use it. Now it’s time to get your ingredients.

Camp-style eggs ingredients

You’ll need the following to make your egg, and I’m sorry to say this is best done cooking a single egg at a time.

  • Two half strips of bacon
  • One egg (I use large eggs)
  • One slice of bread (I prefer wheat bread)
  • Something to put on your bread (butter, peanut butter & jelly, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper, or whatever you usually season your eggs with
  • A piece of fruit for a more balanced breakfast (optional). At camp that usually meant a half a banana.

Why half slices of bacon? There are several reasons, but the important reason is that a whole slice of bacon won’t fit on your buddy burner or in your skillet. My family has always cut our pack of bacon down the middle before opening it for use, going back to my grandmother cooking for her five kids. I suspect it started back in the depression, but it’s a great way to stretch your bacon. You can get two strips of bacon and it feels like you’re getting more than if you get whole strips. If you love bacon as much as I do it’s always a good thing to be able to think you’re getting more bacon than you actually are.

Put the bacon in your cold skillet and turn on the fire, cooking it almost as you always do. You’ll want to take out your bacon a little before it’s completely done, and you’ll understand why shortly. While your bacon is cooking take your slice of bread and cut out the center of the bread. You can use your spatula, a knife, or your hands, but you want the outer edge of your bread to be one continuous piece.

Getting your bread ready for your egg

Now you can take the center of your bread and put whatever you want on it. Sometimes I’d go with butter but usually it would get a swipe of peanut butter, and maybe a dollop of jelly as well. You can eat it now or save it until your egg is ready, but nine times out of ten I’d eat it immediately because my stomach is asking where breakfast is.

When your bacon is almost the way you like it remove it from the pan with your spatula and place it on a folded up paper towel to drain the excess grease. Hopefully, there’s a nice bit of grease left behind, although lately I’ve been cooking an extra piece of bacon (or two because I love bacon so much) to make sure I have enough grease to cook my bread and egg in. One of the best parts of eating camp-style eggs is having your ring of bread soak up all that delicious bacon grease flavor and get nicely crispy. If your bacon doesn’t create much grease cooking your egg this way can work, but you want to get some of that flavor in your bread.

The egg's cracked right into the center of the bread

Place your ring of bread in your pan, pressing it down lightly to make sure all of the bread is against the pan. Then crack your egg into the center of your bread and add any salt and pepper or other seasonings you usually use when you fry your egg. (I thought I had a picture of this but somehow I missed it. I’ll add it at a later date and make a note it in the comments.) You could scramble your egg, but this style of cooking is for a fried egg, not scrambled eggs. Scrambling your egg for this just wouldn’t work properly since it’s cooked within a ring of bread.

Lay your bacon across the top of the egg before you flip it

Just before you flip your bread and egg you need to lay your bacon across the top, the less cooked side of your bacon facing up. This is to keep the egg from trying to seep out as you flip and make a mess. Hopefully, you won’t break the yoke, although it has been known to happen. Now finish cooking your egg how you like it. If you like your yolk runny you’ll cook it for less time than if you like it pretty solid. I like mine a little runny so I can dip my bread into it as I eat it.

It's done. Bon appetite!

Once your egg is cooked to your liking go ahead and move it to your plate, bacon side up. I usually cut my egg around the inside of the bread, then cut the bread into bite-size bits that can be dragged through the yolk as I eat it. You definitely want to cut your eggs so you get some of the bacon and egg in every bite.

Unfortunately, this may not be a great way to cook for more than one person, and if you want a second one you’ll either have to use two pans or cook the second one after you eat the first one. Trust me, unless you have a good way to keep it warm you won’t want to let the first egg sit while you cook a second one. But once you’ve had it once you’ll want to make it again and again.

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