Wild children are rare these days. As a kid, I wore my house key around my neck, played tag in the park near my school, and knew enough to get home before my mother found me. Trees were climbed, mud puddles were claimed, and fortresses were built from garbage bags and stray sticks. We were Peter Pan Lost Boys (and Girls), Bridge to Terabithia Explorers and Lord of the Flies rulers in training at the same time.
The upbringing of my children was very different. Send them outside with no plan and you might hear from a nervous neighbor who saw them wandering, or worse, make them come back shortly after and say they are bored. That changes when children are in the wild. Go camping in a forest and your curiosity will come back. Imagination takes over and adrenaline-fueled adventure opportunities (“What a noise was that made!”) Are enough to trigger giggles and screeches in every creature that crawls past the tent.
This dichotomy – adventurous on vacation and shy at home – is what makes the book Wild Child: Adventure Cooking with Kids, written by James Beard-nominated chef Sarah Glover, so fascinating. The Family Cookbook is both a glimpse into a more laid-back Australian parenting culture, as well as a simple guide to delicious camp meals that go beyond hot dogs and boiled corn. Think fire-roasted fruit, flaky scones, and lobster rollover on sea salt rolls. “It’s not limited to ‘you have to go out into the wild and catch it yourself,'” says Glover. “You can still go to the markets and pick up the stuff. It’s about adventure wherever you are. “
(Photo: Kat Parker / Courtesy Prestel)
While the more than 50 recipes from Wild Child can easily be adapted to your stove, the bright photos will seduce families to culinary delights around the campfire. They show incredibly stylish children walking around in nature, free from the shackles of meddling parents, happily cooking everything from bananas to fish over an open fire.
“I hope parents are inspired and their imaginations sparked into being creative as a family,” says Glover, who developed the recipes specifically for little hands. “I just wanted to think like a child and say, ‘Okay, how can children start to see nature not just as a tree to climb but a branch to cook with?'”
It all felt like second nature to Glover, who grew up with seven siblings near the Tasmanian bushland and now divides her time between New York and Australia. Gordon Ramsay and Martha Stewart messed up the book, and the recipes have influences from both – part hardcore chef, part perfect plate.
Despite not being a parent herself, Glover knew she wanted to create a cookbook that, like her first book, Wild, celebrates the casual lifestyle she grew up with. But while Wild was focused on making connections with the people who offer our food, Wild Child is more focused on enabling children to approach and prepare food that is fun, fresh, and tasty. “It’s just about kids going outside and hugging each other outdoors and using their primal instincts to get their hands dirty,” she says. “I hope parents and their children can have fun together.”
We’ve picked two of our favorite Wild Child recipes to try on your next campfire.
4 small pineapples
1⁄2 cup of maple syrup, plus more to drizzle
2 cups coconut yogurt
Light your fire and let it burn down for about an hour, or until you reach medium heat. Halve the pineapple. Place the pineapple in the coals of the fire with the cut side up and drizzle the maple syrup in the middle. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pulp is tender and the maple syrup is bubbly. Carefully remove the pineapple from the coals with tongs and cover with the coconut yoghurt. Drizzle some lime juice over the fruit, drizzle with a little maple syrup and serve.
(Photo: Kat Parker / Courtesy Prestel)
Ingredients for the turmeric dressing:
1⁄2 inch piece of fresh turmeric, unpeeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1⁄2 cup of champagne vinegar
1 cup of grape seed or extra virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the fish:
4 bamboo shoots (at least 60 cm long)
4 small whole fish, such as snapper or flathead, cleaned and gutted, but not scaled
1 large handful of fresh lemon leaves or fresh herbs
Butcher’s string or garden wire
For the turmeric dressing, finely grate the turmeric and garlic (use a microplane if available) in a small bowl. Add the vinegar and beat until everything has combined. Stir in the oil and let stand at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
Light your fire and let it burn for about an hour or until you get medium heat. Using a piece of wood or a knife, carefully cut the tip of each bamboo shoot so that it resembles a spear. Then, spear each fish with a sprout through its mouth and out of the tail, and push the fish down the bamboo until the mouth is about 12 inches from the base of the sprout. Fill each fish with lemon leaves or herbs and then tie each fish with butcher’s string or garden wire so that it does not slip around the bamboo shoot.
Insert the bamboo spears into the ground about 20 cm away from the fire and downwind. Make sure the spears don’t bend into the fire or kiss the ground. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the skin tightens and becomes crispy. Then turn the fish and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the meat is done, the skin is crispy and the eyes are white.
Carefully loosen the fish from the bamboo shoots and peel off the skin. Serve with the turmeric dressing.
Recipes from Wild Child: Adventure Cooking with Kids by Sarah Glover, published by Prestel. They have been edited for length and clarity.
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Main photo: Kat Parker / Courtesy Prestel