We all know tin cans are a lifesaver in an emergency survival situation where you need to melt snow or boil water for safe drinking and for cooking wild food. Being an avid camper, however, I’ve come to appreciate them on a more regular basis.
There’s never a shortage of canned food in camp and below are some of my favourite ways to put empty cans to good use.
1. Scalloped potatoes
Put a layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of a greased can. Scatter minced onion, sprinkle with seasoned flour, dot with butter, and repeat until the can is three-quarters full. Top it off with scalded milk, cover the open end with foil, and sit in a Dutch oven. Add enough boiling water to reach midway up the outside of the can. Put on the lid, cook over the fire, and add water if needed to keep it from going dry, until the potatoes are tender, and the sauce is thick.
2. Quick breads
Generously grease cans, dust them with flour, and spoon cornbread, bannock, muffin, or cake batter to half or three-quarters, depending on the expected rise. Put cans in the Dutch oven, sit them on a grate or hang them over the fire, place a few coals over the lid and bake until the bread passes the “toothpick test.” Cool slightly, loosen the sides with a knife, and turn it out of the can.
3. Celebration camp can cakes
When you need cake in camp, try this two-ingredient recipe. Skip the directions on the box and simply combine a cake mix with a can of pop (mix and match any way you wish). I use Coke for chocolate cake and ginger ale for spice or vanilla cake). Beat with a fork, spoon into prepared pans and bake as above. Depending on the size of cans, this makes several cakes, but the recipe is easy to halve.
4. Baked potatoes in a can
I used to bury potatoes in coals to bake them, but the foil would tear, causing the spud to burn. I discovered that using a can as an “oven” turns out a perfect potato every time, tender and clean as a whistle. Put a potato (or two) into a can, wrap the can in foil and bake in the coals. Tongs are a must.
5. A can of roasted grouse
This easy method produces a moist, succulent bird. Season and stuff half an onion into the cavity of a dressed grouse, slip the bird into a greased can, and add a dollop of bacon grease or butter. Wrap the can in foil and bake it on a grate, rotating often, for about 40 minutes or until it is tender.
6. Picture-perfect poached eggs
Short cans (salmon/tuna) are ideal for poaching eggs. Bring one inch of water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Crack an egg into a buttered can (my oven holds four), place it in the pot, cover it, and sit it on the grate. Poach the eggs until done to your liking.
Don’t cook with tin or steel cans coated with food-grade epoxy. These liners can contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) and other harmful chemicals. Aluminum cans should not be used as it is significantly more likely to leach into food. And don’t heat food inside a sealed can. It could explode.
More smart ways to use cans:
- Saving hot bacon grease
- Storing and reheating leftovers
- Mix flour and water as stew thickener
- Containers for gathering wild foods
- Put cans under table and chair legs to prevent punctures in tent floors
- Hang around meat pole. The noise of cans will deter birds and scavengers.
- Gather resin and cones in a can for firestarter
- Melt pine resin and use it to staunch bleeding and keep infection out of small cuts.
- Stuff a can inside of wet wool socks, and stand them on sticks upside down by the fire to dry. The can promotes quicker drying while preventing shrinkage.
- Heat small stones or sand in a can over fire, empty into a sock for an emergency heating pad
- Boil grouse giblets in a can (instead of tying up a kettle) for your faithful four-legged “flusher”
Originally published in the 2021-2022 Ontario OUT of DOORS Hunting Annual.