Surely by now, there are summer camps that are selling themselves by their cuisine. But fifty years ago, when I was a young counselor in New Hampshire, no one seemed to pay a whit's attention to the food. But there was a group that made an heroic stand: the mountain hut boys who ran the lodges in the Presidential Range.
There were, and are, eight Alpine huts up in the Presidential, stretched over 56 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There is only one way to get to them, by hiking in. You can stay up there for a week, crossing ridges from one mountain top to another. Each hut is about a day's hike away.
You will sleep in bunkrooms, there are 50 or so beds at each lodge, plenty of spring water and plenty of fresh air and remarkable views. But it was the food that I shall not forget. The hut boys pack everything in from the base, which is a good five hours down. It is not a stroll to haul the food up to each hut: Some of the trail is steep, wet, bouldered, switch-backed, and narrow. And the weather can come as if it is coming to get you.
The true bravado is that they even take the long way in terms of cooking.
The hut boys each strap on 100 to 125 pounds of provisions, enough to feed 75 people three meals a day, seven days a week, where the only store is five hours back down. The true bravado is that they even take the long way in terms of cooking. They soak the oats the night before the morning oatmeal—they hauled in real maple syrup—and twice a week they proudly roasted turkeys for dinner. Not frozen turkeys, not turkey breasts, but fresh turkeys, hauled up one by one, with fresh bread to make the stuffing.
They knew there were easier ways to do it and certainly lighter ways, but it was their pride and their humor to lug those turkeys up into the huts, along with good Idaho bakers for the mash potatoes and fresh carrots and celery.
After breakfast each morning, they cleared two long tables and made everyone's lunch bag. Seventy-five sandwiches, each stiff wrapped in wax paper, plus a Hershey bar, a cookie they baked, and one orange per bag.
I have had a lot of oranges in my time, but I still recall just how good that orange tasted, high in the mountain ridges of New Hampshire, peeling back the skin while I was sitting on a rock. One of those hut boys packed in 100 pounds of oranges so it would be the real thing. Food is like that: When it is good, it sits stubbornly in your memory, a half-recollection of the task but a full recollection of the pleasure.