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 came looking for me. Trees were climbed, mud puddles were claimed, and forts were made from trash bags and stray sticks. We were Peter Pan Lost Boys (and Girls), Bridge to Terabithia explorers, and Lord of the Flies rulers in training all at once.
My children’s upbringing has been far different. Send them outside without a plan and you might hear from a nervous neighbor who saw them wandering or, worse, have them return moments later saying they’re bored. That changes when kids are in the wilderness. Go camping in a forest and their curiosity comes back. Imagination takes over and adrenaline-fueled possibilities of adventure (“What was that sound!”) are enough to set off giggles and shrieks with every critter that crawls past the tent.
That dichotomy—adventurous on vacation and timid at home—is what makes the book Wild Child: Adventure Cooking with Kids, written by James Beard–nominated chef Sarah Glover, so intriguing. The family cookbook is as much a glimpse into a more relaxed Australian parenting culture as it is a simple guide to tasty camp meals that go beyond hot dogs and boiled corn. Think fire-roasted fruit, flaky scones, and lobster rollovers on sea-salted rolls. “It’s not limited to ‘You have to go in the wild and catch it for yourself,’” Glover says. “You can still go to the markets and pick the stuff up. It’s about the adventure wherever you are.”
While Wild Child’s more than 50 recipes can be easily adapted for your stove, the bright photos are bound to tempt families into campfire culinary concoctions. They feature incredibly stylish kids roaming in nature, free from the shackles of meddling parents, and happily cooking everything from bananas to fish over open flames.
“I hope that parents are inspired and their imagination is sparked to be creative as a family,” says Glover, who specifically designed the recipes for little hands. “I just wanted to think like a kid and say, ‘OK, how can children start to see nature as not only a tree to climb in but a branch to use to cook with?’”
It all felt second nature to Glover, who grew up with seven siblings near the Tasmania bushlands and now splits her time between New York and Australia. Gordon Ramsay and Martha Stewart blurbed the book, and the recipes have influences of both—part hardcore chef, part perfect plating.
While Glover isn’t a parent herself, she knew she wanted to create a cookbook that, like her first book, Wild, celebrates the unshackled lifestyle she grew up with. But while Wild was focused on making connections with the people who provide our food, Wild Child focuses more on allowing children to approach and make food that is fun, fresh, and delicious. “It is just about kids getting outside and embracing outdoors and their primal instinct, to get their hands dirty,” she says. “I hope that parents and their kids have fun together.”
We picked two of our favorite recipes from Wild Child to try out on your next campfire.
4 small pineapples
1⁄2 cup maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
2 cups coconut yogurt
Light your fire and let it burn down for about one hour, or until you obtain a medium heat. Slice the pineapples in half. Place the pineapples, cut side up, in the coals of the fire, and drizzle the maple syrup in the center. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and the maple syrup is bubbling. Carefully remove the pineapples from the coals with tongs and top with the coconut yogurt. Squeeze some lime juice over the fruit, drizzle with a little extra maple syrup, and serve.
Ingredients for the turmeric dressing:
1⁄2-inch piece fresh turmeric, unpeeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1⁄2 cup champagne vinegar
1 cup grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the fish:
4 bamboo shoots (at least two feet long)
4 small whole fish, such as snapper or flathead, cleaned and gutted but not scaled
1 large handful 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 you have one) into a small bowl. Add the vinegar, and whisk until combined. Stir in the oil and let stand at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
Light your fire and let it burn down for about an hour, or until you obtain a medium heat. Using a piece of wood or a knife, carefully whittle the tip of each bamboo shoot so it resembles a spear. Then spear each fish with a shoot through the mouth and up out of the tail, pushing the fish down the bamboo until the mouth is about 12 inches from the shoot’s base. Stuff each fish with lemon leaves or herbs, then tie each fish with butcher’s string or garden wire so it doesn’t slide around the bamboo shoot.
Stick the bamboo spears into the ground about eight inches away from the fire and in the direction of the wind. Make sure the spears don’t bend over into the fire or kiss the ground. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the skin starts to tighten and crisp up. Then rotate the fish and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the flesh is cooked, the skin is crisp, and the eyes are white.
Carefully remove the fish from the bamboo shoots and peel back the skin. Serve with the turmeric dressing.
Recipes taken from Wild Child: Adventure Cooking with Kids, by Sarah Glover, published by Prestel. They have been edited for length and clarity.