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Campfire Sandwiches

July 29, 2014

(or as we Campbells refer to them, tonkas)

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First off, I have no idea why we called these tonka sandwiches while I was growing up, and I have no evidence to suggest anyone else has ever referred to them as such. What we called “tonka irons” are cast iron sandwich cookers on the ends of a couple of 24-to-30-inch metal rods. You cook them in a campfire.

IMG_4613At its most basic level, a tonka sandwich is a grilled cheese you cook in the fire. But they can be, oh, so much more. Just a simple can of strawberry-rhubarb pie filling can transform two slices of bread and some margarine into an exquisite dessert that’ll have the family clamouring to go back to the campground. (Really, I’ve somehow been able to turn Teresa into an avid camper, a remarkable feat, and much of the credit goes to dessert tonkas.)

We always have at least one round of breakfast tonkas when we go camping. I make half-a-dozen scrambled eggs on the propane cooker in my cast-iron pan, cooking them until they’re only about three-quarters done. Put some egg in a sandwich iron with a slice of cheese, maybe a slice of tomato, a little ham or cooked bacon (or kolbassa, which is the only meat we ever put in a tonka back in Manitoba), and voila–no fast-food breakfast sandwich can compare.

photo(12)Tonka basics are really quite basic: using margarine or soft butter, spread it all over the OUTSIDE of the bread (like making a grilled cheese), so the butter side goes down against the cast iron. Fill the middle with whatever you like. Clamp your irons together, and use a knife to trim any bread that’s sticking out the side. Find some hot coals on the fire and dig the irons right in there. Turn it over half-way through. Cooking times vary dramatically based on the heat of your fire, so you have to keep checking to make sure you don’t burn it. I’m taking a guess here but I’m thinking about 90 seconds a side is what a fairly hot fire needs to get things done. I don’t burn many tonkas. You have a little room for error in that you can use a knife to scrape off some burnt toast if one of your tonkas is a little over-done.

IMG_4610We’ve spent entire evenings thinking up things you could put in a tonka. Basically your imagination is the only limit. Pizza tonkas are a regular for us (they were Oliver’s first big-person foodIMG_4616 when he was a toddler). Peanut butter and banana. William came up with the idea this past weekend for a lobster tonka–haven’t tried it yet but will do. Think we’ll have to upgrade the cheese on those ones to something creamy like a goat cheese, although for most tonkas we have found, strangely enough, that process cheese slices seem to taste better than actual cheddar cheese.

IMG_4628If you’re wondering where to get these cookers–they seem to have them regularly at Canadian Tire, although the best of the three that we have (the round one) is from the tonka irons our family used when I was a kid. I don’t know where those ones came from, I think my grandparents brought them up from the States. No one else had these. Back then a tonka seemed much more exotic fare, even if it was just filled with cherry pie filling from the Sandy Lake Co-op.

And finally, here’s a gratuitous photo of the path from our campsite last weekend to the spectacular beach at Campbell’s Cove (no relation). If you find yourself camping on PEI and you want to be close to the ocean, you really can’t do better than this place. It’s the first campground we ever went to as a family and it remains our favourite.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Jim Sentance and the internet I’ve learned that there’s a market for Vintage Minnesota Apollo Tonka Toaster Camping Pie Irons. And pie irons are kind of a thing. What did we do before the internet (or Jim Sentance)?

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From → Food, Recipes

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