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STORIES FROM THE ATTIC: How to cook a loon

Outdoor cookbook has tongue-in-cheek, serious recipes

December 22, 2016
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

BLUE MOUNTAIN LAKE - With his wife Marion, Walter Knapp of Chenango Bridge, New York, designed an illustrated outdoor cookbook for the Boy Scouts he led on trips to the Adirondack Park.

The homemade book - which is currently in the collection of the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake - has everything from cooking frankfurters and onion slum to using an axe and building a reflector oven, according to museum librarian Jerry Pepper.

"'The baker can be set along the side of the fire, open front to the blaze,'" Pepper said, reading the reflector oven description while flipping through the pages. "'It readily bakes and roasts biscuits, bread, game or fish.'"

Article Photos

(Provided photo — Andy Flynn)

The book - "Woodsman Book of Recipes and Camp Notes" - is made with onion skin-like drafting paper.

"There is linen paper in here," Pepper said. "It's very high quality. It's used by draftsmen to make drawings."

That makes sense. Link Aviation hired Walter Knapp (1906-1999) to be its head draftsman after he worked for the Ansco camera company in Binghamton. Link Aviation was best known for building flight simulators for training pilots and astronauts. Marion (1906-1995) worked at the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company in the Binghamton area.

It's not clear what year this book was made; no information about Walter's Boy Scout days is available.

The Knapps both loved the outdoors, according to their neighbor Pat Winters, who found the cookbook while cleaning their home after Walter died and subsequently donated it to the museum.

In a note to Adirondack Museum curators, Winters said the Knapps loved skiing and ice skating in the winter and fishing and roaming through the country "looking for rocks to add to his collection in the summer, when they were not at their camp in the Adirondack Mountains." Walter's rock collection is now owned by the Roberson Museum in Binghamton.

One of the tongue-in-cheek recipes was called "How to cook a loon."

"Pluck and dress one loon. Place in pot with plenty of water and boil three hours. Put in rock big as fist and boil another three hours. Then try this way. If you can stick a fork in the rock, the loon is done."

Some of the legit recipes are "Bean Hole Beans" that are cooked in a pot dropped in a stone-lined hole surrounded by wood coals; "Lima Bean Cakes" made with mashed lima beans, mashed potatoes, eggs, dehydrated onions and salt and cooked in bacon grease; and a "Banana Ham Sandwich" made with a mashed banana and lemon juice, buttered whole wheat or white bread, and "canned devel ham," served with a lettuce leaf.

Walter also provided tips for his Boy Scouts, along with illustrations, such as proper campfire etiquette.

"'Gather enough wood to cook your entire meal before you light the fire and always put out your fire before leaving the camp,'" Pepper read.

Pepper likes having the Knapps' cookbook in the museum's collection because camping is such an important part of Adirondack history.

"Woodman guides go way back to the 19th century," he said. "George Washington Sears - Nessmuk - he has recipes in that book ("Woodcraft and Camping," 1884), and that book has been republished. ... As a matter of fact, the first how-to guide for camping was William Murray's book, William H.H. Murray, Adirondack Murray, 'Adventures in the Wilderness.' In 1869, it put the Adirondacks on the map. It encouraged hundreds of people, thousands of people.

Up until Murray's book, outdoor books about the Adirondacks were mostly adventure tales from authors who hunted and fished in the region, books such as Joel T. Headley's "The Adirondack: or Life in the Woods" (1849) and Samuel H. Hammond's "Hills, Lakes and Forest Streams" (1854).

"Murray was the first one to say, 'This is how you get here. This is how you hire a guide. This is what you should bring. This is where you should go. And this is how much it should cost. Bring these clothes to wear,'" Pepper said. "It allowed people to actually come here. Before that, you had to hire guides, it was really expensive, and you had to take a long, long time to do it. ... But Murray basically showed you how you could do it yourself."

The Knapps' cookbook has roots in all these 19th century classics.

"Nessmuk, who really invented what's called the 'go-light' school of camping, which now is backpacking," Pepper said. "Bring everything you can on your back and take as little stuff as you can. That whole tradition actually started here. This is really the first place that people really started to do the type of camping that he's talking about here. This is just a humorous, interesting little snippet of that tradition. ... It's sort of a little tongue in cheek, but it's also serious, teaching people how to live in the woods safely and respectfully."



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