by Josh Conley
Photography by Averell Mondie
Summer was threatening its full force as we travelled through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Day lilies, morning glories, Queen Anne’s lace and the last gasp of mimosa blossoms filled the ditch banks and shoulders. We were bound for the South Fork of the Spring River, a noted bass fishery. I, with my box full of streamers, woolies, and popping bugs, and sights on a campsite along the river was set to pulling out as many of these from the stream as I could.
These trips aren’t as regular as I would wish for them to be, but with a few extra hours to be had, we got lucky and struck out with little notice. “It surprises me every time,” I think to myself, noting the sudden change in geography coming across the Black River into much more rigorous terrain than the flat, sandy country of the Delta. Our small truck will struggle through the hills for the remainder of the trip.
We were traveling light: a small tent and a couple of blankets, a cast iron pan, a nice bottle of bourbon and a cooler filled with a handful of high quality provisions to be able to put together a great meal while in the bush. There are many reasons that we travel into the wilderness: to seek solitude, enjoy the company of good friends, to marvel at the beauty of nature. All valid motives, to be sure. But for me, a trip into the wilds is an open door for a few days devoted to being supremely intimate with my food. After all, isn’t that the basis of our hunting and fishing? I relish the opportunity to have extended time of thoughtful cooking over an open flame, with virtually no distractions.
Stream side pork chops have become a mainstay of these outings for reasons not limited to the fact that they travel well, take kindly to an open fire and are a delicious indulgence while creature comforts are limited. Further, knowing that you have toted in such a delicacy offers an insurance policy against poor fishing the first night after camp is made (which I have, regrettably, found to be necessary.)
With camp made and limited light remaining to get dinner started we set the fire and began waiting for the flames to give way to embers. Listening to the bubbling stream in the fading light, I could wait no longer. I rigged my line, tied on a trusty olive wooly bugger, took off my shoes and waded in. The slow, constant flow of the river, warmer and more welcoming than I remembered, washed over the stress stored since the last time we did this. With each cast, I am fishing less and meditating more. Every toss and retrieve of the line a new mantra.
Deep in thought, I hear a voice from beyond the bank. The fire is ready.
Stream Side Pork Chops
(An Insurance Policy)
- 2 pork chops, at least 1” thick, from a local producer or trusted regional farm.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 handful fresh thyme (or other seasonal herb)
- 2 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
- Salt and pepper
While you prepare the fire, let the chops come to room temperature. Season one side with a heavy pinch of salt, a tablespoon or more. Coat a cast iron pan with olive oil and place it directly on the prepared fire. Once the oil is hot, place the chop, salt side down, into the pan. Cook roughly 5 minutes, or until the fat cap has browned around the edges. Turn and cook an additional 3 – 4 minutes. Add thyme to the pan for the final 2 – 3 minutes, taking care not to burn the herbs. Place a tablespoon of butter on each chop and remove from the heat, allowing the butter to cover the chops. Cook over high heat for an additional minute if desired.
No camping trip is complete without a good hike! Check out these fun Arkansas hiking trails.