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Dinner on the rocks

With fun and imagination, your beachside bonfire meal can have tasty recipes made of foraged ingredients and local specialties

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Photos by Dennis Evans

Recipes Featured In This Article

S’mores, of Course

Quality dark chocolate elevated s’mores to a level that pleased all our beach gourmands....

Mini Lebanese Pitas

Fresh bread on the bonfire added a certain excitement. It didn’t rise as well as in the ...

Mini Beach Burgers

Mini-burgers or sliders are all the rage, but these burgers bring back memories of long-ag...

Bonfire Grilled Cheese

A neighbour’s discovery of an old sandwich maker, perfect for the bonfire, made this san...

Amherst Shore Boil

This recipe, based on a low country boil, would traditionally include shrimp instead of mu...

Rhubarb Punch

Every bonfire needs a special drink. This one takes advantage of ubiquitous East Coast rhu...

Beach bonfires are a much-loved summer tradition, but sometimes marshmallows and hot dogs just don’t cut it. Granted, there is certain nostalgia when you bite into that dog and feel and hear the crunch of sand. And what says treat more than hot, gooey, sticky marshmallows? But, the time has come for something different.

It’s a gorgeous Saturday evening on Nova Scotia’s Amherst Shore overlooking the Northumberland Strait. The water is calm, it’s too warm for a jacket, the mosquitoes are taking a night off, and, most importantly, the neighbours are keen. They’ve made suggestions for a bonfire line-up that moves the menu up a notch.

Preparation is necessary and we gather in the cottage kitchen. First up is a punch to sip on the beach. A nearby rhubarb patch is still producing, so rhubarb will be the base.

Some imaginative mixing with rum, ginger, and ginger ale creates a memorable kick. One person suggests a splash of Emma Bitter Liqueur from Winegarden Estate in nearby Baie Verte, New Brunswick. We’re happy to support this local enterprise.

One discerning neighbour had earlier suggested the host make her popular homemade Lebanese pita, so while we’re testing the punch, she rolls out a few round loaves from a batch of dough made earlier. It’s usually baked in the oven at 500°F (260°C), so quality control is going to be tricky over a beach fire.

The bonfire needs vegetables for balance, so we choose a few long, red peppers, giving them a rinse and placing them on sticks for grilling over the fire. They’ll be aesthetically pleasing and tasty.

We’ve purchased local mild Italian sausages from Nicnat Farms just down the road in Lorneville. This fifth-generation family-owned farm is known for its chicken, beef, and pork, and its busy U-pick strawberry fields.

We’ll barbecue sausage separately and use some in a hot-and-spicy southern boil. The boil recipe calls for shrimp, but local is the rule, so we’re substituting mussels. We blend the spices: ground mustard, ground ginger, paprika, nutmeg, allspice, cayenne, and ground pepper.

We step outside to shuck a few cobs of fresh corn, leaving the silk threads on the lawn instead of on the kitchen floor. We cut up the cobs into chunks and rinse the mussels. We mix the spices in water in a large, tall pot and set it all aside to lug to the beach.

If not for a local ban on clamming, we’d have considered a Prince Edward Island friend’s suggestion of grilled clams on the fire. “Rake coals to one side and put the grill over them, balanced on the rocks,” she explains.  “Line the clams up on the grill and when they open, use tongs to lift them onto a plate.” She adds a knob of butter creamed with fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, and parsley, and/or seaweed flakes. “They’re delicious,” she says. She also gathers dulse and sugar kelp from the beach drift and toasts it over the fire until crisp.

Our seaweed is not appetizing enough to make it on the menu, but grilled-cheese sandwiches do when one neighbour discovers a vintage sandwich maker gathering dust in her cottage. Our sandwiches ooze with flavour, not just because of the cheese, but because of addition of red onion slices.

And one neighbour’s memories of Girl Guide campfires of long ago bring us to tiny burgers, made with ground beef from Linden Leas Farm, just down the shore. We mix them with onion and herbs, throw in a few veggies, and wrap them in tin foil to be thrown on the coals where they can simmer to perfection.

We carry our feast to the beach, and as the evening progresses, we roast each item over the fire, enjoying the experience as much as the flavours. It’s a slow, leisurely event, with lots of laughs, that attracts the envious attention of passersby enjoying an evening stroll.

And, despite the goal for a bonfire with a difference, we can’t quash our desire for marshmallows. Our photographer is prepared and we end our evening with first-rate s’mores made with marshmallows, dark chocolate, and graham wafers.

Bonfires will just never be the same again.