KINFOLK dinner at Camp Wandawega recap

Thanks to everyone who attended the Kinfolk dinner- it was a lovely, drizzly, early fall day in Wisconsin filled with friends, food and beer.
Here’s a recap:
photos: Julia Stotz
film: David Burkhart
story: Kyle McCarthy
Thanks to the collaborators:  Estera Style, Fleur, Solemn Oath, Illinois Sparkling, Fountainhead, Cleetus Friedman.

The Culture of Camp

The typical camping weekend evokes images of blue-bird days filled with forays along wooded trails, leisurely dips in crisp lake water and the Thoreauvian rush of self-reliance that comes with successfully pitching a tent on the first attempt.
Unless the destination of choice is Camp Wandawega – where the camping is anything but typical. The camp sits nestled alongside picturesque Wandawega Lake in Walworth County, Wisconsin. Since its construction in the early 1920’s, it has seen many incarnations – vacation resort, speakeasy, cathouse, Catholic-Latvian retreat, and recently, back to resort once again.
Wandawega consists a cluster of rustic cabins and lodging houses huddled together in the middle of 25 wooded acres. A vintage fire truck is parked quietly next to the tree line. An antique canned ham sits at the far end of an archery range, inviting visitors to enjoy a few moments under the shade of its extended awning. Hand made signage points campers to the beach, the lodge, the tennis courts, or the teepee.
Traces of modernity can be found, but must be hunted – the initial impression one gets when walking up the crushed gravel driveway to the main lodge is that the place is equal parts resort and time machine. On this day though, the perceived ripple in the time-space continuum is quickly replaced with the more elemental sensations of cold wind and steady rain. Fantasies of arboreal excursions are quickly replaced with more practical visions of shelter and warmth.
But at Wandawega, camp abides.
Decades of adventures in every conceivable meteorological condition mean that the art of camping inside has been perfected and fun will be had. A step out of the rain and into the great room of the main lodge means leaving the present behind altogether. Antique wood, leather, flannel and taxidermy instantly rush to welcome campers and invite them to gather by the roaring fire.
Camping is by definition a return to nature and oftentimes a solitary pursuit. But the inclement day combined with the warmth of the room has the opposite effect as campers band together to mix camp cocktails, exchange stories, play board games, and explore the lodge. Soon, the sounds of conversation and clinking glassware mixes with rain against the windows to create a cheerful hum. The topic of discussion has no compass; it meanders pleasantly from professional football, to jewelry, to bicycles, to the renewal of marriage vows and on to musical injuries.
The afternoon wanes. The rain eases but doesn’t relent. The campers seize the opportunity and leave the lodge to meet the late afternoon drizzle. A short walk up the stone path leads to a hilltop clearing, where it is proved once again when it comes to camping, preparation trumps conditions. A phalanx of pole tents has been erected, providing a canopy for three weathered picnic tables.
It’s happy hour at Wandawega.
But in lieu of a few plastic coolers stuffed with ice and cans of domestic beer, a temporary tap system has been placed in the middle of the picnic tables. The three draughts immediately spark an informal tasting session as dozens of outstretched glasses compete for tap pulls. Once each glass has been filled, the campers subdivide into groups of three and four. This time, the discourse is still varied, but remains squarely focused on beer. The merits of the three brews are discussed along with lively debates about what makes the perfect beer name and why it’s a good thing to never make the same recipe twice.
But happy hour is prelude and shortly, the campers reluctantly put down their glasses and head to dinner. Another massive pole tent rises above the tennis court on the far side of the property. Sheltered beneath is a wooden table that stretches almost the length of the playing surface. Camping is hungry work, and dinner must be served.
Instead of the usual fare of burgers and cased meats, the diners are treated to an alternative take on camp cuisine. Smoked hummus and seasonal crudité precede a kale, chard and heirloom tomato first course. Campfire grilled elote is served alongside conchinitas pebil nestled in warm corn tortillas. In that moment when a large group of people is struck mute by the quality of their supper, the camp cook calmly explains how a meal of so many distinct flavors can be executed with just three pieces of iron cookware.
The evening concludes, in traditional camp style, with a raging bonfire accompanied by the strumming of a guitar and the occasional scent of a perfectly toasted s’more. The weather has passed, and Wisconsin apologizes for the rainy day with a lingering sunset full of every warm color there is.
But at this moment, the last thing anyone is thinking about is a bit of rain.