During my second year in Boy Scouts (or maybe it was my first year), our Troop hosted a competition. During one of our weekend campouts, we were challenged to “earn” the First Class rank based on the requirements from the 1960s. Each requirement was given a specific amount of points and each of us found a partner for the weekend’s competition. Jarod and I teamed up and instantly began preparing for the campout. We had a month to hone our skills for the contest. And we were determined to win. Since we were so young and inexperienced, we were at a definite disadvantage. We were going head-to-head against teams of Life Scouts and Eagle Scouts. Even with a weighted scoring system that leveled the playing field, the odds were not necessarily in our favor.
Since everyone was working in pairs instead of functioning in the standard Patrol system, the Troop didn’t have enough equipment for the campout. So we had to bring some of our own utensils, including pots and pans.
Since this was a campout based on the 1960s, that meant that we weren’t allowed to use the propane stoves that our Troop had. Each team was required to cook his own meal over an open flame. And we would be judged on how well we built our fire, prepared our food, and cooked our meal. We also had to eat what we cooked. That was a requirement to receive maximum points.
Properly cleaning and storing our equipment was also a requirement.
Jarod and I had an ambitious menu. We were going to wow the judges. We felt a higher degree of difficulty was necessary in order to take down the more experienced Scout teams. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, except potatoes. I know for a fact that we had pan-fried sliced potatoes.
While we were about to start cooking dinner, I walked away for some reason. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was getting firewood. Or maybe I was getting water. I really don’t remember. But I remember I was gone for a few minutes.
While I was gone, Jarod was still prepping the potatoes. One of the adult Scout leaders stopped by and checked in on us. Because we were using utensils from home instead of utensils intended for camping, and because nobody wanted to ruin any pots or pans from someone’s home, the leader had a little hint to pass along to us.
“Put some dish soap on the bottom of your pan before you put it over the fire. It’ll be easier to clean when you’re done.”
It makes sense. Putting dish soap on the outside of the pan would help keep the soot loose and this would make it easier to wash the outside. Ideally, it would also keep you from ruining Mom’s favorite frying pan. And since we were using Jarod’s mom’s frying pan, he wanted to make sure we took care of it. And rightfully so.
When I returned from whatever errand I was running, Jarod told me what the leader had told him. He had already put soap on the bottom of the pan and we were ready to get the food cooked. It was dark. And I’m sure we were hungry. We couldn’t get the food cooked fast enough. That’s always the way it is when you’re hungry. Right?
Once the food was finally ready, we sat down at our picnic table for our late night feast. Everything tasted great.
Except the potatoes.
They were…odd. I swore they tasted like soap. But I thought it was just in my mind. So I forced myself to eat some more. After all, we wanted to win.
A few minutes later, the same adult leader stopped by our campsite. He was there to judge our fire, our cooking, and the food itself. Much like a contestant on one of those Food Network cooking competitions, I held my breath as he sampled our food. He paused as he tasted the potatoes.
“They taste like soap, fellas.”
During the next few minutes, we figured out why our potatoes tasted like soap. The leader had said to put the soap on the bottom of the aluminum pan. So Jarod squirted some dish soap on the inside of the pan. Yes, it was on the bottom. But it was on the inside, not the outside.
Putting soap on the inside of your aluminum frying pan doesn’t help protect your pan from the fire. At all. And it makes your food taste like soap. Which doesn’t taste very good. At all.
I think there were 10 points available for that dinner. And if I remember correctly, we received 7 out of the available 10. It was our lowest score of the weekend, by far.
Now, whenever I slice potatoes, I still think of the taste of those soapy taters. And I chuckle as I look around to make sure no one snuck any dish soap into my frying pan.
It’s a funny story. Actually, it’s an awesome story. It’s probably one of my top five favorite stories from my Scouting experience. What makes the story even better? We still won the competition. Thanks to the weighted scoring system, we wound up beating a team of experienced Scouts by just a few points.
We were the victors. Soapy potatoes and all.
**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**
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