Depending on where you’re from, you might have called them campfire pies, hobo pies, or jaffle pies. I only knew these outdoor treats as mountain pies, possibly because that’s where we cooked them—at various Girl Scout and family campsites throughout the southern Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania. (Gotta love regional colloquialisms!)
Regardless of the name, I’m sure you’re not shocked to learn that as a kid, I considered cooking mountain pies to be pretty much the best thing about camping. (Campfire songs were a close second. Camp showers? Way down on the list.) Since I hadn’t camped in decades, I’d nearly forgotten how much I loved these simple little sandwich pies, but now that I’m an adult with access to beach houses and fire pits, it’s not impossible to make mountain pies in a non-camp situation. I used our weekend on the lake in New Hampshire to introduce a whole slew of friends and family to this old favorite.
Unlike regular foil-wrapped grilled cheese sandwiches cooked directly in the coals, a true mountain pie requires a contraption to make a crispy, melty meal. A pie iron, hinged at one end with long handles on the other, lets you squish your pie together and hold it safely in the flames from a distance. My advice is to get two from the get-go: they’re available from a number of outdoor gear companies as both lightweight aluminum pie irons (with nonstick coating) and heavier cast iron varieties (some of which need to be pre-seasoned before using). Choose your pie iron based on what you can handle; you’ll have to lift and hold it over a hot campfire for a few minutes, so cast iron might be a little too hefty for the younger set.
Once you have your pie irons in hand and your campfire a-blazing, how you fill them is completely up to you. Though you can use chilled pre-made pie crust, puff pastry, or phyllo dough to encase your fillings, we always went trashy old-school with our crusts and used buttered white sandwich bread. This is how I must continue my mountain pie-making today; frankly, it’s easier to cart a loaf of pre-sliced bread and a tub of butter to a campsite than finicky refrigerated dough anyway. Plus, it’s tradition!
So: generously butter two slices of sandwich bread—white or whole wheat, it’s your choice, though I tend to think the paler slices crisp up more effectively—and place in the pie iron butter side out.
Choose your filling—savory or sweet—and dollop on one of the unbuttered sides of the bread slices. Some of our favorite combos:
- pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and optional “toppings” like pepperoni slices, ham, or diced green peppers
- pie fillings like cherry or peach; we used canned versions as kids but now I bring homemade pie filling to the party
- peanut butter and bananas
- cream cheese and jam
- Cuban-style ham and cheese with pickles
Feel free to mix and match and create your own combinations, but stick to a few tablespoons or slices of each filling until you know the correct ratio. Don’t overfill or your innards will start to ooze out the edges of the pie and burn as it cooks. Mmmmm, burnt.
Hinge the pie iron closed, placing the un-topped slice of bread on top of the one piled with toppings (see? this way, you don’t have toppings oozing out before you’re ready) and carefully place in the fire. If your campfire still has flames, hold your pie iron directly in them for a quick-cooking, super-crispy pie that will be done in 3 minutes or less. (Don’t get distracted chatting with your pie-making mates or you’ll have a charred pie. I know from experience, dude.)
If your fire’s down to the coals, gently place it in the coals and let it rest, flipping once or twice. It’ll take a little longer to cook, but it’s still possible to get a nicely browned pie if you’re patient.
Get a plate ready and carefully un-hinge the pie iron so the pie drops out onto the plate. Each half of the iron will be searingly hot, so don’t let anyone touch them until they’ve cooled down! Or run down to the lake/stream/nearby body of water and dunk them in to cool the pie irons immediately. That’s what we started doing at the lake house and it worked marvelously.
When the pie irons are ready to make another batch, fill ‘em up again and eat to your heart’s content. Then get ready for s’mores.