The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 9: Backpacking Cookbook Reviews

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Ending a day on the trail with a home-cooked meal is just about as good as it gets. Listen next, as we review a two backcountry cookbooks, on The WildeBeat.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number nine.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE SERGEANT: Good food is always the day's highlight on my backcountry adventures.

Even though you're likely to find a lot of convenient pre-packaged meals available at your favorite outfitter, nothing beats a home-cooked meal. There are books that tell you how to make surprisingly good food on the trail.

I invited two volunteer reviewers from Backpack Gear Test to tell us about two very different backcountry cookbooks.

Our first reviewer is Jim Hatch, from Simsbury, Connecticut. As in all Backpack Gear Test reviews, Jim starts out by describing his own relevant experience.

JIM HATCH: I am the high adventure scoutmaster for my son's Boy Scout troop. I'm a pretty lightweight backpacker myself, and for a three- or four-day trek I will run under 15 pounds. I've got a fair degree of experience in cooking. I can cook most anything, and in fact, one of the things I try to do out on the trail is to show kids that you can eat well.

STEVE SERGEANT: Jim reviewed The Hiker's Guide to Preparing Home Cooked Meals on the Trail, by Steven Mroz. It's published by Trafford Press.

JIM: The book is actually somewhat self-published in that there is a publishing company called Trafford Press, that authors can contract for that will actually do a publishing on demand for books. It's about a five-and-a-half by eight-inch size book, 110 pages or so.

This is kind of a dehydration-specific book, and it covers almost everything from a perspective of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, that kind of stuff, as well as creating, you know, the concept of building blocks of meals. So there are soups and gravies, main dishes, which you can kind of mix and match rather than being held to a specific menu for any given day. The only thing that's missing from this would be desserts, which I actually find fairly appalling because when I'm out on the trail I really like a good dessert.

The way he put it together, he had a brief section on some philosophy issues relative to why people want to dehydrate foods in the first place. There's a kind of tricky little backpacker oven which was actually quite handy — how to build one — and then a hundred pages worth of recipes. Each recipe is on a single page so there's a lot of white space here.

The first thing I did was I built his backpacker oven, cooked a couple of biscuit recipes and stuff on my back porch to make sure that it would actually work in real life, and created a couple weekend's worth of menus. Made those up at home. The first one that I did, I actually followed his directions and everything, and wound up pretty hungry at the end of every night.

And the sweet and sour chicken was good; it actually reconstitutes pretty well because you reconstitute it in boiling water, and it cooks up pretty nice. The one thing I could not get working at all, and I really wish I could because I love them, is hash browns. He's got a lot of soup recipes in here; making soup from scratch and then trying to reconstitute it on the trail is way more work than it's worth.

STEVE SERGEANT: So would Jim recommend this book?

JIM: You know, I like what Steve was trying to do, but the market already has some very good competitors, some of which, in fact, or most of which just simply are better books. I would not buy this book if I saw this book in person, and I could not otherwise find a reason to recommend this.

STEVE SERGEANT: Our other reviewer is Steve Nelson, of San Francisco, California.

STEVE NELSON: I've been a backpacker since I was a kid in upstate New York. I really like moving fast, and over the last couple years have done a lot to reduce the weight of what I carry — probably a base weight of fifteen to twenty pounds when I go out. Um, I love to cook at home and I love to cook on the trail, and I really have two styles. So the first, and the one I use most often, is that I like to make things as simple and easy to prepare on the trail as possible, and I've also taken trips where we bring pretty much anything and everything to cook, so sort of gourmet camping trips.

STEVE SERGEANT: And here's Steve's review.

STEVE NELSON: The book I reviewed was Lip Smackin' Vegetarian Backpackin', from Globe Pequot Press, and the authors are Christine and Tim Connor — so a couple who have written a few backpacking cookbooks. And the book's a paperback, a few hundred pages long, got quite a few recipes in it, and in addition to the recipes it's got some tips on how to prepare foods, either by dehydration or other means, and just general tips for how to cook in the back country. And then the other thing that was interesting about the book is that they, rather than come up with these recipes themselves primarily, they actually went out and interviewed long distance backpackers and got their favorite recipes and collected them in this book.

First thing I do is just to sit down and read through the entire book. But I went through the whole book, and I flagged the things I thought interesting to try. So I picked the group of recipes to start with and they were all very simple ones that basically involved just assembling ingredients that could be gotten from the grocery store or health food store, and took them out in the field.

So here's an example of a recipe that I liked. It's called boot stomp spuds. It's mashed potato flakes and some nonfat powdered milk, Butter Buds, and then some spices and herbs and some sauce mix. I really liked this recipe. It was really simple to make. It was easy to assemble the ingredients from the store, and I was able to substitute some things like olive oil, for example, for the Butter Buds; I think that's healthier and tastes better.

STEVE SERGEANT: Steve said he learned useful new skills from this book.

STEVE NELSON: I think that what worked best for me from this cookbook was really a different way to think about how to prepare foods for backpacking. I like that they are taking ingredients from all kinds of different sources and mixing them up in different ways. And I had tended to just buy either freeze-dried food or dehydrated foods that were already premade, prepackaged, ready-to-go, and this kind of opened my mind to think more about things I could get from the store, things that are lying around my house that I could put together and create a meal that would ultimately end up to be healthier and certainly less expensive than something that I would buy at a backpacking store, freeze-dried and ready to go.

A lot of recipes in the book I thought just didn't have great nutritional value — really high sodium content in particular, and that stems pretty much entirely from the fact that they're using prepackaged soup mixes, sauce mixes and so on. The other thing was that because these came from so many different sources, there are so many different people who provided these recipes, they're not consistent in terms of portion sizes, nor in terms of usage of ingredients from stores.

Overall a thumbs up. I think the book's well designed. I really like the concept even though I have some quibbles about the nutritional value of a lot of these meals. I think the overall thinking that went into it is great, and it gave me a lot of new ideas for how to create new meals to take out when I go out backpacking.

STEVE SERGEANT: To read the complete text of Jim's and Steve's original reviews, follow the links on our web site. Please remember that the opinions expressed are those of the invividual reviewers, and are not necessarily those of Backpack Gear Test, or The WildeBeat.

My thanks to Jim Hatch and Steve Nelson, and the editors at Backpack Gear Test, for assisting with this show. They're helping to improve the quality of our wilderness experience, on The WildeBeat.

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Next time — Could the most fun you can have on the trail be helping to build it?

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Future editions of The Wildebeat depend on your news contributions, and on your financial support. Please see our website for details.

This has been The Wildebeat, program number nine. Thank you for listening.

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