The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 65: Backcountry Home Cooking

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

Home cooking in the backcountry is easier than you might think. This week on The WildeBeat, Backcountry Home Cooking.

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

This is program number sixty five.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Last time, we heard from manufacturers of prepackaged meals for backcountry travelers. While these meals can be fast and convenient, they're also more expensive than the equivalent ingredients from your grocery store. The good news is, it really isn't so hard to do what they do for yourself. John Garrett of Enertia Trail Foods started his business as an extension of his hobby.

JOHN GARRETT: We were looking for something that we really enjoyed on the trail and we dehydrated our own ingredients at home. And we ended up coming up with a lot of great recipes that we really enjoyed.

STEVE: A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop on dehydrating and packaging your own food. Roberta Cobb gave the presentation that we reported on in our edition number two.

ROBERTA COBB: I've been cooking and dehydrating my own trail meals for about eleven years, making my own recipes and learning as I go along how to do this.

STEVE: Why is this desirable to you versus going down to your local store and loading up on all the packages of food that they sell there?

ROBERTA COBB: Well I find that I can control my portions better, I can control the nutrition within the meal better, and I can control the taste better so that I can make meals that I like to eat, and the sizes I want to eat.

STEVE: So tell me about the actual recipes that you demonstrated.

ROBERTA COBB: Well today we demonstrated a cold lunch that's cold Chinese-style noodles with toppings and it had carrots and celery and peas and pasta in it, and then it had some soy sauce and ginger and that type of flavoring on it and topped with almonds and sesame seeds.

STEVE: So you started out with fresh ingredients and then what happened?

ROBERTA COBB: Yeah we started out with fresh ingredients, raw carrots, raw everything, and we and cooked up the pasta and mixed up the dressing and mixed it all together and then we dehydrated it. Took about four hours to dehydrate, and then we sealed it up in vacuum seal packages; ready to go on the trail.

STEVE: That's certainly one way to do it. You pre-mix fresh food, and then dehydrate it. But another way to do it is to start out with pre-dried ingredients, mix them up, and package them. It's surpisingly easy to do. One of the many recipes I make for myself is vegetarian spaghetti; this one serves two people. You'll find a list of places you can buy dried ingredients on our web site. So let's go into my kitchen and I'll demonstrate.

STEVE: All right. So I'm in my kitchen, and I've got everything together here, and I'll start by making the sauce. The base of any spaghetti sauce, like a marinara sauce, is a tomato sauce. And so I have here dried tomato powder, and my recipe requires three tablespoons of this dried tomato powder. And so I'll put these into a mixing bowl. Now this is a vegetarian recipe, but we do need to add in something to give it a significant amount of protein. And so in this case I'm using T-V-P, which stands for texturized vegetable protein. It's a crushed, dried, soy product. And we'll put a half a coup of that into the mixing bowl. The next ingredient, interestingly enough, probably something you weren't expecting, is dried spinach. Now this is something I'll buy in bulk. And I'm going to put a third of a cup of the dried spinach into the mixing bowl. Spices. We've got, kind of generic Italian seasoning spices; a mixture of Italian herbs. Two teaspoons of this go in here. A teaspoon of garlic powder. I don't know about you, but I don't know what spaghetti would be without plenty of garlic. And when you're on the trail, especially in high elevation, having lots of flavor in your food helps a lot. And then this depends on your tastes; maybe a quarter teaspoon or one hefty shake of crushed red pepper flakes. A slight shake of salt. Stir it all up. Drop that into a small sandwich-sized zipper bag. Spoon it in there. And we'll set this aside. Next we need the pasta. And this is probably easiest to measure out with a scale. And the trick is for packaging it nicely is you're going to have to break the noodles. So I put it on the scale, and that's three ounces per serving. So I'm making two servings here, so I need six ounces. And now, I'm going to break these noodles in thirds, so that they fit neatly in the bag. That's on set of noodles broken in one-third. Another set of noodles. So now we have a hand full of noodles. Last thing, we need the parmesan cheese. And I buy the parmesan cheese that they sell on the shelves of your grocery store that's pretty much dried out. They store it on the store shelves without refrigeration. They do tell you to refrigerate after opening. I've found that this stuff keeps a long time, so I'm going to measure out about a tablespoon of parmesan per serving, and that's going to go into its own separate container. There's a couple of ways to do this. Another small bag is what I do. And then we get into the process of sealing it up. Now, you can just throw all this in a zippered bag and you're done. And in that way it'll probably keep a couple of weeks. But if you want it to last longer, you probably need to put it into vacuum sealed bag. First thing I'm going to put into here are the noodles. Then I'll stick in the little bag of parmesan cheese. I'll stick in the other little bag of sauce; the powdered sauce mix that I've already put together. OK. Everything is in the little -- in the bag. And we'll put that in the vacuum sealer, and finish sealing it up. It vacuums it all out. And then I seal it. And voile! We have a pre-packaged meal for a backpacking trip.

STEVE: So later, when I get into the wilderness, I'll bring three cups of water to boil in a one-and-a-third liter pot. I'll throw the noodles in and cook them for 5 or six minutes. Then I'll turn the heat down to a low simmer, and stir the sauce mix in. After another 5 minutes or so, I'll toss the cheese on top, and it's ready to eat. As an alternative, some people do all of this measuring and mixing on the trail. Mary Howley Ryan is the nutritional advisor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. When I asked her how she might pack a bear canister, she didn't mention any pre-packaged meals.

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: Well, I would put...probably some, uh, bean flakes... I'd put, um, a hunk of cheese, I'd probably put some, let's see, some masa harina, which is the cornmeal you can make your own tortillas... That way you can take that instead of bread... I'd put some kind of hot cereal, like a combination of oats or various types of dried grains that you could use for breakfast. Trail mix... peanut butter or almond butter... Dehydrated vegetables don't take up much room, and a small amount of them can add to a meal both nutritionally and taste... Powdered milk... a staple thing. Let's see, main meals, probably some kind of quick-cooking noodles that are thin, like angel hair pasta. That's something that wouldn't take up too much space, and you could do a lot with that.

STEVE: A couple of comments on that. Well first of all, it actually sounds pretty good, but secondly, ...the things you suggested are all sort of cooking intensive.

MARY HOWLEY RYAN: Well, I guess when you're talking about conserving on space, and even pack weight, too, both to me, uh, packing bulk foods is the way to get the most out of what you're bringing... I think you make a good point, in that I enjoy cooking, and so I enjoy backcountry cooking specifically, so I probably do that as my first inclination... And I'm not saying that everyone has to do that.

STEVE: The important thing is to try these foods out at home and make sure you know how to make them before you get to camp. It's also important to try them out, to know whether you're actually going to like those foods, because you really can't change your mind once you're out there. We'd like to hear your thoughts about home cooking for outdoor travel. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You'll find links to information about bulk dehydrated food vendors, the recipe I presented, and a high fidelity stereo version of this show, on our web site.

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Next time -- the bike battle.

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please click on the support link to make possible future editions of this free service. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a public service of Effable Communications.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number sixty five. Thank you for listening.

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