Most of our planning was about the food we carried. Jan nixed my idea to eat beans and rice three times a day.
“We need variety,” she said. “And texture.”
“But none of those instant backpacking meals,” I said.
“No way!” Jan agreed.
While backpacking in the White Mountains earlier that summer, I’d witnessed the current trend in backcountry dining: freeze dried meals in foil bags that just require boiling water and time. I have friends who swear by them.
“They’re light. They’re quick. They’re good tasting,” they say.
I don’t doubt their testimony, but I don’t eat fast food at home, and I wasn’t going to spend a month eating out of a bag.
I was relieved that like me, Jan’s a throwback who believes in cooking with real food and sitting down to eat from dishes, even on the trail.
Well, one dish.
We each carried a single bowl that tripled as a water dipper, laundry tub and washbasin. Jan carried the refillable fuel canister, and I carried the stove, the pot and the lid. We each carried our own fork, knife and spoon.
I was convinced that we could create tasty, nutritious meals that required only one pot and ten minutes, using ordinary ingredients from the supermarket supplemented with food from the garden that I dehydrated at home.
I found lots of quick-cooking, calorie-dense ingredients like granola (in six different flavors), couscous, bulgur, instant polenta, red lentils and lots and lots of high-calorie snacks of seeds, nuts, and dried fruit in the bulk department of my local food coop, where I also bought ramen, powdered Vermont cheddar and spices.
I found seed-dense crackers for the dehydrated mixes that make for a great backcountry lunch: a hummus dip that I routinely doctor with dried lemon peel, powdered cumin and a heavy hint of cayenne, and a black bean dip. For one dinner we tried a split pea soup mix to which we added instant potato buds for ultimate comfort. But we needed more – about 3,000 calories per person per day, not all of which could be chocolate.
I did reconnaissance in the conventional store, where I found foil-packed tuna and salmon we could add to pasta sides and ramen. That’s where I also found instant jasmine, basmati and brown rice.
I dehydrated spinach, chard, summer squash, zucchini, green onions and herbs from my garden, and I purchased a Backpacker’s Sampler of dehydrated vegetables and freeze-dried beans on-line. It was a good investment, and allowed us to enjoy reconstituted Cole slaw and a terrific corn salad.
To complete our pantry, we carried salt, olive oil, cider vinegar, and instant, powdered milk to which we added coffee creamer for calories and flavor. When you’ve hiked for eleven hours a day, almost anything tastes good.
Our dinners were delicious and varied: Spinach and Lentil Stew with Beri-Beri; Curried Red Lentils with Coconut and Rice; Salmon and Seaweed with Ramen; Venison Jerky with Mashed Potatoes and Peas; Tabouli with Garbanzos; Black Beans and Rice; Couscous with Apricots and Vegetables.
The dinner we ate most often was cheese tortellini right off the supermarket shelf. We boiled it with with dried porcini mushrooms and homemade tomato-sauce leather. We didn’t drain the pasta, but added salt, olive oil and powdered cheddar for a flavor-rich soup.
Our biggest investment was in palatable, portable coffee; we drank an instant French Roast from Starbucks at the start of each day. It was okay. After lunch, we drank a dilute solution of Gatorade, which kept us from wilting, and we drank tea or hot cocoa at day’s end.
We ate well, though we paid the price: our food was heavier than freeze-dried instant meals. We’d weighed the vacuum sealed packets before we left and divided the weight so that each week we carried both heavy and light meals. We never had to decide what to eat for dinner: we always ate the heaviest meals first.
Despite mid-morning snacks on granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, and salty afternoon snacks of peanuts, sesame sticks, and glad corn, we didn’t eat enough. We lost our appetites and we lost weight. By the end of the trip we were weary and delighted in the feast of fresh salads and a friend’s homemade lasagna our first night off the trail.
Next week, look for backpacking recipes here.
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