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Gourmet Eating on the Trails

Karen L

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I just finished a weekend camping in the middle of nowhere, completed devoid of civilization, at least a half hour drive (only if you're a speed demon like me!) outside a city edge. This is roughing it, ladies and gents. No running water, and no 6 burner stove, or even a chef's knife in sight. I had a few, small alpine single burner stoves, and a multi-tool knife.

Now you have to understand the situation I was in. I am a fearless(ha!) leader of an army cadet corps, and we do these weekend trips, two, maybe three times a year. We normally have military ration packs, which is just heat and serve, but being the state of the military it is now, our ration pack allotment has been replaced by fresh food. This makes it difficult for us, as maintaining food safety is paramount, and so is feeding the cadets (read: teenagers that eat like they've been starved for days!). Yet we soldier on.

And now, on to food!


We made pancakes, scrambled eggs, european wieners, and hashbrowns. A variety, mainly to fill their hollow legs, and to meet their nutritional requirements. Making pancakes is hard work! especially with small burners. The cadets ate everything, no complaints.


Saturday: burgers, smokies, Caesar salad

When in Rome...We broke out the propane tanks, and barbeque. Smokies and burgers were extremely popular all around. Once again, they ate everything!

Sunday: Soup, and Grilled Cheese sandwich

We were in a real time crunch with this one. The cooks dropped the grilled cheese earlier in the day, because they thought they didn't have enough time to make it, but proving them wrong, a few of us grabbed the skillets from earlier in the morning, slapped some cheese and bread together, melted some butter over the fire, and grilled the sandwiches. The grilled cheese came out with a hint of smoky-ness, like an ash ripen cheese, which added another depth to it. It was also very amusing to the cadets to see us hopping around the fire, trying to keep the sandwiches from going up in flames.


It was KD mac and cheese, chilli, and buns

Everything was easy, hot and delicious. The best mac and cheese I've had in a very long time (I don't eat it often). The cheese sauce (made by your truly) was browning and lumping on the bottom, but extremely creamy, because we used half and half instead of milk. I am one of those strange people that has to have ketchup with their mac and cheese, especially KD.

Camping out in the middle of nowhere in late October sure makes everyone hungry and chilled. The only real criticism I had cooking in the field is that everything takes a long time to make, and transporting the food is an issue, as we didn't have the luxury of going shopping every day, or having full refridgeration on site.

The questions I have are:

What kinds of meals can I make that will be hot, plentiful, and nutritious, and yet be quick to prepare? and,

Does anyone have campfire cooking stories they'd like to share? I'd like to know that I'm not the only crazy one that cooks their meals over the fire they made, and have it taste really good.

Thanks in advance!

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Hi Karen,

I can help you with your first question, via Backpacker Magazine online.

Be A Hiking Gourmet

And here are some recipes and ideas of dehydrating all kinds of tasty bits to cook up whilst on the trail.

Be A Dried Food Hiking Gourmet

"I'm not looking at the panties, I'm looking at the vegetables!" --RJZ
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Developing the dry-your-own-food theme, the ultimate authority is my good friend Hal Kahn, professor of Chinese history at Stanford and back country gourmet chef extraordinare. His camping coauthor is Rick Greenspan, an ace mechanic. They have a number of books, but the latest is the "Leave No Crumbs Cookbook," an ultralight backpacker's guide that requires a lot of dehydrator action and the courage to bake chocolate cake or make sushi outside. I'll recommend it even if he did make fun of me mercilessly and hijack my recipe for chicken and dumpling stew.

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Oh, and as for stories, I've only been camping twice myself. I cooked a paella over a wood fire out by Donner Lake--unbelievably good. Now I see why purists insist on wood to cook paella. A Puerto Rican girl happened to come out of the woods just then, and we invited her to join us to avoid the traditional Donner fate.

Obviously, this can only be done on a car camping trip.

The second camping experience was hiking up Kilimanjaro for a week with Abercrombie and Kent. An army of 70 people carried supplies for 9 climbers--including a dining tent and table. We carried only day packs, but we were totally exhausted. The porters struck camp, ran up the mountain, pitched camp, and had a multi-course meal waiting for us when we dragged ourselves in. They also set the dining table wherever we were having lunch. We felt like total wusses. Climbing Kili is never comfortable, but that was the closest you will ever get to a gourmet summit.

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I recall an article in "Outside" magazine describing an extended rafting trip in the Northwest, one of the rafters was a starred chef. Now, rafting is a bit different than backpacking, and on some expeditions you can have many rafts stacked with gear, but still, to have 8 hour braised beef and other dishes is pretty intensive. As far as eating well while backpacking (no porters, and thinking of a trip that extends about 7 or more days), a dehydrator is very useful...I've found that squash soup is preserved very well this way, as are other versions. Hard cheeses, a french press coffee pot, dry aged meats go over well, and if you can fish, you're golden.

As far as car camping, I've always made a makeshift oven out of a cardboard box and some aluminum foil. Cooking over a low fire you can make a very good pineapple upsidedown cake, and in the carribbean I've seen someone make a very tasty, and very respectable loaf of bread over some burning coconut husks this way.

Back in scouts my group always had the best food. I love grilled gai-yang chicken (thai style), in fact, for camping, grilling is the easiest way to go, but lentil soup and baked beans in a hole are good, I've even tried digging up some clay mud and making a "clay pot" chicken (remember to leave the skin on the quarters, that way you can lift off the gritty bits if the clay doesn't set the way it should.

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