View Full Version : Good Article on Trail Meals

06-17-2004, 18:38
Worth a read..


June 16, 2004
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Are you one of those ambitious backpackers who can't rest until you've covered serious miles? Say, the 211-mile John Muir Trail or the 2,655-mile Pacific Crest Trail?

Then you're probably not going to slow yourself down with a copy of Hal Kahn and Rick Greenspan's "The Leave-No-Crumbs Camping Cookbook" (Storey Publishing, 2004) in your backpack. You're going to grab some of that freeze-dried stuff and move on.

But if you enjoy chilling out and chowing down on some real food while kicking back in the great outdoors, then you'll definitely want a copy of this cookbook alongside your waterproof matches.

"Our take on camping and backpacking is that it's supposed to be fun -- it's not supposed to be boot camp," Kahn said. "For every half-day of hiking, we have a half-day of hanging out. ... We do a lot of reading aloud, and we like to cook."

The cookbook -- which includes logos with each recipe to show whether it can be prepared at home, at campsite or both -- is aimed at a broad spectrum of campers, from backpackers and bicyclists to canoeists and car campers.

If you do backpack, however, you'll probably need to buy a simple dehydrator -- Kahn uses a Nesco American Harvest SD 1010 Dehydrator - - for preserving fresh fruits and vegetables, sauces and stews.

"We do a lot of home dehydrating, and not just fruits and veggies, but whole meals," Kahn said. "The stews, soups, curries and lentil dishes are all made, then thrown on the dehydrator, and then at the campsite, we rehydrate them."

Along with its 1950s, retro design, "The Leave-No-Crumbs Camping Cookbook" boasts a large helping of humor. "We don't take ourselves too seriously," Kahn admitted. "We're like a vaudevillian team."

But it is the offbeat recipes that really set this tome apart from the pack -- dishes such as Chinese Steamed Dumplings and Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Rattler Salsa and Corn Cakes.

"I've read so many other cookbooks, and they are just a step up from gorp," Kahn said. "We try to push the envelope, to see what we can do."

The book is also loaded with handy tips and techniques, like how to pack your spices in a plastic, seven-day pill container or melt chocolate in a pot lid held over the fire.

One of the best parts of camping and cooking out is that there are no rules except one: You need to be able to improvise and have fun.

"I want to eat dessert today -- who cares? It's vacation," Kahn said. "This is not four-star cuisine where the Academie Francaise is looking over your shoulder. Suppose you drop the fish in the fire -- just pick it out and rename it Cajun Black."

Like a comedy troupe from the Catskills, the veteran campers have a good schtick that they've worked on over the years.

The pair met at Stanford in 1968, where Greenspan was a student and Kahn taught Chinese history. Since then, the camping connoisseurs have backpacked all over Northern California, from the Sierra to the Trinity Alps.

Their cooking obsession started one year in the Marble Mountains when Kahn, who likes to cook elaborate meals, and Greenspan, who likes to tinker, decided they wanted to figure out how to make a souffle in the wilderness.

"We spent a whole day trying to fashion an oven out of rocks and twigs," Kahn said. "Hours later, we got a souffle. From there on, we started figuring out how to make anything we like. All you really need is a pot and some coals."

The Bay Area buddies wrote their first camping guide, the cult classic "Backpacking: A Hedonist's Guide," in 1985. Over the years, they rewrote the book for several publishers, and in its fourth edition, it morphed into "The Foghorn Outdoors Camper's Companion," which is still in print but difficult to find.

That experience left the authors eager to fill a new niche, where they would not get lost so easily.

"Most bookstores don't have outdoors sections," Kahn noted. "We decided a cookbook won't get lost in a baseball section, it will get lost in a cooking section."

Over the years, Kahn and Greenspan have developed a system for how much food to bring along. They have also pared down their equipment to the bare necessities.

"When we go backpacking, we try to get to places that permit fires and just build a campfire," Kahn said. "You do not need a lot of fancy cooking equipment."

Their required equipment includes matches, tinfoil to wrap food for cooking in the fire, gardening gloves for gathering wood and removing hot pots from the fire, spoons and Swiss Army knives.

For cookware, they bring four nesting pots with tight-fitting lids and a Teflon-coasted frying pan with a removable handle.

For measuring, they use a 9-ounce Sierra camping cup, which is slightly more than one cup, and a standard camping-kit soup spoon, which is slightly less than a tablespoon. All the recipes in the book use Sierra cups and spoons for measurement.

As a rule of thumb, the authors recommend that backpackers bring 1.5 pounds of food per person per day, whether it's polenta or pasta, beans or rice. Just throw everything into a big cardboard box and weigh it, then add extra if it comes up short.

For beverages, the authors always bring instant hot chocolate, coffee and tea, plus drops to purify their drinking water.

Along with their dehydrated meal and ingredients, their camping pantry includes fresh garlic, cheese (the harder, the better), clarified butter (it cooks at high heat without burning and doesn't spoil), olive oil, sugar, yeast for baking bread and semi-sweet baking chocolate.

"As far as possible, we try to bring things that have at least two uses," Kahn said. "We carry semi-sweet baking chocolate because it doesn't melt as easily as a candy bar and is great for a nosh as well."

Baking is one of the favorite pastimes of the intrepid cooks, who enjoy whipping up bagels and scones, cakes and cobblers at the campsite.

"Once we made a chocolate cake, and then we cut it in half," Kahn said. "We got out the dried strawberries, sugar and water and made a jam, and slathered it with chocolate icing."

Using powdered eggs and milk, they also like to whip up breakfast crepes, stuffed with dried peaches, plums, bananas and strawberries that have been rehydrated.

"The important thing is to make food that people like to eat," Kahn said. "You don't need to replenish your system -- it's not expedition climbing."

Here is "The Leave-No-Crumbs Camping Cookbook" recipe for crepes, which can be made with fresh or powdered milk and eggs. For breakfast, fill the crepes with rehydrated fruit, fruit puree or yogurt, or sprinkle with lemon juice, cinnamon or sugar.

For all recipes, use a 9-ounce Sierra cup and a camping spoon the size of a soup spoon. You can clarify your own butter (see directions below) or buy it at Trader Joe's. Powdered milk and eggs are available at health food stores.


Makes 2 servings

1/2 Sierra cup flour

1 spoon milk powder

-- Dash of salt

1 egg beaten (if using fresh) or equivalent powdered egg

2 spoons cooking oil or melted clarified butter, plus more as needed to grease pan

1/2 Sierra cup water, for mixing

1/2 Sierra cup crepe filling (see above)

Combine the flour, milk powder, salt, and powdered egg (if using) in a pot and mix with a fork or spoon. Stir in the egg (if using fresh), 1 spoon of the oil, and enough of the water to make a thin batter, about the consistency of a smoothie.

Heat 1 spoon of the oil in a pan. Pour 2 to 3 spoons of the batter into the center of the pan. Tilt the pan away from you, then to the side, then toward you, so the batter spreads out in a circle as thin as you can get it. The crepe will cook in about 1 minute and is ready to turn when the center looks almost, but not quite, dry.

Work a spatula underneath the crepe to turn it, or pick it up with your fingers (very carefully) and flip it over. The second side takes less time to cook than the first, about 30 seconds. The crepe should be pliable, so it can be wrapped around the filling. If the batter begins to stick, add a spritz or two of oil to the pan between the crepes.

Hal stacks the crepes on a plate and lets each camper fill his own. Rick, on the other hand, spoons the filling onto each crepe in the pan after he flips it, forming a line down the center. Then he flips the sides of the crepe over the filling with a spatula, thus warming the filling as he cooks the crepe. Both ways work well.

Clarified Butter

Makes 3/4 cup

1/2 pound unsalted butter

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter very slowly over low heat. Increase the heat very slightly and simmer 10 to 20 minutes, till white foam begins to spread over the surface (That's butterfat and it's got to go) Skim the foam off with a spoon or a tea strainer. Don't worry if you can't get all of it. Remove from the heat.

When cool, pour the remaining liquid carefully into a small bowl or cup, leaving the white milk solids on the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can pour the clear butter through cheesecloth, which will separate the milk solids from the clarified butter. It will last up to 4 months in the fridge and 2 to 3 weeks (or more) on the trail.

Hahn suggests topping these corn cakes with a sweet schmeer, such as applesauce or apple butter, or a savory one, such as a chutney or a salsa.

Corn Cakes

Makes 3 to 4 servings

3 red or yellow bell peppers

3 bunches fresh scallions

3 cobs fresh corn or 1 can (12 ounces)

1-2Sierra cups boiling water, to rehydrate

2-3spoons clarified butter or cooking oil

1/2 Sierra cup cornmeal or polenta

1/2 spoon baking powder

1/4 spoon baking soda

2 big pinches salt

2 eggs or equivalent powdered egg mix

2 spoons powdered buttermilk

At home: Slice the peppers 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Slice the scallions thin.

Shuck the corn and cook in boiling water no longer than 3 minutes. When cool, slice off the kernels. Spread on drying trays. If using canned corn, drain and spread on drying trays.

Dehydrate the peppers and corn for 24 hours, till hard. Dehydrate the scallions for 1 hour, till crumbly.

At camp: Rehydrate the bell pepper in the boiling water to cover. Remove and squeeze dry. Reserve the water. Chop the pepper into small bits.

Bring the reserved water back to a boil and rehydrate the corn kernels in the water till soft. Drain, but reserve the liquid.

Saute the bell pepper and corn in 1 spoon of the clarified butter, about 5 minutes. Crumble the dehydrated scallions into the pan. Set aside.

Mix together the corn meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large pot. Add the eggs and powdered buttermilk and sauteed vegetables. Mix well.

Pour in 1 Sierra cup of the reserved liquid; mix. If the mix is still dry, add more liquid, but DON'T overdo it. The aim here is not a smooth batter, but a clumpy one.

Lightly oil a pan and heat. Spoon the batter into the pan and fry until golden and slightly puffed, about 2 minutes on each side. Each corn cake should be about 4 inches across.

To dehydrate onions: Slice 2 onions 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and dehydrate 12 to 24 hours. The onions are done when they're hard and leathery. Warning: Dehydrate onions on the back porch, or your kitchen will smell like a pizzeria on steroids.

To make candied orange, cut 2 oranges into 1/4 -inch slices. Spread sugar on a flat plate. Press the orange slices onto the sugar on one side; flip and repeat. Dehydrate 7 to 10 hours, until oranges are crisp and hard.

Orange Coconut Pilaf

Makes 2-3 servings

3 spoons clarified butter or cooking oil

3 chiles (red or green, fresh or dried) chopped (wear gloves if chiles are hot)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large handful dehydrated onions

1 spoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger (optional)

1 Sierra cup basmati rice

4-5Sierra cups water, to cover

3 slices Candied Orange

-- Salt

1/2 -1Sierra cup shredded unsweetened coconut

-- Large squirt lemon or lime juice

At home: If using fresh chopped chiles, spread them on a lined tray and dehydrate until crumbly, 2 to 6 hours. Otherwise, skip this step and proceed with the following instructions.

At camp: Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan. Saute the chiles, garlic, onions and ginger (if using) for about 3 minutes to set the flavors and color the onions and garlic.

Stir in the basmati rice, coating the grains with the oil mixture.

Transfer to a big pot. Cover with the water. Add the candied orange and salt to taste; bring to a boil. Cover and cook very slowly till the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the coconut in an unoiled frying pan, stirring until it just beginnings to brown, about 2 minutes.

When the rice is done, open the pot. Using a fork, fluff in the coconut and lemon juice (if using). Cover the pot and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to let the flavors steep. If you want to eat it warm, set the pot in the ashes to heat up again. Otherwise, eat as is.

Big Oak
06-18-2004, 18:24
The simpler the better for me. I got tired just reading that article. After hiking all day I just want to boil and eat.