food, glorious food, maybe

With just a few days in the hills it doesn’t matter much about what you take to eat — if you want to annoy others in the hut take some huge steaks and potatoes, followed by cheesecake, and bacon and eggs for breakfast. Sizzle it up and watch the others go into the standard Pavlovian response.

Once you get into the four to five days tramp increased discernment is sensible, lugging heavy food is not so pleasurable, and various styles of dehydration are the way to go, whether cheap Continental-style packet pasta, expensive Back Country Cuisine freeze dried, rice with tasty additives, or dehydrating your own.

If you have a fan forced oven it is easy enough to dehydrate your own meals. Or you can use a dedicated dehydrator if you can find one.

Cook up a normal meal. Make sure you cut the ingredients into small pieces so they dry out and rehydrate fully. Avoid fatty meats, and using much oil. That doesn’t dehydrate, and fat/oil can go rancid.

Set the fan forced oven for about 50º C and crank the fan up. It takes about 6—8 hours to get rid of all the moisture if you are doing it correctly. Too hot and you cook the food, or burn it. Too low and it takes forever. As it drys you need to stir it up.

Spread the cooked stew, or whatever, about 1 cm deep in trays, and stir occasionally to expose any remaining moisture to the hot air flow. Place each meal in a ziploc bag with the air removed, and store in the freezer until you leave. Simple enough.

There are plenty of recipes to be found in the useful book New Zealand Backcountry Cooking. See the review here.

Gotta give a plug to the Nelson company, Absolute Wilderness which is producing delicious freeze dried, vacuum packed meals, ie, Thai red curry, Wilderness stew, Vege korma, etc, the 90 – 100g weight turns into 350g when the boiling water is added, they reconstitute themselves surprisingly similarly to what you could come up with fresh. Each main is $11.95 and can be ordered on the internet, with a $5 delivery cost per order.

Everyone has their own ideas about food, but when you have more than a week’s supply strapped to your back maximum calorific value and getting that warm cosy feeling at the end of your dinner is high on the list of priorities. Lugging minimum weight, and bulk, might mean somewhat more austerity than in your own kitchen but that’s your choice, there’s plenty of fussy eaters in those hills.

Many trampers are in the Don’t-Carry-Much-Moisture Category, there’s already sufficient of that around, the trade off is carrying enough fuel.

Some thoughts here for you to disagree strongly with for those epic tramps:

Breakfast: a bucket of porridge is warming, slow release energy for the day, oh, and coffee for that kickstart. Weight: porridge — 80g, milk/coffee — 20g, total — 100g.

Dinner: No question, dehydrating your own is the way to go if you are going for more than a few nights. That way you know what’s in it. Know it’s preservative free.

If you don’t want to go to so much trouble then try these suggestions: spag is compact, filling and tasty enough when you add a small packet of pizza base, that’s the one with a few herbs, and a sprinkling of flavour intense parmesan. You can get three days out of a 500 g packet if you are on a diet. Or, rice with something dehydrated, mushrooms, shallots, etc, for some variety. Or, cous cous with some lightweight additives, for emergencies maybe, or those who appreciate bird food, you just add boiling water, stir and munch ten minutes later. Commercial dehydrated meals really start to cost if you are scoffing them regularly, although can be appreciated occasionally at the end of a long day. Weight: spag — 165g, pizza base sauce — 50g, Parmesan — 15g, soup — 30g, total — 260g.

Don’t waste that hot water, pour yourself a cup of soup.

Lunch: the problem meal. Over time I’ve come around to think along the lines of a slab of cheese and a lump of dense, if not bulletproof, fruitcake, almost verging on Christmas cake, if you can find one somewhere. Advantages: compact and high, but slow release, energy. Weight: cheese — 85g, cake — 85g, total — 170g.

Snacks: on the bigger days, or any day for that matter, you need a later afternoon nibble to perk you up, dates and raisons have a slow sugar hit to keep you striding. Weight: total — 100g.

So, breakfast — 100g, dinner — 260g, lunch — 170g, snacks — 100g. Total — 630g. Can’t get away with much less than that if you want to keep those energy levels up.

That’s it, more extreme sugar hits, chocolate, muesli bars, etc, might give an immediate boost but can leave you feeling drained once the glucose removes itself from your bloodstream and the lactic acid builds up as you plod up that hill. But each to their own.

Ziplock bags with individual portions of porridge, rice, cheese, cake, etc, assembled before departure make rationing the day’s allowance real easy, better than making too much at one stage and then too little later, you only take exactly what you need.

After this austere regime fine dining back in civilisation is certainly appreciated.

dehydrating your own tramping meals, easy-peasy →