By Casey Dean, NOLS
Backcountry travel requires planning: route planning, anticipating weather, organizing gear with travel-mates, and much more. Meal planning doesn’t often get much attention, what with the relatively tasty and ridiculously convenient freeze-dried meals (and beer?) at our fingertips.
Nonetheless, backcountry cooking is a wonderful way to spend an evening in the most beautiful kitchen one could never design. Mastering cooking over a backpacking stove, treating yourself to whole foods and fresh meals, and slowing down at either end of the day can enhance the backcountry experience.
The following recipes demonstrate how worthwhile the few minutes of planning and organizing can be. Premixing is a great way to save time, reduce packaging (and garbage), and streamline cooking in the field, as well as allow adventurers to calculate accurate weight.
We’ll explore dessert first, because there are no rules in canyon dining rooms. Special thanks to Samantha Baker for this recipe.
Baker’s Backcountry Cake with Field-made Icing
In the frontcountry: Mix all the dry ingredients in one bag before heading out (2 c sugar, ½ c cocoa powder, 2 c flour, ¼ c cocoa mix, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp baking powder (optional)). Pack the rest of your ingredients for a special backcountry treat:
Remaining cake ingredients:
1 tsp vanilla
½ c chocolate chips
¾ c water
1 c butter
2 eggs (powdered or delicate)
½ c coca mix
½ c sugar
4 tbs butter
2 tbs water
1 tsp vanilla
In the backcountry: Mix butter, eggs, and water together. Slowly add the dry mix to the wet ingredients. Add the vanilla. Lightly flour (do not oil) your pan, and then pour in the mixed contents.
Get your stove warmed up, then depressurize it by turning it off and slowly turning the top of the fuel bottle until you hear the pressure release. Reattach it fully and turn the stove back on without pumping the fuel. Turn the stove on low and place the pan on a “tower of power.” Place a cake hat around your fry-bake and lid or start a twiggy fire on top of the lid. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the cake doesn’t jiggle and leaves a fork clean.
While the cake cools, start the icing. Mix all of the ingredients except the vanilla. Stir over low heat for 5-10 minutes until small bubbles appear. Add vanilla and cook for another couple of minutes. Pour it over the cake and smooth.
Lightweight Jalapeno Grits
Going lightweight should never be cause to compromise flavor, and Casey Pikla’s recipe will prove it. This recipe should be prepared at home, as it makes a large batch. The dry mixture can then be divided into individual meals (typically about four ounces per person per meal) for consumption in the field. Depending on the system you’re using, this will generate about four meals for your enjoyment after a long day of walking.
1 c instant grits
½ c nut mix
½ c crushed Fritos
½ c grated Parmesan cheese
¼ c dried jalapeños
¼ c bacon bits or imitation bacon bits
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
Pinch of salt
In the frontcountry: Prepare the nut mix by combining equal parts almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is granulated, but not powdered, and set aside. Prepare the crushed Fritos in the same fashion and set aside. Both the nut mix and Fritos are a great way to add calories without adding much weight. Combine instant grits, nut mix, crushed Fritos, Parmesan cheese, dried jalapeños, bacon bits, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt in a large container. Using a scale, measure the desired amount of grits mixture to take into the backcountry and place in a bag.
In the backcountry: Boil ½ cup of water for each serving. Remove the pot from the stove, and pour a serving of the grits mix into the water. Place the pot in an insulating cozy for about five minutes, then enjoy!
Find a comprehensive guide to bulk rationing and some outstanding recipes in the comprehensive NOLS Cookery.