by Allison Woods
So, where to start? Freeze-dried foods are definitely an easy choice for their convenience and light weight. The downside of them is the high cost, and if you normally cook from scratch, you will want more flexibility in your food choices. That’s why many of us forgo pre-made freeze-dried meals and head right for the grocery aisles. There’s a world of good eating to be had for a fraction of the cost you’d spend on the fancy pre-made stuff.
There are a few things you can do in the off-season to prepare for making our own dinners from the grocery store. First, try cruising the aisles of the stores, looking for ideas. The Asian section and the pasta aisles are good places to start. Second, pick up a book or two on the subject, at least to use as a starting point.
Recipes can be as simple as a package of instant noodles with sauce, dried milk and a bit of real butter, with maybe a handful of pine nuts, to something more complicated that might require pre-soaking dehydrated foods. Dishes can be bothersome in the woods, so consider doing something with zipper-lock bags if that’s an issue with you.
As far as deciding what to eat, let your normal food tastes be your guide. If you’re partial to Mexican food, try something with dried corn, ground beef, and beans, tortillas and maybe a little cheese and taco sauce packages. Curry makes a great addition to even the blandest of dinners, and olive oil adds body and richness when you need the calories the most.
Make the recipes at home first
One thing that can’t be stressed enough: when trying out new recipes, make them at home once just to see how it tastes. The preparation may be more than you want to take on, and the food doesn’t always taste so good either. Better to discover this in the relative comfort of one’s own kitchen than then be forced to eat a “mistake” in the backcountry. Once you get your recipe dialed in, portion out the ingredients into zipper-lock bags labeled with the meal “Beef Stroganoff” and what you need to do with that ingredient (add 1 cup H2O, then add to mix), otherwise you might find yourself staring at a bunch of mysterious packages in the middle of the woods. Don’t ask how we know this.
If you plan to bring this sort of food with you on a regular basis, consider making the investment in a food dehydrator. For a very small initial investment, you’ll have a great way to prepare fruits, vegetables, and even complete meals at home.
Refer to the August 2003 issue of Washington Trails magazine for information about drying your own food.
You’ll want to stock up on a few items that are regular contributors to grocery store dinners: dried milk, butter and cheese, and a few dried vegetables. If you don’t want to get into dehydrating yet, try the “Just Veggies” brand and Asian grocery stores for a wide variety of dried mushrooms. If you like to cook or are on a budget, this is the way to go for you.
If you want to shovel down some chow at the end of a hard day, you’re probably going to be better off with something from the freeze-dried section. Check out our May 2006 reviews of nine freezed-dried selections. Or, there’s always that enduring classic: mac and cheese.
Allison’s top five favorite grocery store foods for the pack
These grocery store finds are sure to please on an overnight trip.
Shin Yum Spicy Ramen
Best ramen ever. Noodles have a wonderful texture, and the spicy broth hits the spot.
Idahoan Loaded Baked Flavored Mashed Potatoes
Bring a packet along to nosh on if dinner is too small. Comes in several flavors, I like the four cheese the best. A bit of butter makes it even better.
Jello, the beverage
A cup of hot Jello will warm you and pep you up. Trust me on this.
Add this to any meal to “stretch” it. Also available in brown rice.
Mexicali Rose Dried Refried Black Beans
Tough to find, but hands down the best refried beans out there. Great foundation for backcountry burritos.