Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Do-It-Yourself Backpack Dinners

I love to eat. Hey, who doesn't! Puttering around in the kitchen, mixing ingredients like a mad chemist, is my idea of a good time. But my creativity got stretched to the limit when I was helping my oldest son plan an extended backpack trip last summer.

He needed food that was light, cheap, and was going to keep the fires of his raging metabolism going while he traveled the back country of Washington for as much as a week at a time. He needed protein, carbohydrates, and enough vitamins and minerals to keep him going.

Tor Bertin in the Washington Cascades
Some backpackers might just head to REI and stock up on ready-to-eat meals - but I try to "do it myself" whenever possible. Prepackaged backpacking food can cost as much as eating in a fancy restaurant, with much less deliciousness!

The biggest problem we faced was packing enough protein for him. To address the issue, we bought a used food dehydrator (the kind that was popular in the early 1980s), and proceeded to learn about food dehydration.
Did you know that you can dehydrate hamburger? I guess it shouldn't surprised me - I am, after all, a big beef jerky fan - but for some reason I was just delighted with the knowledge that you could fry up a huge batch of hamburger, dry it and package it, and rehydrate it high up on some mountain for a soup or stew. Here's how you do it: First, fry the hamburger until it is well browned, and drain the oil from it. Rinse the hamburger repeatedly under hot water until there is no oil left (oil will make the meat rancid). When the meat is grease-free, dry between two paper towels, and place in the dehydrator. Dry and package. Boom! Instant hamburger.

We dehydrated cooked noodles to give him quick-cook pasta (similar to instant rice), found bags of dried apricots, and made big bags of homemade trail mix. My favorite concoction involved instant mashed potatoes, hamburger, dried onions, sliced carrots, spices and garlic for an instant, potato-y blast of carbohydrate goodness. My son reported that the burger was rather bland and tasteless, but still made for good eating at 10,000 feet.

I started thinking about these homemade backpacking preparations when I ran across a list of Army MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) from around the world. The food in the packages for each county has a special... shall I say, flavor... unique to that part of the world. Very interesting! Here's a peek at some  NON homemade meals. I think the French one looks the most delicious - go figure! is what Army food rations look like around the world...

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