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Sierra Magazine
Food for Thought

Freedom From Freeze-Dried:
Enjoy delicious home cooking on the trail

by Paul Rauber

Last autumn found me on a grueling research trip in the eastern Sierra, hauling heavy video equipment cross-country over loose scree and high passes. The first night we returned to camp after dark. Most of us heated up some water, poured it into little foil packets of Boeuf Bourguignon or Chunky Tortellini Carbonara, and tried to wait the full ten minutes before wolfing down the expensive high-calorie glop.

Not so our friend the local naturalist. First he sat down and fired up his "zip stove," an ingenious homemade contraption with a tiny fan powered by an AA battery that creates a mini-inferno out of scraps of wood the size of your thumb. Then he set a pot of water to boil, gradually adding home-dried vegetables and herbs from his garden. Eventually everyone else was standing around watching the only show in town. "I don't understand why you all are in such a hurry," he said. "Nothing else to do out here!"

It's easy to free yourself of the tyranny of the foil pouch by cooking from scratch, but harder to come up with crowd-pleasing ideas that are both lightweight and nutritious. Luckily, we have in-house experts in trail cookery: the leaders and participants of Sierra Club Outings. They stress that careful packing at home is key; many ingredients can be combined in zip-lock bags, reducing clutter and weight. Don't forget to jot down the recipe on a scrap of paper; you can use it for starting the next night's fire.

Smoked Oyster Spread
While you're getting the fire going, here's an appetizer to quiet growling stomachs. "I find protein to be the hardest thing to get on the trail," says food writer and avid hiker Nicki Wood. "This is a nice change, and people associate it with festive times. Cream cheese is safe, unrefrigerated and in its original wrap, for at least three days."
-1 8-ounce package cream cheese
-Dash of some or all of the following:
-Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, soy
-sauce, dried onion flakes, dried parsley,
-1 can smoked oysters
-Chopped parsley, fresh or dried (optional)
With a fork, mash the cream cheese with seasonings to taste. Stir in oysters, mashing further. Sprinkle with parsley. Spread on crackers or pita bread. For a vegetarian version, mash the cream cheese with 1/3 cup minced olives and 1/3 cup chopped nuts. Serves 4 to 6.

Black Bean Soup
Angela White is leading seven national trips this year, including a walking tour in England in May and a teen service trip in Mt. Rainier National Park (trip 00323A in the Sierra Club Outings Guide, page 79). "I make this soup for the first night of a backpack," she says. "It's easy, nutritious, and tasty."
-1 7-ounce box instant black beans
-1/2 tub "Just Corn" or other dried, ready-to-eat corn kernels
-1/4 cup dried onion flakes
-1/4-ounce packet salsa "dust" or chili powder
-1/4 tube tomato paste
-6 cups water
-Hot sauce and sour cream (optional)
Combine everything but hot sauce and sour cream and mix well. Heat to boiling while stirring. Simmer 5 minutes, then add toppings. Serves 8.

Smoked Salmon Pasta
This August, Alice Kulka is leading a backpack in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness (00152A) and a women's beginner backpack in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (00150B). "I usually serve a vegetable soup (Knorr or Lipton) first course with this," she says, "and follow it up with a dessert of grocery-store lemon cookies."
-4 ounces smoked salmon
-1 pound lemon-pepper pasta (or other tagliatelle); add salt to packaging bag
-1/2 cup freeze-dried or dehydrated peas (optional)
-1 package Knorr lemon-herb sauce mix (repack at home with recommended amounts of powdered milk, butter, and dill)
-2 tablespoons capers (pack in small plastic bottle)
Dice salmon and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to boil; add salt, pasta, and peas; cook until al dente. Drain and add salmon. Bring 11/2 cups water to boil in a small pot. Gradually whisk in sauce mix, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in capers, pour over pasta and salmon. Serves 4.

Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce
Kathy Wells dehydrates a lot of food at home in preparation for the outings she leads, like her upcoming Sierra backpacks in Tahoe National Forest (00255A) and Desolation Wilderness (00161A). "This veggie spaghetti sauce is great," she says. "Most people have no idea it doesn't have ground beef in it."
-1 packet dry spaghetti sauce mix
-3/4 cup tomato powder
-1 cup TVP (texturized vegetable protein, available at health-food stores)
-2 tablespoons minced dried onions
-2 tablespoons julienned sun-dried tomatoes
-1 tablespoon dried sliced mushrooms
-1 21/4-ounce can sliced olives
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1 pound pasta
At home, combine the spaghetti sauce mix, tomato powder, and TVP in a small plastic bag. In a second bag, combine dried onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
In camp, pour contents of spaghetti sauce bag into a pot and gradually stir in 4 cups water. Add dried vegetables. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and add olives and olive oil. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, and serve over pasta. Serves 4.

Pasta al Pesto
"Year after year," says Charles Hardy, "this recipe is a consistent hit. There is never any left over." It goes particularly well, he says, with Knorr's Tomato Basil soup. If you go on his August backpack in Sierra National Forest (00162A), you'll probably get some.
-1 1/2 pounds linguine
-3 tablespoons dried basil
-3/4 cup olive oil
-Crushed garlic to taste (don't be stingy)
-1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
-1/2 cup pine nuts
-1 small handful chopped almonds
-Salt to taste
Boil pasta in well-salted water. Put basil into another pot. Slowly add olive oil and garlic, stirring. When sauce starts to thicken, add cheese, nuts, and salt.
Drain pasta, add pesto mix. Serves 6.

Old South Trail Cobbler
"This dessert takes a while," warns Nicki Wood. "The peaches need to soak until soft, and then it takes about an hour to bake over a slow fire. The leftovers are fantastic for breakfast."
-1 cup flour
-2 cups sugar
-Pinch of salt
-Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
-11/2 cups dried peaches
-Powdered milk to make 1 cup
-1 stick butter or margarine
Before your trip, mix flour, 1 cup of the sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a plastic bag. Put peaches in a bowl or small pot, cover with boiling water, let stand until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain and save liquid (makes great tea). Reconstitute milk. Put flour mixture in a bowl; add milk and stir gently to combine.  Melt butter in a medium pot. When it bubbles, pour in batter. Spoon peach halves over batter, but don't stir. Sprinkle with the other 1 cup sugar. Cover the pot and place over a low flame to bake until batter is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Makes 6 to 8 dessert servings, or 4 main-course breakfast servings.

Paul Rauber is a senior editor at Sierra.

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