The Art of Eating Outdoors

We’ve all had epic fails when it comes to backcountry meals. One of my most memorable was bringing a dozen tins of curry mackerel on a trekking trip. I didn’t particularly like mackerel (and still don’t), and the combination of it swimming in curry sauce didn’t make it any more palatable.

Apart from being the laughing stock of my hiking companions for a week, more importantly it meant that I didn’t enjoy mealtime. The old maxim that hunger is the best spice doesn’t always apply.

Whereas in the old days I would do a rushed supermarket sweep an hour before setting off on a trip, I now try to put a lot more planning in to my outdoor meals. No more cramming my food bag with bland noodles. As a result, I am rarely hungry on an expedition and enjoy what I’m eating.

One of the best investments I made last year was buying a drying machine. It dries better and quicker than a fan oven – and also means your oven is not blocked up with drying food for days on end. I’ve since been drying everything from fruit (including apples, pears, and bananas) and vegetables to beans and minced meat, with great results. Quick tip: if drying minced meat, try and drain as much of the fat as possible beforehand. Generally, fruits take longer to dry and need a higher temperature.

Preparing chopped red onion, pepper and tomato for drying.

Furthermore, while the outdoors is synonymous with nutritionally poor fare, I try to opt for high-quality ingredients. Even if they are more expensive, you’ll appreciate the taste more out in the field; and in any case self-preparation is still cheaper than buying ready freeze-dried meals – some of which on the market these days are pricier than a meal in your local restaurant.

The finished product. A bag of dried apples – deliciously sweet.

My breakfasts usually alternate between porridge (with a nutritional boost of sesame and pumpkin seeds), rice pudding with raspberries, and muesli, while lunches are usually eaten cold on the hoof consisting of the usual trail mix – but with high-energy macadamia nuts added in – or fatty smoked pork and cheese in winter. It is dinnertime, however, which I invest in most.

Cooking lightly smoked reindeer meat known as suovas over an open fire.

On my last extended wilderness trip to the Russian Arctic, I prepared several different kinds of dinners and would alternate between them: couscous and bulgur with sundried tomatoes, chilli con carne, and reindeer and potato stew. A spice kit and selection of stock cubes was also an essential addition to give extra punch. Given my previous reputation, my travel mate was initially skeptical but soon admitted it was much better than the ready meals we had also brought as back up.

It’s also good to be aware of local plants and foodstuffs around you which might supplement your diet. We occasionally dined last year on grayling (a kind of fish we caught) which we ate raw à la sushi sprinkled with salt. On other trips I’ve also picked mushrooms and steamed wild greens such as cow parsley to add to meals. It makes a refreshing change for the taste buds after weeks of dried food.

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Cloudberries – gold of the north

My next ambition is to start making bread baked over the fire and experiment with vacuum packing fresh ingredients. In fact, start putting some proper thought into your food and you will find that mealtime ranks as one of the highlights of your trip, and not just a necessity to be half-reluctantly gulped down from a tin or bag.

Today I’m admittedly still no outdoor gourmet, but I’ve come a long way since the days of tinned curry mackerel.

 

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Alec Forss is an outdoor writer/photographer and freelance journalist focusing on environment and culture. He is based in Sweden. Follow him and his adventures at Alec Forss.

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