Several weeks ago, Mrs. Dirty was sharing the excitement of the upcoming AT hike with a young friend – a lovely young woman who is about as outdoorsy as high heels and prom dresses. She’s an exceptionally bright young woman, who we will refer to as Miss Not Outdoorsy, who just hasn’t been exposed to the outdoors. Anyhow, this sweet thing was concerned about how we would manage to get the necessities during our trip…. the necessities being a shower, beds with fluffy pillows, and food. Mrs. Dirty explained that showers really aren’t a necessity in the woods, we sleep in hammocks, and cows cook our own food. (**Cows don’t cook our food, we do…. but the auto correct on this just cracked me up so I had to leave it. Oh how I wish I had a cooking cow!!!) Miss NO was impressed that Mrs. Dirty was strong enough to carry a stove in her backpack.
Honestly, I’m not poking fun. Really, I’m not. I just love the visual. Close your eyes and get the picture in your head: Mrs. Dirty climbing a mountain with a full size stove strapped to her back. If that wasn’t funny enough, imagine the cooking cows bringing up the rear.
It took some explaining to get Miss NO to understand that it was a miniature stove made for no backpacking… to which she innocently replied, “Is it made by the little people?” I swear, I love this girl. She makes me smile.
This conversation really jump started Mrs. Dirty on planning the food that would be eaten on our excursion. In the past, we’ve taken a few Mountain House meals, oatmeal, and a few other high-sodium meals. This hike is different, because we’ve never been gone this long or hiked this far before. The food for this trip needs to meet several requirements:
1) taste good… duh. We may be torturing our bodies for fun, but we aren’t going to eat tasteless junk. Okay, maybe we will… but we will try to make it yummy!!
2) must be quick…. preferably boil water & done
3) high caloric meals. I know that seems contrary to all that is good & right with the world; however,according to Livestrong, backpacking for 6 hours a day with a 30 pound pack burns about 4,000 calories a day. We’ll need the calories to give us energy to climb those mountains.
4) low in sodium. As a rule, Mrs. Dirty fights a constant battle with dehydration (ironically… smirk) and needs to keep the sodium levels down in order to keep hydrated.
The research began where a lot of obsessions – and honey-do lists – have started…. Pinterest. A picture led to a link which led to TheBackpackingChef. This is a website packed full of dehydrating recipes and meal ideas. And so began Mrs. Dirty’s (auto correct changed Mrs. Dirty’s to Mrs. Society’s…. as if!) obsession with dehydrating food.
Our initial foray into the dehydrating world was a simple marinara sauce. After all, that was the picture that spawned the interest on pinterest. We have this lovely (read: older model that still works like a trooper) American Harvest Snackmaster Dehydrator that Mr. Dirty bought several years ago to make jerky. We left for work with wet sauce in the trays, and we had marinara jerky upon our return. It was a beautiful thing…. especially when vacuum sealed with Mrs. Dirty’s vacuum sealing birthday present.
The next night, Mrs. Dirty made her fabulous (at least in her mind) chili recipe… and doubled it. Yup, the other half was dehydrated into a nice crumbly mixture. Shepherd’s pie for dinner? The meat & veggie goodies dehydrate real nice, and it can be combined with instant potatoes on the trail. Better yet, we can whip up a batch of REAL mashed potatoes and dehydrate those!
Do you see where this is leading? Everything, and I mean everything, that is cooked or eaten in the home now goes through the thought process: Can I dehydrate this? We now have some pretty tasty meal & snack ideas for the trip. The best part is they only need boiling water to rehydrate to their original yummy state!!
Dinner ideas: chili, Tex-mex burritos, penne pasta with vegetable marinara, shepherd’s pie, veggie soup with rotini pasta…. The list goes on and on, and it’s only limited by your imagination :)So far, the best snack ever: dehydrated blueberry apple sauce! It’s so good. We’re trying out a few new snack recipes this weekend.
On one of our rather cold and wet weekends, when Dirty Boy was off hanging out with his girlfriend (Hiking Ninja), Mr. Dirty and I decided to try out some of our dehydrated dinners. The goal was to see how easy they were to cook up and to check the taste. Remember we don’t want to get stuck eating yucky grub.
On this particular afternoon, we took our camp chairs to the man cave… because it has a concrete floor that we couldn’t catch on fire. I wanted to try using my Optimus Crux camp stove – which by the way, I love – to boil the water. We needed the “camp effect” in order to replicate the eating environment of the trail… beats candlelight dinners any day!
With the water boiled, we were able to rehydrate a serving of chili and marinara sauce. The marinara sauce was served over “built-in-the-bag-rotini”… if you haven’t tried this pasta, you definitely should. It comes in single serving boiling bags that cook quite well in my Snow Peak 700 pot. It’s a perfect dinner for the trail!
As far as taste, the rotini & marinara tasted the same as if it were cooked on the stove in a kitchen. Success! The chili wasn’t as good as it could have been if I wouldn’t have been so impatient. I was a hungry diva who wanted to be fed…. Some of the veggies from the chili were still a little crunchy. Lesson learned.
Weight is always the enemy for light-weight backpackers. Freeze dried meals such as Mountain House really fit the bit for weight, simplicity and even nutrition. The downside as Mrs. Dirty highlighted is that these meals are often very high is sodium. The good news is that many freeze dried manufactures are introducing low-sodium versions. Oh, the other downside is price! These are often quite expensive and planning for multiday trips can add up quickly.
Enter home-made, dehydrated meals. The beauty of this is that you can just make your regular meals, double the recipe and dehydrate for later use. The other big advantage of dehydration over freeze-drying (other than the expense) is that dehydrated meals shrink in size whereas most freeze-dried foods often retain their relative hydrated size. So, home dehydrated meals can pack down smaller which are an added bonus. I’m finding soups the best options as you can quickly add dehydrated beans, vegetables, pastas, etc. Rice and beans is another tasty and nutritious meal. You can also add dry spices in so you can really spice up your favorite meals. What we have found is that quality Ziploc bags are good to have as you can often add a little water to start the rehydration process and later add hot water for full reconstitution and you want the bag to hold up that that so it doesn’t leak or fall apart; not something you want after a long day’s hike!
It’s nice to really control and limit the amount sodium which really takes its toll over a several days of strenuous hiking. Sodium is necessary, but excessive amounts can make your retain to much water, leaving you feeling bloated and not comfortable on the trail.
This is where we beg anyone with dehydrating experience who happens to have some tasty backpacking recipes to share. We are new to this and would love to try out your yummy recipes 🙂