The thing that keeps most of us occasional backpackers going (once we get going) is anticipation of the feast that waits at the end of the day's march. The trouble is that those of us not learned in kitchen craft all too often find the food turning to ashes -- or mush -- in our mouths.
If the entree is one of the freeze-dried main meals, it is likely to taste like reconstituted cardboard. Worse yet, if it's good, there isn't enough of it. If there is enough of it, the thought of what it cost makes the gorge rise.
If what was packed was "civilian" convenience foods, we discover that convenience in the kitchen, with running water and lots of pots and an oven, is quite a different thing from convenience in camp, with one two-quart pot and a Sierra cup with rain falling and the wind rising.
There are camping cookbooks aplenty, but most of them tend toward excessive complication, snackism or "natural foods" fanaticism. I have found most of them more useful for starting fires than for satisfying the truly agonizing hunger that builds through the waning afternoon on the trail.
Comes now Fred Powledge with his slender and outrageously overpriced paperback, which undertakes to steer us through the supermarket toward simple, tasty, satisfying and economical camp cookery.
He succeeds. Powledge's recipes, so far as my children and colleagues and I have tested them, are excellent. The only failure I have found so far is his method of fixing real cocoa in camp, which didn't work and left me with an encrusted pot that defeated the dishwasher (the recipes -- and the cleanups --and snow, but I gave up on the cocoa pot).
Powledge's recipes take full advantage of the Ziploc bag, into which the (dry) ingredients are mixed and measured beforehand, so that in camp about all that is needed before cooking is water and stirring. The book opens with an excellent discussion of packstoves and equipment.
Purists should save their money. Powledge doesn't like chemical feasts any more than the rest of us but, like most of us, he makes a lot of compromises and swallows his share. of BHT and other preservatives, extenders and "enhancers."
The recipes emphasize main meals, although my favorite so far is a trail snack called Rose's Peanut Butter Delight: 1/2 cup of pitted dates 1/2 cup of raisins 1/4 cup of dried fruit (apples, prunes, peaches, pears or apricots, especially apricots) 1/4 cup of shredded coconut 1/4 cup of wheat germ 1/2 cup of instant dry milk 1/4 cup of brown sugar 1/4 cup of All-Bran or similar dry cereal 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter 1 cup of honey
Blend or grind the dry ingredients until fairly uniform and stir in the peanut butter and honey. Let harden in refrigerator, then form into cookies or logs, dust with brown sugar and bake at 250 degrees for o0 minutes. Wrap in tinfoil and refrigerate (or freeze) until needed. (If your kids find out about them they'll be gone when you go to pack them.)
One of these bars would fuel you up Mount Katahdin, although the next time I try it I'm going to triple the dried fruit and blend the dry stuff less. The cost came to about seven cents an ounce, compared to 13 cents per ounce for "Crunchola," a commercial product that everyone on my informal comparative-tasting pan split out.