TIRED OF the beach with its crowds? Beat both the heat and traffic and head for the mountains this weekend. A summer backpacking hike along wooded trails that crisscross open meadows and shady brooks is a fine way to spend a three-day holiday; and food preparation and cooking can be managed quite easily, even by the novice.
There is no reason not to eat well when hiking and camping. With a different attitude in the planning, shopping and preparation stages -- a new slant on how you make food choices -- meals can be tailored to meet the limitations of the pack.
Of primary consideration is the fact that everything you cook and eat will be packed in your backpack and carried as you hike. This is in addition to the gear required for your weekend jaunt -- tent, sleeping bag, extra clothing, one-burner stove and fuel and other miscellaneous necessities -- so the weight of the food becomes a critical item.
Excess food baggage can be pared down. What creates extra weight is the choice of too many canned foods, packaged store-purchased items and moisture-laden foodstuffs. What assures slim/trim in the food department is the use of dried or dehydrated foods and a careful selection of canned and other heavy-weight items. Weigh your alternatives. Less is more.
Before rushing to the nearest outdoor supply store to purchase a selection of only freeze-dried meals, reconsider. There is a less-expensive, tastier alternative: Combine a minimum number of freeze-dried items from outdoor specialty shops with a variety of foods from grocery store shelves. Use dried and dehydrated products, a few canned goods and those fresh foods you can't live without.
To accomplish this mix 'n' match of foods, take time to explore local grocery stores. Many foods meet the triple standard: lightweight, nutritious and tasty. Listed here are some choices.
Dried soups: Soup is used not only for lunches but as a staple in the most common trail dinner -- the one-pot meal (a starch/protein/soup combination). Reduce the amount of liquid called for and the dried soup adds extra flavor. Variations are endless: mushroom, split pea, leek, vegetable, onion, ox-tail. v
Sauces: Hollandaise, gravy, sweet 'n' sour, spaghetti, sour cream, cheese, white sauce and beef stroganoff are all available. Become acquainted with a variety of them. Some fill out the flavor of the one-pot meal, spicing up potentially bland tastes, while others add zest to dehydrated vegetables.
Starches and legumes: Starches such as pasta and rice are well-known (choose spinach or whole wheat pasta and brown rice for added nutrients; pre-soak the rice to cut down on cooking time). Others, such as dehydrated potatoes, hash browns and grits may be less familiar. Sample the variety of legumes -- lentils, black-eyed peas, navy beans, limas -- they are a staple of the dinner meal.
Powdered drinks: If you can't live without orange juice for breakfast, there are powdered alternatives. Use other fruit-flavored powdered mixes to give water more flavor. (Repackage unsweetened powdered drinks with sugar).
Dried fruits and nuts: Your local coop (or health food store) is the least expensive source for buying these items in bulk. Dried apples, currants, raisins, pineapples, bananas, sunflower and pumpkin seeds make great trailside snacks, and nuts such as cashews, pecans, almonds and brazil nuts offer an alternative protein source in meals. A combination of any or all of these fruits and nuts, with semi-sweet chocolate bits added, is the hiker's ultimate snack food: Gorp.
Miscellaneous: Search out exotica at specialty food stores -- Italian hard salamis, Japanese dried fish or noodles and Chinese dried mushrooms. These are all finds for the backpacker.
Nonfat dry milk: An item with multiple uses. Served with hot or cold breakfast cereals and used whenever a recipe calls for milk.
Powdered eggs: For breakfast or added to recipes whenever eggs are called for.
Mixes: One-serving envelopes of oatmeal, cream of wheat and grits and prepackaged biscuits, puddings, cheesecake, brownies or packaged dinners are a bonanza for the campfire chef. If you always make it from scratch, you may choose not to this time. On the trail, the simplicity of the convenience food is welcome. It's all there in the package.
Most things purchased at the grocery store must be repackaged at home. Take the contents out of the outer cardboard box and repackage the dry ingredients in small plastic bags. Package the amount to be served at one meal. Add any of the dry ingredients listed in the directions. Substitute an equivalent amount of nonfat dry milk when the recipe calls for milk (or powdered substitute for real eggs). Repackage large bulk items such as granola in individual servings.
Fold plastic bags, squeezing out all excess air; label the contents with masking tape and marker: recipe name and meal, ie., "oatmeal with raisins/ Saturday breakfast." Tie securely with rubber bands (wire ties can poke holes in the bag, spilling contents in your pack. Ziplock bags are difficult to reseal repeatedly.)
Don't repackage items packed in foil (such as soups, granola bars or one-serving envelopes of cocoa); they will keep better in their own packet. But be sure to pack out all the empty foil envelopes since they do not burn or biograde. Repack liquids in small unbreakable containers with tight-fit ting lids and carry peanut butter and margarine in polyethelene freezer containers with snap-on lids.
Cut out all directions from the box and include inside your plastic bag. With any dish you plan to make: Writethe recipe on a card; include it and all dry ingredients in the bag.
Pack all the breakfasts together in one bag, all the lunches, all the dinners and all the staples, each in itsown plastic bag, labeled with marker and tape.
In your backpack, pack the heavier weight staples and cooking gear at the bottom, meal bags in the middle and any really delicate foodstuffs, such as cookies or bread, at the top. You are ready for your out-of-doors eating adverture. GRANOLA WITH DRIED FRUIT (1 serving) 3/4 cup granola 3 tablespoons instant nonfat dry milk 1/4 cup apricots, raisins or dried apples
At Home: Bag together dry ingredients.
In Camp: Empty contents of bag into cup or bowl. Add 1/2 cup water; stir and serve.
When you want cocoa for breakfast, the one-packet envelopes are simplictiy itself. Pour contents of envelope intocup; fill with boiling water; stir and serve.
There is something about being out ofdoors that whets the appetite for chocolate. When that happens, real cocoa is a much appreciated treat. COCOA (1 serving) 1 heaping teaspoon unsweeted cocoa 2 heaping teaspoons sugar Dash salt 6 tablespoons instant nonfat drymilk
At Home: Bag together dry ingredients. In Camp: Empty contents of bag into cup. Add 2 teaspoons of hot water to mixture and stir until smooth. Fill cup with boiling water. Serve. POTATOE PANCAKES (3 pancakes) 1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes 1 tablespoon dried minced onions 1 tablespoon dried soup greens Dash salt d 2 to 6 tablespoons water Oil or margarine
At Home: Package dry ingredients together.
In Camp: Add enough water to potato/vegetable mixture to make a smooth dough (2 tablespoons may do it.) Mix well. Form into thin patties or press in your hands. Fry over moderately heat in oil or margarine, turning once.
Note: Resist the temptation to turn the cakes over until they're ready.
Variation: Substitute a package of potato pancake mix and prepare and cook according to directions on package. Adapted from Backpacker's Budget Food Book JERKY Flank steak, although less expensive,makes a chewier jerky. 1 to 1 1/4 pounds flank steak or roundroast Marinade: 1/2 cup red wine 1/4 cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce 1 clove garlic, minced Freshly ground black pepper
At Home: Trim all fat off the meat. Cut it into thin (1/2-inch thick by 1-inch wide) strips along the grain. Lay these strips in a casserole. Prepare the marnade by blending together the rest of the ingredients and pour them over the meat. Cover the casserole tightly and marinate at room temperature overnight. Next day, arrange the strips on a wire rack or directly on the racks of the oven, with a pan or foil beneath to catch any drippings. Turn oven to 150 degrees and dry the meat for 10 to 12 hours. It will be very dark brown and much smaller in size. Test it often toward the end of the drying time. It should be dry and chewy, but not overly moist. When, cooked, bag the jerky, seal and refrigerate until needed.
In Camp: Use the jerky for lunch, as a snack or added to the one-pot meal. During hot weather, use the jerky at the beginning of a longer hike. MACARONI AND JERKY (2 servings) 2 cups shell macaroni 2 talblespoons dried onions 1 cup grated homemade jerky 1 package (2 5/8-ounce) cream of mushroom soup 4cups water Dash salt
At Home: Package the macaroni and onions together; bag the meat separately; leave the soup in its packet.
In Camp: Soak jerky in the water for 15 minutes. Add salt to water and bring to a boil. Add macaroni and onions and boil until pasta is almost done, stirring frequently. Variation: BULGUR WITH JERKY Brown 4 tablespoons dried onions, and1 cup bulgur becomes golden. Add 2 cups water, 1 package (2 5/8-ounce size)leek soup and jerky, and cover and simmer for 15 minutes (until water is absorbed). MACARONI AND CHEESE (2 servings) 1 cup macaroni 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk 1 tablespoon parsley flakes 1/8 teaspoon garlic granules 1/4 pound cheddar cheese (Swiss or Jack) 2 to 3 cups water. Dash salt
At Home: package dry ingredients together. Bag cheese separately.
In Camp: Bring salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Drain. Add remaining ingredients. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Adapted from Simple Foods for the Pack MACARONI AND CHEESE DINNER
At Home: Repackage boxed macaroni and cheese dinner. Bag noodles; replace milk ingredient with equivalent amount of instant nonfat dry milk; leave cheese sauce in its own container;enclose directions from package.
In Camp: Cook according to directions, substituting half the required amount of boiling water.Before serving, add a can of tuna to the cheese mixture to augment the protein. DATE BOMBS (makes 68 one-inch balls) 1 cup cut-up dates, finely packed 1/2 cup walnut, sesame or almond meal 1/2 cup coconut flakes 2 teaspoons rum or brandy
Pound and mash ingredients with wooden spoon.When mixture is well blended, shape into one-inch balls and roll in nut meal or in more coconut. Carry in a lidded plastic container. From Backpacker's Cookbook PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE (Makes 60 one-inch balls) 1 cup crunchy peanut butter 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk 1/2 cup raisins 1/4 cup sunflower seeds 1/8 cup wheat germ 1/8 to 1/4 cup honey
Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly blended. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in coconut. Carry in a lidded plastic container.
Variation: Shape into a single loaf. Pack in double plastic bags; cut off slices of fudge as needed. Adapted from Simple Foods for the Pack