Like most of you ultralight backpackers, my trail cooking habits and methods have evolved to the point where I can carry a small amount of food yet still eat pretty well with minimal effort and equipment. For me, at this point in time, that usually means simple meals that I can easily re-hydration on the trail by heating up some water on my stove aka Freezer Bag Cooking.
Freezer bag cooking is a method for creating simple, yet delicious, meals by adding hot (boiling) water to dry ingredients that are usually in some form of plastic bag and allowing the time for the whole mixture to rehydrate and form your ready-to-eat meal.
The benefits of only having to boil a few cups of water to create a healthy, hot, and comforting meal are too numerous to list here, but some obvious ones would be less cooking time, less weight (dried food is much lighter), less fuel needed if I'm only boiling water, and much easier cleanup.
I've tried the pre-packaged freeze-dried meals that you can buy at most camping retailers, and for the most part they are easy to rehydrate and pretty tasty. What I don't like about them is the insanely high amount of sodium that they contain. Given that most of the freeze-dried packages are actually two portions and not a single serving, this is bad news if you're used to heating up a whole package and eating it.
For quite some time I've been packaging up my own dry ingredients so that I can control exactly what goes into each meal and make sure that I use more appropriate portion sizes. The results have been good and adequate to satisfy my hunger, but I wouldn't necessarily say my meals have been exactly "tasty" - bland would be more accurate. That's where my new book comes in...
For Christmas this year I was given a copy of Sarah Kirkconnell's excellent book on Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Easy. Sarah has been hiking and backpacking since she was a small girl and has extensive experience and expertise in this area. She created the first website dedicated to sharing her expertise and recipes (www.freezerbagcooking.com) which has since evolved into www.trailcooking.com - a comprehensive website providing all sorts of background and information about the subject as well as hundreds of unique recipes by her and submitted by readers. But, the book contains lots of recipes that you can't find on her website, and it's full of additional information like types of ingredients, gear selection, tools, and techniques.
The book is laid out very well and broken into sections for the main meal types; breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. I especially like that Sarah has chosen to discuss in detail the concerns that we all have around ingredients that are bad for us in excess; sodium and MSG for example. This is where the book really shines for me and it becomes clear that the contents and recipes within this book have obviously come from her own experiences through the years and her trial and error in developing things that work and discussing the things that didn't work. That sort of knowledge is not only hard to find, it's impossible to put a price on.
I've read the book cover to cover a few times now, but have only had time to try out a few of the recipes. Among my favorites so far are:
- Cinnamon and Sugar Couscous
- Fruit and Nut Breakfast Couscous
- Cranberry Chicken Rice (you have to try this!)
- Four Cheese Hamburger Rice
I recently splurged and bought myself a L'Equip food dehydrator (I totally blame Sarah and Philip for this) so that I can create my own dry ingredients and really begin to expand my home-made freezer bag cooking meal options. I'll being doing a review of the L'Equip later, but I'm excited at the opportunities I now have by combining the recipes from Sarah's book and the ability to create my own dry ingredients.
Even if you do not intent to use a dehydrator, I highly recommend you get a copy of this book. I learned a lot of new things from reading the first few pages and the recipes alone are worth the purchase. At only $15 it's a great book and a great price!