the dehydration revelation

The worst camping trip, food wise, that I ever went on was along the North Boundary Trail in the Rocky Mountains with my friend Tanya.

The worst camping trip, food wise, that I ever went on was along the North Boundary Trail in the Rocky Mountains with my friend Tanya.

I don’t know what possessed us, maybe it was just that we’re both uninspired and unenthusiastic cooks or that a 10-day backpacking menu was beyond us.

We bought baby cereal for five breakfasts (lightweight, fast to prepare and supposedly nutritious we figured), energy bars for lunch and pasta with sauce mixes for dinner.

The pasta was very heavy but had the advantage of being versatile: Tanya suggested we eat cold leftover pasta for breakfast on the other five days, a filling and carbohydrate-loaded meal.

Failing to come up with any better ideas, I agreed although it didn’t sound too tasty.

We had lots of fun on that trip in beautiful scenery — but the food was the deep low point. By the ninth day, we were completely famished and sick of spaghettis.

In the mountain hut that we were spending the last night at, insult was added to injury. Because we had run out of the sauce mixes, we were facing a meal of pasta without any sauce. Bad enough, but then the whole load of spaghettis fell on the ground as we tried to drain them.

After rinsing most of the dirt off, we forced the now cold, bland mess of pasta down our throats, swearing to abstain from spaghetti for at least a year if not forever.

At the same time, a most tantalizing aroma wafted over to us as one hiker began sautéing fresh garlic and onions in olive oil on his camp stove. To keep from choking on our saliva, we turned our attention to a young guy who was sorting through his food supply.

Craftily, Tanya struck up a conversation with him. He was much impressed with our 10-day hike, being just up for the weekend himself, and eventually he asked what kind of food we had brought.

We poured out our tale of woe, including the fact that we would have to hike out the next day on an empty stomach because we were now completely out of food.

Tanya remarked that his supplies seemed uncommonly plentiful for such a short trip, particularly (she gulped) the number of chocolate bars.

He began to look a bit panicky, backed into the dark corner of a mountain hut by two ravenous women. And then to our immense delight, he gave us some oatmeal, raisins and milk powder.

Our joy must have mad him feel good too, because as we said good night, he parted (voluntarily!) with one of his chocolate bars. We could have kissed him. Maybe we did.

I just know that the next day, fuelled by food and kindness, we must have broken all speed records as we galloped down the mountain towards the highway and more food.

That was many years ago and although I never brought such dismal food again on a trip, it always seems a headache what to pack.

This summer, I finally hit upon the solution. Wanting to go camping before we did a supply trip out, I was faced with the dilemma of having to come up with something out of the cans and dry goods that constituted all we had on hand.

Sam had been experimenting with drying fish, so I thought, why not dehydrate whole camping meals?

Information on the web about drying entire meals was very slim, so I just tried out a few things. Using the oven in our wood cook stove and a baking sheet, I turned tomato sauce into a fruit-leather-like substance.

Hearty pea soup, refried beans and hummus became brittle little flakes. By spreading the regularly prepared meal about five-millimetres thick on a baking sheet and letting it dry, but not bake in the oven over a day or two, I could make my own tasty, lightweight camping meals.

I didn’t put any meat or oil into the food to avoid spoilage, instead I brought a bit of olive oil on the trip and then added it to the rehydrated meals.

Rehydrating the food was easy to do by letting the lunch and dinner soak over the day in a sealable plastic bag. When it was time to eat, a few minutes of simmering produced a yummy home-cooked meal — a far cry from cold spaghetti glued together with soup mix. I wish Tanya had been there.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.