Simple meals with lightweight ingredients to fuel the expedition.

It took us six hours to ride six miles. A windstorm had recently torn through the valley. It bowled over trees killed by the pine bark beetle, and some were piled across the trail. We had three 24-inch saws and six people to rotate between sawing and holding the 10 ride and pack horses. Finally, we sawed our way into the meadow, where we planned to camp. We timed our camp arrival with an evening rainstorm that included hail. We were exhausted and hungry. My friend, Perry, set to hanging the kitchen shelter, assembling the stove and cooking supper. The remainder of us unsaddled horses, erected tents and set night fences to graze the horses. We gathered eagerly, headlamps lighting our plates, when Perry called us to a supper of pad Thai.

Simple meals with lightweight ingredients to fuel the expedition. Backcountry recipes are a necessity in the West.
Perry Cook’s famous cobbler is a favorite at camp. Photo by Melissa Hemken

Food stress is real, and some days on the trail turn long. I prefer meals cooked fresh and quickly in camp from ingredients and components assembled at home. Dutch-oven cooking over an open fire is enjoyable, but it’s a slow process to burn wood into coals. I find pre-packaged dehydrated meals a similarly annoying delay, because you add hot water and wait 20 to 30 minutes staring at the plastic pouch, waiting for your food to hydrate.

For meal ideas, I review the National Outdoor Leadership School Cookery and online backpacker recipes. I like to plan meals with fresh ingredients (carrots, peppers, meats, etc.) for the first several days and use dehydrated meals with smoked or preserved meats for the latter half. Hard cheeses will keep for up to nine days. My pack partners and I have a tradition for the first meal on a trip: steak and bagged salad mixes. Bacon and sausages, along with eggs, work well for the first breakfast.

Even in the summer heat, ice and coolers are not needed if the fresh meats are frozen before you start riding down the trail and eaten for the first couple of meals. If food items need chilling, submerge them in a mountain spring or river near camp, but be careful to corral your items. A can of V8 juice bobbed past on the current once as I watered horses along a glacial river. It likely floated away from an upstream camp’s cold cache. I waded out to fetch it, and we added it to our supper pasta that night.

To streamline meal coordination, assemble expedition members into cook NR groups. A large pot on a single-burner stove easily fits a meal for six people. If the pack trip numbers more than six, split into cook groups of three to four people. Cook breakfasts and suppers communally with people, rotating out each meal to take lead. The adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen” applies in the backcountry, too. People are individually responsible for their own trail lunch, snacks, hot drinks (tea, coffee, cocoa, etc.) and alcohol.

The group of women with whom I venture out into the backcountry for vacation pack trips has earned the moniker “Burly Mountain Women” — the BMWs, for short. Here are some of our staple recipes that rate as requested each pack trip. One-pot meals are treasured because they result in fewer dishes for the appointed washer. There have been some that were voted to never return based on the number of pots dirtied.

Breakfasts and Suppers

Leeanne’s Granola

6 cups raw, unsalted seeds or nuts, chopped (almonds, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds)
4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

2 cups almond flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon salt
1 cup maple syrup

Mix together and pour onto two large cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Try to keep the clusters intact. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Gently flip the clusters over and bake an additional 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely and store in an air-tight container. Makes two large zipper lock bags of granola.

Perry’s Fruit Crisp

3 cups freeze-dried fruit
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Mix and place all ingredients in plastic bag. In camp, add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. This is the fruit compote for LeeAnne’s granola. For a fruit crisp dessert, crumble one package of ginger cookies (with candied ginger, not snaps) on top and serve when it becomes lukewarm so that it has time to thicken. Pairs well with LeeAnne’s granola for breakfast. Serves 5.

Melissa’s Grits

Instant grits (amount per package directions for servings needed)
1 cup dried spinach
1 cup dried mushrooms
1 cup sundried tomatoes
1⁄2 cup sunflower seeds
1⁄2 cup powdered milk
1 pound summer sausage, diced

1 cup hard cheese, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot half-filled with water to a boil. Add grits and dried vegetables. Simmer until hydrated. Stir in seeds, milk, sausage and cheese. Heat until cheese is melted. Serves 5 to 6.

Melissa’s Gado Gado

Pre-make peanut sauce at home with ingredients below to-taste.
Peanut butter Sesame oil Soy sauce Honey
Hot sauce
Ground ginger and garlic
Complete the dish at camp:
Pasta (amount per package directions for serving size desired)
1 cup dried vegetables (peas, carrots, etc.)
1 pound summer sausage, chopped

1⁄2 cup roasted peanuts

Boil water and cook pasta. Add peanut sauce and other ingredients.

Tammy’s Unstuffed Peppers

1 1⁄2 jars dehydrated spaghetti sauce
2 cups dehydrated rice
1 dehydrated onion
Garlic to taste (we use a lot)
2 cups dehydrated vegetables (mushrooms, kale, Chinese cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach, roasted tomatoes, zucchini or parsnip)
11⁄2 cups dehydrated peppers
3 cups dehydrated turkey burger or other lean ground meat
1 cup of oil
Spices can include Italian seasoning, black pepper, basil, oregano, parsley

Pre-hydrate your ingredients that have been placed all together in your pot with hot water. Cover the dry ingredients by at least an inch of water to start the rehydration process. Around 20 to 30 minutes after pre-hydrating, begin heating until thoroughly hot. Keep stirring in water, oil and spices during the heating process until desired taste and consistency are achieved. Adding too much water will make consistency soupy and may need to be steamed off. Serves 6.

Perry’s Pad Thai

Pack pre-made in a screw-top bottle to avoid leakage.
1⁄3 cup tamarind purée
1⁄3 cup fish sauce (Asian)
1⁄3 cup lime juice
1⁄3 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 to 1 tablespoon sambal oelek (Asian chili paste)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

In camp: Soak 14 ounces of rice noodles in hot water until al dente. Meanwhile, sauté 5 eggs (fresh or dried) with a quarter of the sauce. Set eggs aside. Sauté 1 onion, 2 red bell peppers and 2 cups of other vegetables (cabbage or broccoli slaw keep well when camping) and set aside. Sauté noodles in oil, then add sauce and 2 bags of shelf-stable chicken. When chicken is hot, mix in vegetables and place eggs on top. Serve with chopped green onions, chopped roasted peanuts and cilantro. Serves 6 to 8.

This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of Western Horseman.

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