This week a meal pac order from Mary Jane's Farm should arrive and greet me at the Green Cove cabin. Coming from Idaho, it will contain 10 organic backpacking meals, 9 of them pasta and one polenta. If they are suitable I'll order in bulk and finally be able to truly eat healthy out here. Today's meals were homemade lettuce, cheese and tomato sandwiches, 2 granola bars, one pemmican mealpak, gorp and some orange juice, a typical first day menu. Tomorrow the cooking will begin and I brought couscous, pasta noodles, oats, Lipton pasta soups and cooked rice in a pouch and 3 blocks of cheese. I won't starve on this trip but I might sprain a major muscle humping it all.
It is later and a rain squall comes in as I was cooking and it scooted me into the tent where I sit now eating a basically tasteless Mary Jane's Farm meal. For the discerning mouth it is probably high cuisine but to my overstimulated palate it is not exactly tasteless but nearly so. But before I pass final judgment some words need to be said.
First, I used twice as much water as called for and I cooked it not in the pouch but in my small pot. Second, I did not add any other ingredients such as salt or cheese since I figured the meal in itself would suffice. It does have a light fine taste, perfect for fat and calorie conscious eaters and it does seem to hit a good nutrition nerve in my brain so ok?
My pockets are filled with trail food: 3 Werthers butterscotch candies and 3 wintergreen Lifesavers, one Bear Valley sesame lemon mealpack and a home-prepared lettuce cheese sandwich in the Dana closeby and ready to retrieve.
Now I am off to cook a meal, eat your veggies pasta from Mary Jane. I find the secret to eating her meals is to put the pouch contents in a pot of COLD water and stir frequently while bringing to a boil. Do not add to boiling water as the dehydrated cheeses will clot up and make cleaning the pot and spoon nearly impossible. The packaging also readily burns.
THE HUMBLE OAT
At 3 pm after a long dayhike along mystical and beautiful Bob ridge I am now back eating hot oats with raw sugar and salt. Liplicking good! It's the backpacker's meal of choice, his meat and potatoes, his 8 oz steak, his Big Mac and fries, his Texas bar-b-que and his Mexican chili. I avoid the instant and like the heartier quick cooking oats - more fiber possibly and more texture. The beauty of oats are many fold:
1) They can be bought almost anywhere in any country store(are there any
2) They taste good
3) Wild greens and edibles mix well with them like a soup
4) Cheese and butter readily mixes well
5) They can be eaten without cooking by soaking in water for a couple of hours
6) They are healthy without junk and additives
7) They cook fast
8) They warm you up on a cold day like the porridge of old
9) The pot is easy to clean after cooking
10) They mix well with nut butters like peanut, almond or cashew
11) A little dry mix goes a long way.
Hurray for the lowly oat! All hail the mighty Oat! And finally, they're a barometer to finicky palates because if you're not hungry for oats you're just not hungry. I've been eating oats for the 24 years I've been backpacking and they have always been there for me, a trusted food item. The secret to oats is not to mask its natural good taste with too much sugar or salt and especially too much cheese.
A little salt and sugar is all that is needed. For survival purposes it is probably the one food item I would have to have because it mixes so well with anything else, but don't expect to savor it like other fancier meals(pizza for instance), cuz oats is oats and that's all oats is, and like I said before, if you're hungry for pizza but not for oats, well, you're just not hungry enough!
Dinner is served on cold wet wool socks to dry them and it is a pot of mashed potatoes very hot and very edible with a little soy sauce and a hunk of cheese. It passes my test of decent camp food. One more item to buy in bulk, the black bean meal is very good too and more pounds should be purchased.
FRONTIER HERBS AND THE FOOD SITUATION
I am finishing off a jug of cold nettle tea with honey and it is very tasty, the nettle itself came from Frontier Herbs in a big one pound bag sufficient for at least a year of regular use. Also in the order and with me now are small bags of various soup mixes such as mushroom, imitation chicken, dulse seaweed flakes, soy burger, a yeast/salt seasoning, strawberry drink powder and the nettle. A lexan spoon full of, say, mushroom powder in a pot of boiling water and I have a tasty hot soup ready to go, good as a broth similar to hot tea. The dulse is a mineral rich fish like taste added to other meals like pasta and is a luxury only the gourmet backpacker would need or appreciate.
Also in my cookables bag are black bean soup, veggie pasta, couscous, rice and oatmeal, enough for at least 14 days, I just hope I brought enough fuel to cook it all. In my snack bag I have dry cereal, carrots, 2 nut loaves, 8 pemmican bars, dates, 2 bags of macadamia nuts, a bag of black walnuts, gorp, 3 almond butter and jelly sandwiches, various granola bars, 3 blocks of goat cheese, 3 loaves of manna sprouted wheat bread, peppermint lifesavers with butterscotch too, and several cloves of garlic. I also brought 8 candles and have burned one already in my first 24 hours. Seven to go so let's be somewhat frugal.
On an intentionally long trip it is important to ration out the food and not be too liberal in the beginning. Two hot meals a day is the maximum if the weather is benign, a breakfast of oats or couscous followed by a late afternoon meal of bigger proportions. The snack bag goes first so all attempts should be made to cook and get the meal bag down early in the trip especially if the sky cooperates as cooking falls off in the rain.
THE STOVE CHRONICLES
I remember the old tents of the 1970s which had a zippered hole in the floor for stove cooking, an antique feature now obsolete on nearly all small tents. This was I guess mainly used in alpine conditions or at high altitudes in snow but in over a decade the tent vestibule has replaced the zippered stove hole. White gas stoves work good in the vestibule and after the initial priming flareup they can be brought into the vesty for cooking.
THE SVEA 123
My old copper Svea 123 round stove was messy to prime and flared up too much for constant near tent or vestibule use whereas my MSR Whisperlite, once cranking out its blue flame, works good in the alcove area. The Svea was my favorite for many years as I refused to go with the newfangled MSR because I thought all of its tubes and pump and gaskets and O rings was an accident waiting to happen. But the Svea had its drawbacks. The old Svea did not have a self cleaning needle making it hard to keep the jet clean. The next model had the needle and used a smaller on/off rotation which was more efficient but the Svea was still a hassle to operate.
One problem was locating and keeping the on/off key handy at all times and not let it get too hot. It would usually get messed up in the stove's housing when unpacking, adding to my frustration. Another big problem was the loss of the 3 nail-like stove prongs which supported the pot. These always seemed to fall off and were nearly impossible to find in the leaves and dirt.
All my many Sveas had replacements made from nails which did not stay in and which were even harder to find when dropped. Two other problems concerned the fuel. Getting the gas into the little hole on the stove with an opened Sigg bottle was always a mess and I hardly ever carried a small funnel for this job. Getting gas to the small priming trough was a mess too and the recommended eyedropper method only added to the confusion.
For quick results I would usually pour a small amount of gas directly from the Sigg but it was always too much and was a waste of precious fuel. The initial flareup of course was therefore too big and too long. Another hassle was trying to refill a hot stove with fuel in the middle of meal preparation, the little tank just didn't hold that much.
One last problem was the thin brass sleeve that fitted around the stove and twisted on and off. It must be on to cook but must come off for refueling and this little devilish item(with the 3 hellish loseable prongs attached)always seemed to get bent and deformed enough to make it a real pain to use. The Svea is still today sold and is not cheap but I would like to get one just to go back down memory lane yet I must remember the 6 I had before and say goodbye.
The MSR line of stoves is now where my interest lies, there is one in particular I would get to replace my current model and it is called the Simmerlite. The one big drawback to the Whisperlite is it doesn't simmer whereas the Svea simmered like a champ. In the old days I would cook up brown rice or lentils for a full hour, something that just can't be done on the Whisperlite, but where would I be or have been without these little gas stoves? They added a vital comfort on long cold trips and made edible a wide variety of foods. All Hail the White Gas Stove! END