Secrets of Eating Well Without Cooking or Washing Dishes
We work all year and finally get a couple of weeks to ply the
Boundary Waters. The Big Day comes. We pile into the car, drive hundreds
of miles, rent canoes, and plunge into the wild. For what? To wash
dishes? To waste hours over a camp stove? I don't think so.
Better to spend that precious time shooting photos, fishing for
walleyes, lazing around camp, or watching sunsets and canoodling with
But someone has to cook and clean dishes, right? Wrong.
My wife and I haven't ''cooked'' anything beyond hot water or washed
a dish in the wilds for a couple of years now. And we've been eating
some pretty tasty meals in the bargain. (OK, we rinsed a few cups, and
licked a few spoons clean, but that doesn't count.)
We learned this method from Yahoo's Backpackinglight listserver, and
then added a few wrinkles of our own.
Here's What You Need
Toss out those scouring pads, nesting pots, plates, utensils and
other cooking paraphernalia. Here's all you'll need to eat well on your
next trip north:
- A food dryer. Use this at home to dry your food before the trip.
- A box of Ziplock EZ-Fill or Glad Stand & Zip bags. They're
microwave safe and survive boiling water. Don't use just any old
plastic bag. The boiling water may melt it.
- One Ziplock reuseable/disposable plastic bowl per person.
- A one-quart pot for boiling water.
- One cup and spoon per person.
It works like this: You dry your meals at home (I've included a
couple of recipes below to get your started) and pack them in
microwave-safe bags. At camp you place a bag of dried food in the
Ziploc bowl. This bowl protects your hands from the hot food bag and
Then you boil the proper amount of water and pour it into the bag.
Stir everything together, let the meal rehydrate (usually 10 minutes),
and eat. You can cover the bowl with a cozy on cold days to hold in the
heat. But during warm, summer months, the bag and bowl can sit out in
When you're finished eating, zip the bag shut and throw it in the
trash. No cooking. No washing. Easy.
While you can do this by preparing commercial freeze-dried meals in
their pouches, the meals and snacks from your home dehydrator cost less,
taste better and often are less bulky. You also can make food that's not
available commercially and that is individually seasoned to each
The Four-Course Dinner
Generally, Lipton Cup-of-Soup is our appetizer. Pour the soup
packet's contents into a cup, add boiling water, and eat. Lick your
The main course comes next. Add boiling water to the microwave-safe
bag. Eat. Zip the bag shut, and toss it in the trash. Lick your spoon.
Dessert follows: cookies, bars, Godiva chocolates, dried fruit, or
Jell-O Instant Pudding. Mix the instant pudding in a sturdy zip bag.
Eat. Throw the empty bag in the trash. Lick your spoon.
After-dinner decadence: espresso, tea, flavored coffee, hot
chocolate, chocolate-mint candies, or any other indulgence. If you're
fastidious, use a little hot water to rinse the soup residue from your
cup before adding coffee or chocolate. That's what my wife does. Me, I
just pour hot water over coffee crystals as they celebrate their
diversity among the soup dregs.
When you're finished, use the last of the hot water to rinse your
spoon and cup.
Breakfast and Lunch
OK, that's dinner. What about breakfast and lunch?
We like to travel every day, and early morning is the best time on
the water. So breakfast has to be quick. We boil coffee water while
striking the tent. Then we grab a cold breakfast when the coffee is hot.
This can be Probars or Granola Bars from June Fleming's The Well-Fed
Backpacker, Pop Tarts, Carnation Instant Breakfast, jerky, granola,
fruit leather from your food dryer, Fig Newtons, or something similar.
(Hey, you're on vacation. Cookies are OK for breakfast.)
Lunches and snacks feature pilot crackers, cookies, cheese, peanuts,
almonds, peanut butter, energy bars, jerky, soy nuts, pretzels, dried
hummus that you rehydrate at your lunch stop, and other no-cook goodies.
Anzac cookies are hard to beat; nearly indestructible, and delicious. (Click
here for the recipe.) When you make these, don't pack the brown
sugar, just spoon it loosely into a measuring cup. Otherwise the cookies
will be too sweet and flat.
OK, you can't cook steaks by dipping them in hot water. And foods
that require simmering, such as elbow macaroni, rice, and lentils, also
don't work well. At other times, you'll need to soak some of the dried
ingredients for a few minutes before you add boiling water. But there
are a surprising number of meals that can be made by just pouring hot
water into a bag. One of our favorites is TVP spaghetti:
TVP SPAGHETTI (Serves one)
At home, combine:
- 1 oz. dried Hunts canned spaghetti sauce
- 1 pkg. Ramen noodles (discard the flavor packet)
- 1/4 cup TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
In a separate packet:
- 2 tsp. dried, grated parmesan cheese
In camp: Bring 1-1/4 cups of water to boil. Pour over
ingredients. Mix. Let stand for 10 minutes. Top with parmesan cheese.
To prepare the spaghetti sauce, buy the basic Hunts tomato sauce that
does not contain meat. Dry it just as you would fruit leather. You can
tear the sauce leather into small pieces and add it to your meal, but it
will dissolve faster and without lumps if you grind it to a powder. To
do this, tear the sauce leather into small pieces and freeze them. Then
pulverize the frozen pieces in a blender.
If you can't find TVP at the grocery, try health food stores.
(Additional Vegetarian Recipes)
WEST FORK CHILI (Serves one)
- 1/2 cup of dried canned chili beans (drained, but not rinsed
before drying. You want to leave a chili spice coating on the
- 1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes
- 1 Tbsp. dried black olive slices
- 1 Tbsp. dried diced green chilis (don't use the hot kind!)
- 1/4 cup TVP
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 2 Tbsp. dried tomato paste (Dry and pulverize the paste as
described for the spaghetti sauce in the recipe above.)
- A handful or two of Fritos Original Corn Chips
- Optional: 1/8th tsp. diced and dried jalapeno peppers (For those
who like fiery chili and don't mind the killer odor that jalapenos
emit during the first hour or so of drying.)
Buy the beans, sliced olives, diced chilis and diced jalapenos in
cans. Then just open each can, dump the contents into a strainer, rinse
under the tap (except for the beans), and dry them in your dehydrator.
At home: Put the dried chili beans, black olives, green chilis,
and jalapeno peppers in a microwave-safe zip bag. Put the rest of the
ingredients (except the Fritos) in another bag. Place the Fritos in a
In camp: Pour 1/2 cup of unheated water into the bag that
contains the chili beans, olives and green chilis. Let these soak for at
least 10 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients (except the
Fritos) to the beans, olives and chilis. Stir in one cup of boiling
water. Let the chili stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Pour Fritos on top and
We've tried tortillas, bagels, bread, and pita bread for lunches, but
pilot crackers are our favorite. They're nearly indestructible, last for
weeks and have a chewy texture. They can be hard to find at outdoor
stores (where they're called ''pilot biscuits''), but you can make your
own. And they'll taste better than the commercial ones. Below is our
recipe for cracked wheat pilot crackers that we adapted from the pilot
biscuit recipe in Harriett Barkers The One-Burner Gourmet.
CRACKED WHEAT PILOT CRACKERS (Makes about 40 crackers)
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cracked wheat flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 8 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup margarine
- 1 cup whole milk
Combine the flours, seeds, sugar and salt. Cut in the margarine using
a fork or pastry blender. Add the milk and mix all the ingredients into
a stiff dough. You'll need to use your hands for mixing and may have to
add just a little extra milk if the dough is too dry.
Flour your countertop. Take a handful of dough and use a rolling pin
to roll it into a 1/4-inch-thick sheet. Then cut out circular crackers
using a glass that's about three inches in diameter. Place the crackers
on non-stick cookie sheets and use a fork to punch lots of holes in each
cracker. Finally, use a pastry brush to coat the tops of the crackers
with milk. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes at 425 degrees.
In addition to minimal cooking and washing up, this no-hassle cooking
system offers other benefits. The meals are lightweight, meaning you can
eat well on two pounds of food per person per day. No more giant food
packs to lug across portages. Packs also are lighter because your stove
sips only small amounts of fuel; just enough to boil a few cups of water
per person per day.
These meals also give off minimal cooking odors, so you won't be
ringing the dinner bell for every camp robber within miles. However, if
you're going to be out for several days when the weather is hot and
humid, you may want to cut down on odors by giving the used plastic bags
a cursory rinse before throwing them in the trash.
Best of all, you have a lot more free time. Instead of washing dishes
and struggling for hours to prepare meals, you can enjoy all the great
things you came to see. After all, when you're sitting at home on those
cold winter nights, it's a lot more fun to remember the pastel sunsets
and evening paddles near camp than the patterns on all those plates you
includes everything you need to know about dehydrating food.
Several companies make food dryers. Among the best are the American
Harvest Snackmasters made by Nesco. You can see them at Nesco's
Plans for homemade food dryers can be found in several places. Plans
for a solar dryer and one that is heated by a 150-watt bulb can be found
Food: Drying and Cooking Food for Backpackers and Paddlers by
Alan S. Kesselheim.
Hungry Hiker's Book of Good Cooking by Gretchen McHugh also has
plans for a light-bulb-heated food dryer.
You may also enjoy reading
Drying the Fall Harvest by Teresa
Well-Fed Backpacker by June Fleming is a classic. Her
''one-liner'' recipes will give you lots of ideas for meals. Also check
out her recipes for Granola Bars (Page 60) and Probars (Page 59). Both
are great for breakfast.
Backpackin': Lightweight, Trail-Tested Recipes for Backcountry Trips
by Tim and Christine Conners. The Decadence Chocolate Pie (Page 135) is
Trail Cookery: All-Natural, Home-Dried, Palate-Pleasing Meals for
the Backpacker by Linda Frederick Yaffe features complete meals that
you cook at home and dry in your food dryer. In camp you just add water
and bring them to a boil. Some of these meals might work as well if you
put them in a microwave-safe bag, add hot water and let them stand for
Cooking: From Pack to Plate in 10 Minutes by Dorcas S. Miller
contains quite a few instant meals that can be made by just adding hot
water. It also has instructions for making an insulating cozy for food
One-Burner Gourmet by Harriett Barker includes a large number of
recipes. While some call for canned food, they can be adapted by drying
the ingredients. You also can substitute TVP for hamburger in some