Alimentary, My Dear
By Tamia Nelson
December 18, 2001
The short days of mid-winter and nuts go
together. A bowl of mixed nuts on the sideboard is one of the symbols of
holiday hospitality. And where would winter menus be without nut breads,
candied nuts, marzipan confectionary, and, yes, that sturdy perennial,
nut-rich fruitcake. A holiday season without nuts? Impossible!
So it's no surprise that nuts often show up on holiday shopping lists.
Happily, they're at their peak of freshness and availability now. But
don't be deceived. Nuts and nutty treats can be as welcome in mid-summer
as mid-winter, and they're particularly well-adapted to canoe and kayak
OK. I admit it. I love nuts, and this influences my paddling menu. But
I'm a practical girl, too. And a paddler's food choices are necessarily
limited. Unless you can find a handy current bush to power your portable
electric refrigerator, there's no reliable way to keep perishable foods
cold in summer. The food you choose also has to withstand the rigors of
packing and portaging. That's why so many paddlers settle for prepackaged
meals. They're often surprisingly gooda far cry from the flavored
sawdust of my early camping days!but they still lack the variety,
taste, and texture (foodies prefer the rather titillating phrase "mouth
feel") of real food. That's where nuts come in.
As a cartoon that one long-time reader recently sent me noted, "You'll
never outsmart the squirrels." How true! And squirrels prize nuts for all
the right reasons. Nuts are easy to store, they keep well, and they're
chockablock with protein, vitamins, and minerals. They also taste great,
and with so many varieties, there's no reason why you need ever become
bored with them.
You don't want to take a squirrel's word for this? All right, then.
Take a look at human history, instead. Nuts are frequently found among
ancient grave offerings in Europe, where they've long been associated with
fertility and rebirth. You say you've got enough kids already? No problem.
Irish folklore links nuts to eternal youth. And nuts are found in
traditional dishes around the world. Better yet, some current research
suggests that nuts really do have health-giving properties. So maybe the
Irish were right.
History and folklore aside, most paddlers have eaten handfuls of
peanut, fruit, and candy mixoften labelled "gorp"for lunch or
snacks. And peanut butter remains a favorite paddling fare. But peanuts
don't agree with everyone. For some folks, in fact, peanuts are more
threat than treat. And of course, peanuts aren't really nuts at all.
They're legumes, close relatives of the humble bean. A quibble? Possibly.
Peanuts look like nuts, and they crunch like nuts. They're also tasty,
widely available, relatively inexpensive, and loaded with protein. If you
can eat 'em, peanuts are good. But we're talking about real nuts
There's plenty of choice. Most city supermarkets stock almonds,
walnuts, pecans, cashews, and sometimes hazelnuts (filberts), along with
macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, and pistachios. If you're lucky, you'll also
find pine nuts tucked away in some obscure corner or other. And while
we're at it, we might as well toss in pepitas (squash seeds) and sunflower
seeds, too. The edible kernel of a nut is a seed, after all.
Given this astounding variety, a little imagination will go a long way
toward livening up your camping menus. To begin with, nuts and seeds are
great eaten out of hand. They can also be baked into a whole range of
breads and cakes. But these aren't the only ways to enjoy them. Let's
consider other possibilities.
You probably take dried fruit on most trips, but have you ever tried
stewing it? It's not difficult. Just put some dried fruitapricots
are my favoriteinto a pot, sprinkle with brown sugar, and cover with
water. Then simmer until the fruit is softened, and a sweet, sticky syrup
forms. Just before serving, sprinkle pistachios or broken pecans over the
stewed fruit. Pecans also go well with maple syrup. Drizzle the syrup on
pancakes or fried bread and sprinkle the nuts on top. That's all. The same
combination is wonderful when stirred into oatmeal, too. For a change,
substitute broken macadamia nuts or sunflower seeds for the pecans.
And why not include nuts in supper dishes? A lot of people do. If
you're a fan of spicy Asian cooking you've probably often eaten meals
incorporating peanuts or cashews. Peanuts are also on the ingredient list
for some African stews, and many South American meals are flavored with
cashews. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines make frequent use of
almonds, pine nuts, and pistachios in savory dishes. Pine
nutsthey're soft seed kernels from a species of pineare native
to Italy and the American Southwest, so it's not surprising that cooks
from these regions exploit them. You'll also find pepitas in Southwestern
There's more. If you're an angler, try a hazelnut garnish with your
next trout. Fry the fish in butter or margarine, and sprinkle chopped,
shelled hazelnuts into the pan just before the fish is done. Serve the
trout with the toasted nuts and pan juices. Does that sound good? Then try
other nut and fish combinations, too. One favorite: fish stuffed with a
mixture of chopped nuts, reconstituted dried mushrooms, and herbs.
You're not a fisherman? How about noodles and cheese instead? Walnuts
taste great with all sorts of cheeses, and so do almonds. There's no
better way to jazz up a boxed noodles-and-cheese dinner. Just stir in a
handful of chopped nuts. The same trick works well with boxed rice or
couscous mixes, too. A wonderfully convenient one-pot entree can be made
using one of these as a base. Prepare the rice or couscous according to
the instructions printed on the box, but add some dried fruit (chopped,
dried apricots, say, or raisins), your choice of nuts (cashews, pepitas,
almonds, or pistachios), and maybe a can of chicken. Feeling brave? Then
sprinkle cardamom or cinnamon into the pot while the meal is cooking. Now
sit back and enjoy a feast.
And don't forget pasta. You'll find lots of pasta sauce mixes at the
supermarket. Many of these can be improved by adding nuts. Hot, cooked
pasta, tossed with Alfredo sauce, for instance. It tastes wonderful when
you stir in some extra Parmesan cheese and a mixture of chopped hazelnuts
and Brazil nuts.
Pine nuts. Remember pine nuts? They're the keystone of the popular
basil pesto sauce. It's impractical to make this sauce in camp with fresh
ingredients, but don't despair. Simply tote along a packet of basil pesto
mix, whip it up per package directions (check the ingredient list to be
sure you bring what you need), and enhance the final dish with a
sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.
How do you toast nuts? Easy. Simply place them in a single layer in a
frying panthere's no need to use oil or butterand hold it over
a low flame or bed of coals for a minute or two, shaking the pan
occasionally so the nuts don't burn. Toasting gives the nuts a robust
flavor, but don't overdo it. If you cook them too long, they'll become
Back to pesto. The word means sauce, and it's possible to concoct all
kinds of delightful combinations with widely-available ingredients. Even
our rural supermarket stocks a full range of Knorr pesto mixes in a
variety of flavors. Here's a great camping recipe using one of my
Pesto Pasta Pronto
(makes 2 generous servings)
3-4 cups water
8 ounces capellini, broken in half*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package Knorr Red Bell Pepper Pesto Mix**
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped, shelled walnuts
First, assemble your batterie de cuisine. You'll need one
cooking pot, as well as another, smaller pot of at least 8-fluid-ounce
capacitya measuring cup or Sierra Club cup will do. Have a couple of
bowls or plates ready near your workspace, too. You'll need these bowls to
hold the pasta after it's cooked, while you're waiting for the sauce to
simmer. Note that you can double this recipe to feed more people by using
twice as much of each ingredientyou'll need larger pots, though.
Put 3-4 cups of water in a 2-quart pot, cover, and bring to a boil over
a high flame or hot fire. Once the water is boiling, add the capellini to
the pot. Keep the water at a rolling boil and stir the pasta occasionally
to prevent strands from sticking together. Boil the pasta for 4 to 5
minutes, or until done. How will you know? Tease a strand out of the pot
with a fork and bite through it. If it bites "clean," with just a bit of
resistance, it's al dentedone. And that's the tooth
sorry, truth. If you prefer a slightly more tender texture, just cook the
pasta another minute. Don't overcook it, though.
Now remove the pot from the flame. Lift the pasta out of the pot by the
fork-full and place it in one of the waiting bowls. Continue doing this
until all the capellini is fished out of the pot, dividing the pasta more
or less evenly between the bowls. Next, pour about 1 cup of the water you
used to boil the pasta into your smaller pot (or large cup). Discard any
water that remains, and then pour the saved "pasta water" back into
the cooking pot. (If your pasta absorbed so much water during cooking that
you don't have at least 1 cup, make up the difference with cold water.)
Finally, place the pot containing the pasta water back over a high
flame, and stir in the olive oil and the contents of the Knorr sauce
package. Once the pot starts to boil, reduce the flameor move the
pot to a cooler spot on the fireand allow the sauce to simmer for
about 3 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. Now remove the pot from
the heat, slide the pasta out of the bowls and into the pot, and "toss"
the pasta in the sauce until it's evenly coated. Next, add the grated
cheese and chopped walnuts to the pasta and toss again. Then dish the
pasta back into the bowls. If you're really hungry, serve with flatbread.
* Sometimes called "angel hair" pasta, capellini is similar to
spaghetti, but very, very thin. That's why it cooks so quickly. You can
substitute an equal amount of spaghetti or other pasta, but plan on longer
boiling times. Capellini and other long, thin pasta is difficult to pack,
but you can minimize breakage by snapping the strands in half.
In your kitchen at home, measure out half a pound or so of capellini
and set the long strands parallel to one another on the counter. Even up
the ends, and gather the pasta into a "log." Now grasp this log with both
hands, holding them close together near the midpoint. Then, keeping your
hands down near the work surface, break the entire log of pasta in two,
just like you'd snap a stick of kindling. Push the center away from you.
The outer ends should move toward your body. But be careful! Small pieces
of pasta will shoot away from the breaking strands. You don't want your
eye to stop one.
Once the long log has been broken in two, gather the smaller lengths
together into one thick, short log. Now put the pasta in a resealable
plastic bag, squeeze out the air, and close it up. Then place the plastic
bag in a paper lunch bag, rolling the paper around the pasta. Your pasta
is now protected by a jacket of plastic and paper, and because it's
reduced to a manageable length, it'll be a lot easier to packand
** Can't find Knorr Red Bell Pepper Pesto mix? Simply substitute
another pesto mix: Knorr Rosa Pesto, say, or Creamy Pesto, or Sun-Dried
Pesto. Your supermarket will probably stock different brands,
toogive any (or all) of them a try.
Are you convinced that it pays to go nuts? I hope so. If you'd like to
explore the possibilities yourself, just take a little time to see what
your local supermarket stocks. Be sure to check all the aisles, too,
particularly the "ethnic" foods section, the produce department, and the
baking supplies. And don't forget the snacks. Compare pricesI've
found identical products in two different displays, with widely divergent
Got a real deal on a bulk nut buy? Don't worry about storage. Even
shelled nuts keep well. Once you've opened the pouch, can, or jar that
they came in, transfer the nuts to a tightly-closed container and store in
your fridge or freezer. On a trip, just wrap nuts in doubled plastic bags,
seal the bags tightly, and then bury them deep in your pack, out of the
heat of sun. I've never had any trouble keeping nuts fresh under way, even
on trips as long as two months.
In-shell nuts keep for an even longer time, especially if they're
stored in a dark, cool place. It can be hard to find bulk in-shell nuts
outside the holiday season, though, and you won't want to take them on a
trip. The shells usually weigh as much as the kernels, after all. Why
carry the extra weight? But if you don't mind the labor of shelling them,
and if you have a place to store them, they can be a real bargain when
bought in bulk. Some specialty stores will sell in-shell nuts in lots of
fifty pounds or more. That's a lot of meals.
One final caution: Squirrels like nuts, right? So do mice and voles and
raccoons, and even skunks and bears. Both in the field and at home,
therefore, store your nuts securely. In our house, we use cheap
stainless-steel stockpots, lashing the lids down with bungee cords. In the
bush, we hang our food bags high. Sharing is good, but you're just plain
nuts if you feed the wildlife. You'll never outsmart all the squirrels, of
course, but you gotta try. Keep your nuts safe. And bon appetite!
Like what you've just read? There's plenty more where
this came from. Just visit the In the Same Boat Archives and read
whatever catches your eye.
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights