Alimentary, My Dear
Fruit for Thought
By Tamia Nelson
June 18, 2002
Fruit's good for you, right? No surprise
there. Horrible things happen to people who don't eat fruit. Take scurvy,
for example. It's all but unknown today, thanks to orange juice
concentrate and multivitamin pills, but it was the common lot of mariners
and explorers well into the nineteenth century. And it took an awful toll:
sixty-one sailors accompanying Danish explorer Jens Munk to Hudson's Bay
in 1619 died of its effects, writhing in agony "as if a thousand knives
had been thrust" into their joints. Even three centuries later, members of
the Franklin Expeditionthe best-equipped arctic expedition the world
had ever seenfell victim to the same awful scourge. It probably
didn't kill any of Franklin's crew outright, but it made them weak just
when they needed all their strength to survive. That was enough. None of
them made it home.
Tales like this are ancient history now, of course. No modern canoeist
or kayaker is likely to suffer from scurvy. Still, there are other good
reasons to eat fruit. It tastes great, for one thing, and that's enough
for most of us. I know it is for me.
Unfortunately, fresh fruit doesn't travel well. Taking fruit along on a
day trip is easy, though, and it's not much more difficult on a weekend
paddle. Apples and oranges are obvious choices. (But orange peels don't
biodegrade readily in most climates. Pack them out.) With a little care,
you can even bring delicate fruits like bananas, peaches and pears. Just
be sure to pack them carefully, so they won't be crushed by heavier items.
On longer trips, your best bet is dried fruit. Yes, you can
forage for berries and other wild foods. It's fun, to be sure, but you
shouldn't count on finding a berry bush at every meal stop. And the
resident wildlife depend on the fruit of the land to survive. They can't
go the supermarket. We can. So it's best if we bring our own food with us
when we visit the backcountry. Happily, there are more kinds of dried and
dehydrated fruit available than ever before. Even rural supermarkets stock
the "old reliables": raisins and currants, apricots, banana chips, prunes,
apple rings, "mixed fruit," dates, and figs. All these are available in
sealed packets, and most are good. You can even find coconut flakes in the
And don't neglect the produce section, where you'll find such
previously unheard-of dried delicacies as cherries, cranberries, and
blueberries. They all taste wonderful when eaten out of hand, either on
their own or added to your favorite trail mix. Do you crave backcountry
fast food? Then scan the snack and cookie shelves for fruit bars and fruit
Want even more choices? Head for your local food co-op or health food
store. Our co-op carries dried papaya, pineapples, and peaches, along with
dried lime, orange and lemon peel. These dried peels are sometimes called
"zest," and they're aptly namedthey're unmatched flavor-enhancers.
There's no limit to the possibilities of fruit. Eaten straight,
probably nothing has more appeal on a hot summer afternoon than an orange.
A banana is another quick treat. (Bananas, too, have slow-to-biodegrade
peels. So pack 'em out.) Too dull? Then let your imagination off the
leash! Have you ever tried fried bananas? Peel a banana, roll it in sugar,
and then sauté in butter or margarine. Sprinkle with cinnamon or
nutmeg and serve. If you're really adventurous, drizzle some rum over the
banana while it's still in the skilletbut step away from the fire
Fruit kebabs are another fireside treat for overnight trips. Begin your
preparations at home. Put any or all of the following into a sealed
plastic container: large chunks of pineapple, orange segments, halved
apricots, quartered peaches, unripe banana slices, and wedges cut from
apples or pears. Now squeeze a little lemon juice over the cut fruit to
prevent discoloration. Once in camp, thread the fruit onto skewers,
sprinkle with sugar, and hold over hot coals for 5-10 minutes, turning the
skewers occasionally. The heat of the fire will caramelize the sugar.
Longer trips mean dried fruit, and dried fruit has a bad rep. That's
too bad. While it's not as succulent as fresh, it's every bit as
versatile. Stewed dried fruit is especially good, and it's easy to
prepare, too. Just choose whatever fruitor combination of
fruitscatches your fancy. Once you've made your choice, put 2 or 3
ounces per person into a pot and add enough water to cover the fruit to
the depth of one inch. If you can, soak overnight to reduce cooking time,
but if this isn't practical, simply put it directly on the stove. Cover
the pot and bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer
until a thick syrup forms and the fruit is tender. Now remove from the
heat and allow to cool somewhat before serving, adding maple syrup or
chopped nuts to taste. (Try pistachios or walnuts.) Stewed fruit is great
at either end of the day: it makes both an energy-enhancing breakfast
and a delicious dessert.
Feeling creative? Add dumplings to stewed fruit and you end up with a
dessert very much like a cobbler. It's not hard to do. Just whisk up a
basic buttermilk dumpling mix in a bowl or pot. Then stew your fruit as
above, adding enough extra water to allow for absorption by the dumplings.
When the water begins to boil, reduce the heat and drop batter into the
bubbling liquid a spoonful at a time. Cover the pot and simmer until the
dumplings are cooked through. (This usually takes about 10 minutes.) Test
for doneness by thrusting a clean sliver of wood into a dumpling. If the
sliver comes out as clean as it went in, then the dumplings are cooked
Fruit isn't only for dessert or breakfast, of course. People have been
adding fruit to their main dishes for centuries. Pork, game, and fowl
dishes often include apples, prunes, raisins, or other fruit. To get an
idea of the possibilities, give cock-a-leekie soup a try. In the
supermarket, look for a leek soup mix. (Knorr makes one, and there are
others that are equally good. If you can't find leek, use a chicken soup
mix.) You'll also need a small can of chicken and 1/4 cup of prunes. Slice
the prunes into strips. Prepare the soup according to package directions.
When the soup's done, stir in the chicken and prunes and continue cooking
until the chicken is hot. Serve and enjoy!
For something more exotic still, try mulligatawny. Born on the Indian
subcontinent, this highly-seasoned soup was adopted by the British Raj,
who soon made it their own. The exact ingredient list differs depending on
whom you talk to, but chicken, raisins, and apples figure prominently in
most versions. So, too, does curry.
Complicated? Not at all. You'll need a tablespoon of curry powder, some
dried apples and raisins, a packet of chicken soup mix (chicken noodle
works fine), half a cup of white rice, andfor big appetitesa
small can of precooked chicken. In camp, heat a little oil in the bottom
of a pot, chop apples into the oil, and then stir in the curry powder.
Prepare the soup in the same pot. Since you'll be cooking rice, though, be
sure to add one cup more water than is called for in the directions
on the soup packet. Then, when the soup is boiling, stir in the rice and
simmer until the grains are tender. Now add the raisins and the precooked
chicken, heat for a few minutes more, and serve.
As mulligatawny proves, rice and fruit go together. For a change from
your usual camp fare, mix raisins and chopped, dried apricots into rice
pilaf or couscous. The result? A tasty and nutritious meal. Here's a
chance to use that "zest" I mentioned earlier: chopped lemon, lime, or
orange peel adds a wonderfully tangy note to rice dishes like these.
And the subcontinent's gifts to the western tables don't end with
mulligatawny. Try adding chutneya sweet and sour fruit
condimentto pilafs or couscous. I like to make a wild rice pilaf,
stir in some slivered almonds, and add a couple of spoonfuls of Major
Grey's Mango Chutney. Delicious! Chutney also tempers the heat of curries
and other spicy meals. (If you decide to follow the Major into the field,
however, you'll want to repackage his chutney before you go. Glass jars
don't belong in the backcountry.)
This is only the beginning. Supermarket shelves bulge with
easy-to-prepare ethnic meals. Pair a Thai dish with plum sauce. Or cook up
a pot of spicy black beans with rice, and garnish with chopped, dried
mango and lime juice. Explore. Experiment. Use your imagination.
Now let's get back to basics. At home or afloat, apple crisp is a
favorite dish, and it's as American as
apple crisp. Outdoor
baking can be a hassle, though, so here's a stove-top (or camp-fire) crisp
that'll satisfy most palates:
No-Bake Apple Crisp
4 ounces dried apples
1/4 - 1/2 cup brown (or white) sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
water sufficient to cover apples
1 cup of your favorite granola
Place apples in a pot, then stir in cinnamon, nutmeg andif you're
feeling adventurouscardamom, too. Add water until the fruit is
immersed to a depth of one inch. (To reduce cooking time, soak the fruit
for several hours.) Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and then
reduce the heat or move the pot to a cooler part of the fire. Now simmer
until the apples are tender and a thickened syrup forms. This usually
takes from 10 to 20 minutes. Finally, stir in the granola and cook a
little while longer. Serve warm.
A tip: Measure out the spices and apples at home and mix them together.
Store in a double plastic bag. This will make preparation in camp easy and
Apples. Apricots. Raisins. Even mango chutney. With so many delicious
choices, there's no reason for backcountry meals to be dull, is there?
It's fruit for thought. Bon appétit!
Copyright © 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights