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Alimentary, My Dear

Fast Food Under Way — Focusing on Fruit

By Tamia Nelson

February 21, 2006

Despite what Mother said, an apple a day won't keep the doctor away. Still, there's no denying that apples and other fruit are good for you. Of course, that's not necessarily a compelling reason to eat anything, is it? But fruit is also delicious, and it travels well, into the bargain. Best of all, fruit is the original snack food. (Remember that scene in the Garden of Eden?) What could be easier than peeling a banana for a midmorning pick-me-up, after all? Well, how about downing a handful of raisins, gnawing a fruit-filled cookie bar, slathering jam on a slab of bannock, swilling fruit juice, or chewing fruit leather? With this many choices, it's no surprise that fruit is popular with many paddlers. Chances are you're one of them. If you're not, however, maybe it's time to think about adding fruit to your backcountry menu plan. This won't be difficult. Bringing fresh fruit along on a weekend adventure is a no-brainer, obviously, but even Big Trips take only a little more effort. That's where dried, freeze-dried, and canned fruit come to the fore. Make your local HyperMart your first stop, and you probably won't need to look further. Let's begin by rolling our cart through the Produce section while we check out the…

Fresh Fruit

Apples, oranges, and bananas are perennial favorites, but why stop there? Give grapes, peaches, pears, papayas, pomegranates, mangoes, and kiwi fruit a try, too. A cautionary word is in order here. You can't toss fresh fruit in a pack and expect to find anything more than a pulpy mess later on — though apples and oranges are happy exceptions to this rule. As long as nothing heavy is placed directly on them, they'll travel unprotected in the top of your food bag without complaint. Don't try this with kiwi fruit and pears, however, or with other thin-skinned, soft-fleshed fruits. These demand rigid containers and careful handling if they're going to be at their best. And speaking of fruit being at its best, give a thought to its keeping qualities when you shop. Buy fully ripe fruit only if you'll be eating it in a day or two. Otherwise, opt for "green" or unripened specimens. They'll ripen under way, and they'll stand up better to hard knocks in the meantime. Of course, in much of canoe country you may find ripe fruit free for the picking in summer. It's certainly tempting, but it's a temptation I try hard to resist, even in lightly-traveled backcountry areas. Why? Wildlife depend on wild fruit, and I figure they need it more than I do. I've yet to meet a bear (or a Canada jay) in the checkout line at the HyperMart.

Once you have your fruit, make the most of it. Add it to your morning cereal. Try a banana and peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Or how about taking a melon break in the middle of a long, hot summer afternoon? Yes, some melons are fragile (and all of them are heavy), but there's no shoreline treat quite like a cantaloupe, honeydew melon, or watermelon. And melon is equally welcome at dinnertime. Halve a cantaloupe or honeydew melon, remove the seeds, cut each half into thin wedges, and peel. Now wrap a slice of Black Forest ham or prosciutto around each wedge, or serve the melon alongside spicy satays. Delicious! (A couple of reminders: Pack out the melon peels, and be sure to keep the ham in a cooler till you serve it up.)

Fresh fruit can also be the star of a camp meal's salad course. Have a Waldorf salad with your melon and ham, for example, or toss orange or grapefruit segments with sliced red onions and fresh spinach leaves, dressing the salad with juice squeezed from a few of the segments and adding salt and ground pepper to taste. Or, if the evening is chill, how about heating your salad up? Wilt the spinach by sautéing the leaves in hot olive oil over the fire (for no more than a minute) before tossing the salad. Then add bright red pomegranate seeds for a splash of warm color, if you want. Before you know it, you'll be ready for dessert. Once again, fruit salad fills the bill. Drizzle a little maple syrup or honey over chopped fruit, then crumble amaretto, shortbread, or sugar cookies on top. Grape Nuts® make an interesting addition to a fruit salad, too, but choose something else if you have any doubts about your fillings.

We've only begun to explore our options. Why should dipping sauces be limited to meat? Cut fruit into bite-sized pieces, spear with a fork or skewer, and dip into ready-made fudge sauce heated over the fire. A little brandy stirred into the sauce makes it taste even better, as does finely-chopped candied ginger. Cheese and fruit also complement one another. Sliced apple goes well with wafers of Cheddar, for instance, and pears and blue cheese are natural partners, as are berries and Brie. Experiment to find which pairings work for you, and — this is one of the advantages of adventuring close to home — don't forget the wine. Sherry and Port are traditional accompaniments for a fruit or cheese course.

OK. We've seen what the Fresh Produce section has to offer. Now let's check out the…

Canned and Dried Fruits

Fresh fruit has its limits, of course, and you won't find it on many Big Trip menus after the first week. This is where canned, dried, and freeze-dried fruits come into their own. Yes, cans are heavy. They're also banned in many parks. But anywhere canned foods are allowed, a tin of peaches is a taste of paradise, especially after five fruitless days. And you're not limited to eating peaches out of the tin. In fact, you can do just about anything with dried or tinned fruit that you can do with fresh. Prunes — today's ad copywriters prefer "dried plums" for some reason — have long been a breakfast staple in some households, and you'll be missing out on something good if you wait till your dotage to enjoy them. They're also a delightful high-energy snack under way. Farwell often refuels the engine on his amphibious bike with a mixture of prunes, figs, and raisins. (He says the "afterburner effect" helps him battle headwinds, as well.) If you want to be fancy, just slice or cube dried fruit into your breakfast cereal, or mix up your own fruit-rich granola before you head out to the put-in. (Granola also makes a mighty fine midmorning or midafternoon snack.)

Come dinnertime, add dried or canned fruit to stews, soups, or rice — pre-packaged rice dishes are especially easy to assemble. Couscous is another quick-and-easy base for a main dish, and dried fruit is a great addition here, too. Or make a simple one-pot meal by heating up canned beef stew, seasoned with a little curry powder and garnished with a handful of dried apricots. Serve it topped with slivered almonds or other nuts. Where cans are prohibited, try dried soups instead. Lipton's Cup-a-Soup® line is always worth investigating, even if my favorite (Green Pea) is no longer available. Banana chips go well with Spicy Thai Chicken, as does dried coconut, and sliced dried apples and curry powder transform Cream-of-Chicken into a pretty fair imitation of mulligatawny. These are just two of many possibilities, of course. Experiment.

Dried fruit won't let you down at the end of the meal, either. If dessert makes your day, try home-baked fruit bars or thumbprint cookies with a piece of dried fruit in the central crater. Or add fruit to oatmeal bars. These make handy traveling rations, too. And if you ever hear that…

The Fruit's in the Fire…

Don't dial 911. Grab your spoon, instead. Stewed fruit and simple crisps and cobblers can be made on any portable stove or campfire by simmering canned, dried, or fresh fruit with spices. If you use canned fruit, the syrup even doubles as the cooking liquid. Otherwise, use clean water. Don't drown your fruit, however. Just add enough liquid to barely cover it. On the other hand, if there isn't quite enough syrup to do the trick, simply add water. Then stir in some sugar and spices. (A cinnamon stick or a bit of nutmeg, perhaps.) Go easy on the sugar, however. Most canned fruit is plenty sweet already. Now simmer in a covered pot for as long as it takes to soften the fruit and make a thick sauce. It shouldn't take very long: 10 minutes at the most. That's it. But don't be in too much of a hurry to eat. Syrupy sauces are VERY hot. Unless you really like blisters on your tongue, give your creation a few minutes to cool. Or would you prefer a fruit crisp, instead? No problem. Just crumble sugar cookies or granola over the stewed fruit. Few field kitchen expedients are half so satisfying.

Then again, maybe you fancy a sautéed dessert. If you still have some fresh fruit in your pack, you're in luck. Melt margarine or butter in a skillet over a moderate flame. (WARNING! The combination of cast iron and strongly acidic fruits isn't a happy one.) Next, sauté whole bananas, apple rings, orange segments, or sliced peaches (or pears) in the pan, turning occasionally. When the fruit is heated through, sprinkle with sugar and allow the sweet coating to caramelize slightly before serving. (A hint for easier clean-up: Immediately after spooning out the hot fruit and syrup, put enough water in the skillet to cover the bottom and leave it to soak until it's time to do the dishes. This will loosen any stuck-on bits.) Too much trouble? Cooking fresh fruit directly over the fire is even easier than sautéing it. Make fruit kebabs by skewering fresh fruit on bamboo slivers. Hold these over the fire and cook for about five minutes, turning the skewers constantly. Finally, dip the hot fruit in sugar or honey and return it to the fire only long enough to caramelize the coating — it takes just a minute or two. Eat your treats carefully, though. They're hot!

With so many choices, there's no reason why you have to limit yourself to an apple a day under way. How about an orange, a banana, a pineapple, or a mango, instead? Explore the aisles at your local HyperMart. Then experiment at home and adapt the recipes that win your personal seal of approval, taking into account the limitations of backcountry kitchens. Now you're ready to pack up and go. Just remember — for fast food and quick energy underway, keep focusing on fruit. You won't regret it!

Copyright 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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