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Off the Beeton Track

Navigating Through Ten Years of "Alimentary, My Dear"

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

January 19, 2010 Camp Cooking

I've been writing about backcountry cookery for ten years now. The result? Seventy‑seven columns headed "Alimentary, My Dear." That's around 160,000 words in all — two or three cookbooks' worth. It's no surprise, then, that newcomers to Paddling.net are often daunted by the long list of titles. Sometimes they write to ask questions that I've already answered. But those answers are buried deep in the archives. Even I occasionally have trouble finding my way to the right place in the right article.

That's where "Off the Beeton Track" comes in. This isn't a typo, by the way. Mrs. Isabella Mary Beeton wrote the first cookbook ever to achieve best‑seller status. The year was 1861. Published under a title that ran on for 58 words, her Book of Household Management was 1112 pages long and contained some 900 recipes. And though Mrs. Beeton didn't have much to say about backcountry cooking — hence "Off the Beeton Track" — she seems to have been keen on picnics. Household Management contains a "Bill of Fare for a Picnic for 40 Persons," as well as a list of "Things not to be forgotten at a Picnic." These included a "stick of horseradish" and no less than three corkscrews, proving that Baden‑Powell wasn't the first person to understand the importance of being prepared for every eventuality.

In any event, while "Alimentary, My Dear" doesn't (yet) run to the equivalent of 1112 pages, and I'm afraid I've nothing to add to Mrs. Beeton's excellent advice on such things as interviewing would‑be butlers and wet‑nurses, the "Alimentary" archive has grown to the point where many folks need a little help finding their way around. To that end, if you're in the mood to browse, the following links will take you right to the topic that interests you:

 

Or do you prefer the question‑and‑answer approach? If so, read on…

No‑Cook Meals

I don't like to bother with cooking when I camp. In fact, I don't really like to cook at all. Pre‑packaged, freeze‑dried meals are one answer to this problem, I know, but they're not cheap, and the makers' idea of what "Serves Four" isn't always the same as mine. Is there some way I can put together a meal without having to cook?

Yes, there is. If you don't mind boiling water or heating food in a pot or pan — and you'd have to do this with most freeze‑dried entrées — then there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy hot meals and generous portions, even if you don't like to cook. Just check out…

Then again, you may prefer to steer a middle course…

Minimalist Meals

I don't mind cooking in camp, but I like to keep things simple: few ingredients, easy preparation, no pot‑juggling. Have you got anything to help me plan simple dinners?

You bet I do!

Or are you just in a hurry?

Fast Food in Camp

I love to cook, but on most days I want a meal that comes together fast, saving on fuel and giving me more time to kick back and relax. In other words, I want fast food under way. Any ideas?

Sure. In addition to the articles I've just listed, take a look at these:

Of course, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Fast food doesn't have to be the backcountry equivalent of a burger and fries. It can be as elaborate as you want to make it. One way to save time is to do the prep work before the trip, in your kitchen at home…

Homework That Saves You Time

I really like to feast in camp, and I don't mind doing extra work at home. A few more pounds in my pack aren't a problem either. Suggestions?

Well, if you're able to keep food at a safe temperature while paddling, then the sky's the limit — at least for a couple of days, until the ice melts. These articles explore the possibilities:

Quick bread always makes me think of breakfast. And I'm not alone. Even for paddlers who usually breakfast on nothing more than a cup of black coffee, this is the most important meal of the day. After all, it puts fuel in your tank for the long miles to come.

Breezing Through Breakfast

Breakfast at home is just a cup of coffee. That's nowhere near enough when I'm paddling, though. How can I get a good start on the day?

Easy. You'll find lots of ideas here:

Breakfast in the backcountry used to mean beans and bacon or ham and eggs. But a lot of folks are now saying, "Hold the bacon." And not only at breakfast time…

Meatless Meals

Most of the camp menus I've seen are built around meat and meat dishes. But I don't eat meat. Will this be a problem?

No way! To begin with, you're not alone — as a quick check of the shelves in any HyperMart will confirm. So there's no reason why you can't build a camp menu without meat. These articles will get you started:

Going meatless is one thing. Doing without meat, eggs, and milk is another. Still, there's little doubt that vegan meals are growing in popularity.

Vegan Variations

I'm a vegan, and I'd like some help putting together a menu for paddling trips.

Chances are good that you need less help than you think. Vegans are no strangers to the need for careful planning. It's not all hard work, though. In fact, a vegan menu eliminates many food‑storage and transport problems. My "Meatless Meal" articles are a good place to begin exploring the possibilities, but don't stop there. Take a look at…

News flash: Pizza is one dish that lends itself readily to meatless (and even dairyless) meals. But that's just the start…

Pizza on the Go

I love pizza. Can I make it in camp?

You certainly can. Here's how:

As popular as vegetarian and vegan meals are, however, most of the paddlers that I know are still omnivores. Which insures that two staple foods will find a place in most camp menus for some time to come:

Eggs and Meat

A meal without meat is incomplete. At least that's how I feel. What are the choices for backcountry travelers who feel empty without a meat course? And while we're at it, what about eggs? They're not just for breakfast, after all.

Meat, eggs, and dairy products are versatile ingredients, but they aren't always good travelers. Paddlers who depend on them have to think ahead and plan carefully, particularly on longer trips. Here are my suggestions:

Meat and milk may require kid‑glove treatment in the food pack, but pasta's a great traveler, ideally suited to the rough‑and‑tumble life. Just keep it dry.

Everything Pasta

I can't get enough pasta! Any hints on making it a regular entry on my camp menu?

I've got a few. (Pasta's one of my favorites, too.) Take a look at…

OK. Some folks find pasta boring. Not me, though. What's my secret? Easy…

Boredom Beaters

Camp meals are so bland! Is there some way to liven them up?

In a word: yes. Flavor and texture are the Forces behind good eating. And here's how to make sure the Forces are always with you:

Speaking of good food, is there any paddler, anywhere, who doesn't crave a sweet dessert from time to time?

Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth

I don't care what I have for dinner, just as long as there's something sweet to follow. Ideas, please!

Where to begin? Well, these will do for starters…

Sweet tooth or not, few paddlers feel that a meal is complete without something baked. And that can be a problem…

The Baker's Art

I bake all the time at home, but I haven't yet attempted it in camp. It seems pretty daunting. Should I give it a try?

Why not? Reflector ovens and Dutch ovens both have their supporters, as do a number of add‑on gadgets for camp stoves, but you can do a lot with nothing more than a cast‑iron skillet. Take a look at…

Has lugging that Dutch oven over the hills made you tired? How about exhausted? If so, you've got a lot of company. Who isn't worn out at the end of a hard day? (Or at the bottom of a gnarly drop, for that matter.) And what's the secret to bouncing back? Easy. It's just a question of…

Topping Up Your Tank

I'm full of energy in the morning, but after a couple of hours of paddling, I'm ready to call it quits. Help!

If you're otherwise healthy — check with your doctor to be sure — it's probably just The Bonk. In other words, you're running on empty, and you need to top up your tank. Here's how:

Exhausted paddlers — not to mention cyclists and runners — where once revived with a tot of brandy, but this dubious "remedy" went out with bloomers and straw boaters. Nowadays, prudent canoeists and kayakers wait until they make camp before uncorking a bottle or uncapping a brew. Still, there's no doubt that a drink at the end of the day can…

Lift Your Spirits

I like a glass of wine with dinner, and I'm not adverse to a cup of grog on chilly evenings. What do you say to that?

Cheers! After all — to borrow the words of Jerome K. Jerome — thirst is a dangerous thing…

Sadly, though, the moment always comes when you drain the final drops from the bottle. All good things must come to an end. And the last day of a canoeing or kayaking trip can be a frenzy of activity, culminating in a long drive back to a dark and empty house. It's at times like these that a hearty meal is really appreciated.

After the Trip

I like a good meal when I get home from the take‑out, but don't want to spend hours in the kitchen after a long day. Am I stuck with a fast‑food burger‑in‑a‑box?

No. If you're willing to do a bit of work before you leave for the put‑in, you can sit down to a hearty, home‑cooked meal on your return — and you won't have to spend hours preparing it. Your refrigerator and freezer are your best friends here. Just take your ready‑made meal out of the fridge and pop it into the oven or onto the stovetop. By the time you've finished stowing your gear and taken a quick shower, your dinner will be done. Here are a few of my favorite post‑trip treats:

No time to prepare in advance? No problem. You can still give the BlutoBurger a miss. Just stop in at the HyperMart on your way home, instead, and pick up a roasted chicken at the deli counter. Now you've got the makings of a real meal.

 

So far, I've dwelt largely on the pleasures of eating. But eating is only half the story, isn't it? What goes in must come out. Sooner or later. And that's the problem. Or at least it can be. Luckily, the remedy is as close as your food bag.

Keeping Things Moving

I know this isn't the most appetizing of subjects, but I have…well…digestive problems when camping, especially on longer trips. Do I have to resort to a psyllium slurry to keep things moving along, or is there some more palatable alternative?

Good question. If you're regularly irregular, so to speak, it would be a very good idea to check with your doctor. But if the problem only surfaces when you're camping, it's a pretty good bet that you can, er, put it behind you, simply by drinking more and upping your intake of what Farwell's mother used to call "roughage" — fiber‑rich whole‑grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. You'll find a wide range of possibilities here:

And then there's the other end of the spectrum of digestive disorders, those times when your body's throughput increases well past the comfort threshold. Which only goes to show, once again, that Mae West was wrong: Too much of some good things are anything but wonderful…

Not Hot to Trot

I had a terrible case of the runs on my last paddling trip, and I'd like to avoid repeating the experience. Any advice?

Unless you were harboring a bug when you started your trip, the most likely villain is either spoiled food or contaminated water. The remedies? Good housekeeping and good hygiene. Treat or filter all water. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Wash your hands often, and take as much care cleaning up after meals as you do at home. It's a nuisance, to be sure, but compared to dysentery… Here are some articles that may help:

 

Let's return to more pleasant matters, shall we? It's winter in Canoe Country now, but spring is on the way. So it's not too soon to start planning for next season's adventures…

Tips for Your Big Trip

I'm off on a big trip this summer, and I'd welcome a little advice on planning a menu.

The longer the trip, the more important it is to plan ahead, and the more difficult the menu‑planner's job. No one likes going hungry, and you'll need to take everyone's needs and preferences into account. Still, fortune favors the prepared camp cook. It's a big job, but it's not too big — if you start early. Here we go:

Lastly, I can't leave the subject without considering the cook's best friend: fire…

Burning Issues

I've always lugged a heavy, two‑burner Coleman stove along on my trips, but the last portage I crawled over convinced me that the time had come for me to lighten up. What are my options?

Simply put, you can pack heat or scrounge for it. Wood fires are welcome on cold nights, and they're a venerable backcountry tradition, but they're flat‑out illegal in many places, and even where (and when) they're permitted, they're both fussy and time‑consuming. A lightweight, single‑burner stove is usually a much better bet. The following articles explore both approaches:

That's it. I hope my summary has shed some light on this most important subject. Bon appétit!

 

Soup's On

 

How about it? Are you ready to venture off the Beeton track? Do you have a question about some aspect of backcountry cooking? Or maybe you just need a little help finding your way around the 77 previously published columns in this series. If so, the signposts and shortcuts above should do the trick. But if they don't, drop me a line. Who knows? The answer to your question might become part of the as‑yet‑to‑be‑written 79th column. And that's alimentary.

Copyright © 2010 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.






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