Paddlers, Pots, and Pasta

Paddlers use my food dehydrating and vacuum sealing techniques to keep their food rations light and dry on multi-day trips. This month’s cover features Alan Crawford from Rome, Georgia. Alan organizes paddling trips for the Coosa River Basin Initiative. I met Alan because I used to organize paddling trips for the Upper Etowah River Alliance and Alan and I were planning a joint outing for both organizations.

I had no idea, until he pulled a wheelchair out of his truck, that he is a paraplegic. Alan uses a customized kayak trailer to help him get on and off the river with a little help from his friends. Alan is currently assisting CRBI with a new program that offers paddling instruction and outings for people with disabilities. He also participates in competitive handcycling. Alan inspires me and I think of him sometimes when I feel like complaining about my sore knees.

Recently Submitted Backpacking Recipes:

  • Cajun Red Beans and Rice by Poet
  • Apple Jerky by Al Rutherford
  • Apple Crumble by Brian McGregor

Click here to see these new backpacking recipes or to submit one of your own.

Q & A From the Mail Bag:

Dennis: How do you clean your pots? The meals sound tasty but messy.

Chef Glenn: First, I eat every last morsel and clean the inside of the pot with my spoon. The pot is 99% clean at this point. Then I pour a little water, not much, in the pot and go around the inside of the pot with my spoon again. I drink this tiny bit of water and then I wipe and dry the pot with a paper towel.

I don't pour anything that has trace food odors on the ground in camping areas, so that is why I drink the little bit of water that I use to clean the pot. My meals have no oil or just a tiny bit, so clean-up is easy. I clean the pot thoroughly with soap when I get to a place with a kitchen if I remember to do it.

If you vacuum seal your daily rations like I do, you can enclose two paper towels per day. The paper towels that are perforated into half-sheet sizes provide you with a fresh sheet for each cleaning. I write the day’s menu on one paper towel. Enclosing one or two paper towels in the vacuum seal bag also helps prevent the bag from losing its seal by cushioning the bag lining from any sharp food items.

I also carry thin 1” squares of soap-less pot scrubber pads cut from the larger size in case if any food were to get scorched to the bottom of the pot. I start out a trip with a couple of these mini-pads and pack a couple in my resupply boxes. In hundreds of meals cooked on the trail, I have rarely used them. I cook my meals with enough water to prevent scorching. You have to be careful to use enough water when cooking highly absorbent starches like couscous and grits.

Margaret: I use a freezer bag and cozy to cook my food. I hate cooking in my pot because I don't want to clean it. Are most of your recipes good for reheating in a cozy, or do most need to boil in the water for a while?

Chef Glenn: You can heat and rehydrate the meals freezer bag style by adding boiled water to the food in the freezer bag and then waiting about 20 minutes. Here are some tips if you want to cook that way:

1. For macaroni, substitute ramen noodles, angel hair pasta, fine-gauge egg noodles, or use precooked and dehydrated macaroni. In my experiments I found that macaroni straight out of the box stays too chewy if not boiled for at least two minutes followed by cozy time. Precooking and dehydrating macaroni solves the problem.

2. Precook vegetables by steaming for 8 – 10 minutes before dehydrating. I don't precook onions, peppers, mushrooms, or tomatoes... just the vegetables I would normally cook for a meal at home like corn, green beans, carrots, broccoli, etc. Precooking allows you to heat and rehydrate, but not cook in the bag since the temperature would not be sufficient for actual cooking. I precook these vegetables for my pot-cooked meals also these days since I often heat them over candles.

My trail dining preference is to cook and eat right out of the pot since cleanup is not a problem for me. I enjoy eating out of a pot more than eating out of a plastic bag. Pot-cooked meals benefit from soaking the dehydrated ingredients prior to and during the heating process and being able to sustain a boil for a minute or two. However, you can heat and rehydrate my backpacking recipes freezer bag style. It really just “boils” down to what YOUR preference is and making a few adjustments.

Adam: When a recipe calls for noodles do you precook them at home or just throw them in as you normally would on the trail? Two minutes in boiling water doesn’t seem like enough to cook noodles. Is the sitting for ten minutes what cooks them all the way?

Chef Glenn: When cooking noodles (macaroni) in a pot on the trail put the macaroni and other ingredients in the pot with the water called for in the recipe. Soak for five minutes. Light the stove and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for two minutes and then place the pot in cozy or insulate in some other way for ten minutes. A pot cozy will hold a high temperature in the pot and continue the cooking process. Your macaroni will be firm, but tender.

When on the trail, I don’t cook pasta like I would at home in a large quantity of water which would have to be poured off. The meals have a little more starch, but I count that as a benefit.

Dehydrating Pasta

It is not necessary to precook and dehydrate macaroni for pot-cooked meals, but you may want to precook and dehydrate it first if you cook in a freezer bag. Use the small macaroni that comes in a macaroni & cheese box such as spirals or small shells. Drying elbow style macaroni could be a problem because you can’t tell if the inside of the macaroni is completely dry. You want the hot dehydrator air to reach all parts of the macaroni equally. If all you have is elbow style macaroni, dry it a little longer.

Boil macaroni in a pot of water for six minutes. You want it to be cooked through but still firm. Drain and dehydrate at 125° for about two hours making sure that none of the macaroni is stuck together. It will feel very similar to uncooked macaroni when dry, but will be slightly larger. Increase the quantity called for in the recipe by a couple of tablespoons.

To test this, I put ½ cup of uncooked macaroni in a freezer bag with an equal quantity of boiled water and did the same with dehydrated macaroni. The uncooked macaroni did not cook sufficiently in the bag and was still hard inside, but the dehydrated macaroni rehydrated well and was tender.

As mentioned earlier, ramen noodles, angel hair pasta, and fine-gauge egg noodles can be cooked freezer bag style without dehydrating first.

Back in Georgia

I'm back in Georgia for some spring hiking and home improvement projects. It was nice to hike the Coosa Backcountry Trail at Vogel State Park on Saturday with good friends. Several scout groups were training for their upcoming trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. All that walking and cycling I've been doing in Switzerland has paid off as I had plenty of energy for this moderate to strenuous rated trail. Trillium, Pink Lady Slippers, and yellow and orange Flame Azaleas were in bloom. I cleared a small tangle of pine boughs that had fallen on the trail and enjoyed the scent of pine sap on my hands. The last three miles were downhill following a cascading mountain creek. I couldn't resist drinking from it and sticking my head under one of the little waterfalls. We are blessed to have beautiful wilderness in North Georgia and several organizations to look after it.

Warmest regards,

Chef Glenn & Dominique

PS If you have comments or questions about this issue of Trail Bytes, please write to me on my contact page.

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