by Simon Box
Why eat badly when bushwalking? Or travelling in general? Food is not only fuel to keep you going but something to look forward to after hours on foot; a celebration of your achievements. After a day or days of pack walking there’s nothing better than tucking into delicious local food, prepared by someone else or me!
I have had a life-long fascination with cooking and food. I used to have a small stool in the kitchen and annoy Mum asking what she was doing at the cooker. My family grew all our own veggies, in the UK, and I have taken this up again since moving to Euroa (country Victoria) in 2013. I started hunting for food as a youngster too; Mum’s rule was: “you shoot something, you deal with it, cook it and eat it,” a principle I continue to follow.
I have cooked every day, apart from on some holidays, since I was 18, and I put a lot of effort into planning the food for our trips because I do not see why we should eat less well when we are travelling than when we are at home. I find it relaxing cooking at the end of the day, whether in a park cabin kitchen, or over an open fire or a portable gas cooker.
When travelling Mel and I always try to eat and drink local food and wine. Australia is a fantastic country for this as the ranges of both are fantastic. We have found some amazing local eateries across this country over the years and depending on our schedule and budget me might end up toasting our walking efforts in a simple fish and chip shop or a top-end restaurant.
On car journeys I pack a plastic tub containing all the oils, spices, sauces and other dried goods that I use at home. We take a Coleman cooker, which has a burner for boiling and a griddle burner that can be used to fry and grill. We recently bought a Ziegler and Brown grill/oven, too, which is fantastic, compact, efficient and allows me to not only grill but roast whole chickens or other meats; it will also cook pizzas because it easily reaches 400oC. When staying in BIG4 Holiday Parks I use the communal camp kitchens, which are generally well equipped, or the barbecues and save on setting up.
A pack hike is a totally different beast.
If we’re only out for one night I like to carry in some steak and vegetables for dinner and with a group walk you can spread the weight and take wine and some liqueur muscat too – always making sure we carry out all our empties. On longer pack walks it’s all about the weight on your back so we usually take commercial freeze-dried dinners (just add boiling water and stir). There is a wide selection of offerings and some are not bad; the curries and “hot” dishes actually have a kick (we’re planning a review later later in the year). The main brand of commercial hiking food we have used till now is Back Country Cuisine. We have found the 5-serve packs perfect for three people but when there’s just Mel and me we take 2-person meals and extra packets of mashed spud or vegetables.
Some of the freeze-dried desserts are pretty tasty too but we prefer twin-pack Aunt Betty’s steamed puddings with a carton of long-life cream. These are heavier so it’s an indulgence but sometimes a treat is just what you need. Or a hip flask of rum to add to a cup of sachet hot chocolate or coffee to make a hot toddy before climbing into your sleeping bag.
On overnight pack walks we might tuck into freeze-dried meals for lunch too but usually we take tortillas (because they pack flat and stay moist) and make wraps of foil sachet tuna/salmon or chicken with triangles of cheese and bean shoots. Yes, it does get monotonous and on the last day of the 6-day Carnarvon Great Walk, in Queensland, I couldn’t face another lunch of salmon wraps so we filled up (and emptied our packs) of jelly snakes and chocolate!
On day walks we lunch on sandwiches, fresh fruit, muesli bars and jelly snakes.
On longer walks I get the urge for that “Umami” hit and have found that a few pieces of thinly sliced biltong can satisfy that need. (We have recently bought a dehydrator and will be experimenting on some home grown veggies, maybe some casseroles and even our own version of biltong.)
So to finish. try and eat as well as you can carry as it really makes long day walks and multi-day hikes all the more enjoyable. Well, it does for me, anyway. Mind you I usually wake up thinking about what I am going to cook for dinner.
Happy cooking, eating and walking.