Here it is. And I so wanted to like it. Oh well. Edit away.
Hiker's Guide To Preparing Home-Cooked Meals On The Trail
March 29, 2004
Name: Jim Hatch
Height: 5'9" (1.8 m)
Weight: 180 lbs (82 kg)
Cooking Style: Former Betty Crocker Award winner
City/State: Simsbury, Connecticut
Date: March 29, 2004
I've been backpacking and camping for 30 years (ever since I was a Boy
Scout). I'm out at least once a month for a weekend or more and for 5
nights several times during the year. Most of my backpacking is done
in the mountains of the East Coast (Appalachians, Whites, Berkshires,
Adirondacks), but I will occasionally camp as far south as the Florida
Keys or as far west as the Grand Canyon. Having tired of 60 lb (27 kg)
loads, I caught the lightweight bug about 5 years ago and am currently
carrying a base pack weight of 10 lbs (4.5 kg) before food and fuel
and rarely venture out with more than 20 lbs (9 kg) anymore. I am a
hammock camper for most of the year, using a tent only during winter
(under duress). I eat well by carrying dehydrated or home-cooked and
vacuum packed food. I try not to sacrifice a happy stomach just in
order to shave a few ounces or grams of weight.
Author: Steven A. Mroz
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Size: 6 in X 9 in (15 cm X 23 cm), 114 pages
The Guide arrived in a standard padded mailing envelope in excellent
condition along with a brief note from Steven Mroz (the author)
letting me know the book was a "proof copy" and that there are "ten
typos or misspelled words" that are being corrected by the publisher.
He also encouraged me to drop him an email if I have any questions or
concerns. A very friendly start.
I quickly scanned the table of contents and leafed through the book to
see what the recipes looked like. The recipe categories looked pretty
standard for a backpacking cookbook but there were a couple of items
that stood out requiring immediate reading -- a chapter on "The
Backpacker's Oven" and "Delectables". Paging through to the
"Delectables" chapter I noticed that the format of the book is
basically one recipe per page so there is a lot of white space as most
recipes are only a half-page in size. Reaching the "Delectables"
chapter I scanned the list of recipes and admit to some confusion.
The following recipes are classified as "Delectables" -- brown rice,
noodles, barley, couscous, hash browns, beef jerky, fruit leather,
tofu, baked beans, and tomatoes. I had expected something more in the
line of desserts rather than what I consider to be side dishes. Oh
well, back to the oven chapter.
Here I encountered the first of the typos I had been warned about.
Since typos don't affect the quality of the food, I'm not going to
report on those except to say that there are more than the reported
"ten typos". I hope the publisher found the rest. This chapter
contains instructions on how to build a small "oven" to be used to
bake items that don't require extensive baking times (muffins,
biscuits, etc. versus lasagna for instance). On the first read through
I scratched my head. This chapter could certainly use a diagram or
two. A couple more readings and I got the jist of constructing the
oven. However, I also discovered that I need a Sierra Zip Stove and a
specific pot to make some of these recipes. Of course, if I don't have
one, I'm told I can modify the oven building directions to match the
stove & pot combination that I do happen to have. Okay, table that.
I'm good for experimenting so I set aside the oven issues and settled
back for a cover-to-cover read.
Before I proceed, a brief note about the "publisher" is in order. In
the typical book publishing world an author works with a publisher who
selects book projects based on their sales potential. The publisher
usually assigns an editor who works with the author on several drafts
until it is ready for publication. The publisher pays for any editing
and the book doesn't go out until the publisher and editor are happy
with the end product. Many books will have advance copies sent to
various industry spokespeople, other authors, or anyone the publisher
believes will write a review worthy of quoting. They use these quotes
for the book jacket or back cover as appropriate. Then they print a
large number of copies, ship them to distributors and from there to
bookstores across the land. Some books will be specifically promoted
with displays and targeted advertising.
Trafford is different. They are a "self-publishing" house. In this
case, an author provides the copy and Trafford provides
publishing-on-demand services as well as order fulfillment and
shipping functions. The author pays an initial setup fee and for any
extra services like illustration or editing that they think are
needed. The author is also responsible for marketing efforts to get
buyers directed to Trafford's website where they can place their book
order. Once ordered, Trafford handles the credit card billing and
prints the book for shipment directly to the consumer.
This is a wonderful system for niche books where the potential
readership is too small to interest a major (or even minor) publishing
house. It's also cheaper than many other "self-publishing" options.
However, authors need to take more responsibility up front to be
successful. This is important because "The Hiker's Guide To Preparing
Home-Cooked Meals On The Trail" (The Guide) is very much a reflection
of Steven Mroz's abilities in these other areas (most especially
editing). To be succinct, Steve needs an editor...badly. Whatever they
say about lawyers representing themselves applies equally to authors
who are their own editors. While I generally applaud anyone who takes
the initiative to step outside normal processes and gets things done
on their own, I can't say Steve is well served by the lack of
professional publishing discipline. There are far more than "ten typos
or misspelled words" sprinkled throughout the convoluted and ponderous
writing. My advice to Steven is to run without delay to an editor
(Trafford offers this service for an added fee). Were I to pick this
book up in a bookstore or library I would have dropped it after
reading the first couple of pages--and that's without ever having
tried a single recipe.
Steven has a degree in Classical Languages (ancient Greek and Latin)
and his writing seems to reflect an attempt to bring extraneous and
irrelevant bits of that education to light. It also seems to reflect a
poor mastery of concise, tight, focused writing which may be endemic
to classical linguists but certainly has no place in a cookbook. For
example, the Introduction wanders from literary allusions to Mozart
symphonies and snow-capped mountains to The Ice Man; from ancient
Greek underwater archaeologist George Bass to nineteenth century
American Indians and even astronauts on their "voyage to the stars".
The first paragraph of the book sets the stage: "The intended audience
of this book is the hiker, yet any outdoor enthusiast such as the
kayaker, mountain-biker, fisherman, hunter, or boy and girl scout
would certainly benefit from the information presented herein. Anyone
engaged in outdoor activities who needs, equal to any other need, to
be able to carry lightweight, compact foods, will find that need
satisfied in the following pages." Later, "Peoples and cultures have
done this [enjoyed a tasty meal] for time millenia....The same need
confronts modern man today just as it has since the dawn of
civilization; that is, those who travel on foot in the wilderness and
desire to get from point A to point B need to carry their own food,
and lightweight, nutritional food will sustain the body best in the
effort." And finally, my wife's favorite -- "Macaroni and cheese with
bits of beef jerky thrown in might keep the hiker alive for another
day, but the vitality needed to hike fifteen miles a day carrying a
heavy pack, possibly up and over mountain passes, through brush, and
sometimes in inclement weather, will be sorely lacking. It is no
mystery how a hiker can become grumpy and incorrigible."
Okay, so maybe a steady diet of mac and cheese might make me grumpy
and irritable but incorrigible? Interestingly enough there is indeed a
recipe for mac and cheese contained "herein". In this case, ham is
included rather than the "bits of beef jerky". I'm only on the second
page and I can't read without mentally twinging with nearly every
sentence. I'm really hoping the recipes make the writing irrelevant.
Here's hoping he sprinkles the seasonings with more concern with their
compatibility than the willy-nilly approach of his use of punctuation
Normally, cookbooks aren't "read" but except for the recipes, this
book contains eleven pages of "Introduction" and instructions for the
oven. It's not too much to expect that those eleven pages do not
require effort to navigate.
That said, I'll move on to the information contained within the prose.
First off, I'm no Galloping Gourmet. Although I enjoy good food, I'm
just as happy with meatloaf as I am with Chateaubriand (I only cook
the latter on the trail when I'm showing off). But, I probably own
every backpacking and camping oriented cookbook on the market. I also
own a fair selection of "kitchen" cookbooks as well. I find
inspiration for trail meals in all of these sources as well as the
occasional wander through the aisles of the local supermarket. So,
when reading on the Trafford website that Steven worked as a chef in
the late 70s I thought I might find a few new dishes or ways to
prepare trail food to add to my kit. I was also intrigued by the fact
that this book on food dehydration for trail meals is billed as being
something special as "Few books, if any, have dealt with the subject
in its entirety." A quick search on Amazon shows 1,585 titles for the
search "food dehydration camping"; and the first page of results has
several listed which I have that I thought dealt fairly well with the
topic. I'm interested in what Steven is going to add to this topic.
The Guide has a few pages oriented toward convincing the reader that
dehydrating food is a good thing as well as another few with
dehydration tips. Fortunately I have an Excalibur dehydrator, several
books that deal with the subject, and enough experience using one that
I'm aware of misstatements: like vacuum-sealing dehydrated foods is
"an absolute necessity" and simply "placing dried meals in a plastic
bag is a cardinal sin." To be honest I only use the vacuum sealer when
I'm going to do "boil in a bag" meals or when I'm going to store
something for months. I've not found any problems with keeping food
for reasonable periods (days/weeks) in Zip-loc type bags. I'll even
admit to keeping cooked bacon in baggies for up to an entire week on
the trail and not suffered from eating it! Steven's advice might be
appropriate for the thru-hiker who prepares six months of meals for
drop shipping along the AT, but shouldn't dissuade the casual weekend
hiker from dehydrating food without a vacuum sealer (which Steven says
will cost up to $140 USD).
Fortunately I have both the recommended dehydrator and vacuum sealer.
I also have a copy of Deanna DeLong's book on "How to Dry Foods" which
Steven suggests referring to before beginning to dehydrate foods. In
that regard, I can say I learned nothing in The Guide that was not
covered in more detail and far more satisfactorily in DeLong's book.
If her book is to be referenced before beginning to dehydrate food,
then the little information contained in The Guide is entirely
I do not however, have the recommended stoves needed for the recipes
in the book. Yes, I said stoves. Plural. As in more than one. Yes,
that's two. Two stoves. Not two pots. Two stoves. Not that I don't
have two stoves but I don't have one of the specific ones needed -- a
Sierra Zip Stove. Well, okay, at least with a Zip (a 1 lb/.5 kg stove
by the way) I don't need to carry a fuel canister. Oops, strike that.
According to Steven, I also need to bring charcoal (natural not
briquettes) that is "cut in one by three inch peices, and three pieces
are good for one cooking session." Also a "one-inch piece of Diamond
Strike-A-Fire" is also needed to set the charcoal burning. Visions of
whatever weight savings I've found in dehydrating being consumed by
extra gear & fuel are beginning to really put a damper on my appetite.
Now to be fair, Steven does say that only a single stove may be used
and that pretty much any stove will do, but that's not recommended.
What's recommended is two stoves, fuel for both, some bowls,
Strike-A-Fire, vacuum sealers, etc. Just the ticket for the
Moving on, I figure "at least he's got a lot of recipes." Diving in I
start to look for my first trial candidates. Of course I'll build the
oven (a rather clever idea by the way although heavier than a
BakePacker) but first let's look at what we can do with basic
dehydrated food. First off in the book are breakfast recipes (there
are no lunch ones as Steve doesn't believe it's worth the time to
rehydrate & cook for lunch; the book focuses on breakfast and dinner).
Fairly traditional scrambled eggs, omelets, hash browns and the like.
But "hash brown scramble" and "ham and cheese sauce over hash browns"
stick out and may offer something new. Overlooking the odd
abbreviations (tablespoon is abbreviated "tblspns." rather than the
traditional "T" or even "tbsp", teaspoon is "tspn." rather than "t" or
"tsp" and package is "pckg." instead of "pkg" -- just where was he a
chef?) the recipe for Hash Brown Scramble looks tasty enough. However,
the instructions are fairly minimalistic -- cook the ingredients and
then "dry and package." Do the same for the eggs and "dry and
package." To prepare out in the field, "rehydrate each item" and reheat.
Spartan, but this is only breakfast after all. I do know how to cook &
dehydrate. The ingredients are interesting, if fairly standard. I do
appreciate the use of olive oil rather than the more typical vegetable
oil. Olive oil lends a certain nutty/fruity flavor to foods that's
certainly welcome in the field. Other than that we're talking hash
browns mixed with scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, ham, and cheese. No
great shakes, but not a bad sounding breakfast. The other intriguing
breakfast item follows a similar pattern. This one is called "Ham and
Cheese Sauce Over Hash Browns". This is a combination of cheddar
cheese sauce, eggs, mustard, spinach and some seasonings cooked
together and dried. In the field this is rehydrated by adding boiling
water and simmered (it doesn't seem to strike him that maybe adding
less water would eliminate the need for simmering) until thick before
pouring over hash browns fried in a pan. Okay, so at least the name
still sounds good.
Pressing onward I skip through the rest of breakfast items and cross
through the land of soups (19 of them) as I usually find the dried
ones in the market more than adequate for the trail and I just don't
eat that much soup. I'm not sure I'd normally go through the effort to
cook soup from scratch and then dehydrate it but I'll try that for the
long-term review of this book. Perhaps Knorr soup mixes will be as so
much dust after I've tasted my own dehydrated soup.
Past the soups I come upon gravies and sauces. I am definitely in the
"what is this filler?" mode by now. I mean, maybe if I were in some
country where I couldn't buy a package of McCormick gravy mix for 59
cents this would be interesting. But, come on now. How much will it
cost to run my dehydrator to dry a cup of gravy? Seventeen gravy
recipes seems like an author looking to fill pages. Sample sauce
recipe: Stir-Fry Sauce - chicken stock, soy sauce, sesame oil,
teriyaki sauce, cornstarch, sugar. Dissolve ingredients in hot water,
simmer over low heat until thickened. Dehydrate. This is not to be
confused with Beef Stir-Fry Sauce whose entire page (!) is consumed by
"Same as regular stir fry sauce, only two tspns. of Knorr beef
flavored broth is used instead of chicken bullion." Reviewing the
recipe for Stir-Fry Sauce I see no reference to chicken bullion. Is it
missing or does this recipe's reference to it mean the chicken stock
that's in the other recipe? They are different things but maybe not
for these purposes (and in fact both chicken broth from a can and what
I presume is chicken bullion from Knorr are used in Chicken Gravy).
These aren't complicated recipes so it shouldn't be hard to make them
correct and consistent.
On to my earlier favorite "Delectables". These are recipes for rice
and noodles and my personal favorite food - tofu! I won't eat it on a
bet. Who thinks that dehydrating and rehydrating tofu will make it
better? Come on a show of hands. No one? Okay, false alarm. Seems
Steven doesn't think it will either as he recommends packing it in its
sealed store container and then since it "is subject to
bacteriological deterioration" after opening, packing out and
discarding anything not eaten for that meal. Hah! I knew it was nasty
Down the home-stretch to Meats and Vegetables. My favorites! Four or
five pages of general preparation text (including a meager attempt at
outlining dietary guidelines that cannot do the subject justice in the
two or three sentences allocated -- "protein is certainly a great
benefit...carbs are good") and into the meat of things. Thirty recipes
for my favorite meal. We're cooking now. I'm liking the potential for
chicken fingers, fettuccine and hamburger, ham and swiss pasta but am
crinkling my nose at polish sausage, pasta with tomatoes, and shrimp.
I mean recipes for "shrimp". Just shrimp. (Turns out that's actually
shrimp, shrimp sauce and water.) I can't say that Fettuccine Alfredo
that consists of a package of fettuccine, a serving of parmesan sauce
and basil holds much promise for making dehydrating the parmesan sauce
worth the effort over grabbing that package of Lipton's Fettuccine
Alfredo in the grocery store. But I press on.
To the one section I find can rescue the most insipid cookbook --
Desserts. What's that? There isn't one here? No dessert? Long
anguished coyote howl in the night! Dessert is critical! I'm surprised
at the lack of a sweets section. I find dessert after dinner can make
even the longest day feel good. The oven design presented in Chapter 1
would be perfect for desserts. I'm thinking a simple muffin or cup
cake...or even S'mores --- crumbled graham crackers topped with a
couple of squares of chocolate and a marshmallow heated in the oven
until everything is melted...yumm!
Having progressed through the book I'm disappointed. If Steven was a
professional chef he doesn't demonstrate it here. The recipes are not
unique nor are they presented in any compelling way. If I had no other
cookbook and this was my first introduction to dehydrated cooking for
the trail I don't think I'd bother. Very few of the recipes actually
require anything I cannot buy at the local supermarket already dried
in convenient foil packages. The remainder are primarily egg & meat
additions to meals I can buy in the prepared food aisle in the grocery
store. I certainly couldn't justify the price of a dehydrator and
vacuum sealer for the occasional egg dish (as I would be able to use
jerky & foil packaged tuna for most meat needs). There is certainly
nothing in this cookbook that would justify the addition of another
stove and fuel to my kitchen. I'm intrigued by the oven and will be
making a couple of versions (one for my gas canister stove & one per
the directions for a Sierra Zip Stove) to see if there's anything I'm
missing there. Overall though, this is a very lightweight cookbook
that has little to distinguish it from far more complete references in
any bookstore in the country. Having made a couple of dishes to try
them in the kitchen (omelet, polish sausage -- aka kielbasa...both of
which I've been able to cook for 30 years) I found nothing of note to
set them apart and expect the rest to be the same. If this were the
only trail cookbook I was to buy I'd return it. If it were given to me
as a gift, it would gather dust. After two weeks with it, I can find
nothing to recommend it. There are several that deal with the subject
better, with more detail on the mechanics of dehydration, of meal
planning, of ingredient selection, and with more diverse and
interesting recipes. In fact, one of my favorites includes
instructions on how to make a simple & inexpensive dehydrator.
On the positive side I applaud Steven for taking the plunge and trying
his hand at self-publishing. I hate to squash that spirit. I also
think the oven design he presents has some serious potential. It's a
fairly clever design and we'll see if it's up for the rigors of the
trail. Cool thing nonetheless.
Future Test Plans:
However, that being said, I will be testing many of the recipes over
the next four months. I will be taking several multi-day as well as
week long backpacking treks in the New England hills and the White
Mountains of New Hampshire. This will give me experience with
preparing the food on a variety of equipment and in a variety of
conditions. I will be testing to see if the ingredients hold up well
on the trail, if the food tastes better after a long day's trek, if
the recipes can increased to serve more people (no real serving
information is provided in The Guide) and if they can be easily
modified to suit changing food desires while on the trail (mixing &
matching different entrees with side dishes).