EATING ON THE RIVER
Food for the river is very personal and you will want to tailor it to the dietary needs of your party and of course, plan to have meals that are appealing to everyone. Always take extra meals in case of bad weather or other emergencies that may slow you down and cause extra days on the river. For a one week trip, I would normally take meals for one or two extra days.
When Mike was guiding, he cooked steaks and large beef roasts, made cinnamon buns and birthday cakes among other culinary delights, for his clients. It made for very long days and a lot of hours bent over a cooking fire. Some of his clients complained that the food was too good because they had hoped to lose some weight on the trip! When not guiding, life is much simpler.
In all the years of river travelling as a family, we have tried to keep our “cooking/eating” life as simple as possible. We were too busy mapping and tromping through the bush looking for historical sites, to spend much time over meals! We find that even the simplest meal tastes delicious after a day of paddling. I often cook Rice A Roni for one of our meals and as I have taken it out of its package and just slipped the directions into the Ziploc bag it is not obvious that it is a prepared mixture. My niece once returned home after a trip with us and demanded that her mother get my rice recipe because it was so delicious! She has yet to live that down and swears that she doesn’t even like Rice a Roni. Like I said, everything on the river tastes better!
We travel fairly lightly in most aspects so have never worried about throwing in some canned goods to give us some protein and fruits and vegetable along the way. We have done some 3 week trips where there is virtually no access to food along the way so there is generally repetition on those trips. Even so, we have never taken store-bought dehydrated meals with us other than maybe a couple in our emergency kit.
Food – Pre-trip preparation
Home dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and work really well for river food preparations. For vegetables I have done potatoes, onions, beans, carrots and peas and these worked really well for making stew. I simply add some Oxo cubes or powder (dehydrated beef stock) to water and reconstitute my dehydrated vegetables. I drain off most of the liquid, add a can of stew to get a little protein and cook until it thickens up a bit. I serve it with some fresh cooked bannock. This is our daughter’s favorite “river meal.” I have also done a number of different fruits in the dehydrator and made fruit leather – all work well.
The dehydrated meals that really surprised me with their quality were chili and spaghetti sauce. I just made them at home as I usually would and dehydrated them and then bagged them in Ziplocs. They are so light and there doesn’t seem to be much there. They also look absolutely disgusting in this form. However, once reconstituted, they are almost better than the original! We did once have a little leaking and some water got into the bag so I now check them every day or so for integrity.
Beef jerky is another excellent source of protein and makes for an excellent snack when you need to keep going a bit longer at the end of an already long day. We purchased an inexpensive jerky making kit from Princess Auto (I have seen them in other stores and on line as well). I make huge batches and just refrigerate or freeze until I need a bunch. It can also be made with the dehydrator but I had more success with the jerky tool.
Trail mix is our favorite snack. I go to a big box store and buy a bag of everything my family likes in their trail mix – raisins, dried fruit, chocolate chips (these melt on a warm day and stick everything together into handy ‘clusters’), nuts, etc. I then mix them all together in a giant bowl and bag in individual Ziplocs.
Packaging - Get rid of all excess packaging – cardboard, plastic, paper, etc. Seal just the food itself into Ziploc bags – double bag for security unless it is going into a larger Ziploc as part of a meal. If there are instructions, I will slip these in the bag as well.
Premeasure items like porridge and label Ziploc with amounts. For instance you can put two breakfast’s worth of porridge in one Ziploc and know to dump half in for each breakfast – it doesn’t have to be exact. Or use a coffee cup you will have with you on the trip as your measuring cup for pre-loading your bags.
Premix things like bannock or biscuits and then just add water when needed. Don’t forget to take a bit of butter if you plan on cooking these in a frying pan.
Boil it!! We generally start the trip with a 10 liter jug of water and our water bottles topped up for drinking purposes. After that, we try and collect the water from side streams (tends to be less silty especially on the Yukon River) and boil what we need. When cooking meals, boil any required water for a couple of minutes before adding your food. It is then easy to throw a pot of water on the fire while you are eating your evening meal and let it boil for a few minutes (at least 2 minutes). Set it aside to cool and before bed, top up your water containers. Alternatively, there are a number of different purifiers you can purchase at outdoor supply stores.
Breakfast is almost always porridge with brown sugar and raisins. Sometimes the first day will be prepared cinnamon buns. I will occasionally premix pancakes and have a treat and have, on riverboat trips, treated us to bacon and eggs.
Lunches are also simple being primarily soups, crackers, cheeses, peanut butter and tea or juice. Pitas, focaccia or any other bread product that keeps and travels well are great at lunch as well. If I am making bannock for dinner the night before, I try and make extra and bag it for lunch or a snack the next day.
Dinners include spaghetti, chili, stew, macaroni and cheese, chicken or tuna casserole, and canned ham with rice and vegetables. We eat the weightier meals first to lighten the load. If pasta is on the dinner menu, I will try and cook a little extra to set aside to throw in the soup the following day. Any leftovers should be sealed in waterproof, smellproof bags/containers.
There are endless possibilities for meals that adapt well to river travel.
This works for 2-4 people with 2 pails. We have two waterproof pails (old 5 gallon laundry detergent pails with purchased snap on lids with screw tops (found at Mountain Equipment Coop - WCK Kid lid) – been using them for years and they have stood up remarkably well (we are kind of abusive of our equipment sometimes) – color coded tops, good to sit on, etc. They will leak a bit if weather is bad so don’t think you can put food in without it being in a Ziploc. One pail is the kitchen bucket and contains the pots, plates, bowls, cups, utensils, matches, dish towel, scrubber and soap – orange lid. The other pail contains breakfast and lunch foods, all beverages, and the current day’s dinner if it will fit – yellow lid. This one gets replenished as needed from the main food bucket (usually a waterproof tote of some kind). This one also contains matches or other fire starting aids. Snacks are distributed among both buckets and the tote so that we can “top up” our supply each morning for easy access throughout the day. We do not keep snacks in our daypacks as our daypacks go in the tents with us at night.
Combine all meal ingredients in large Ziploc bag (if you can find the Bread bag size, they are great. Otherwise use small garbage bags and label as to what meal it is. For example, for my Chicken Casserole meal, I put macaroni (pre-measured in a Ziploc), can of chicken, bag of dehydrated peas (or a can), can of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese all in one large Ziploc bag. This makes grabbing your dinner from the food tote very easy.
We keep a very clean camp, no food allowed to drop on the ground without being ‘dealt with’ - we burn it. We burn and crush all cans. Once cooled, they are bagged and put away in the boat. No food is ever allowed in the tent. Be careful not to wipe your hands on your clothes as this smell now makes you attractive and not in a good way! All food should be stored in waterproof, airtight containers away from your tent.
Despite the fact that we all have match cases on our persons, matches and other fire starter aids are kept in both buckets and the food tote as well. You can never have too many matches! We don’t use many, just reassuring to know they are there if needed!
The whole process of preparing food for a trip and making the meals once on the trip is one that you will streamline over time. You will learn “a better way” on each trip and be able to improve your experiences in the future. It is nice to find methods that work for you and your family so that the whole process is second nature to you. There is no right way and no wrong way. I have tried to share a simple way that has worked for us for many years. So, good luck and enjoy!
Food Safety and sanitation is also important – handwashing before and after handling food is the best way to prevent foodborne illness. If you do take uncooked meat of any kind, it must be kept cold and cooked thoroughly – it is easy to burn something on the outside and still have it undercooked on the inside when using a campfire to cook.
Traveling with Children/Teenagers
If you have children or teens along, keep in mind that they burn through a tremendous number of calories in a day and also like to eat if they get bored! Top up on nutritious snacks. We have found that pumpkin or sunflower seeds are great for keeping them occupied and satisfied for hours. Do try and keep control of the shells and burn them in the campfire or seal them in a bag.