Welcome to VeganMoFo 2011 (aka the 5th year running)! I decided last minute to join up again, and while I don’t have a theme like many, probably smarter, bloggers do, I do have a scribbled list of topics to pick from if I’m feeling stuck. This is the first of two planned book reviews I have coming in this Vegan Month of Food, and I’m excited to blabber on about it with you:
At the end of the summer, I was contacted by Wilderness Press about reviewing a free copy of Another Fork in the Trail: Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes for the Backcountry by Laurie Ann March. I have a pretty intense cookbook collection (to the point where I’ve run out of storage), but what I definitely did not have was a book that fused my love of tasty whole foods with my love of camping. The back cover promised:
Packed with over 165 lightweight, mouthwatering recipes for backcountry adventurers, *Another Fork in the Trail* focuses on delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes for those following vegetarian and vegan diets. Many of the recipes are gluten-free as well. With *Another Fork in the Trail,* readers will save valuable time and energy at camp, and also fill their tummies with delicious and nutritious meals sure to energize them for another long day on the trails.
For someone who loves camping, I don’t often get enough chances to do it. Luckily my ladyfriend and I were already planning a camp and canoe trip to the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota for the end of September when I was asked about this book, so it seemed a perfect chance to try the recipes out on an actual trip! I feel it’s important to paint a little picture of the kind of camper and camp cook I am, to give some background on how I approached this book (although I honestly think a lot of the recipes don’t have to go camping with you to be enjoyed).
We’re not particularly adventurous campers, but we do our car-camping in quiet, more remote spaces like the “primitive” free campsites we found a few years ago in the SNF (they still have picnic tables, a fire ring, and a vault toilet, but no electrical hookups or lights for miles and miles). Up until this trip, our food plan usually consisted of a perishable cooler item dinner on the first night (tempeh reubenburgers or Field Roast sausages and toppings), and granola and fruit for breakfasts, peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks for lunches, and various canned goods stirred together in a pot over the fire for dinner (our favorite being chili after a long day of birdwatching and hiking!).
Until this trip, our cooking equipment consisted of a couple camping pots, a fire grate, and a JetBoil stove for boiling water for coffee. Due to a fire in the BWCWA, there was a campfire ban in the forest, and we decided to invest in a propane stove for a few reasons — it came in really handy, actually, even though it initially felt like “cheating.”
Back to the book! When I received it in the mail, I read it like I do all cookbooks: cover to cover. Prior to the recipe section, the book is divided into four sections: An Introduction to Wilderness Cooking for Vegetarians; Dehydration Basics, Commercially Dried Foods, and Grocery Store Finds; Menu Planning; and Recipe Creation and Ingredient Substitution. It provided a great overview of what to consider when preparing for a wilderness trip, such as equipment and tools in addition to the actual food. There are several recipes (mostly desserts and breakfast-type foods) that would require special equipment like a camping oven, and a majority of recipes calling for dehydrating the foods at home and reconstituting them with hot water at camp. We don’t have the time or inclination for a camping oven, but this was a great opportunity to expand my dehydrator repertoire past raw food preparations.
My past searches for online recipes for dehydrated camping food didn’t yield much that I felt excited about – usually “recipes” for GORP and trail mix and mixing together expensive store bought items. Another Fork in the Trail, however, was a completely different story. Divided by separate mealtimes, the recipe section actually made me hungry and inspired by unique flavor combinations that I wouldn’t mind recreating at home, such as: Hazelnut Fig Granola with Popped Amaranth, Grilled Strawberry Jalapeno Salsa, Tropical Kiwi Trail Cookies, Butter Bean and Kale Ragout, Green Tea Chai Vanilla Latte, and Fresh Berries with Balsamic Reduction and Black Pepper. All recipes were divided up into home preparation and camp preparation, when necessary, and gave serving suggestions and appropriate substitutions. Most of the recipes gave a little history or backstory, too, which I appreciate reading; it’s nice to know where other people’s inspiration comes from and how or where they ate it. I like cookbooks with a personal voice in them.
Time was not on my side when working these recipes into our other trip preparations, outside of work and other social obligations, and that is probably the one thing that is most difficult about these kinds of recipes. Because you have to cook the food and then dehydrate it before it’s ready for your trip, the preparation time pre-trip can be daunting. However, the end results of those recipes that I did try were worth the work to make the lightweight meals and snacks that didn’t require refrigeration (hard to come by when car camping, especially depending on the season, much less when wilderness camping). It should be noted that not all the recipes require dehydration, but most of the ones I would have liked to bring along did. In the end, we ended up trying five simpler recipes, bringing the rest of our food along in the form of cans and a couple cooler items:
1) Tofu Jerky (p 147): This was one of our favorite recipes. They were spiced with chili flakes and black pepper, and the addition of lime juice and zest to the tamari-onion-garlic base was a really nice alternative to the smoky, barbecue-style store bought vegan jerky I’ve had in the past. They also had a great chewy texture, without needing to be shredded and reconstructed and additive-filled like many of their store bought counterparts.
2) Date Pecan Blueberry and Ginger Bars (p 123): These had a great flavor, though my dates had gotten too hard to process into a paste first as per the recipe instructions. I had to grind the nuts first and then add the dates and they ended up pretty greasy, so it was hard to eat neatly. I would definitely give them another shot with some fresher dates, though.
3) Blueberry Hazelnut Quinoa (p 42): This was probably our favorite recipe, and definitely the best camping breakfast we’ve ever had! The quinoa was toasted at home and packaged with the spices, dried blueberries and toasted hazelnuts and cooked as you would at home with some water over the stove, and then served with almond milk. I definitely needed more liquid than the recipe called for to fully cook the quinoa before the water evaporated, though this may have been an issue with learning how to control the flame on our new campstove. Still, this was super tasty and filled our bellies nicely for a 7-mile hike we ended up on that day.
4) Rosemary and Garlic Sweet Potatoes (p 172): These were great both before dehydration and after reconstituting them. Roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic were processed into a mash and dehydrated, then reconstituted into a puree with hot water as part of one of our dinners. I liked that they could be thick or thin depending on how much water you added (and it made a fair amount, so I had some at home after the trip, too).
5) Smoky Lentil Pate (p 91): As with most of our camping trips, we brought way too much food along, and this was one that we didn’t actually get to try on the trip. However, I reconstituted some of this savory, lightly smoked lentil-mushroom pate with hot water almost immediately upon returning home and spread it on toast. It was great! I think it would be excellent as a sandwich spread or veggie dip on a future trip.
I definitely recommend Another Fork in the Trail for any veg*ans who want to prepare their own healthy camping food. While you may need to invest in a few pieces of equipment to help make it happen, I think you will save money in the long run over commercially available foods, and you have a lot more control over the flavor and variety of your food. Though it says there are vegetarian recipes, most of them are vegan or can be easily made vegan and many are gluten-free as well. I loved the whole foods and nutrient-dense approach of this cookbook, and am excited to crack it open for our next outdoor adventure!