the great appalachian food strategy

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The raw materials

My friends, Eric and I have just emerged victorious from the craziest cooking adventure of our lives, with five solid months of healthy and delicious, dehydrated, vacuum sealed food!

A bit on why we would do this to ourselves. I have digestive issues and can’t handle carbohydrates very well. Unfortunately, carbohydrates are what people tend to eat while backpacking. A month before we were due to start, I was feeling anxious about how I would eat and if my stomach would hurt constantly. It felt entirely possible that my stomach would either make the trip something I just had to get through, or kick me off of it all together.

And so, we decided to try to cook, dehydrate, and vacuum seal enough paleo dinners to last our entire thru-hike. Common internet knowledge was either completely silent or disparaging of this idea. Mostly we were told we didn’t have enough time. We didn’t listen. We went to Sam’s.

This is what we dehydrated:

  • 25 lbs of chicken—from a can. In the past we’ve dehydrated fresh chicken we cooked ourselves and were less than impressed with its texture once rehydrated. The pressure cooking of canned chicken apparently helps with this.
  • 25 lbs of tuna—also from a can.
  • 24 lbs chili—made with ground beef, onions, tomatoes and lots of spice.
  • 4 lbs shrimp
  • 70 1-cup servings of bone broth
  • 120 eggs
  • 20 lbs of root vegetable bark—carrots and sweet potatoes mashed with some lemon juice and a bit of honey.
  • 14 lbs pumpkin/apple bark—similar to above, but with cinnamon. It’s more of a dessert or breakfast.
  • 10 lbs miscellaneous vegetables—bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes
  • 24 lbs salsa and tomato paste
  • 39 lbs fruit—some whole dried fruit and some fruit leathers (strawberry/blueberry and strawberry/mango/pineapple/peach). We also dehydrated many, many jars of applesauce..
  • 1 angel food cake—clearly not good for my stomach, but I’m gambling that all the exercise will improve my ability to handle carbs, and everyone needs desert sometimes.

From those items, plus an arsenal of spices and powdered parmesan cheese, we can put together various iterations of four different dinner meals:

  • Tuna with vegetables
  • Chicken with vegetables
  • Chili or shrimp with vegetables
  • Eggs with vegetables

So for example, one dinner might be tuna with broccoli, cayenne pepper, oregano, marjoram, and parmesan. Or we might do Indian-style chicken with sweet potato mash, curry, cumin, and garam masala. We also have a lot of salsa and eggs. Spices help a lot, so we use lots of spices. The fruit we plan to pair with dried coconut for breakfast or angel food cake for dessert.

In addition to our dehydrated meals, we have a lot of Mountain House freeze dried dinners. So including those, we can make five different meals for dinner.

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Meals, ready to be packaged together and vacuum sealed.

For our resupply boxes, we’re working with five day weeks, two of them in each resupply box—so, ten days of food per box. We rotate our five types of meals. For every ten day period, we’ll have each of those meals twice.

These boxes also include some snacks like candy bars (for Eric) and hot fries (for me), my medicine, and occasional extras like Nutella, ghee or broth powder.

It really was quite a feat. The dehydrator was running constantly for two solid weeks, day and night, and there was always something either pre-cooking, or needing to be chopped, or ready to come out of the dehydrator and stored away in the freezer. We really put my parents’ kitchen to the test, and stuffed the freezer to its limit (thank you!!).

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Resupply boxes.

Making and packaging this food is what made me finally start to realize: it’s happening. I keep realizing it, really, each time more profoundly. It was a little alarming to see all the boxes laid out, stuffed with food I’d be eating, supposedly, in three or four months time, in Vermont or New Hampshire. It’s surreal.

But it also all smells and looks delicious. I actually wouldn’t mind eating some of it now. I think the physical and mental nourishment these meals will provide will be very well worth the effort it took ahead of time.

Check out the video Eric made recapping our food adventure. I’ll handle written updates of our hike here, but he plans to make and post video updates like this on our facebook page The Overlanders.

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5 thoughts on “the great appalachian food strategy

  1. Wow what an amazing job us guys did with the meals. I am planning to dehydrate all of my meals as well. I don’t eat gluten or much sugar and try to eat only organic meat. I have read in a lots of blogs that most people just perfer to buy as they go but I have read what they are eating and sometimes the only place to buy food is from a gas station.
    I am curious did you get tired of your meals? I haven’t started to read about your adventure yet.

    1. Hi Amy 🙂 There are obviously mixed opinions about whether to ship yourself boxes or buy as you go. The only major downside to getting boxes is you have to go to the post office when in town and you might catch some snags, like once we sent ourselves a box to a place that didn’t exist anymore. We actually did a combination of shipping and buying (we dehydrated our dinners and some snacks but bought breakfast and lunch in stores), so every time we got food we had to do the grocery store AND the post office. For me, the drawbacks were TOTALLY worth feeling like I had some quality food in me, 100%. In fact it never felt like a problem to me at all. Six months is a really, really long time to eat a lot of crap. I think if you’re like me and care quite a lot about what you eat, dehydrating and shipping is worth it. Just be prepared it is a lot of work. It helps if you have an awesome at-home helper like we did (my mom), who can send boxes as you request them so you don’t have to pre-send them all and put yourself on a set schedule.

      Our meals were certainly repetitive, but I was always so, so happy to get to the end of each day and eat some “real” food instead of junk. I got really sick of eating the grocery-store processed food but never our dehydrated meals. Well, maybe the tuna 🙂

      1. Hey Katherine, Thank you for the reply.I’ve been reading you journal and am only a little over half way through it and I am really enjoying it. Thank you for taking the time to journal your adventure.
        I was thinking of sending most of my resupply boxes to hostels where I will be staying rather than a PO Box. Just to avoid the hassle of getting to the post office when they are open. I like the fact that I will have good quality food for the sustained energy I know I will need. I plan to send most of my meal and some snacks and if I want junk along the way I know that will be easy to get. I know so many hikers say to buy as you go, but I want good nutritious food. Plus my trip isn’t until 2017 which gives me lots of time.
        The dehydrating part has been really easy for me. When I make a meal I always make extra to dehydrate then just freeze it.We have had some really awesome meals on the trails so far.
        I have a 220 mile hike planned for next month and will be shipping all of our meals and snacks so I will see how it goes.
        Amy

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