In one of my recent posts about mess kits I mentioned that my cooking techniques inspired in my fellow travellers a degree of curiosity and even envy. This was because I travelled with basic ingredients such as flour and porridge rather than (often heavier) pre-packaged meals.
Most hikers live off packets of rice and pasta until they are sick of it. A mountain hut warden I once met in Iceland claimed he had to resort to cooking his own food in a separate building since the smell of real meat could cause riots.My friend Ed is a man of similar traits so I will start today’s blog with some recipes of his in his own words. This is a selection of recipes for flour that he uses when hiking in Wyoming. Some of my own comments and variations in section two. (I once forwarded these recipes to another friend who was a gamekeeper and ex-soldier. Much to his wife’s amusement he could not stop making and eating flatbreads!)
Ingredients: Water, flour
Procedure: Fill coffee-can approximately half full with water. Shake flour into water approximately one spoonful at a time.
Stir each addition of flour into water before adding more. When mixture is a thick batter, stir busily for two or three minutes before adding more flour.
Continue to add flour and stir until mixture is a wet dough. Turn out onto floured cloth and knead with small additions of flour until dough is shiny and stiff.
Tear off egg-sized pieces of dough and pat flat and thin (1/8″ or a bit thicker).
Bake flattened pieces of dough in greased lid of largest cookpot, uncovered, for roughly thirty seconds per side; turn promptly at the first hint of burning.
This is the ancient Egyptian pta, older by far than the pyramids, older than agriculture, the first bread. In India, it’s a chuppatti, in Mexico a tortilla. Eat it rolled around butter and honey for breakfast (be careful, it drips), or cold sliced turkey ham for lunch, or curried lentils for dinner. Remember to pat out as many cakes as you plan to eat before starting to bake them: the skillet-time is very short, and you’ll quickly run through all your prepared cakes. Don’t hesitate to bake more flatbread than you’ll eat at one sitting, because they can be carried for days and eaten cold at any time. Or you can re-heat and soften a chuppatti by laying it over the open top of a steaming teakettle for a few seconds. Uncooked flatbread dough can be wrapped in plastic and kept for several days.
Procedure: Fill coffee-can approximately half full with water. Stir in baking powder. Shake flour into water approximately one spoonful at a time. Stir, knead, form cakes, and bake as for plain flatbread.
This will make a somewhat lighter flatbread. If the dough is allowed to sit for a few minutes before rolling out, the cakes may expand as they bake, sometimes developing into regular balloons of bread. If so, good.
Ingredients: Water, flour, one tablespoon baking powder, one-third to one-half cup vegetable oil.
Procedure: Fill coffee-can approximately half full with water. Stir in baking powder. Add oil. Add flour, stir, knead, form cakes, and bake as for plain flatbread. These will be crisper than ordinary flatbread cakes.
Ingredients: Self-rising flour, water, small amount of cooking oil.
Procedure: Fill coffee-can approximately half full with water. Add oil. Stir flour into water approximately one spoonful at a time. Stir, knead, and bake as for campbread, but reduce baking time to 45 minutes maximum.
This is becoming my campbread of choice, just because it’s so easy. You can fancy it up with chopped dried fruit, nuts, and so on. Conversely, you can mix in cooked peas or lentils, cooked carrots, cooked chopped onions, etc., and make a serious ration bread for times when you need nourishment but can’t build a fire.
Ingredients: Flour, warm water, two or three packages dry yeast, vegetable oil, honey, one handful raisins, one handful whole or chopped walnut meats
Procedure: Fill coffee can half full with warm water. Dissolve honey in water. Add yeast to mixture and stir.
Wait 15-20 minutes or until a layer of brown foam has formed on the surface of the water. Add vegetable oil (about one cup for a large batch of bread), raisins, walnuts, and about two cups of flour. Stir well. Continue to add flour while stirring until dough becomes too thick to handle with spoon. Turn dough onto floured cloth and knead until shiny. Return to coffee can, cover with damp cloth, and allow to raise for about 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in mass. Turn dough onto floured cloth, knead briefly, and form into a loaf by hand.
Put seven or eight clean one-inch granite pebbles and a half-inch of water in the bottom of the pot. Wrap the bottom of the dough in heavily oiled aluminium foil and rest it on top of the pebbles. Cover the pot tightly.
Suspend the pot about an inch above a bed of coals and leave it there for two or three hours, or overnight if you mean to let the campfire die down. Depending on altitude, it may be necessary to turn the loaf over about halfway through the baking process.
An hour and a quarter over hot coals would normally be enough. But once sleet was falling through a black night and I had had enough of standing in my poncho watching the campfire. I gave up and crawled into the tent; fire danger registered zero that night.
In the AM (bright and sunny, as it usually is in the Big Horns — and colder’n hell too), after shattering the 1/2″ of ice on the tent fly, we crawled out and found that a) the fire was still alive and b) the bread was done to perfection. Luck, I suppose, but I think this approach could work under other conditions too.
This bread is one of the great staples of the trail. It’s best when eaten in chunks torn roaring hot off a fresh-baked loaf. It’s next best when sliced and toasted over a new morning fire. It’s still mighty welcome even when all you’re doing is building a cheese sandwich, somewhere on the trail to Nameless Lake.Section Two.
Note that lichens can also be used as yeast and in some environments a batter mix will naturally become contaminated with wild yeast, particularly if left in a warm place and originally made with warm water.
Take a portion of this mix and thicken with flour etc as described above to make your bread or pancakes. Keep the rest of the culture going by regularly adding warm water, a little sugar and flour or uneaten breadstuff. If you have it an occasional teaspoon of vinegar will be appreciated by the yeast. You can transport this culture in a closed top container (the yeast is anaerobic so needs no air) -but allow room for expansion.Other Doughs.
The basic dough of just flour and water (with maybe a hint of salt) is much improved by giving it a good kneading. I’ve seen it suggested that you should add boiling water to the flour, but cold works too and smells a lot better.
Kneaded for ten minutes or so this is the stuff used to make the pancakes served with Peking Duck and the pastry for Potsticker Dumplings.
Call them tortillas and fry them to make crisp tacos, or use more oil to make soft tacos.
You can also cut this dough into strips and then drop it into boiling water to make fresh noodles -you can add an egg to the mix, but it’s not essential. Not the world’s best pasta, but I’ve been served a lot worse. You can also fry your noodles -unlike dried ones you needn’t boil them first.
The other basic mix I use is known as Twister mix:
Flour: about half a cup.
Baking powder: around a teaspoon, maybe less.
Teaspoon of sugar (or honey or syrup)
Pinch of salt
Blob of fat, butter, meat drippings etc.
Water: couple of tablespoons, often less.
The sugar and salt are optional and quantities are varied depending on what you are making. You can also do without the fat, or use oil as Ed does, which saves the job of rubbing the fat into the flour (melting the fat beforehand is a good trick too).
Once all the dry ingredients are mixed, gradually add the water till you have a dough. Ed’s method of adding the dry stuff to the water is a good idea since I usually add too much water and have to pile in more flour.
I’ve seen it written that once the water is added doughs with baking powder should be handled as little as possible to avoid driving the evolved gases out. My personal experiments with this indicate that my bread is improved by kneading it till smooth -maybe I’ve just got cold hands.
This dough can be improved by adding nuts and fruit, adding spices, eggs or using milk in place of the water.
I’ve read that fresh snow can substitute for eggs in pancake batter: I’ve yet to try it. The white ash left after a fire is supposed to be a substitute for baking powder.
Made as a dough the above mix can be wrapped around a stick to make twister bread, or as a flattened round (bannock) to bake either in a vessel or directly on the coals. Dropped in a stew or steamed a ball makes a fair dumpling.
If you have a vessel to cook in you can add more water to make it as a thick batter and avoid the kneading. Just drop a blob onto your frying pan. Made as a thinner batter it makes a pretty good pancake even without any egg added. Knock up some syrup from sugar, water and any fruit juice you may have.
Several ways of cooking dough have been mentioned already.
You’ll notice that Ed bakes his bread in a billy, and this can be a good way if you can pile coals around and on top of the vessel, or better still place it in an “Imu” (cooking hole).
You’ll also notice that the dough is not in direct contact with the sides of the vessel : you’ll have a merry time trying to get the bread out if you let this happen!
Personally, I like to cook my bannocks in a frying pan since I usually have to use a stove rather than a campfire.
Lightly grease the base, or if you have no fat, dust with flour. Place the dough or thick batter into the pan and cook over a gentle heat, turning as necessary.
If cooking on a fire, once a crust is formed the pan is propped up beside the fire to brown the top of the loaf. If firm enough the bread is propped up to stand on its own. Placing a metal plate or pan lid over the frying pan and placing coals on top is another method.
Dough mixes can be therefore baked, fried or boiled and can be used as either sweet or savoury fare. They can also be used for sauces and gravies.
Ed makes his doughs up in a coffee can while mine ends up being mixed in one of my billies, but what if you just have a source of water and a bag of flour as proposed above? Well, you could possibly peel a sheet of bark or use the foil in your emergency kit, but there is an even simpler way
Sit your bag of flour down and make a well in the centre of the flour. Add a pinch of salt if you have it. In one hand you have a stick, in the other a handful of water, or a bottle. Gradually pour in the water while keeping the stick moving. You’ll see a blob of dough begins to form on the stick. Flour your hands and remove the blob for kneading. You can also do this for the full twister mix, though rubbing in the fat can be a chore.