The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking

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If you can remember when backpacking meant hiking with an external aluminum frame pack, when hi-tech fabric meant those navy, long-sleeved polypro funk sponges with the little white horizontal stripes down the sleeve, and when dessert probably meant some god-awful dehydrated neapolitan ice cream, then you might also have fond memories of the culinary revelations in the Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking.

Originally published in 1982, this tome is bit like the backpacker’s version of the Moosewood Cookbook. With its folksy drawings and wholesome, healthy recipes, it’s a book from a different time. But don’t be fooled by the throwback feel: this book is full of great backwoods recipes and tips on what to bring with you into the woods that should resonate with a new generation of health-conscious hikers. (There’s also a design for a great food dehydrator, which I built myself back in the late 1980s and had good luck making jerky with.)

Those who started backcountry cooking more recently might not know that when this book was originally published the freeze-dried, prepackaged options for backpackers were grim at best. Of course, a hungry hiker will eat nearly anything. The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking came along and offered scratch-cooking alternatives to the dreaded freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini and other foul “entrees” wrapped in foil packets.

The good news is that over the past 30 years a number of small companies have sprung up, using the sort of healthy and wholesome, minimally processed ingredients found in many of the recipes in the book. What makes this book still relevant is that those updated, prepackaged options for backpackers are expensive. This book can assist you in putting together some great meals at an affordable cost.

As with most culinary endeavors, there is a bit of an art to preparing fine food in the woods. A certain amount of what you can do in your home kitchen won’t translate to eating out of your backpack, and this book provides some great, practical tips for making sure that you avoid the pitfalls of cooking in the woods.

The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking includes a great section on breads and meal planning that can be helpful to just about anyone. Some of these recipes require long cook times and therefore might necessitate more fuel than many hikers are willing to carry. But even these dishes would undoubtedly be of interest to homesteaders, car campers, hunters, and anyone who wants a great meal but doesn’t have a full blown kitchen at their disposal. The recipes are clearly written, which I greatly appreciate. There are some modern considerations missing: You won’t find a long treatise on leave-no-trace camping in this book, or even a mention of the WhisperLite stove (yes, this book is that old). But take a walk down memory lane and enjoy.

Carl Demrow