The Cast: Aurora (Assistant Chef), Myself (Chef).
When you can see the greases purposefully making their own surface pools, you know you’re in trouble. Seriously.
Two weeks ago my youngest and I went on another snowshoe expotition*, and this time we remembered to do something that we had talked about trying on the last trek: Field Cooking.
Okay, for those not familiar with The Field, let me try to explain it to you. The Field is not necessarily an actual field (but it could be). The Field is where I, as a Marine, would go to train and do military stuff. The Field is a general term for basically any place that doesn’t have facilities for humanity, like shelter, running water, or other such basic human niceties. The Field is like camping—if your idea of camping is sleeping outdoors (not in a trailer) in the rain, sun, mud, snow, or in trenches, on rocks, the desert, all with or possibly without tents or sleeping bags, then you may understand what The Field is.
And, if there is The Field, then that stands to reason that there is Field Cooking. Field Cooking is the type of menus and recipes that come from desperation—plain and simple. The type of desperation that comes from having to eat the uneatable or having to eat the same thing again and again and you just gotta mix it up a little bit.
Field Cooking is an art. Now, some of you might be thinking, “I’ve been camping. It isn’t that difficult to cook outdoors.” That may be true. But, I am talking about MRE’s here (or worse). And with the same food rations eaten, again and again, you gotta find ways to make it palatable. So, you get creative and learn how to make the food become something more. And two weeks ago, my daughter and I did just that. We concocted Slim Jim Stew—with Dumplings.
We got the idea from the simplicity of Field Cooking basics: Make something that you shouldn’t eat—but do anyway—and make it better! So we did.
After a fun little jaunt up the ice-crusted, snow-packed, slippery, steep-sloped mountain, Aurora and I stopped for some Field Cooking lessons. You gotta know survival skills. And I always feel the best way to learn is in a safe-losing environment. By that, I mean that if you should be in a situation where if things don’t work out, your life won’t depend on it. Worst case for us was that after our hike we drove home and ate there.
So, here’s what we had:
1 G.I. canteen cup
1 G.I. canteen kidney stove
2 packets of MRE creamer (3 oz each)
1 MRE salt packet
4 Slim Jims (.28 oz snack-sized sticks)
1 packet of 2 MRE crackers
A mountain covered in snow (for water containing a subtle pine-y flavor—for zest!)
After filling the canteen cup with clean (relative) snow, I set a small fuel-bar fire going, so the stove would set around it. This allowed Aurora to see how quickly you lose snow volume to water volume. This turned out to be about the right amount of water for the stew—plus another handful, or two (I wanted about ⅓ of a canteen cup full).
Next, we snapped the four small Slim Jims into ¼ inch sections (you could cut them up, but they broke quite easily on their own). After the snow was melted, we added the Slim Jim bits and a dash of salt for absorption—about ¼ of the packet (because those Slim Jims didn’t have enough sodium on their own). We allowed the jerky giblets to soak for a few minutes—so as to absorb some of the water. We figured the Slim Jims would add enough seasoning for the stew. Field Cooking 101: Let the food be the seasoning.
Once the orangy-brown oils from the Slim Jims began to surface and pool and swirl about at the top of the water (which was now starting to boil), we added the two 3-ounce packets of MRE creamer. This was the roux. The fun part of mixing in the creamer was seeing the water turn white while the oils still floated about, not wanting to join the watery party.
At this point, the stew was, well, watery. This was perfect. It was now time for the ‘dumplings’! The dumplings consisted of broken bits of an MRE cracker—just one. The MRE cracker was perfect for the stew because it would add no additional flavors—the Slim Jim ‘spices’ would do all that for us. We did not crumble the cracker, so as to allow it to soak up some of the water and oils. This would also allow the cracker bits to act as a ‘filler’ in the stew. The bits were small, but not too small.
After a few more minutes on the fire (to be sure bacteria and such were killed), we divided the spoils and dined. With each scoop, we had ‘dumplings’ that visually resembled scalloped potato fragments. And the meaty chucks had swollen—just as planned. Each previously section of wrinkled meat was now attempting to burst forth from its edible wrapper membrane. If we had not broken them into ¼ inch chunks and kept them in their edible skins, the meat would have just floated about like fine hair-like animal debris—not appetizing at all.
On this expotition I didn’t bring any way to take a photo, with me, and I fully regret it. I honestly wasn’t expecting this meal to turn out well—or be picture-worthy. It was supposed to be one of those ‘aren’t you glad you’re only reading about it and didn’t experience it’ kind of moments. But, my daughter and I had a great time. And, we cooked up a great mountain make-shift meal: Slim Jim Stew—with Dumplings.
*Expotition: See Chapter Eight: In which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole