Adopting principals from the ultralight ethos has cut my packweight massively over the last two years. Some from lighter gear replacing heavy gear. Light (and often delicate/expensive) gear is not all the UL philosophy has to offer though, despite the gear obsession that’s endemic amongst its followers (myself included). Trying to “go ultralight” guided only by a weighting scales is unimaginatively literal thinking which ignores the beautiful core of ultralight, minimalism. Minimalism is dear to my Arvo Pärt, Ritchie Hawtin, Philip Glass, Alva Noto loving heart. I embody minimalism in other parts of my life, like at work (much to the frustration of my boss) and in bed (poor wife). Adopting minimalism in hiking gives much greater rewards than buying light, expensive paraphernalia. Saving a few hundred grammes with replacement gear doesn’t save as much frustration as saving a few hundred grammes from eliminating superfluous junk. The easy way to hack away at the extra dross is to make a trip, make a list of all the gear you actually used, and from then on only take things that are on the list. Then constantly hack away at that list by always asking the question, ‘Do I really need this?’.
|Do I really need this?|
One area that always circumnavigates my strict list-keeping is food. The rucksack gets packed up super-efficiently a day before the trip starts, but food is usually picked up in a supermarket and chucked in willy-nilly. And who in the last few hurried minutes in the supermarket can show the Herculean willpower needed to say no to bacon, eggs, marshmallows, hot chocolate, salami, fresh baguettes, or kilogram blocks of cheese? Not me, that’s who. To keep food weight down, I turned to the excellent teachings of Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen, the most efficient and effective explorer of all time. If you don’t know Amundsen, he’s the guy who first made it to the South pole 100 years ago today, and was probably also first to the North pole (Peary, Cook and Byrd famously having taken turns in faking it before him). There are four very famous Arctic explorers from the early twentieth century, Nansen, Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton, and Amundsen is the most skilful and successful one. (Nansen is the ground-breaking giant who lead the way, Shackleton is the gutsy never-say-die hero who always had the most exciting adventures, and Scott is the tragic hero/dithering fool who killed himself and his men but is forgiven because he died).
In his incredible raid on the South pole Amundsen had sleighing diets made up of only four ingredients, pemmican, chocolate, biscuits and powdered milk (and dog, I guess). This might sound a little monotonous, but I think we all know how good any hot food is after a day of cross-country skiing. It’s a hundred year old diet, lacking in plenty of essential nutrients, but I still thought it would be fun to try out. Each of the foodstuffs is completely durable, requires no special storage over the short-term and if stored in a cool and dry spot can last for months, if not years. You can eat them all hot or cold, so fuel is not needed. Sounds good, let’s try it.
Milk powder is no problem, and I managed somehow to find a source for chocolate too. Biscuits are basically double-baked bread (Zweiback), and vary, depending on which explorer you read. Amundsen had a wholemeal, rolled oat, yeast-raised biscuit. Scott used white flour biscuits, raised with baking powder (and died of malnutrition). Cook, the American who famously faked climbing Mt. Denali (then Mt. McKinley) and faked reaching the North pole (before being ridiculed as a faker by fellow North pole faker Peary), lived on double-baked bread biscuits during the wander around the approach to Mt. Denali. Making double-baked bread sounds easy, and is easy, and the biscuits taste fantastic. Swedes call them skorpor, and if a Swede sees a bag of skorpor in your house they will eat it all up in around 10 seconds!
Pemmican is a little more complex, meat is jerked, ground into a fine powder and mixed with rendered animal fats. I get as far as making the jerky before getting distracted and eating it all. Finding a good animal fat is also pretty difficult, different fats have different water contents and using bad fat means bad pemmican, leading to a case of ‘hot chocolate bottom’, a big problem to deal with during a hike. Finishing off the quest for a good pemmican can wait until I finish the quest for the perfect beef jerky.
Quick recipes for zweiback biscuits and something that is getting close to good jerky are shown below.
- Around 850 gr flour (25% white, 75% wholemeal), brought up to 1 kg with sunflower seeds, carrot flesh (see below), oatflakes, rolled oats and flax seeds.
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 packet of yeast (50 gr) (the Swedish packets of Kronjäst contain around 3 tablespoons of sugar, so maybe add some sugar if you are using dry yeast).
This is all mixed with 600 ml of 37 °C water, into which you have dissolved the yeast. I like to add carrots to the bread, they give it a nice colour, so I juice a few and use their juice to make up the 600 ml.
I peel them first because then I can just dig out all the dried minced flesh and chuck it in the bread-mix. If you don’t own a juicer then this might be a pain in the ass so just grate them and add in some extra flour to compensate for their liquid.
Delicious carrot juice! Full of β-carotene, fibre, sugar and Vitamin C!
The dry ingredients weight a kilo. Liquids come to around 600 ml, are warmed to 37 °C and mixed with the yeast.
A well in the centre of the dry ingredients is formed, the yeast soup poured in. It’s slowly mixed and allowed to rise for around 45 minutes somewhere warm.
After the first rise, it’s kneaded again and put into slightly oiled forms, and allowed to rise again for another 45 minutes, (or longer if it needs time to fill out the forms).
Then they are powdered with a little flour and
chucked carefully placed in the oven for around 40 minutes, at 200 °C. (Seriously, carefully placed, nothing’s more annoying than seeing the dough collapse as you slide it into the oven because it got a little knock).
Voilà! To turn it into a biscuit, we just slice and stick it in the dehydrator for a couple of hours.
The slices take around an hour or two to fully dry out in the dehydrator (depending on thickness). Doing them in the oven instead is easy, just slice and bake at a low heat for a couple of hours.
The carrot flesh really helps to keep the bread moist, and for the zweiback it sweetens the biscuit a lot, which succesfully turns the taste away from ‘stale bread’ and towards ‘biscotti’. It also turns the bread orange, so you can fuck around with this if you want to be creative and impress the ladies.
Two juices (beetroot and carrot), but only the carrot flesh I stick in the bread.
Two separate doughs, one beetroot and one carrot flavour. Knead and flatten them after the first rise, then lay them over one another and roll them back and forth to merge them a little.
Too good to eat, nearly.
The path to consistently good beef jerky has been a long, rocky, salty and crunchy one. When I try something I tend to have beginners luck. I don’t realise it’s beginners luck until the honeymoon period ends and I spend a long time trying to recapture the initial success. That’s how the beef jerky went, the first batch I made haphazardly turned out to be the most perfect beef jerky I ever had. It was a little soft, very chewy, tangy, salty and very very meaty. After that first batch the quality plummeted, every batch came out with the consistency of deep fat fried cardboard. I stopped randomly launching meat into the dehydrator, and attacked the problem with some experimentation.
Acid is needed in a marinade to break down the meat a little and allow the marinade to penetrate. I’ve tried a lot of different acid bases to the marinade, and am currently kind of happy with oranges.
Delicious sweet blood oranges, ready to be juiced up.
No point playing with delicate flavours here, only the strong survive hours and hours of dehydrating. I want a hot spicy tang to the jerky so I add a good percentage of tabasco sauce. The meat is rolled out, slathered in tabasco and layered with slices of orange.
The meat is laid out on the dehydrator shelves and lightly sprinkled with salt. I ran through a lot of meat trying to optimise the time for dehydration. Too long and the meat turned to crinkly splintery shit, too short and it felt unreliably wet. You can see in the photos above and below that where the oranges were touching the meat the marinade didn’t soak in so well. These spots also have a bitter taste, so I will modify this a little.
Slices were put in at staggered intervals, time spent dehydrating ranged from 4 to 12 hours. I can tell you right now 12 hours was waaaaaaaaay too long, the jerky came out like black glass.
Some five, six and seven hour samples.
Six to seven hours seemed like the sweet spot to me, the meat was definitely dry, but had a slight malleability to it. It tore instead of cracking, in the mouth it didn’t break into shards like glass, but was easily chewed, and seemed to grow into a spicy hot, slightly salty mouthful without too much effort. This can be modified as you like, for jerky that you intend to use directly, even five hours is fine, the meat will not last so long but will be relatively soft and tender. Longer dehydration is needed for jerky that will be stored or carried in warm temperatures.
The result from this juice-jerky is hard to describe. The jerky goes in, crunchy chewing begins, and as the meat softens and moistens a little, a spicy, smoky taste of oranges starts to grow. DAMN spicy actually, I really like that spicy flavour in combination with the sweet skorpor. Jerky and biscuits are seriously scrumptious together, my only problem so far has been that I’ve been experimenting with them so much that I always make many small batches, and they disappear in no time (I have no shortage of people willing to try them out).
I should really point out before I wrap this post up, that if you’re a connoisseur of food, you should maybe take all this with a pinch of salt. I do like good food, but I don’t care too much about it, and if it’s going to save me pack-weight and time and fuel, I can eat anything. I see food as just a load of chemical fuel to keep me moving. So if you’re the kind of guy that can’t stomach the same flavour dry-freeze ready-meals twice in a row, then jerky and biscuits might shock you with new levels of blandness.