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The Backcountry Cupboard

Stock these 25 essentials for grab-it-and-go meals.

Want to join us for a trip to the mountains? We’re leaving tomorrow after work,” the voice at the other end of the phone says. No doubt they want me along for my sterling company. I look at the clock-7 p.m., just enough time to organize my gear before hitting the hay. “Oh, one other thing. Sally can’t go, and she’d volunteered to bring the food. Can you handle it?”

I swallow hard. The truth is they only want me for my grub. “Sure,” I answer with confidence. “No problem.” And it’s not, because my cupboard is stocked with the 25 backcountry essentials. At a moment’s notice I can scramble together meals for a weekend on the trail, all lightweight, good-tasting, and anything but monotonous. No need to hurriedly inventory what’s on hand, frantically dash to the supermarket to fill in the holes, then stay up into the wee hours measuring and bagging ingredients.

Why just 25 ingredients, especially when there’s a universe full of foods suitable for backpacking? Because through years of practice, I’ve noticed that many of the same ingredients keep showing up in most of my backcountry creations. By narrowing the list and designing recipes around these 25 ingredients, I’ve simplified my life without sacrificing taste or variety.

You’ll find most of these backcountry essentials at your favorite supermarket and local health food store, although some specialty items can be hard to track down. I’ve offered suggestions on where you can get these through mail-order.

If you’re the overly fastidious sort, you might consider keeping an inventory list that shows when you’re running low on any one item. When you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, you add the items to your household shopping list and scratch them off as you make your usual rounds. Or you place an order with a specialty food company through the mail. Last-minute shopping becomes a thing of the past.

A note about storage. I keep backcountry-only ingredients in a large pretzel tin and stow it in a cool, dry area. If you have shelf space to spare, then reserve room for your camping food supplies. I also store powdered eggs, powdered dairy products, dried or freeze-dried meats or seafood, and anything with a high fat content in a bag in the refrigerator or freezer.

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