I was excited when I heard about this cookbook. We need a Scout-friendly backpacking cookbook and I like the idea of contributed and trail-tested recipes. Unfortunately, I have some reservations recommending this book to Scouts. Good information is buried in boring text and only some of the recipes are Scout-ready.
The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook was written by the authors of Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’. They worked with Scouting Magazine to collect trail recipes. I even know one of the contributors—Hi, Gordon!
Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ and some of the recipes in this book use a home-dehydrator approach. Food is cooked at home, dried in a dehydrator, then rehydrated on the trail. This opens up a lot of options, but it requires buying a dehydrator ($100-300) and also requires starting meal prep two or three days before you leave. I’m learning this method using our oven’s dehydrator setting, but I can’t see your average patrol cook doing this, maybe not even the top 2% of patrol cooks. I sure wouldn’t have done that for the Raccoon Patrol when I was their regular cook.
The book starts with a fifty page introduction that has great information (I learned a couple of things), but is much too wordy and text-heavy. I wanted to get out my red pencil and shorten sentences while I was reading it. There are some photos, roughly one every other page, but too many of them are a pot on a stove and don’t illustrate anything. The illustrations in NOLS Cookery are line drawings, but much more effective than these photos.
How wordy? Here is one example from the introduction, chosen solely because of my pet peeve about hand sanitizer recommendations:
Certain elements of backpacking, especially when answering nature’s call, require fastidious attention to the cleanliness of one’s hands. Each member of the group should carry a small container of hand sanitizer, enough to last the trip, for thoroughly cleansing their hands before handling food at mealtime. This is particularly needed when water for cleaning is in short supply.
And here is my rewrite, which follows CDC guidelines for hand sanitizer use:
Dirty hands are the main cause of sickness on backpacking trips. Before cooking or eating, wash with soap and water until there is no visible dirt, then use hand sanitizer, if you want to carry that.
I’ve cut it from 60 words to 36, half the syllables, and included more information. The book excerpt has a readability score of grade 13.3, mine grade 8.9. Clearly, my first draft needs more work to be ready for Boy Scouts, a program targeted at 6th through 8th graders. The book paragraph is written for college sophomores.
The introduction needs a thorough rewrite with half as many words and twice as many illustrations. Some lists and charts might be good, too. Again, see NOLS Cookery for effective lists and charts. There is great info there, but Scouts will never see it.
The last three pages of the introduction are a detailed, step-by-step walkthrough of preparing a recipe. This is great, and would make a fine patrol meeting.
Recipes are the next section, followed by some appendices with excellent references. The recipe pages are color coded by meal type, with icons for difficulty and perishable items. The icons are not as clear as those in The Back-Country Kitchen and are barely visible on the breakfast pages.
Each recipe lists the packed weight for the meal. This is great. It is a lot of work to compile, but a backpacking cookbook should always include the weight. That is the fundamental challenge, eating well and packing light.
If I counted correctly, there are 102 recipes (including the demonstration recipe, “Rayado Rice and Chicken”):
- 18 breakfasts
- 26 lunches
- 40 dinners
- 5 breads
- 16 snacks and desserts
- 9 drinks
I’ve never used a recipe for a trail breakfast, lunch, snack, or drink, and I’ve rarely made breads, so that leaves about 40 dinner recipes that I might use on a regular outing. Let’s break down the dinner recipes.
- 10 require a home dehydrator
- 18 only require rehydrating on the trail
- 12 need multiple cooking steps, frying, or baking on the trail
Now we are down to 18 recipes appropriate for beginners and 12 for more advanced cooks. I don’t expect the patrol cook to go buy a dehydrator, so I’m ruling those out. Roughly 20 dinner recipes seems like a small payoff for a 180 page cookbook.
None of the dinners are sized to feed 6-8 boys, the expected patrol size. Five are sized for six, but none of them help the beginning patrol cook feed everybody. They are: home-dehydrated ground beef (just that ingredient), home-dehydrated venison and beans, fresh fish caught on the trail, pan-fried hush puppies (should be a bread), and dates stuffed on the trail then fried. I did not see any discussion of scaling up recipes. There are some tricky spots there, for example, a quart freezer bag only holds two servings.
Some of these do look tasty, and I’m sure I’ll try them. I might even branch out into some breakfast or lunch recipes. But I’ll pick and choose when recommending recipes to Scouts.
One small annoyance—could cookbook authors please list every recipe in the table of contents? To see how it is done, look at The Greens Cookbook from 1987. That allows me to scan a couple of pages and immediately find that recipe I’m looking for.
I’m still looking for a backpacking cookbook that I can hand to a Scout and expect them to successfully feed their patrol. This is a step in the right direction, but we aren’t there yet.
What am I looking for? A backpacking cookbook accessible to 7th graders, because not all our Scouts read at grade level. Half the recipes must be achievable by unassisted 7th graders and half can be more challenging. Meal portions are designed for 6-8 Scouts, with smaller plans written out (no arithmetic). Ingredients are affordable and available at supermarkets (A Scout is Thrifty). It needs substantial vegetarian and vegan options. It covers backpacking and food planning skills that are not in The Boy Scout Handbook or the Cooking merit badge pamphlet. That’s a tall task, but totally achievable. If it was just the recipes, that would be OK, too.