Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Collards and Rutabagas: Southern Comfort Food for the Trail

A couple of years ago, my wife Susan introduced me to Paleo food.  I feel in love with the way of eating immediately since it was very close to the foods I ate growing up.  Meals at my boyhood home were mainly a meat and lots of vegetables.  My Dad raise a good portion of them in the family garden which we all had a hand in keeping it weed free and watered.
While we don’t grow our own vegetables we do buy a good number of them from Company Shops Food Coop in Burlington, NC.  I’ve also become a reader of labels.  It seems my wife and me to a lesser degree are sensitive to a number of food additives.  The worst of these sensitivities is corn.  I can’t believe how many ways the food industry has found to disguise corn in food.  The most deceptive I think is “natural flavors”.  
When we first started eating this way, I figured this would be fine at home.  However I just couldn’t imagine eating a high protein/low carb diet while hiking 20 + miles a day.  So for the first few trips I ate the usual pastas and rice dishes that I was accustomed to wolfing down at the end of a day on the trail.  The only problem is the sugars and grains in those foods are addictive.  Once I return home I’m craving M&M’s and tortellini.  
Over the past year I’ve been adapting a number of recipes to the trail.  While calorie dense is a high priority, it’s not the only consideration.  Protein is a big plus.  I have found that after a hard day protein helps get my muscles ready for the next day.  If a meal seems a little light, I can always add in a few tablespoons of olive oil and follow up the meal with a desert of almond butter.
So here is the first of several recipes that I have prepared for an upcoming trip.  Its collards and rutabagas.  While Mom cooked collards (and still does) she didn’t put rutabagas on the supper table.  My Uncle Earl introduced me to them in the back of his grocery store where I worked as a boy.  While they look a lot like a turnip, the taste is milder.  Cooked in with the collards they could easily be mistaken for a potato.

3-4 Strips of Uncured Bacon
1 Large Onion (sliced)
6 Cloves of Garlic (sliced)
2 cups of Chicken Broth
2 Medium Size Rutabagas (sliced 1/8” thick; about 3 cups)
1 lb. Collards (remove large stems and tear into small pieces)
1 TBS Trader Joe’s South African Smoke
1 TBS Red Pepper Flakes

1. Cook the bacon over low heat in a frying pan.  When done set aside and add the onions and garlic to the pan.  Cook until the onions are translucent.
2. Add to a large crock pot (set on high) the bacon, onions, garlic chicken broth, rutabagas and spices.  Once the chicken broth has started to steam, add the collards.
3. Stir as needed to keep the collards moist.  Turn the crock pot to low after about an hour.  
4. Collards are done when tender.
5. Drain off the liquid and spread the collards and rutabagas on two drying racks.  Set the dehydrator on 130 degrees and let dry overnight.   Collards will be brittle and the rutabagas will be hard when they are ready.
6. Package as one large meal or two smaller ones using a vacuum sealer.  Make a small slit on the side of the bag to make it easy to tear open later.  (On short hikes or the first few days of a longer one 1/2 this recipe is a decent meal.)

I store all my meals in a freezer to keep them fresh.  When I get the opportunity to go for a hike I pull out what I need and start walking.  In camp I open the packet of food and dump it into an MSR kettle.  I add enough water to cover the collards.  A couple of tablespoons (or more if you desire) of olive oil and about an ounce and a half of jerky also find their way into the pot.  I cook with esbit and I’ve found that a half tab in my chicken can stove is just the right amount time and heat to prepare my meal.  A couple of stirs later I’m sitting back with a pot full of southern comfort food.  The meal (the full recipe) will have about 550 calories and 32 grams of protein.  It is very filling but you may still want to top it off with a packet of almond butter or another high fat snack