Column: Be the backcountry cook your tentmates want you to be


Photo credit: Canyon Woodward

I read a map during a NOLS course I took over the summer. After paddling all day, coming to camp and cooking a nice meal can be a bonding experience with your coursemates.

If you know me at all, you know that I love the outdoors and backpacking. If you’ve read my column, you know that I love cooking. While these things don’t usually mesh well (see: burned, bland and otherwise bleh food), I’ve had a pretty amazing experience cooking on my Archer Arrow Weeks as well as the NOLS course I took over the summer in the Adirondacks.

Surrounded by extensive waterways and white pine forest, I refined my backcountry cooking skills into something I’m proud of and am excited to share with the Archer community.

As the seventh and ninth graders are about to leave for their respective Arrow Weeks, I wanted to give a little advice for a program that has been one of my favorite parts of Archer.  As long as you enter the week with an open mind and a fresh set of batteries in your headlamp, you’re sure to have a great time.

My first tip is to bring a few of your own granola bars or fruit strips.  These are particularly helpful in bringing together your group during a tough hike or just an easy way to be a good friend. Alternatively, they can be your sustenance when your group burns your quinoa-potato pearl veggie burgers.

Photo by Canyon Woodward
Sunset in the Adirondacks. Who wouldn’t want to cook in front of this view?

Additionally, if it is possible, ask for an onion or some cloves of fresh garlic — these can really amp up the cuisine in the wilderness and make cooking a lot more fun.  During my junior year Arrow Week, my group was given a yam to bring along, and I remember being so happy to have fresh food.

My favorite technique for backcountry cooking is for the backcountry pizza.  Infamously chewy, tangy and not for the impatient, they weren’t something I looked forward to until I figured out the secret of life. Sorry, the secret of pizza.

Step one is to make your sauce. Add about a 1/4 cup of tomato powder, a pinch of salt, oregano, spike (Mrs. Dash for the non-NOLS-ie), milk powder and a the smallest bit of sugar to your dip cup with some water in order to make an award-winning backcountry marinara.

Why the little bit of sugar, you ask? Tomatoes are naturally very acidic and, when cooked down, make for a puckery sauce. You’ll often notice even in the frontcountry that small amounts of sugar are added to packaged pasta sauce. While not the healthiest thing in the world, it makes a big difference in your sauce.  

Photo by Canyon Woodward
Me making NOLS’ cheesy bagels. Add a little of the spike seasoning and lots of butter for maximum flavor.

The next step is to make your dough, and the standard NOLS method works perfectly well here. Add a little oregano if you’re feeling fun, and let the dough rise for at least thirty minutes. Prime your stove, and oil your fry-bake — stretching the dough thin across the fry-bake.

Set the fry-bake over a hot flame to fry, and flip when the bottom becomes a golden brown. On the toasty side, spread your sauce and cheese, and add a tablespoon of water to the pan. Cover quickly to melt the cheese. Lift the lid off after a minute and finish the pizza off for a few more minutes.

It may not be Neapolitan style prosciutto and burrata pizza from an Italian cafe (think 800 Degrees), but it is the best thing you’ll eat on your trip (besides scrambled brownies, but those are pretty self-explanatory).  

Have fun, seventh and ninth graders!