Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Backcountry Baking Mixes

You’ve probably got everything you need to make biscuits from scratch in your cupboard. And you probably don’t do so very often: it’s time consuming, and mass-produced mixes from Krusteaz and Bisquick are just fine. Still, we make a lot of our own mixes in our kitchen from scratch, everything from pizza dough to waffle batter, because we make all kinds of substitutions to the mix to see what kinds of different flavor combinations and textures we can create.

After getting the hang of the reflector oven, we started making our own trail baking mixes from scratch as well. A backcountry biscuit is a reward; a backcountry biscuit made from scratch is a culinary delight.

Around the time we started our trail baking scratch mix experiments, a friend and fellow backcountry traveler began experimenting with milling his own wheat from heirloom grains. The results were incredible: we were eating better breads in the backcountry than we found in many restaurants.

But making our own mixes was labor intensive. You don’t want to pack more mix than is necessary to feed your group at a single meal. Weeks before your put-in date, you either make a lot of mix, combine it, and vacuum seal it in the right quantity; or you do a lot of fraction math in your head to get the ratios right. Either way, it’s time consuming. At the same time that we’re staging baking mixes in the run up to a backcountry trip, we’re busy staging breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks for the trail. Before long, “good enough” becomes the standard you’re motivated to achieve with the baked goods, but “good enough” wasn’t something we wanted to just default into.

We’d remembered reading in one of Cliff Jacobson’s books about a company called Sturdiwheat out of Red Wing, Minnesota. We got to thinking about it and concluded that if it’s good enough for Cliff it’s good enough for all of us. We gave their products and try and we are greatly satisfied with the results. Sturdiwheat don’t make trail mixes, they make mixes for your kitchen that happen to work fantastically well on the trail because they generally only require oil or water. And the flavors and textures are fantastic. We’ve trail baked their cornbread (as mentioned earlier, fantastic with a sliver of aged cheddar), lemon cornbread, and brownie mixes. For what it’s worth, Sturdiwheat’s pancake and buckwheat pancake mixes are also excellent.

This saves the mixing time but not the measuring time; you’ll still have to measure and vacuum seal before you pack in the mix. But with a standard measuring size of 1 cup this is a lot easier to calculate than when making a mix from scratch. While our baking mixes are pre-measured and vacuum sealed per each meal, we pack in vegetable oil and olive oil in 8 oz resealable plastic bottles and measure out the quantity we want with a tablespoon measure that we keep in our utensil kit. We use small quantities of cooking oil in multiple meals, and this is more economical packing than having lots of little bottles of oil.

Baking mixes can be a bit messy. You can mix them in a small pot if you have a wooden spoon in your utensil kit, but because of their thickness you’ll still end up with a bit of dough left over that you’ll have to wipe up and pack out with your garbage. Instead of using a pot as a mixing bowl, we prepare some baking mixes in a quart or gallon ziplock bag; we’ve found the excess that we take out as garbage is no greater than if we mix in a pot.

We encourage you to incorporate trail baking on your next backcountry trip, no matter if you use a mass produced, specialty produced, or scratch mix of your own. Trail baking is not that difficult, and best of all you’ll give moments of delight to the people you’re traveling with.