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Freeze-Dried Is Forever!

Posted on May 12th, 2020

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We’re all longing not to just get outdoors but to resume adventuring again. Hang in there; we’re almost free from our stay-home, stay safe edicts. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore opens July 1, Pictured Rocks June 25, Isle Royale National Park June 15. Check our eshop if you need guidebooks or maps

In the meantime, MichiganTrailMaps.com contributor Jim DuFresne has passed the time organizing his gear, and he found an old Richmoor Natural High packet. In this Trail Talk blog, he answers the ultimate question in backpacking.  Is a freeze-dried dinner still edible after 20 years?

By Jim DuFresne

The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home order has me pondering life lately, and I’ve come to the realization that I have spent most of mine looking for ways to escape outdoors.

Jim DuFresne

That and I don’t think I’ve ever thrown away a piece of outdoor equipment.

When out of lockdown boredom I cleaned out that corner of the basement where I store my gear I was shocked at what I still had and how old some of it was. I not only had my Kelty pack from the 1980s with that external aluminum frame; I still had my Boy Scout canvas backpack, which had no frame at all nor any padding in its narrow straps.

I also had my official Boy Scout compass, a sleeping pad my sister made from a Frostline kit – a company that I’m pretty sure is no longer around – and a package of flares. The flares were for my extensive travels in the Alaska wilderness during the pre-cell phone and pepper spray era. The strategy back then was if you encountered an overly aggressive brown bear, you were supposed to shoot one of the flares over its head in hopes that the noise and bright flash would make it turn and run.

If not, then the second flare was for catching the attention of a bush plane flying overhead after the bear was done with you.

But by far, the most interesting thing I found was an unopen packet of Richmoor’s Natural High backpacker’s food. This one was cinnamon rolls With Old Fashion Icing, and that icing was indeed old fashion. The package dates back to 2001.

Cooking freeze dried at Isle Royale National Park.

Richmoor had sent me a case of meals that year to evaluate when I was Downunder updating my Tramping In New Zealand guidebook for Lonely Planet. My immediate reaction in the basement was: Will those rolls still rise after 20 years?

One friend cautioned me that chemicals and the composition of packaged food could change after two decades. “Really,” I said, “because there is no expiration date on it.” Another told me, of course, it’s still good. “Freeze-dried is forever.”

I was dismayed when I read on the back “ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS … NO preservatives, NO additives, NO artificial colors!” This was one of those rare moments I would have been okay with a little riboflavin, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cellulose gum, but I decided to open the packet anyway. It was my duty, my scientific contribution to backpackers everywhere.

Inside were two smaller packets, one labeled Cinnamon Icing and the other a bumpy mixture of what I presumed was flour.  I couldn’t find the raisin packet mentioned in the instructions, then realized that the bumps in the flour that I was fearing were dead bugs from New Zealand were indeed my raisins.

As instructed, I mixed the icing with two tablespoons of cold water and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the sugary powder became smooth and creamy icing. I set it aside.

A packet of Richmoor Natural High cinnamon rolls and the end result.

I was going to cheat and add a little baking powder to the flour mixture – really, how could baking powder still be good after 20 years? – and then stick everything into a 375-degree oven, but I wasn’t helping my fellow backpackers if I did this.

I had to make this as if I was in the middle of Isle Royale, so I added a third of a cup of water to the flour, stirred it until everything was moist and then dropped spoonfuls of the dough into a pre-heated and well-oiled skillet. I covered the pan as instructed.

After five minutes, it was time for the moment of truth. Would the baking powder still kick in, or would there be an unleavened mess burning on the bottom of the pan?

I slowly lifted the lid and was shocked at what I saw. There, cooking gently in a film of hot oil were four little cinnamon rolls, nicely brown and at least two inches high. I flipped them, as instructed, cook them for another five minutes and then spooned the icing in glops on the top to let it slowly melt down the sides.

They looked delicious, and they tasted . . .Well, the rolls were a little heavy and very strong in their cinnamon flavor. Amazingly the raisins reconstituted into a soft texture – I didn’t chip a tooth eating any of them – but definitely were not plump.

This is not something I would serve my family on Christmas morning. But out in the middle of Isle Royale, halfway through a 40-mile slog along the Greenstone Ridge Trail, on the third morning when you wake up with throbbing shoulders from the weight of your backpack?

If you crawl out of that tent, make these rolls and serve them warm and gooey with a cup of weak instant coffee, your fellow trekkers would crown you the Gordan Ramsay of the wilderness even if there are a few pine needles sticking out of the icing. Between the caffeine in the coffee and the sugar in the icing, your party would be at the Hatchet Lake Campground by noon.

Was this 20-year-old Richmoor packet still good? Absolutely because, in the end, that’s what backpacker’s freeze-dried cuisine is all about. Hassle-free, filling and forever.

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