When it comes to our High Country Cruises, meals are naturally an important part of any journey. However, when I first started going bush in the mid-70s, my meals mainly consisted of cans of baked beans and/or braised steak and onions, high cuisine it was not. As time and taste buds progressed, I began experimenting with various pre-cooked meals that could be heated up simply by boiling them in a billy. I was always looking for the easiest means by which to have meals that didn’t need too much effort or require a lot of cleaning up afterwards (and with no portable fridges available, fresh food was always an issue). There were many failures in those early days and basically it was the food back then that was usually the point of failure (we may have moved on, but the memories of bad tastes linger).
Now full-on cooking is fine when you’re camped for some length of time at one spot, especially when you have your campervan or caravan with you, but on Cruises we often pull up late in the day, need to do a number of chores after arrival and cooking can sometimes happen when it’s well and truly dark. So simplicity is often a bonus under such conditions and this is where some of us have taken on a challenge to make the most tasty meals possible with the least effort. This kind of all started after one Cruise where I had some disastrous meals, one being a can of latter-day braised steak and onions that resembled the worst of sloppy, canned, dog food and it smelled that way as well. So I swore that from that day on, I would bring wholesome, mainly home-cooked meals on every Cruise.
That said, I still wanted the meals to be as easy as possible to cook, with the least possible cleaning up afterwards. To that end, I came up with some interesting options and the very first was pizza. I’d bought some home-delivery pizza from one of our favourite pizza shops and vacuum packed the slices and then put them in the fridge. On presenting my pizza on one of our Cruises, I received much laughter and ribbing when I placed the pizza on a frypan to heat up, but that all quickly subsided as the wondrous aromas of the pizza filled the hut. I could see the juices filling my fellow traveller’s mouths and envy growing as I enjoyed those tasty slices. So I wasn’t at all surprised when on our following Cruise, vacuum packed pizzas were on the menu for a few of our travellers. And so it’s been ever since, though I’ve not been so diligent, and really need to bring along some of our local pizza, which I’ve recently discovered.
So after the pizza option, we pondered what else could be done and, surprisingly, re-invented the boil in the bag meal concept. In my case, I would make home-made curries, pasta and the like for a meal at home, save some (as well as rice), and vacuum pack them as I did with the pizza. All I would then have to do is boil them in a billy until heated, use one bowl/plate and fork, and then use the water in the billy to clean up afterwards. Basically, anything left over from a main meal is perfect for vacuum packing and taking on a Cruise. I’ve even seared a steak or bacon steaks, vacuum packed them while still hot, repeated the same with various vegetables and then re-heated everything in a billy. The steak and bacon steaks have actually come out tasty and tender, belying this rather unusual method (not quite sous-vide). I even make toasted sandwiches and vacuum pack those for lunches, eating them cold (if you can eat cold pizza, you can eat cold toasted sandwiches).
Now while some may look upon what I’ve written with a degree of disdain, as it may not sound anything like bush cuisine, the meals can actually turn out very nice indeed and more so because they require such little effort after a long day on the tracks. Curries and similar meals can especially come out excellent, as they always do when cooked a second time round due to the flavours infusing. There is one thing that’s certain, with the meals that I’m now preparing and taking on our Cruises, there is no way that I’ll be having a dog’s breakfast come meal time. Actually, our dogs have pretty good breakfasts and dinners each day, so why should I eat worse that they do when I’m on a Cruise?
On a side note, some of our travellers have invested in rather salubrious 12V ovens and enjoy hot pies, donuts and other meals along the way on our Cruises. I’m wondering when the next accessory will be a 12V microwave oven? I was joking about microwave ovens on our last Cruise, until I found out that these are an actual product available right now for off-road travellers, caravaners and whatever. And here I am just boiling meals in a bag on an old Coleman petrol cooker. I’m just wondering when someone will bring along a 12V pizza oven or maybe just a gas fired one. Anyway, just eat it.