High Country Cuisine

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).

Camp Oven Cooking - Bentleys Plains Victoria

Camp Oven Cooking – Bentleys Plains Victoria

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.

Gourmet Dining - Wonnangatta River Victoria

Gourmet Dining – Wonnangatta River Victoria

Mitchell's Flat Camp - Mitchell's Flat Victoria

Mitchell’s Flat Camp – Mitchell’s Flat Victoria

Camping on the Barkly River East Branch - Nobs Track Victoria

Camping on the Barkly River East Branch – Nobs Track Victoria

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.

Pizza at McDonalds - McDonalds Hut Victoria

Pizza at McDonalds – McDonalds Hut Victoria

Relaxing at Wombat PO Hut - Wombat Creek Victoria

Relaxing at Wombat PO Hut – Wombat Creek Victoria

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).

McMichaels Hut - Lost Plain Victoria

McMichaels Hut – Lost Plain Victoria

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?

Lemon, Teriyaki, White Miso, Chilli, Chicken Breast with Japanese Go Rice

Lemon, Teriyaki, White Miso, Chilli, Chicken Breast with Japanese Go Rice

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.

8 thoughts on “High Country Cuisine

  1. Shawn K.

    Interesting food prep method.

    What do you use for vacuum packing?
    Have you had any meals that didn’t work well after the process?
    Do you refrigerate the meals or freeze them?
    What’s the shelf life like?

    1. Ray Post author

      I just use a consumer grade vacuum packing machine, they’re readily available and reasonable ones cost under $100 (in Australia). I haven’t had one one meal failure so far after doing this for many Cruises, as well as our regular camping trips. Indeed, my wife looks forward to these meals on our camping trips because it’s so simple to prepare and clean up afterwards.

      Depending on how early I make the meals, I’ll sometimes freeze them and if only a day or so before departure, just refrigerate them. They are kept in our portable fridge (a 50lt Waeco) on our trips. Vacuum packing is used a lot for Australian outback travellers etc and properly vacuum packed fresh meat will last for weeks in a fridge. Fresh chicken is recommended to be used within a week, fresh beef can safely last for two to three weeks. Cooked meals like curries etc, can last longer.

      One thing that I didn’t fully cover is that what’s so good about vacuum packing is that you can flatten whatever you are about to vacuum pack and once vacuumed, the meals store so much better than if they were in a container. Being flat, they take up much less space, which means that you can pack more in the fridge. Of course when we do our camping trips, I will often vacuum pack a roast or the like and use our camp oven to cook the meal. You can also vacuum pack vegetables, like potatoes, carrots etc, so that they store longer without going off.

  2. Shawn K.

    I can see the benefits. Like you, I try to keep clean up to a minimum to save time and water. I may give this a try.

    Here’s something I’ve been doing for several years to greatly reduce cooking messes. I line my pans with non-stick, oven grade aluminum foil. The oven sized roll fits perfectly, and I keep it in place with a few binder clips. There’s no difference in cooking times or method, and once it cools, the foil peels out, leaving a clean pan.


    1. Ray Post author

      That would work and it’s similar to using baking paper at home, which I do all the time to keep baking trays etc reasonably clean.

  3. Mike Harding

    Boil-in-the Bag

    A great concept – God only knows what chemicals migrate into the food but I’m far too old to worry about that – the alcohol will get me first 🙂

    Something I discovered a few years ago are Indian boil-in-the-bag meals – the same concept as your vacuum packed meals but done commercially.

    It seems they are sold in Oz mainly by specialist Indian food shops although I did, just once, see them in Aldi. They are vegetarian meals and sell for around $1.50 to $2 – having a large Western stomach I eat two; a rice base and a sauce topping and that is a perfectly adequate evening meal – very flavoursome too.

    I, generally, buy the Gits (lost in translation I suspect) brand:

    Which are imported by these people:

    Normally I cook pretty good food when in the bush but sometimes, if one arrives in camp late, or it’s been raining the whole damn day then these are *perfect*.

    They could be done on the stove but I usually use the campfire: I put 100mm of water in the stainless steel bucket, place it low over the flames to bring it to the boil. When it’s boiling drop the two Gits pouches in and wait until it returns to the boil. I allow it to boil for 8 minutes (the instructions say 3-5 but….) serve on a disposable plate and eat with a disposable spoon – a tray (piece of plywood or the like) is essential.

    These meals are dated about 18 months ahead but I would eat them six months past that without qualms. I keep four rice and four sauce in the 4WD for those occasions when I *really* don’t want to cook and they have been a Godsend at times.

    Best to store them out of the sun and in as cool a place as possible.

    1. Ray Post author

      I don’t think much will migrate into the food, given that these vacuum bags have been around for a long time. And with what of us do, the food is only in the bag for a fairly short time.

      One of our travellers was bringing along these Indian ‘gourmet’ meals in tin foil packets on several of our Cruises, but has lately deferred to home cooked meals. As you noted, one packet is generally not sufficient after a long day on the tracks.

      I could relate some of the horror meals we used to eat in the early 80s, when boil in a tin was de rigeur, but I’d rather not. I suspect that it was only the alcohol in those days that enabled us to survive whatever was actually in those containers.

  4. Mike Harding

    Hi Ray

    I cannot find a direct e-mail address for you on this site and I’m reluctant to put stuff into these reply boxes which may be published.

    A “Contact” page would be useful.

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