It’s the peak of the holiday season and thousands of people are packing up to leave the city. For those used to spending summers hiking in the mountains, holidays are forever connected with the taste of instant soups and mashes, which were lightweight and ready to eat but didn’t really have much flavour. Petra Pospěchová, a food journalist and keen mountain hiker, proves that you can climb the summits and eat well at the same time. Her Outdoor Cookbook, which came out just recently, features dozens of easy and tasteful recipes as well as a number of tips for less experienced travellers.
“After all the years we have been hiking and improving the recipes and finding the right ingredients I have such a long list of recipes. And my friends always ask me how to do this and how to do that so it is easier for me to wrote the book then answer their questions all the time.”
When I used to hike in the mountains, the main criteria when choosing food was the weight and I never really thought about the taste…
“I am pretty sure you can stick with this criterion and at the same time make it taste well. There are a few traditional ingredients you can work with. And with the boom of Asia speciality shops and health food shops there is such a huge choice of soba noodles, different rice noodles and pumpkin noodles and different kinds of couscous and seaweeds.
“You can also easily dry things thanks to modern equipment so you can dry pretty much anything from scrambled eggs to cheese. I myself dried the blue cheese and it was really awesome. It is such a marvellous ingredient: really light and really nutritious:”
I was amazed at what can be dried. I was really surprised that you can dry things like Brussel sprouts...
“Part of the book is focused on the drying because the important thing in this is experience. Some of the things last for a year without any harm but for instance the Brussel sprout change their taste after a few weeks, so you have to dry them shortly before you go. That’s the experience you get from the book, so you don’t have to experiment.
“That’s the point of the book: You will starve at the end of the day, but you don’t have to starve too much…”
You actually start with a long technical description of the equipment. But you yourself seem to swear by the old fashioned gear...
“That’s right. On one hand it is sentimental - I have had this particular piece since I was six so I cannot imagine switching to something high-tech. This is part of me when I go hiking. And honestly, it is light and the cooking is fast, so I don’t feel any need for a change.
“But there is some modern equipment that I really appreciate. When we go hiking in winter it is definitely better to have this high-tech gasoline cooker. Otherwise you ca get in real trouble when the gas bottle freezes. So in these cases I really appreciate the new inventions. But in most cases I just keep with the old stuff.”
After mentioning the technical details, you move on to ingredients. We have already talking about the drying methods but what else would you recommend when choosing ingredients?
“We talked about the weight and another important thing is that you have to prepare the meal fast, because you usually don’t have time, you are hungry and the weather is not always the best. So if the food takes five minutes, it’s great. If the weather is fine, 15 minutes are ok, but it is a maximum, I would say.
“And then there is also a question of how long the food lasts. For example in summer you have to be careful with meat products, because these things can turn into poison very easily. It is much easier in winter, because the food doesn’t get spoiled so fast.
“Then there is the taste, which for me is the easiest thing. To improve the taste you just add a little portion of pesto, curry paste or simple spices, such as peppers, turmeric and something else you like and you change this non tasting hiking stuff into real food.
I also worry about low blood sugar when hiking. What would you recommend to avoid the problem?
“In Czech we even have a special word for that problem – we call it “hlaďák”. The best thing to avoid it is to eat regularly, not to skip small snacks between meals and definitely eat sugar based foods during the day.
“So start with big meal in the morning with a lot of carbohydrates, follow with small snacks of a similar kind during the day and save meaty things for the evening, because these are for regeneration.”
You also use lots of different ingredients that you have probably encountered during your journeys abroad.
“That’s true .I first encountered dried cheese in the Himalayas. Local grannies would always use dried yak cheese, and it was amazing, because it gave the food special flavour. And then I realised I can dry basically any cheese. If it’s fatty, it won’t last forever, but any cheese can make it over four weeks if it is dried properly.
“The same goes for corn flour, which is typical for the Carpathian range. The shepherds always make something called mamaliga: it is corn flour mixed with water. They mix it together with sheep cheese, let it stick into one piece and eat it for dinner.”
“You can dry pretty much anything from scrambled eggs to cheese. I myself dried the blue cheese and it was really awesome.”
Some of the recipes featured in your cookbook wild boar stew with pears, chicken quinoa beetroot carpaccio with cheese, have you really tried to make them all in outdoor conditions?
“Definitely. Quinoa and beetroot are recipes intended for shorter trips. If you bake the beetroot, it can last for a few days, so you just cut it on the spot, add some herbs you find and if you meet a shepherds, you can also ask for some cheese.
“The stew is our winter speciality that we always prepare with my friend Karolína for the first weekend in the mountains. Because on the first day you usually have to cover the biggest altitude difference and you are not that used to walking, so you are starving the most. So we decided that we really deserve something nice at the end of the first day.
“We make the stew as thick as possible and then we just add snow and make a decent food out of it, just like at home. So that’s the start of hiking and then we switch to normal mountain food.”
I really enjoyed the section dedicated to children’s meals. I guess you again drew on your own experience…
“Very much so, my parents were amazing. They knew we liked hiking but they also knew kids get bored easily, so we always had these little adventures like making potato pancakes on hot stones. Our favourite recipe was snakes on sticks. It is simple dough from water and flour which you make into long pieces, turn around a stick and bake over a fire. That was really cool.”
“I completely agree, because you are not going on a gastronomical trip, you are going hiking. On the other hand, I don’t think you have to starve to death, so that’s the point of the book: You will starve at the end of the day, but you don’t have to starve too much…”
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