Last Frontier food: Alaska companies create tasty camping treats
Many, many years ago – it seems almost a lifetime away – I hiked the Appalachian Trail. This 2,100-mile footpath extends from Georgia to Maine and passes through 14 states.
Along the way, of course, one must eat.
And eat I did.
When you are burning thousands of calories day in, day out for nearly six months, it doesn’t matter what you are putting into your body – it just wants to be fed. Some days, low on food supplies and far from my next trip into town to pick up my mail drop, I’d dig out the squeeze bottle of liquefied Parkay margarine and “mainline” it straight from the bottle. I wasn’t the only one. We thru-hikers laughed about our disgusting eating habits and never thought twice about it.
Flash forward nearly 25 years later and I wonder if those poor choices will come back to haunt me: ramen noodles drowning in chemical-laden seasoning packs, instant mashed potatoes mixed with nuclear-orange mac and cheese, Slim Jims wrapped in American cheese slices, and margarine, oh, so much margarine.
Thankfully, today’s adventure dining options are generations ahead of the crap I consumed back in 1993. And you don’t have to look far to find it. Alaska has plenty of business-minded outdoors types who have elevated backpack food to citified cuisine. From dehydrated snacks that you pack and go to pre-measured and packaged
meals that rival a restaurant’s, look no further than these fine foods to pack on your next adventure. Or make your own meals, using products designed by Alaskans who have taken their culinary prowess to new levels.
www.adventureappetites.com, (907) 868-1749
300 E. 76th Ave., Anchorage, Alaska
Bryan Caenepeel, owner of Adventure Appetites in Anchorage, has been creating custom meals for more than 15 years, in partnership with Alaska Alpine Adventures, a local outfitter that provides trips throughout Alaska’s national parks.
“These are meals we have been feeding our clients for years,” Caenepeel said. “Food is one of those things that always gets pushed to the side when planning a trip, because no one wants to do it. These meals are all packed and ready to go. We do custom orders and we have some meals ready for pickup here at our shop.”
Adventure Appetites has eight different breakfasts that range from $7-$9, 10 dinners ($10 each), snack packs ($10) and energy bars ($2.50-$3).
“The Reindeer Scramble is probably our biggest breakfast seller,” Caenepeel said. “For dinner, people really like the Chicken Chipotle Enchilada and the Reindeer Rotini. I think the novelty of the reindeer products is what makes these so popular.”
www.heatherschoice.com, (907) 350-2848
Available online or at Summit Spice and Tea, Hoarding Marmot or Barney’s Sports Chalet, all in Anchorage, Alaska
Heather Kelly, owner of Heather’s Choice, is a nutrition expert who decided that adventuring and healthful eating not only could go hand in hand, but also should. After all, fueling the body for adventure requires good, wholesome ingredients, and that’s what she offers in her nutritionally balanced dehydrated meals.
“When I’m making meals at home, I’m using the best ingredients I can, like farmer’s market vegetables and berries picked from our yard,” Kelly said of her products when she started a Kickstarter campaign in December 2015 to forward her business.
In the year since that campaign ended, Heather’s Choice has started to become a common name. Meals weigh only 4 ounces and pack about 600 calories, which makes them a good choice for carrying on long treks.
Kelly tries to create meals that have 25 to 50 grams of protein, which is vital to keep muscles strong and recovery quick after a long day on the river or trail. Prices are a bit steep, from $5 for the popular packaroons snack balls, to $8 for breakfasts and $15 for entrees.
SUMMIT SPICE & TEA CO.
www.summitspiceandtea.com, (907) 644-2880
3131 Denali St., Anchorage, Alaska
Drooling over the fine jams, chocolates, spices and tea at this wonderful locally owned shop is always a much-anticipated experience. Since 1998, Summit Spice & Tea has been promoting and selling Alaska-produced food products, as well as mixing and blending their own spices and teas that can elevate any outdoor adventure.
For camping, Peter Lachance suggests the shop’s wildly popular Iditamint or Carnival mate.
“The roasted mates are house blends that are great because you can put them in your water bottle and just go,” he said. It gives you as much caffeine as coffee but with a smooth taste.”
The popular Iditamint ($16.30) has hints of chocolate, while the Carnival blend ($19.75) is roasted with cocoa nibs and has a rich, flavorful taste. On the spicier side is the ever-popular fish rubs, which have been developed over years of experimentation.
“They are our best-selling spice blends by far,” said DeAnn Apgar, owner of Summit Spice. “People really do like it – they will even buy it in bulk.”
CHUGACH CHOCOLATES & CONFECTIONS
www.chugachchocolates.com, no retail phone
Available at Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska; and Summit Spice & Tea, Anchorage, Alaska; and online
No adventure is complete without chocolate.
Six truer words have never been spoken. After tasting Chugach Chocolates & Confections dark chocolate-covered toffee bar, I found a new addiction. This puts those bland Snickers Bars I devoured over 2,100 miles to shame. The toffee is crisp but not teeth-breaking and chewy, but not teeth-binding. Founded by a fourth-generation chocolatier, new owners Ryan and Emily Wiswesser are keeping the handcrafted toffee-technique alive that, if discovered by the mainstream, is going to make it the next Snickers – only better for you and locally made, if you’re lucky enough to live in Alaska.
Check out the other products too – the Dark Chocolate with Pink Himalayan Sea Salt is made of 60 percent cacao and a mild sea salt to heightens the flavor of the dark chocolate. They both retail for $4.75 per bar. Peanut brittle is also available and comes in 4-ounce servings.
ALASKA PURE SEA SALT CO.
www.alaskapurseasalt.com, (907) 747-7258
Available at many location, but most consistently found at New Sagaya City Market, Mermaid Co., and Summit Spice & Tea (all in Anchorage, Alaska), as well as on the company website
Jim and Darcy Michener of Sitka, Alaska, began commercially producing their signature batches of Alaska sea salt in 2011, but their business vision goes back more than 15 years ago, when they stumbled upon the bounty of the Southeast Alaska sea on a cabin trip. After perfecting the sea-flake recipe, today, their business is booming.
“We are an Alaska company and we want to keep it that way,” said Jim Michener, who has fine-tuned his salt-flake making flavors after many years of trial and error.
“We’d like to grow the Alaska market much bigger, but we will always be Alaska first.”
The Micheners’ creative salt flake blends – all of the salt is harvested straight from the waters surrounding their home – range from $10 to $22 for 4-ounce packages. Two of the bestsellers are the Sitka Spruce-Tipped and Alder Smoked salts, which are available locally. But check out the company’s web site for some of its specialty, smaller-batched offerings such as the Lemon and Lime Flaked and Spicy Hot Pepper Flake salts.
All of these flavors make a great addition to camp meals and help replenish much-needed sodium loss after heavy exertion. Michener prefers the Sitka Spruce-Tipped flakes the best – in part because it was one of the most challenging of flavors to capture – but also because it tastes good with anything, especially fresh seafood.
The best part about the Michener’s salts beyond the exceedingly higher quality and flavor? ThThere are no chemical additives, not even bleach, used during the flaking process, so all you taste is naturally dried and flavored flakes.