A new edition of the trail and camp food classic The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking by Gretchen McHugh has been published by McHugh’s husband John Sullivan of Chestertown. Hungry Hiker was first published in 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, who assigned Judith Jones its editor (Jones was also editor for Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and before that The Diary of Anne Frank). The book was in Knopf’s catalog for 25 years. It sold 50,000 copies in 13 printings, inspired multitudes of back-country meals, and many imitators.
“When Knopf dropped the book in 2007, we started making plans to revise and republish it,” John Sullivan told me recently (he’s a neighbor, across the valley on Kipp Mountain). “We were barely under way when Gretchen was diagnosed with Frontal-Temporal Dementia.” She moved to a nursing home last spring and John decided to go ahead with the new edition in time for its 30th anniversary. A new generation of readers, now schooled in the kind of 1970s self-sufficiency that served as background to this classic when it was published, will be glad he did.
The book’s focus on whole foods, simply and tastefully prepared, echo the values of today’s urban homesteaders, locavores, and young farmers. “When I first began to backpack,” Gretchen wrote in the her introduction to the original edition, “the food I ate didn’t seem to fit at all the way I felt – exhilarated, healthy, and at peace with nature.” She rejected the expensive, mass-produced and heavily processed supermarket quick meals that were seen by some as a panacea for lightweight trail meals. Instead, she built a food dryer and experimented with various preparation methods and ingredients, many of which were included in the book.
With John Sullivan’s time and energy at a premium, he kept the new edition’s updates to a minimum, but it doesn’t suffer – the book is timeless – and I’m glad it hasn’t lost its classic feel. “There is a section on camping stoves,” Sullivan said. “At first I thought, ‘Oh no, I have to go out and test a whole bunch of stoves!’ Then I realized that most of the stoves sold in 1980 are still on the market — or something very close is being sold today. So the old section remained, providing a good essay on the pros and cons of various types of stoves, plus a look at just what’s changed in 30 years.” Thanks to the book’s emphasis on skills and mostly natural foods, the book is as relevant today as it ever was. There’s a section on cleaning fish for example, and the food drying section goes well beyond the usual dried food suspects to include outstanding drying tips for more unusual foods, a drying time chart, and plans for a home-built dryer.
The basics of menu planning haven’t changed, and Gretchen’s tutorial on planning and packing for group trips (including sample menus, and long-term storage tips) is outstanding. Hungry Hiker features more than 130 recipes broken into “Bake Ahead Bread, Cakes and Cookies,” “Small Meals” and “The Meal at the End of the Day”. Sauces for the “Wild Kitchen” are covered, and throughout are scattered important sections on foraging, nutrition, equipment, and more. The book is illustrated by Susan Gaber.
Hungry Hiker is currently available at Amazon.