The Subtle Art of Motherhood & Food

It is an art after all…there are no shortcuts, no rulebooks, and infinite possibilities when embarking upon the journey of motherhood. In many ways, parenting is a lot like creating a new meal or crafting a tasty recipe. It takes creativity, preparation, and going with the flow!

We sat down with our favorite camp Mom and Packit Gourmet co-founder, Debbie, to chat about building a business as a family, her philosophy on recipe creation, and her favorite memories from traveling as a young mother.

Packit Gourmet Co-Owners, Debbie and Jeff

First off, what originally got you interested in freeze dried / dehydrated foods and recipes?

I was first exposed to the benefits of working dehydrated foods into my kitchen experience when Jeff and I were in our early 20’s. We outfitted our 1973 Dodge Van into a liveable space and took off on a year-long “van life” trip across the US and into Canada. We landed in a “hippie-style back to the land” community where getting to the closest tiny grocery store was not just a quick trip down the road – it was more of an ordeal.  

I was introduced to the art of “stockpiling for winter” from the other women who already lived in the community. I was already well-versed in cooking, baking and canning . . . but tucked away in our tiny “not-well-winterized apartment” with just a small wood stove to keep us warm, I learned a whole new way of getting by — dehydrating vegetables. 

Pre-snow, I harvested onions, peppers, green beans & corn from the community garden, and foraged for mushrooms under the guidance of a local expert. I resourced ideas from popular books at the time that focused on “living off the land;” and paired those ideas with recipes offered in more traditional cookbooks. I reworked recipes to incorporate dehydrated ingredients into dishes cooked on my Coleman camp stove or baked in my pop-up Coleman oven. The residual heat generated by my “experiments” served to dehydrate fruit & vegetables on large window screens as they came my way.

Debbie making a camp meal for daughters Sarah and Loren in Algonquin Park, 1987.

Every meal we’ve designed for Packit Gourmet has been inspired by experiences like that one:  the capability of a hearty good meal to boost tired spirits after a long day on trail.

At what point did these skills translate into making trail meals?

We fell in love with wilderness canoeing while there in Canada and I started creating meal “kits” using dehydrating fruits & vegetables that we could take along. We’ve actually never purchased a commercially prepared backpacking meal for our own wilderness trips, I’ve always made them. But until Packit Gourmet was born, ours were traditional “cook-in-pot” style over an open campfire — nothing so fancy as a just-add-water cook-in-bag meal like we produce today.

Our Packit Gourmet marinara had its beginnings with a small can of tomato paste [luxury item] and wax paper sandwich bag filled with dehydrated herbs and veggies from our own garden.  The first time I made it on a canoe trip was after a long day paddling in a steady drizzle.  We were chilled to the bone and it was dark before we landed at a half-decent campsite.  We built a fire, boiled up a pot of lake water for pasta, and dumped it in what would eventually become Packit Gourmet “puttanesca.”  I’ve always remembered it as the best spaghetti I’d ever made because it magically turned our spirits around after a miserable wet day. Jeff actually topped it off by melting the sole of one boot trying to dry it by the fire!

Every meal we’ve designed for Packit Gourmet has been inspired by experiences like that one:  the capability of a hearty good meal to boost tired spirits after a long day on trail.

As the mastermind behind the Packit Gourmet flavor profiles, what’s your method of creating new recipes for Packit Gourmet?

It really just starts as an in-house brainstorming focusing on what we would personally like to eat when we’re in the backcountry – whether that be backpacking or canoeing trails.  We’ve always felt that enjoying a satisfying meal plays an important role in creating a satisfying trip, so we take – and now make – what makes us feel happy at the end of a long exhausting day.  

I throw together some mixtures of both meal and spice blends with an eye toward the ultimate goal of how well they will come together as they emerge from their dehydrated state while “in the field” by just adding boiling water in order to serve within 10-20 minutes.

Debbie cooking biscuits for the family breakfast in Big Bend National Park, 2021.

It seems that time spent sharing a meal together has been and still is an important aspect of the family dynamic. Can you share a bit about why that matters to you?

I grew up in a family of great cooks!  Family dinner time was deliciously-made home-cooked nutritious–meals time.  My mom “color-coded” the dinner plate for nutritional balance – so cooking was second-nature to me!  I was making holiday pies by the time I was in high school.   I love throwing dinner parties and having a lot of people join us for bbqs or holiday feasts – it just the best when you can share a great meal together!

Together we marveled at paddling by a mama moose and baby grazing on the edges of small rivers;  or laughing as baby beaver or otters swam alongside our canoe as we paddled through slender pathways lined with tall reeds.

What’s your favorite memories from your years raising little ones while traveling / paddling and embarking on wilderness adventures?

Like I said earlier, Jeff and I were in our 20’s when we started our “van life” which morphed into “back-to-the-land life – canoe life – log-cabin” life.  We never skipped a beat when we had Sarah and Loren, we just took them along with us! 

Both traveled to Canada to stay extended periods of time in “off-the-grid” cabins at age 1 and experienced their first wilderness canoe trip once they were out of diapers, so between age 2-3.  Sarah turned 3 on a 5 day canoe trip into Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada  — and I snapped a great photo of Jeff holding Loren atop a beaver dam when she was about that same age. 

When I think about it now, it seems a bit crazy that we would take them out on such adventures when they were so young — there were no cell phones or 9-1-1 avenues to get assistance -— but it was always a lovely experience for us and for them. Together we marveled at paddling by a mama moose and baby grazing on the edges of small rivers;  or laughing as baby beaver or otters swam alongside our canoe as we paddled through slender pathways lined with tall reeds.  I remember their little hands dangling in the water as we pushed through dense lily pads laughing as long-legged frogs leaped out of our way.  I used to make up stories to tell them about a moose, a beaver and a bear that were friends – a story told on the fly ONLY at camp as we bedded down in our tent for the night as we listened to loons call to each other on the lake. 

Debbie & daughter Sarah in 1981.

For all those expecting moms out there, do you have any words of wisdom, or advice?

Don’t be scared!

Your life changes for sure when you have children — in a millions ways — but it doesn’t have to be the end of your adventures into the outdoors.  The style of your adventures may change, but I can’t say that we ever experienced any hardships or regrets about including our kids in our love of wilderness experiences [or any other experiences we enjoy — music concerts, theater performances, art shows].  I cannot remember a time when I ever felt that having them along spoiled the experience for me! 

That being said, giving them the skills for coping with adult travel — especially a wilderness adventure — is important for both your sakes.  Educating them about potential dangers and expected behaviors on their part, so that the experience is enjoyed by all, including the wildlife that you might encounter.  Strategizing in advance for some fun activities that make the experience meaningful from a kid’s perspective.

Streamlining for their capabilities is key of course — including them in “simple chores” and pointing out the beauty in the life cycles you see around you in order to educate them —  and hopefully develop within them an appreciation for the outdoors and all of the “little creatures” that live in the places you are visiting.  And hopefully building upon experiences that will last a lifetime! 

I used to always tell them they were my greatest experiment because I had never been a mother before — everything I did with them was just my ideas of what might work,  but I really didn’t know if my ideas were right or not.  I still feel that way – parenting is the greatest experiment – but I would say this one worked out very well for me – and hopefully for them too!

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