Food tastes better outside. In fact, I would say the best meals I have ever eaten were consumed in the outdoors.
While I love dining at a fine restaurant as much as anyone, nothing compares to sitting down to a meal in the great wide open. In fact, if the restaurant offers outdoor seating that’s where I’m headed, and I think the reason for that goes back to my initial statement.
Why is it that something as ordinary as a hot dog tastes infinitely better when it is grilled over an open fire at your campsite on the Appalachian Trail or in the Tetons of Wyoming or, for that matter, at Boy Scout Camp at Camp Binachi? Even in the more civilized setting of the ballpark on Saturday or the football field on Friday night, a hot dog is better outside. Why is that?
Why is it that I am unable to remember some of the best meals I have eaten inside, but I can remember eating vienna sausages, sardines and crackers, and fresh tomatoes in the boat while fishing with my neighbor Mr. Pete Bridges on Sardis Reservoir when I was a boy? Why is it that if you ask anyone their favorite outdoor meal they can immediately describe it to you in tasty detail?
Clearly, I am biased. I mean I write for the Outdoors page, but it is clear to me that eating outside amplifies the experience, it just makes food taste better!
This past March, we were halfway through our descent into Tesnatee Gap coming down from Cowrock Mountain when we were greeted by a southbound hiker with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. This SOBO (southbound), as they are known on the Appalachian Trail, informed us that there was “awesome trail magic” ahead at the gap.
For those unfamiliar with the term, allow me to define “Trail Magic.” According to the official definition given by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, “Trail Magic is an unexpected act of kindness and is a quintessential part of the AT experience.” This magic exists all along the trail and while it comes in many forms, gifts of food and beverages would certainly be at the top of the list.
When our party arrived at the gap, we were welcomed by Guy and Bob, two members of a local church that uses “Trail Magic” as an outreach to the thousands of hikers that travel through the area each year. When they laid out the menu that awaited us, I was intrigued by the main course –Caribbean Bean Soup. I was intrigued for two reasons. One, I love trying new foods, and two, my son Dan is not a soup fan, so I wondered if he would pass on the offering. I watched as he and his friend Jared Hertel filled their bowls with the bean soup and grabbed the fresh bread that accompanied it.
When we finished, there was no need to wash the bowls as we had mopped every last drop of soup with the bread. We were then treated to a cornucopia of Little Debbie snack cakes – Zebra Cakes, Cosmic Brownies, Star Crunches, Oatmeal Creme Pies, Nutty Bars. Never have I tasted a finer Nutty Bar in all of my days. Our “hiker hunger” satisfied, we were ready to tackle the challenge of Wildcat Mountain that lay in front of us and, after Guy and Bob prayed for our group, we did just that, discussing the wonders of what we had just devoured all the way to the top.
Why is it that I remember that meal today as if I were still sitting in a folding chair in Tesnatee Gap? Why is it that I remember the venison stew I ate by the fire during a late fall coon hunt at Nettleton Hunting Club as a teen or the brisket and “armadillo eggs” (jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon) by the fire pit during my first turkey hunt in South Texas almost twenty years ago?
I posed this question to both my wife and my brother-in-law this past week and their responses convinced me my original statement is spot on. For my brother-in-law his favorite meal came during a three week Outward Bound Canyoneering Expedition in Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. The cook for the expedition was a man named P.B. He was a former sherpa from Nepal and for breakfast he would treat the group to Nepalese pancakes which Michael described as “rich with cinnamon and better than the best beignet you’ve ever had.”
For my wife the meal that came to mind was the year we moved Thanksgiving outside. For several years we have celebrated Thanksgiving at our family farm in Louisville. We usually have the traditional Thanksgiving meal for lunch on Thursday followed by a wild game meal for dinner on Friday. That year the menu stayed the same – turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and all the trimmings; however, we moved the table outside under the old Oak trees in the front yard. We ate the same food, with the same people, in the same location, but the food was better--because it was outside.
Now, I ask you. What is your favorite outdoor meal and, more importantly, what are the plans for your next?
It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Remember, hot dogs work just fine. Grab the picnic basket and the checkered table cloth or dust off the tent and roll up the sleeping bags. Maybe it’s a shore lunch featuring the fresh catch of the morning or firing up the grill after a day in the dove field. Maybe you savor the flavors as you soak in the sun or sip and smile as you lie on your back and count the stars. Whatever it is, get out, eat, and enjoy! I look forward to seeing you out there in our great outdoors!
Email Outdoors columnist Brad Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.