Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trail Food - Bill's Suet

I've been playing with recipes for fruit nut bars for awhile now, and have more or less settled on a concept I like. I say concept 'cause, with a larder full of dried fruits, nuts and seeds, one can have an almost infinite number of recipes based on the same basic no-cook concept ...

The concept is pretty simple. Add 2 parts chopped dried fruit, to 1 part chopped nuts and seeds, process in a food processor, add spices, form into any shape you want and enjoy ...

Dates are the binding agent of choice here. They are a good source of fiber and carbohydrates, they provide a wide range of essential nutrients, and are a good source of dietary potassium. Use whole ones and dice what you need to measure before processing. You can also choose to add apricots, dried cherrys, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, dried apples ...

For nuts and seeds, consider almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds ... Raw, roasted. Salted or not ... The above has almonds, quinoa, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds. I process them separately, or not at all. I like to chop large nuts fairly fine. Not flour fine, but still a little chunky. Pulse the food processor so that you don't overdo it. I generally leave larger, flat seeds whole. I'll roast sesame seeds litely in a dry pan to bring out their flavor. I've also then processed them into a paste. I like the way whole seeds look in the bar, but I'm not sure we ever really digest something as small as a whole sesame seed.

Give it a try! You'll want to use a food processor to do this.  I mean, you could do this small batch with a knife, but I wouldn't want to try a big batch that way.  Also, you'll want to prepare a couple of sheets of waxed or parchment paper large enough to roll the mix out. They start out pretty sticky. For two bars, use 1/4 cup of chopped dates, and 1/4 cup of dried cherries for a tangy base. Process the dates to a paste, and put in a mixing bowl. I like to process the second fruit so that there's still some chunkiness to it - add it to the paste. Chop 1/4 to 1/3 cup of almonds and add them to the bowl.

If the nuts you used were unsalted, add ~1/8 tsp of salt, and maybe 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.  Start kneading the nuts and seeds into the fruit paste.  Work it till all ingredients are consistently mixed throughout the mixture.  Scoop it out of the bowl, place on one sheet of waxed paper, and form roughly into a square.  place the top sheet of waxed paper on top and use your hands or a rolling pin to make a consistently thick slab.  Peel the top piece of wax paper off, slice into two slices.  If they're still a little sticky, leave them out to dry a bit. Eat one while you're wrapping the other in a piece of wax paper to put in the fridge for later.

What I like about the basic concept is that you have total control over the ingredients. You can choose to use all organic, raw, or gluten-free ingredients. Eliminate salt if you wish.  Your options are wide open.  Use walnuts, dried blueberries and flax seeds for a superfood bar.  Add  ginger, or cardamon for an Indian flavor.  Try lemon zest, rolled oats, or shredded coconut.  Cut them into bars, or cubes, roll them in coconut.  Look at all the Larabar versions for inspiration. Google "nut bars." There's a million recipes out there. Just keep close to the basic ratio of 2 parts chopped dried fruit, to 1 part chopped nuts and seeds.

Make a big batch, and grab a couple as you head out for a hike.

Your bars will be devoid of stabilizers, preservatives and ingredients you can't pronounce. While that's great, and the ingredients are all products which individually have a pretty good shelf life, I have no idea how long they'll last. They never last very long on our house ...  I'm not sure I'd want to put them in a food cache that I'm not going to open for four months.  Maybe wrapping them tightly in waxed or parchment paper, then sealing them in a seal-a-meal would extend their lives ...

We'd love to hear your experience with this concept in the comments below!

You - you eat like a bird. - Norman Bates


  1. Thanks for the inspiration to get started experimenting with "nut bars". I checked out Whole Foods and they are a good source for bulk dried fruit and nuts. In the bulk section near their trail mixes they have some what sounds a lot like you fruit and nut bars. They are very dense and cut into small squares. Two have approximately 130 calories and would make an easy while you walk snack, unlike loose trail mix which takes a little more finesse to get it all into your mouth. I'll let you know how mine turn out. Love you blog!

  2. A good Ratio and thought for something I haven't had the patience to mess with. Thanks for doing the work for me! ;0) As far as long term storage. Its a bit of an unknown for me too, thinking of the humidity in that part of the world. Are you allowing plastic for food storage? If you are, consider Investing in "Foodsaver". I could bank on you having good fruit bars 4 to 6 months from the time you sealed them. I bet you two all ready have a food saver.

  3. My Cheffy brain is chewing on this (no pun intended). Leave some out to dry for about a week and then store in air tight for a month to see what happens "Now". Michigan is still humid enough to see the results, right?

  4. Expanding on Sheila's thought about how long these will last after being sealed in Food Saver bags, I'll start now with experimenting with the plan to step up production in late January and February (my 2012 NOBO Thru Hike start date is Leap Day 2/29/12). In my limited experience with the Whole Foods energy bars (or whatever they called those little things that sound like Bill's Suet), on a recent Red River Gorge overnight backpacking trip, I was hungry as we made camp and I munched on 4 of these and by the time we were ready to eat, I wasn't really hungry for dinner. Ruined my appetite as my mom used to say. Bill's Suet might just be the best calorie/energy/protein per weight to carry when considering carrying 1.5 - 2.0 lbs of food per day.

  5. This may be helpful, also. While searching for a source of dehydrated refried beans I found this site called Emergency Essentials http://beprepared.com/
    Not only do they have the bulk refried beans, they have lots more stuff that will make preparing your food resupply easier. Right now I'm leaning towards freezer bag cooking. They even have bulk Mountain House foods. They have all kind of emergency preparedness info that can easily translated to long distance hiking. Noticed there's even a "How to build your own first aid kit".

  6. I've seen them, I've considered using both them and Harmony House for deydrated veggies. I'm thinking of food bag as pantry vice pre-assembled meals. A few mail drops for stuff I wouldn't expect to find in small trail towns - Like dehydrated veggies I buy in bulk and split into 6 or so boxes.

  7. As for making these bars last, and storing them in seal-a-meal bags, I could always put them in the dehydrator just long enough to dry the outside. I like the idea of going into production in Feb to extend their lives.

  8. Hi Bill, I checked with a co-worker of mine re storage:

    Shelf life is mainly going to be a factor of how they are packaged and how much water is in them (primarily from the fruit, etc.). He can have the water activity tested through a local lab. Water activity will give an indication of when the bars might spoil. It's dependent on the packaging too, though.

    The less scientific way of testing this is to package the bars as he normally would and put them somewhere in the sun and let them sit. This will cause a sort of worst case storage environment - lots of light, lots of heat. Then he just opens one bar every now and then and sees how long it is before he is no longer comfortable with the quality. Storage is going to be mainly a quality issue (staleness) depending on packaging. Something that heat seals would be best, and that provides a moisture barrier to prevent the bar being affected by humidity.

    If he were to sell these in NY, we would want all the nuts roasted (either by him or bought roasted). There is increasing concern with raw nuts and salmonella... Otherwise, as long as the bars are produced in a clean "kitchen", we wouldn't be too worried about pathogens.

  9. I've got some dates and dried fruiits and nuts and I'm going to try my first batch this weekend. I noticed that the dates are pretty sticky. Any tips for working with them? Also, I'm going to try to roast the nuts as Rob Way suggested.

  10. Just scoop them out into a bowl. Don't bother rinsing the processor, just put the nuts in, and cleanup will be easier when done.

    When you process the nuts, you'll create a lot of smaller particles. That gets worked into the date paste and takes away most of the stickiness.

  11. Sorry, I'm a little dense here. Do I put the dates, nuts and other stuff all at once in the food processor?

  12. Nooo ... Process the dates till a smoothish paste, scoop them out and into a mixing bowl, then process the nuts. I just meant to suggest there's no reason to rinse the bowl between the two.

  13. Roger that. First batch not so great. Tomorrow I'll try again. Commercial Chunks of Energy are starting to look very attractive.

  14. Wellll...not so good. My second batch came out drier and harder to knead together. Nevertheless, I squished it all together as best I could, cut into squares and then sealed them with my Food Saver. May not be the best, but they're still edible. Meanwhile, after finding that my food processor didn't seem to work, turned out it was operator error. I had not used it in ages and not wanting to dispose of it in the garbage, I figured maybe someone would want it and/or the parts, so listed it on Freecycle. When I met a really nice lady to give her the thing, she showed me how to use it correctly and miracle! it works (so I kept it). Best part of the encounter was she's really knowledgeable about using the dehydrator and buying bulk. She has a family or 6 and is a homeschooler. She has sent me her recipe for granola and lots of tips. I've made a very valuable local source! My next attempt is to try making some Chunks of Energy. I found a recipe and I have the ingredients.
    1 c honey
    1 c peanut butter
    1 c carob powder
    1 c sesame seeds
    1 c sunflower seeds

    1. Heat honey until warm, then add peanut butter slowly, until just mixable.

    2. Stir in remaining ingredients and press into oiled 8 by 8 inch pan.

    3. Chill for 1 hour. Cut into 25 small squares. Keep in fridge for up to 1 month; freeze indefinitely.

    I'll try it and see if it comes out anything like the Chunks of Energy I was able to buy in bulk at Whole Foods.


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