Wednesday, August 11, 2010


A promising trail food.

Call me Pinolio.

Maybe not now. Maybe soon. We'll see.

I've been looking for years (being slow on the uptake) for a reasonable trail food. This may be it.

Reasonable: (1) Body fuel that (2) I can get down, and (3) keep down, and (4) which provides enough energy and (5) doesn't violate rules 1 through 4 no matter how long the trip gets to be.

Trail Food: Body fuel that is (1) light, (2) not perishable, and has (3) a high energy density.

I am not an expert.

I used to be able to eat anything, and lots. If I skipped eating all day I could eat anyone else under the table. Drink is another matter. If I drink a little too much I puke like crazy, and that's fine with me. You want to show how big a man you are by how much you can drink, go kill yourself with it. I am not impressed.

My forte has always been food.

Once I went to supper with a friend. We were both hungry. My friend was nearly twice as big as I was. We each ordered a large pizza and had a couple beers. I finished mine (how big are those things - about 18" across?), ate all the crumbs and finished all my beer. He didn't. Didn't even come close.

I can't do that any more. Stomach won't hold that much these days. It starts screaming in severe pain like it's going to rip. Gettin' old. But once upon a time...

Correction: My forte has always been eating mass quantities of  food. Not food in general.

I can cook well enough to get by and all that, but don't consider cooking to be either a sport or a religion. It's like cleaning out the toilet or doing laundry. One more thing that needs to be done, and done well enough, but beyond that one shouldn't think about it.

Which is kind of the problem in a way, when you get to backpacking.

Of course the other end of the spectrum is someone who fiddles with food endlessly and either won't go backpacking because there is no kitchen out there, or who makes too big a fuss on the trail and twiddles endlessly with tiny bits of things that need to be combined in just the right way at the right time.

Once I heard a woman gasp in horror when I mentioned that instant mashed potatoes make a great trail meal.

This is one reason I don't either own or carry a gun. I know I'd start shooting people. I would, I would.

"But that's all starch," she said. Ignorantly. In horror.

Add together one pouch (four servings) of instant, pre-seasoned mashed potatoes, four tablespoons of powered milk, four tablespoons of parmesan cheese, about four tablespoons of butter, with possibly some extra onion and garlic powder, put all into a freezer-weight ziplock bag.

When dinnertime comes add two cups of hot water, wait until it's cool enough to eat without removing the lining of your mouth, rip one corner off the bag, and squeeze the contents into your mouth. Swallow as often as needed. By the time the bag is empty you are totally ready for bed, where your stomach sighs quietly to itself and does not make any fuss at all, and you are satiated and quickly lose consciousness.

That is not "all starch". Them's good eats.

But it sort of has an odd chemical flavor if you pay too much attention. After the first or second day you don't notice, but you do wonder at times.

Other foods aren't so easy, and you need more than one thing to eat.

Corn meal is way too hard to cook on the trail. I don't cook. It's either something cold or something that goes into a bag and jumps for joy when hot water is poured on it. Few things do that. Corn meal mush takes half an hour of heat and stirring and adding more water just to get cooked and mushy. It's good but not for backpacking.

So I tried pinole. A sort of pinole anyway. Looks good so far.

Take ordinary yellow corn meal. Put it in a pan and heat on the stove, stirring constantly until it's about medium brown. That's it.

I've put about 1/2 to 2/3 cup into a bag and added dark brown sugar, powdered milk, and maybe four tablespoons of butter. On the trail I add water, a little less water every time I try it. For 2/3 cup of dry pinole I'm down to just under one cup of hot water, and it still seems too much.

This stuff does not cook or swell up, though it does soften a bit. The pan scorching does cook it in a way, and gives it a flavor I can't describe. I don't want to call it a "nutty" flavor but that's what a cook would call it. It isn't. It tastes like scorched corn meal. It's distinctive. A good flavor, but unique.

The texture bugs me. It's like eating wet sand. And since the water doesn't soak in, it's like eating wet sand with too much water in it. Too bad. Get over it, because there is a magnificently excellent part to this story.

The excellent part is that this stuff, once eaten, simply passes right out of your consciousness. You get it down, drink a cup of tea as a chaser, get up, and walk. After several hours you slowly get hungry again. No farting, no stomach gurgling, no projectile crapping, no nothing else including no nausea, no retching, no second thoughts or doubts about what you ate. No sudden energy crash. Pinole just works.

Which is about as good as food ever gets. Really. If you think of food as fuel. Maybe you don't, but that's your own shortcoming.

I understand that real pinole maybe should be made from masa harina. OK. Personally I've never seen it with its clothes off but maybe I'll try it some day.

I also understand that real pinole is normally stirred up in water and drunk cold. OK. Maybe I'll try that too, but butter adds huge amounts of calories and takes hot water to melt.

Right now I know that this works, and works well. I'm good to go as is, and it's likely only to get better as I figure out alternatives. But as I said it works already so even if I never tried to refine my method pinole would be a good option.

From the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
Pinol or pinole

Recipe 4

White dry maize: 1 kg
Water: 4 litres
Sal: to the pleasure


1. Toast the cleaned maize in a mud pot of wide mouth until it become golden to slightly brown in colour.

2. To grind the maize until it get fine grains

3. Cooling.

4. Put the grinded grain (pinol) into a container, add the water and shake until it become homogeneous.

5. Add small pieces of ice and it is ready for drinking. Also it may be served adding a little of salt or sugar.

It yields about 12 standard glasses.


FAO recipes

Native American Recipes

Simple Survival Foods – Pinole

Tarahumara Pinole and Chia

Pinole In One - Trail Foods

Mexican Food Glossary