Down in Quartzsite this past winter I met several vandwellers at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and over the course of two weeks I got to know a couple of them quite well. I found their ability to sift RVing down to its simplest form very admirable, and of course wondered how they managed to thrive in a space that makes my Casita look large.
Some of the answers were pretty easy to understand. Like me, they would pay for showers in town, although some of them had solar showers and set up tarps for privacy. There are several types of cassette and small portable toilets on the market that take care of that particular need. Their vans are well organized so that the important things are reachable from bed, as that is their primary seating. They spend a good amount of time outdoors where space is unlimited.
But it was the lack of refrigeration that boggled my mind the most. Some vandwellers have mini-fridges, others carry coolers. But some do without and I wondered how that worked, especially as a solo traveler as most vandwellers are. Sure you can buy canned and boxed goods that don’t need refrigeration and can be cooked over a camp stove, but most of those have multiple servings, so what do you do with the leftovers?
I asked one of my friends, and she replied that freeze-dried and dehydrated foods were the staple of her diet.
It makes sense. Dehydrated foods don’t weigh much or take up a lot of space, they have a long shelf-life and you can cook as much as you can eat in a single meal and store the rest in an airtight container and it’ll keep. These reasons are why they’re so popular with backpackers.
But if you go into an REI or similar store, you’ll see that backpacking meals aren’t cheap. Some entrees can cost $10 or more for a single 2-person package. I brought up the cost, and discovered that my friend had a lower grocery bill than I did. Apparently, for the better prices and greater variety, the place to go is online.
Now thoroughly intrigued and wondering if this is something it would be worth getting into, I looked at Harmony House Foods, the company my friend orders her food from. It’s easy to see the difference in approach. Instead of selling traditional meals, Harmony House mostly sells individual ingredients and seasonings (in multiple sizes) that the customer can mix together however they wish. Their top selling item is the award-winning Backpacking kit with zip pouches of cabbage, carrots, celery, sweet corn, green beans, chopped onion, sweet peas, red & green peppers, potato dices, tomato dices, lentils, red beans, black beans, northern beans, and pinto beans. Recipes are included with the kit.
Wanting to keep the experiment as simple as possible and not mix ingredients myself, I look into their soup and chili mixes, which are available both with and without seasoning, and again, in several sizes ranging from 2 oz zip pouches to 20+ lb boxes. Those who’ve read my Boondocking Answers blog post know that I have soup for my main meal every other day anyway, so this won’t change my routine much.
I order the “Gourmet Soup Variety Pack“, family sized, which includes all 12 types of soups and chillis in bags from 3.5 to 7 oz with seasoning included. The cost was $54 at the time, but prices do vary. This kit is about $14 more than getting the same soups in zip pouches, but the volume-per-cost is a better deal (the zips are smaller) and I have zip baggies of my own to put the soups in once opened.
Shipping was quick, the soup arrived in good condition. The first thing that struck me was how small the bags are, but as the food is dehydrated I suppose that makes sense. According to the directions on the back, each bag is eight servings, and if you’re going to use the soup as a side-dish that’s probably accurate enough.
As it was going to be the focus of my meal, my first day trying it I used just under 1/2 cup of the dry product, which for most of the pouches is about 1/3 of the bag. Most of the bags call for 3-4 cups of water to be added, so I added between 1 and 1 and ¼ cup. I’d arbitrarily chosen the “Verylicious Veggie Chilli” (the unseasoned version is simply called “Veggie Chilli”).
It doesn’t look very impressive in the pot, even once I’ve added the water.
Now, each soup takes about 15 minutes to cook if you just add the water and go, but if you let the the soup sit a while and rehydrate it cuts down on the cooking time. On the website, Harmony House says that if you let the soup sit for an hour it can be eaten without cooking – because there is no meat, just meat-flavored soy, cooking isn’t necessary.
Which brings me to another point, this stuff is suppose to be both tasty and healthy. I’m not a nutritionist or a health-nut. I have no special dietary requirements and didn’t choose this brand over another for that specific reason. I really don’t know in the grand scheme of things how “healthy” the soups are (the ones without the seasonings are probably healthier), I chose it because the price was decent and people say it’s tasty, and it outta be better for me than highly-processed foods. Full nutritional information is available on the website for those to whom it’s important. It’s worth a note that all of the soups are vegan and gluten free, which will interest some folks. For those to whom that’s a turn-off, noodles, rice, or meat can be added to the soups easily enough, from a lot of reviews it seems like many people use the soup mixes as a base and then add to them. Heck, you can even add more vegetables if that’s your thing.
After letting the veggie chilli soak for 30 minutes I heat it up on my stove for about 10 minutes, I like my soup cooked down. The dehydrated bits rapidly swell and soon the soup looks quite thick, I’m a bit more impressed now.
The chunks are small (easier to dehydrate I imagine), which for me lead to some misgivings as I was use to chunkier soup and was worried about there not being enough solids to feel “full”. But, while the individual bits are smaller the total volume of solids is better than my regular soups and definitely felt like a meal. Oh, and it does taste like real soup.
Over the next 11 days I try the rest of the types, and am satisfied with them all. I was concerned about how alike they would taste but the flavors are unique, I actually get more variety in flavor than I did alternating canned soup from the store with frozen skillet meals, since I tended to get the same types over and over again.
Multiplying 12 soups by three servings per soup, I’m going to get 36 meals out of this kit. Dividing $54 by 36, each bowl of soup is costing me about $1.50, which isn’t the whole story since I have crackers with it, but is still a pretty cheap meal. As a comparison, a case of 12 cans of the soup I had been eating, (18.6 oz cans of Campbell’s Chunky soup) bought online from a wholesale company like StockUpExpress costs about $42. At two meals per can that’s 24 meals and $1.75 per meal. Which I never could do anyway because aside from the weight and space issue that was only for one type of soup. In reality, I paid more than that per can because I had to buy individually to ensure variety and in the more remote camping locations I favor, individual cans are pricier than average.
All in all, I’m counting this experiment a success and will likely be buying more dehydrated products in the future. These soups are convenient, easy to store, filling, cost effective, and if they doesn’t taste like restaurant food, they’re at least as appetizing as soup from a can. For the person who enjoys cooking I’d recommend buying the unseasoned versions and adding ingredients to them and seasoning to taste, you can get a lot of mileage from the bases that way.
Soup flavors in kit:
- Garden Veggie Chickenish Soup
- Creamy Good Corn Chowder (didn’t like this one as much, but I’m not a big chowder fan)
- Verylicious Veggie Chili
- Great Northern Bean Stew
- Hearty Texas Beefish Stew
- Super Savory Split Pea Soup (the peas take longer to rehydrate than the other veggies, I recommend letting this one sit an hour and then cooking)
- Greek Lentil Soup with Quinoa
- Captain John’s Navy Bean Soup
- Beefish Quinoa Soup with Mushrooms
- Southwest Style Mixed Bean Chili (labeled “spicy wild”, it was spicier than the others but I didn’t find it exceptionally spicy)
- Unbelievable Black Bean Chili (labeled “spicy wild”, it was spicier than the others but I didn’t find it exceptionally spicy)
- Mama Mia Italian Vegetable Soup
Note: I have no affiliation with Harmony House and am not making any money from this review, I just genuinely liked the product.
* * *