How to Make a Legitimate Thanksgiving Dinner on the Trail (Part I)
Thanksgiving means a four-day weekend for many of us, a chance to do 50 miles of the Trail that we haven’t done before, or a section we HAVE done before but would like to do again. Imagine—Thanksgiving Day, early afternoon—you’re sitting near a campfire with old friends, or new friends, feeling really thankful for your two legs, your experiences today, and your journey through life so far.
Then you open up your food bag and start making …Thanksgiving Dinner. Yup. You can have Thanksgiving Dinner AND hike during the Thanksgiving holiday. You just have to plan ahead a little, that’s all.
- Pumpkin seeds seasoned with pie spices
- Turkey with herb stuffing
- Sweet potatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Mashed potatoes & gravy
- Pumpkin pie with whipped topping, dried cranberries
You think it can’t be done? I set out one weekend early in November to prove that it can. Here’s your shopping list and your prep instructions for the weekend before Thanksgiving.
A note about dehydrated turkey: I have tried freeze-dried turkey and didn’t like the texture or the flavor, or more correct, the lack of flavor. I have also bought ground turkey and microwaved it, drained it and then dehydrated it. I found it boring unless you add a lot of spices. So I’ve turned to sliced turkey for dehydrating. You can have it cut thin and it dehydrates pretty quickly, or thicker and it takes longer but the texture is good, more like chunks. Your choice.
- Dry whole milk (I have a canister of Peak dry whole milk and honestly, it tastes amazingly like whole milk when it is reconstituted. Very handy to have around and available from Amazon.com).
- Chicken bouillon cubes
- Sliced turkey from the deli section (I used Mackenzie’s oven-roasted turkey)
- Dry herb stuffing. Get the kind that is cut into cubes, not tiny pieces.
- One package of frozen green beans
- 2 large or 4 to 6 small dried mushrooms
- A small container of applesauce
- One 15-ounce can of candied sweet potatoes (1 can)
- One 15-ounce can of pumpkin pie filling (not plain pumpkin—you need pie filling).
- Box of ginger snaps or graham crackers or whatever you like as a pie crust. I used ginger snaps.
- Small can of dried French fried onion rings.
- 2-3 leaves of fresh sage or ¼-1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- Ground pepper
- Dash of cinnamon
- Dash of nutmeg
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Small marshmallows
- Box of Dream Whip
- Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Potato Flakes Instant Mashed Potatoes
- Dried turkey gravy mix (You won’t use it all)
- Optional but good: Dehydrated onions and celery.
- Optional but good: A handful (or more) of dried cranberries
You’ll need a dehydrator or borrow one like I did from another hiker (thanks Short & Sweet), or you can use your oven at low temp to dehydrate. See Internet.
The following makes Thanksgiving dinner for one. Double if making for two. Dehydrate the weekend before and you’ll be almost ready to hit the trail. This meal—like a traditional Thanksgiving—is made up of several dishes and in true hiker style, you’ll probably make one dish first, then the next, then the next and so on. If you’re hiking with friends, assign everyone a dish and enjoy creating a new tradition!
To dehydrate the weekend before:
- Take 1/3 pound (or more) of sliced turkey and separate into pieces about 2 inches by 2 inches—no need to be precise. Just separate the slices before dehydrating. I added some fresh sage leaves and black pepper because I usually add those flavors to my roast turkey. Add whatever spices you like, or none. Don’t add salt; the sliced turkey is salty enough. Place on dehydrator tray and dehydrate.
- Take 1 to 2 cups of the frozen green beans and put in a bowl, microwave for 1 minute and drain on paper towels as you would drain bacon. The more water you get out, the faster they’ll dehydrate. Place on dehydrator tray and dehydrate.
- Drain the can of canned sweet potatoes thoroughly.
- Then slice thin (or chop coarsely in a food processor) and place on dehydrator tray and dehydrate until dry but not crisp. Store in a bag until ready to use.
To make the pumpkin pie filling, make a fruit leather first.
- Line a large (13 inches by 17 inches) rimmed baking sheet or cookie tray with sturdy, microwave-safe plastic wrap or parchment paper, letting the edges of the plastic or paper flop over the baking sheet a bit.
- Pour the can of pumpkin pie filling into the pan and spread it over the baking sheet, about ¼ inch thick. If you use plastic wrap, make sure it doesn’t touch the sides or rack of the oven, but doesn’t flop back onto the fruit either.
- Bake in a low oven (140 degrees F) overnight. The fruit leather is done when it isn’t sticky. Alternately, you can use a dehydrator.
- Tear the paper or plastic away from the leather when it is done, and store in strips a Ziploc in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
This stuff is delicious as a fruit leather. For the pie, about half of what you made will make a good-size pie for one. Of course, there can never be enough pie.
To make the pumpkin seeds:
- Preheat the over to 375 degrees F.
- Remove pumpkin seeds from a pumpkin and separate out as much of the pumpkin pulp as possible.
- Line a baking sheet or cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Spread the seeds in a single layer over the sheet, and sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg and ground cloves, to your taste. (Alternately, sprinkle with just salt—this is the traditional way to prepare pumpkin seeds and still my preferred way).
- Stir and spread out in a single layer again.
- Bake in the oven until they start to turn golden, about 10 minutes.
- Stir halfway through.
- Let these cool and pack in a Ziploc for a snack along the way, to give your taste buds just a hint of the feast yet to come.
To store the green bean casserole ahead of time:
The green beans will probably be dehydrated first. Let them cool to room temp and put them in a Ziploc; add a handful or two of dry French fried onion rings, or to your taste. You will be putting more on the top of your “casserole.” Put in a pinch of fresh ground black pepper and crush or cut the dried mushrooms (depending on their size) into the bag as well. Set aside until you are ready to pack your food bag.
To pack away the turkey & stuffing ahead of time:
- Put the turkey and ½ to 1 cup of the stuffing into a Ziploc bag.
- Add 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of dried onion and celery (usually more celery than onion). These flavors can be increased or left out, depending on what you like in your stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner.
- Put in one half cube of bouillon, depending on how salty you like you food. More bouillon = more salty flavor.
- Put this mixture away or in the freezer.
To make the pumpkin pie ahead of time:
- Put about 15 cookies into a food processor and process until pretty fine, with no big chunks of cookie left.
- Put the cookie crust into a shallow bowl and add enough applesauce or other fruit sauce to hold it together after stirring. (I used Earth’s Best Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baby Food Puree. It was perfect). Don’t add too much fruit puree or applesauce–you want this kinda dry but you should be able to put some in your hand, make a fist, open your hand and the crust should keep its shape without crumbling to pieces. (You can use peanut butter to hold the crust together, but your pie will have a strong flavor of peanuts).
- Press the whole thing (as much pie crust as you think you will want) flat into a Ziploc. It will fall to pieces when you pack it but you can re-shape it when you are ready to make the pie.
- Put the pumpkin pie fruit leather in a separate Ziploc.
Now you’re ready to pack up for Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Part two: On-the-trail prep!
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