How are you eating under lockdown? I’d like to say I had got round to making batches of sourdough and kombucha. But I haven’t, and I suspect for all the new bread-makers and picklers being born of this crisis, there are just as many of us at risk of regressing. Beans on toast never looked so good. I even spotted a packet of Angel Delight in the supermarket the other day and thought, “Hello!”
With this newfound appreciation for canned goods and non-perishables, there has been a surge in demand for a type of food that would ordinarily be consumed up a mountain. According to John Fisher, founder of Dorset-based Firepot, which produces premium dehydrated meals for expeditioners, his company has seen a five-fold increase in sales over the past month, with a 10-fold spike in orders on extra-large portions. At up to 940kcal each, these would normally be purchased by “an explorer dragging a pulk across Greenland or a rower crossing the Atlantic,” says Fisher.
Firepot produces dehydrated rather than freeze-dried meals. Unlike freeze-dried meals, which can be made by mixing pre-dried ingredients like meat flakes and powdered milk, Firepot cooks and dries its meals whole. Fisher believes this makes all the difference in taste. His range includes orzo pasta Bolognese; pork and beans; chilli con carne with rice; beef stew with pearl barley; and, my favourite, dhal and rice with spinach. This is perfect with an oily jolt of Patak’s lime pickle, which you might not have on an Arctic expedition, but is essential in my house during quarantine.
Fisher first came up with the idea six years ago when, ahead of an expedition, he started test-drying food at home using an inexpensive dehydrator he had bought as a gift for his wife. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the machine had languished in its box, unused.) Since he launched the company in 2017, the range has expanded to include more vegan options (such as chilli non carne with soya), and a breakfast option – baked apple porridge, using Granny Smiths baked in demerara sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, lemon juice and rye flakes. Versions with poached pear (“possibly poached in wine”) and toasted banana (“to replicate the taste of banana bread”) are in development.
Of the other brands I tracked down, two stood out. Norwegian Real Turmat (available across Europe from basecampfood.com and in the US from mremountain.com) has a range that includes freeze-dried reindeer stew and lamb mulligatawny. Meanwhile, Polish company Lyo Food (lyofood.com) has farfalle with gorgonzola and spinach sauce as one of its star offerings.
Who knows if dehydrated dishes will catch on beyond this moment? But there’s something about these food pouches I like. “On an expedition, meals are the highlight of your day, something you look forward to and talk about for hours,” says Fisher. “We often get emails from customers calling them ‘an emotional food hug’.” I suppose that’s one thing we could all do with right now.