I’ve been busy this week gathering food for my upcoming trip to Glacier National Park.
Yesterday, I received a shipment of dehydrated meals from Austin-based Packit Gourmet. On the menu? Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings, Texas State Fair Chili, West Memphis Grits Souffle and Mom’s Banana Puddin’.
I’ve been a fan of the brand since I met company founders Sarah Welton and her mother Debbie Mullins about three years ago. They gave me some meals to take and test when I spent 15 days backpacking the John Muir Trail in California. (Until then, my go-to brand of dehydrated meals was Mountain House, and I still like their pasta primavera and lasagna.)
Here’s what I wrote after that trip:
“My verdict? The breakfasts — especially the West Memphis Grits Souffle — tasted like real (and really good) food. The desserts, especially the banana pudding, also sent my taste buds sizzling. The entrees were more hit and miss — I loved the chicken and dumplings, and Texas State Fair chili eased my craving for nachos. But the All-American Burger Wrap (provide your own tortilla) didn’t thrill me. And one complaint: Too much packaging, especially when you have to haul out all the waste.”
The Mullins family did a lot of canoe camping when Sarah was growing up. Debbie made all the meals. When Sarah grew up, she realized she didn’t like any of the freeze-dried meals on the market for backpackers, so the two got together and came up with their own.
I visited the company’s humble headquarters out on Fitzhugh Road, where we brewed up a batch of Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings, named after Welton’s grandmother, for lunch. I remember thinking it looked like a bowl of confetti that bloomed into a piping hot bowl of actual food when we poured hot water over it.
Packit Gourmet launched in 2008 with just a few items, including Austintacious Tortilla Soup. Backpacker Magazine awarded the company an editor’s choice award for the soup, and Packit was on its way.
Today the company offers about 50 different meals, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options. There’s Tuscan beef stew, shepherd’s cottage pie, Meyer lemon cheesecake and even a powdered margarita mix to pour into water or alcohol. Unlike some freeze-dried meals, they don’t taste like salted cardboard!
The packaging has changed in the last few years. There are fewer individually packaged items within each meal, and most come in their own “cook-in” bags. Just add hot water. Some need only cold water. A few require a skillet for preparation.
The biggest selection is available online, but select items are sold locally at Whole Earth Provision Company.