Like many vegetable growers, we have a love for the outdoors and that love can lead us away from the garden throughout the summer to enjoy time at sporting events, hiking, at the beaches, or just camping in the woods. Thanks to the automation of our irrigation system and well tuned weed management strategies, we are pretty free to escape from garden duty throughout the summer, but we don't want to leave all those great vegetables behind. A lot of them travel pretty well, so it only makes sense to pack them along with our camping gear when we head out of the city. That's what we did this month when we took a break for some time at the lake, so this post will give you some insight into how we make the best use of our garden produce when we are away from home in the summertime.
First, I want to dispel any notion that fresh garden produce is for homebodies only and that a traveller's diet is best limited to fast food and pepperoni sticks. Many vegetables make excellent travel companions and even come with their own eatable packaging for minimal waste. So, to satisfy your curiosity and put to rest and doubt that a multi-day trip with vegetables is even possible, here is the full list of garden produce that we took on the road with us for this particular getaway:
cherry fruit leather
If we had access to a refrigerator while on the road, all of our vegetables could easily make the journey with us, but for this trip we chose to travel without any type of cooler to help us fit our family of 4 into our small Fiat 500e. That meant we had to be a little more picky about which vegetables made the cut.
Next, let's have a look at the factors we considered when deciding what food to bring a long and what to leave at home. Vegetables are not made equal and there are a few different characteristics that help a vegetable travel well so it pays to think carefully about which crops make the cut for travel. Here are the top 5 considerations we keep in mind when preparing to take our vegetables on the road.
When it comes to packing a small travel space, compaction is part of the game. A lofty bag of lettuce won't hold up very well when it's subjected to the pressures of these cramped spaces, but there are many vegetables with much greater durability. Carrots, for example, can easily withstand a considerable amount of dropping and squishing with minimal damage. We know that if we select only the most durable crops to bring along, we are much less likely to be disappointed come meal time. The photo below shows a fresh kale salad that was a great alternative to more fragile baby greens like lettuce and spinach.
Vegetables are mostly water and their desirable eating quality depends on them maintaining this high water content. That's why we do our best to reduce this moisture loss from the moment of harvest with the help of proper packaging and refrigeration. When we are on the road though, our vegetables don't have the same ideal packaging or storage temperatures so it's best to avoid crops that loose their moisture easily. The rate of moisture passage through the skin of a vegetable represented by its transpiration coefficient. As you can see from the graph below, transpiration rates vary dramatically from one crop to another. There are just a few common crops shown here to give you an idea of the huge range of transpiration coefficients. Lettuce loses moisture through its outer skin more than 100 times faster than onions and potatoes, so with this information in mind, we should pack more potatoes and onions and leave our lettuce at home. Crops with low transpiration rates will fare much better in less than ideal storage circumstances.
My point in introducing you to the concept of transpiration rates is not to suggest that you should do a bunch of research before packing for a trip. I just wanted to illustrate how significant the moisture retention ability varies from one crop to another. You probably have a strong intuitive ability to figure out the other crops that would have low transpiration rates. Just think about which crops have layers, outer skins or even hardened shells. Melons and squash are two examples of crops that can retain their moisture well.
Another question we consider before heading out the door is how much preparation time a vegetable will require. Can I just pull it out of a bag and pop it in my mouth or will I need to slice, dice, and sauté it before it has desirable eating qualities? Preparing a full meal from scratch with a single burner camp stove is totally possible and I used to enjoy the challenge. However, with two toddlers to manage at the same time these days, we find ourselves opting for the simpler meal possibilities more often. So even though foods like garlic and onions travel wonderfully, they are less likely to make the cut for our road trips because their use in meals typically involves a lot more preparation. I would rather include more ready-to-eat foods like corn on the cob, which conveniently comes wrapped in its own biodegradable packaging.
Packing meals for the road requires a different mindset than packing your refrigerator at home. We aim to bring only what we will eat during the trip so that we don't waste food unnecessarily or have the burden of carting around extra food that we are not actually using. This means that we need to have a good idea of the quantity of food our family will eat so that we only pack appropriately sized portions. If we want ketchup on the road, we don't need a whole ketchup bottle, just a couple of tablespoons. An ingredient like this can be easily pre-packed into smaller containers more suitable for travel. Likewise, a large vegetable like cauliflower can be easily portioned before travel to take only the amount we need. If a large vegetable can't be downsized well into smaller portions then it might just need to stay at home. A large winter squash, for example, would travel really well thanks to its durability and low transpiration rates, but since it's a bit its size is excessive to serve our family for one meal on the road, it wouldn't make the cut.
We have pretty high standards for our meals at home, but we let some of these standards slide when we are on the road. The extra work it takes to achieve a home quality meal over a campfire or single burner stove doesn't always seem to be worthwhile. We will prioritize recipes and meal plans that are easy to prepare and forgive ourselves if they lack some of the rich qualities of something simmered on the stove for an hour. In our minds, the pleasure of having a green salad on day 5 of our trip is not worth the hassle required to keep that bag of lettuce fresh and crispy for a week on the road, so we give up that privilege and just look forward to using more fresh greens again when we return home. We know that these compromises are only as long as our trip and they give us more freedom to slow down and enjoy our time on the road. Any kind of food tends to taste better in the bush regardless so those eleven herbs and spices that we might have reached for at home don't quite have the same value in the woods anyway.
Now that you've seen our list of traveling vegetables, you will appreciate that there was no real shortage of colour or flavour in our diet while we were away from home, and by global standards we still ate like royalty. If you have never taken your vegetables on the road with you before, or you have been feeling like your garden has been tying you down during the summer, I hope this post has given you some encouragement and perhaps helped you overcome some limiting beliefs about what it means to have a vegetable garden in the summer. Get out there to enjoy the sights and sounds that this beautiful planet has to offer, and take the best of your garden with you. Maybe sometimes it is possible to have the best of both worlds.