If you have ever tried or been forced to eat an MRE, you understand why they are notorious for not tasting great. We have come along way since the Vietnam War in survival rations technology. Thanks to Mountain House, food designed for long storage periods now tastes just as good as a freshly made meal. In 1968, Mountain House’s research and development team developed meals from freeze-dried foods for U.S. soldiers stationed in Vietnam. Freeze drying food is the best way to preserve food so when rehydrated it maintains its look, taste and texture as when fresh. Since then, Mountain House has been a backpacker and camper favorite.
Norm Jager, Manager of R&D at Mountain House says “taste is critical” when developing long-term storage foods. He says food must look as good as it tastes. Not only is Mountain House my preferred food for long-term storage, but also provides an easy and quick stand-in on busy days.
The Mountain House 72-hour freeze-dried food kit includes nine food pouches, including breakfast. Depending on your dietary needs, the kit should feed one person for three days. It includes:
• Granola with blueberries and milk
• Scrambled eggs with bacon
• Beef stroganoff
• Chicken teriyaki
• Chicken with rice
• Pasta primavera
Granola with Blueberries and Milk
Each package says it feeds two people. However, three of us split a package of granola with blueberries and milk for breakfast. As it should, the Mountain House granola has two distinct textures. The oats are crunchy, while the blueberries are soft and juicy. You can taste the milk without it being overwhelming. As someone who does not drink milk, I compare the presence of milk in the granola as less than the amount I put in cereal. It adds a nice deep dimension to the meal. Altogether, the granola with blueberries has a perfect blend of soft and crunchy. The oats do not get soggy like instant oatmeal found at the grocery store. Both my testers, regular eaters of oatmeal, say the Mountain House granola with blueberries and milk is better than store-bought instant.
Scrambled Eggs with Bacon
During and after heating, scrambled eggs with bacon smells exactly like Mom’s breakfast. Cooked bacon is a comforting smell, and the Mountain House version smells like the real deal. The bacon, already mixed in with the eggs, is crispy and crumbly. Though not hard or crispy, the eggs were block-like and very dense. The texture and look of the eggs remind of me hotel buffet eggs. The bacon adds quite a bit of flavor, but adding a dash of salt, pepper, Tabasco, or some shredded cheese would give the eggs a bit more oomph.
Like many busy American households, I have a freezer stocked full with frozen entrees. They make quick lunches and dinners and are easy to prepare and clean up. When I don’t have the time to prepare a fresh meal, I do not hesitate to cook up a frozen meal. Mountain House’s chicken teriyaki and pasta primavera are better than your typical frozen meal from the grocery store.
The pasta primavera, while stirring in boiling water already smells delicious. As one of the few vegetarian choices Mountain House makes, the pasta primavera does not contain meat. It has spiral pasta, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, red peppers, yellow peppers, peas, cream, and parmesan cheese. Once cooked, the pasta is soft, with a slightly over al dente texture. The veggies are soft and each is discernable. The zucchini looks like a slice of zucchini, and the peas looks just like peas. The overall taste is creamy and cheesy. Sometimes creamy pasta lays heavy in your stomach after eating it. Even though the sauce in the Mountain House pasta primavera contains cream, cheese and butter, you don’t feel like falling into a carb coma after eating it. The meal is highly satisfying, and even without meat the variety of vegetables does not leave you feeling like you are missing out.
The chicken teriyaki with rice smells exactly like any teriyaki stir-fry I have ever made. By smell and appearance, I would not be able to tell a difference between the Mountain chicken teriyaki and a popular restaurant’s frozen chicken teriyaki. The chicken is soft and tender without a single piece being dry. The sweet teriyaki sauce is flavorful, but not overbearing. The rice and vegetables are not crisp; however, there is no difference in texture from a frozen meal.
Beef Stroganoff with Noodles
Creamy and loaded with sauce, the beef stroganoff comes with plenty of beef chunks for every bite and mushrooms. Surprisingly, the noodles do not taste overdone. The creamy sauce tastes exactly like stroganoff sauce, however it is mild. To kick the sauce up a notch, add a pinch of salt, pepper and garlic powder. The mushrooms are perfect. They retain the exact consistency of fresh, lightly sautéed mushrooms and nothing like canned mushy mushrooms. In my opinion, the beef was too thick and not very tender. I usually make my beef stroganoff with traditional Swedish meatballs, so the chunks of steak were different to me. However, the kids I had test it loved the beef stroganoff.
Chicken with Rice
Even before adding the boiling water to the chicken with rice package, the food smells salty, reminiscent of one of my childhood favorites—chicken and stars soup. Mountain House proves their motto for me with this dish, “comfort in times of need.” Once the chicken with rice has rehydrated, it turns a nice brownish-yellowish color. You can see how the rice has soaked up the seasoning. It pours out into an incredibly large serving—perfect to feed two people as one meal or as a side dish to a family meal. Each bite of rice is the perfect texture, not too soft and not at all crunchy. Perfectly seasoned, I can taste the hint of pepper and onion. There is less meat in this dish than the beef stroganoff. However, I am fine with this. The chicken is dark meat, of which I am not a fan. The chicken is slightly dry, but flavorful. Out of the Mountain House dishes I’ve tried, the chicken with rice comes out on top.
Mountain House Foods may be prepared with cool or boiling water. Each food package tells you how many cups of water to use and the amount of time each entrée takes to rehydrate. All the meals in the 72-hour kit take two cups boiling water. In a survival situation, you might not have a measuring cup, so I guessed when I was preparing each meal. I had a paper cup that was nine ounces. Once you have let the food and water sit for the allotted time per package instructions, simply, but carefully, reopen the package and stir the food with a spoon.
Food comes out at the perfect temperature to eat right away if you use the exact timing printed on the package. As the case with the scrambled eggs with bacon, we did not wait long enough and food was just slightly above room temperature.
Mountain House sells a reusable heater. The heater method takes 20 minutes, which is longer than putting boiling water directly into the food package. However, food comes out hot. After 20 minutes, the food package inside the heater was 185 degrees. It is easy to use and it starts heating in about a minute. You may use the heater indoors, but in a well-ventilated area. Two holes at the top of the heater package vent a lot of steam that dies down after about 10 minutes. The heater and the food package get hot, so be careful when you touch it.
Tips and Pointers
Each of my testers and I found pieces that did not fully rehydrate—as is my conclusion with what happened to the dense eggs. You can solve this problem by making sure you stir your food completely in the bag while adding boiling water. It is also important to let the water rehydrate the food for the full amount each package suggests. To remedy this, take the dry contents out of the bag and pour it into a Ziploc bag. Crush up the dried food a bit with your hands and then pour it back into the preparation package. This helps each piece rehydrate completely.
If you have no way of heating water, using tepid water will work as well to rehydrate the food. However, it can take up to 40 minutes for the food to rehydrate. One of my testers took the 72-hour kit on a recent hunting trip. He filled a thermos with boiling water before leaving camp in the morning. A few hours into his hunting trip, the water from the thermos was still hot enough to heat the food. He says, “My water was still sufficiently hot enough to use to prep my food without having to build a second fire. The food is still excellent using water from my thermos.”
The pouches are quite large, so stirring the food can result in a very messy spoon. To prevent this, cut down the top of the package. You then have a nifty and handy bowl to eat your food. It is also easier to stir and mix every bit with the top of the package cut off.
Primarily designed for survival situations many of the Mountain House meals have high sodium content. In a survival situation, assume you will be more active than normal. You need the high sodium content to stay hydrated. So, when eating Mountain House foods, drink plenty of water.
Mountain House stands by its statements and I can attest. Mountain House food not only looks like, but also tastes like fresh food. I’ve been a picky eater my entire life and never hurry to try new things. However, the granola with blueberries and milk—a dish I have never tried before—won me over. Not only as food I store in my emergency preparations, but a breakfast I can enjoy on a normal day. Every meal I tried was flavorful, not to mention some I actually describe as delicious. Backpackers, hunters, hikers, and primitive campers will be fully satisfied packing along Mountain House meals.
When I spoke to Reiner Bohlen, Marketing Manager of Mountain House Food, he encouraged me to try a side-by-side comparison of the company’s product to the competition, which I did. Is an MRE edible? Of course. Is it appealing? Not so much. Mountain House wins hands down in taste and appearance.
We all know food isn’t just there to sustain life, but food is pleasurable, comforting and part of our traditions and rituals. During a survival situation, when stress is high, it is important to have foods the family will actually want to eat. Mountain House gives us that.