Bush Cooking will feature recipes and stories about cooking for athletes and adventurers both at home and in backcountry settings. With over 8 seasons of backcountry cooking experience, Hannah is stoked to share her knowledge and passion for food with the Broad Beta community. Taking into consideration the importance of nutrition, environmental sustainability, and overall deliciousness, Hannah hopes to inspire you to connect with food and cook more. Read Hannah's bio.
Where does bush cooking begin?
Deep in the wilderness and off the grid, bush cooks spend the months of May, June, and July cooking out of small cookshacks and kitchen tents for camps of tree planters. Cooking for these remote, communal dwellings is a task that exists because Canadians replant their logged forests by hand, and living in the bush allows crews to more easily access the distant wilderness areas they are reforesting. This work is intense and isolated, but because workers have all of their meals prepared for them by bush cooks, they can focus on performing at their best. Working in this environment takes resilience, physical strength, and mental determination, and women are some of the most talented bush cooks and tree planters in these backcountry camps. Having spent over 16 cumulative months of her life cooking in bush camps, Hannah’s experience will serve as the basis for the recipes she shares on Broad Beta.
Whoa whoa whoa, back up. What is tree planting?
Canadian tree planters create new forests by hand planting tree seedlings after logging companies have removed mature trees for timber sales. It’s piece work, and planters are paid on average 15-30 cents for each tree they put in the ground. The faster and more skillfully a planter can move, the more money they can make. Excelling at this job takes both mental focus and physical agility, and the working conditions change day to day based on factors like bugs, weather, contract standards, and the physical characteristics of the actual land being planted. Planters typically spend 8-10 hours on the cut block, bent over with heavy bags of tree seedlings on their hips. They maneuver a jagged landscape of slash (leftover logs), sticks, and brush while finding the perfect place to plant a tree. They drive their small shovel into the ground, create an opening in the soil, and place a tree seedling in the hole, closing it with a stomp of their boot or a twist of their hand before moving onto the next microsite (planting spot). Strong planters do this up to 4000 times a day, only stopping to swat away mosquitos, to drink water, eat a quick bite, or to “bag up”, unwrapping bundles of tree seedlings and adding 200-400 of them to their bags at a time. Together the average camp will plant a staggering 6-8 million trees during the annual season and some individual planters can plant over 150,000 trees in that span.
This industry seems physical, intense, and downright difficult; how do women fit in?
The physical nature of this work leads many people to believe it would be a completely male-dominated industry, but women make up about 40% of the workforce. Many women are part of the select group of “highballers” within a camp, a name given to the most efficient and productive planters. Female planters have the ability to carry the majority of the weight of their bags using their hips and not their back, and some argue this allows them to maneuver the landscape with more ease and less strain. Women also make up a lot of the management positions, leading crews of 6-12 planters, driving trucks with tons of trees in the back down bush roads, driving quads, hiking through dense swamps and brush to deliver trees, and act as leaders during difficult times.
Women cooks are no different, consistently proving themselves in these intense settings. Not only do women cooks crush it on the food preparation, they also tend to be looked at as a calm and dependable, and confident for any personal or professional grievances among the young workers in these camps. At the company I worked at, cooks are designated as safe people, and often act as a trustworthy, thoughtful person that folks can approach. Whether they are planting trees or cooking meals, women are a strong, welcomed and appreciated presence in bush camps.
What does cooking for tree planters entail?
As you can imagine, tree planters eat a ridiculous amount of food. They burn as many calories as a marathon runner every single day. They continuously exert themselves, and so they continuously need to refuel. Food is an integral part of their productivity, and every meal they eat during this time, including their lunch on the block, has been planned, ordered, and prepared by the cooks. This level of sustained physical exertion for a period of three months requires a creative and attentive cook team that makes the food delicious and diverse. Ask a veteran tree planter and they will tell you: cooks can greatly improve the lives of the planters and in turn their efficiency through the power of cooking good food. With the entire season of tree planting productivity tied so closely to the physical and mental health of dozens of people, cooks are in many ways the backbone of bush camps. And women are often the ones who make up the cook team.
What does the kitchen set up in a bush camp look like?
Taking on the role of cook in a bush camp is no small feat; it is often regarded as one of the more difficult positions in a tree planting camp, as the logistics and infrastructure of bush camp place a lot of pressure on the cook team. Cooks work the longest hours, the most days in a row, and tend to have the most regular, instant constructive feedback, mainly from the 60 or so people they are feeding each day. With an entire industrial kitchen tightly packed into a cookshack trailer, much like a food truck, bush cooks are masters of multitasking and space saving. Their refrigeration sources tend to be mediocre, usually comprising of 5 or 6 stand up fridges on pallets, or if they’re lucky, a walk in trailer plugged into the generator. Water for the cookshacks is pumped from a nearby lake, creek, or stream, and the fuel for the stove comes from propane tanks that must be swapped regularly, which inevitably ends up being during a busy dinner service. Cookshacks can get really hot, and as the season moves through the month of July, it can be pretty unbearable. Windows are usually left wide open, as is the front door, but then it’s a never ending battle to deal with mosquitos, black flies, horse flies and no-see-ums. Power comes from the camp generator, and if management forgets to fuel it, cooks have to put down their knives and spatulas and pick up a jerry can before their lights or mixer shut off.
What kind of food do bush cooks make?
The definition of good food in a tree planting camp is three-fold: it has to be delicious, it needs to be nutritious, and there has to be enough of it. Cooking for the same people every day for three months means that bush cooks tend to master food variety and resourcefulness. A strong bush cook team will have a creative ability that allows them to avoid repetitive meal cycles. And because of restrictive food budgets (mine ranged from $14-$16 per person per day), bush cooks are some of the most imaginative when it comes to integrating nourishment while maintaining this variety at low cost. The remote nature of bush camp means that every single meal is calculated for quantity, because groceries could be up to 5 hours away by truck or in some cases are flown in by helicopter once a week. I remember my first shift in the cookshack I asked the then experienced cook team: what if we run out of food? Their reply was simple: we don’t. I understood from the beginning the importance of our work as cooks and the significance of having enough nutritious and delicious food for the planters, and I’m stoked to share many of these recipes here.
What does a day in the life of a bush cook look like?
A day in camp for the cook team looks very different than a day on the cut block for the planters. They are the first ones awake at 4am, and before they stumble sleepily into the cookshack, they fire up the generator that fuels the camp. The absolute stillness and quiet of a sleeping bush camp ends each morning by this action, signifying the beginning of another long day. As the planters and crew leaders sleep in their tents, cooks cut fruit, brew coffee, make oatmeal and fry bacon. They set out an array of baked snacks and lunch fixings, and as the clock approaches 6 AM planters begin to emerge. They wander into the cook tent, pouring cups of coffee, making their lunch, and eating breakfast before hopping into the trucks. As the planters drive off, cooks begin cleaning up breakfast and preparing dinner. If they’re strategic, they can usually squeeze in a nap before noon. Dinner is served around 6pm once all the planters have returned home, and cooks begin cleaning up and prepping breakfast before crawling into their tent for the night. All in all, cooks tend to work these 16 hour days quite consistently throughout the entire spring and summer, nourishing the camp of tree planters so that they can plant entire forests.
Bush cooks are the first up and the last to bed. They know each and every one of the dozens of planters by name, as well as their dietary preferences, their crew boss, and even how much they can eat. Cooks are always switched on, running after the sleepy planter who has forgotten their lunch in the morning, counting the trucks that have arrived back at camp in the evening, and always making sure everyone has been fed. If someone hasn’t eaten, cooks remember to put food aside for them. Planters often say the main motivation during a day of work is simply asking themselves the question: I wonder what’s for dinner. Most people who have spent time in the backcountry can relate to the feeling at the end of a lengthy hike, arduous climb, or long paddle: at the end of it you’re hungry, and having a delicious meal to eat is everything. Planters have this feeling every day, and the cooks are the ones making sure they have a warm and inviting meal to come home to.
How does bush cooking connect with other backcountry endeavors?
Cooking in the bush for an army of tree planters is both demanding and rewarding. It taught me how to be a resourceful, clever, and efficient cook. It made me realize that you don’t need a fancy kitchen, running water, or high end ingredients to create amazing food. It showed me just how hungry hard working people can be, and how much a warm plate of food can boost their spirits. It made me realize I can be a young woman who can do a demanding, physical, challenging job, all the while leading a badass team of other women cooks to success. It led me to my next adventure: cooking for a backcountry ski touring hut. And having never worked in a restaurant or studied food, this experience has been the basis for the culinary knowledge that I can’t wait to share here with the Broad Beta community.
For the salmon:
4 Salmon filets, skin on
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup gochujang
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup cold butter
1 bunch cilantro
For the slaw:
2 unripe green mangos, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 watermelon radish (or half a daikon radish), peeled
2 medium beets, peeled
Rice wine vinegar to taste
Salt & pepper to tastePinch of sugar3 scallions, sliced thinly on a bias
Using a mandolin with a julienne attachment, slice the mangos, carrots, radish, cucumber and beets. Alternatively, slice the veg by hand as thin as possible, or use a box grater. Combine in a bowl and toss together. Right before serving, toss the veg with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Adjust seasoning if necessary and top with scallions.
Combine the gochujang, maple syrup, and rice wine vinegar in a bowl. Set aside.
Season the salmon filets on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium high heat. Pour in the olive oil, swirling it around to coat the pan. Place the salmon skin side down for 3-4 minutes. Once the salmon has developed a golden crust and has turned a lighter pink color halfway up the filet, gently turn it over. Continue cooking for another 2 minutes, until the salmon is golden on the other side and the pink hue has made its way up this side of the filet. Remove from the pan and place on a platter to rest while you make the sauce.
In the same pan, pour in your reserved gochujang mixture. Let it deglaze the pan, scraping up the salmon fat and sticky bits that have been left behind. Stir the mixture on medium heat until it reduces and becomes slightly thicker. Add the cold butter and mix until it emulsifies into the gochujang mixture, transforming it to a glossy, thick, and deeply red sauce.
Serve the salmon and slaw with steamed jasmine rice and pour the sauce over. Garnish with cilantro if desired.
Hannah Rogger is a Canadian backcountry chef who grew up skiing in the foothills of the Cariboo Mountain Range. A devoted cook from a young age, she stepped into her career by spending her summers between college years cooking for hundreds of tree planters deep in British Columbia’s wilderness. She is currently the chef at a ski touring lodge in the Valhalla Ranges, feeding skiers while also finding time to join them on the skin track and the slopes. She finds cooking for people in wilderness settings inspiring and fulfilling. She is Broad Beta’s resident chef and creates content and recipes for Bush Cooking, the backcountry food section of our website. She splits her time between the traditional territories of Nsyilxcən, Ktunaxa, and Secwepemctsin speaking peoples (Nelson BC) and Songhees and Esquimalt speaking peoples (Victoria BC).
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