Trail Food on the GR11: Couscous, foraging and vegetarianism

Trail Food on the GR11:  Couscous, foraging and vegetarianism
Cooking Couscous for breakfast.

Cooking Couscous for breakfast.

To keep us going on the GR11 we ate huge amounts of couscous, so much that I am pretty sure I will never want to eat it again.  The reason why we consumed it in such vast quantities is that couscous is quick and easy to prepare and we found it can be mixed with pretty much anything, or so it seemed after a long day on the trail! At times we had to get creative with our couscous preparation, after running out of porridge we opted for mixing it with coffee or hot chocolate (when we had it) to create our own hot breakfast stand-ins.  For dinners we mixed it with vegetable and tomato soup powders and for a special treat added in what was left from our cheese.  Couscous was definitely our staple meal.

I spent a long time choosing high-quality lightweight gear to take on this trip, only to find that I was often carrying 1KG of cheese and the same amount of chocolate.  It was not unusual for us to polish off a family sized bar for lunch and a second at dinner.  It is almost impossible to consume the amount of calories you need whilst completing a long-distance hike but we gave it our best shot, carefully examining the backs of packets to find the highest calorie options and wondering just how much cheese we could reasonably carry.

We weren't able to carry much fruit and veg for obvious reasons and dried fruit was very hard to find in the shops. As far as fresh fruit was concerned, we had to rely on picking up quick fixes every few days as we passed through villages en-route.

We were however able to gather a lot of nuts and berries along the trail that often provided a much needed boost as we walked.  Our main foraging consisted of hazelnuts, chestnuts (which we roasted and boiled), walnuts and blackberries. For those in the know, there were also a wealth of mushrooms to gather and we often saw locals heading into the forests with their woven baskets early in the morning.  These tasty treats were a joy to collect but did incur some time penalties, as we would often get wrapped up in foraging and easily lose an hour of the day.

Being a vegetarian in the mountains of Spain was an additional challenge.  We cooked most of our own food but as this had to consist of dried options we never passed up the opportunity to stop at a Refugio or a Restaurant for a proper meal.  The problem is, in remote areas all of the meals contain meat.  I was faced with many salads, some of which contained sneaky ham that they couldn't resist including.  In usual circumstances these salads would be very tasty but on the trail I needed high-fat, high-carb, high-protein food and a salad just couldn't hit the spot!  I started asking specifically for fried eggs or omelettes, which felt more substantial but I still lacked vital nutrients from regular fresh vegetables, resulting in a few dodgy tummies along the way.

Our best meal was cooked towards the end of the trail, when a kind young couple living down the lane from our Bothy, cooked us an amazing dinner of broccoli soup, hearty mixed vegetable pasta (with aubergines, courgettes, peppers, carrots etc) and then infusion tea with herbs picked from surrounding hills to finish.  We came upon this welcome meal through a guidebook error that informed us their house was a restaurant and so we asked if we could come for dinner.  It turned out that they had recently moved in and that although the previous owner had run a bar, they were not and were simply living there but they cooked for us anyway!  The kindness of strangers was something we found consistently throughout the trek.

Since returning, I have eaten unusually large amounts of Broccoli and other lovely greens but have also been trying to get over my sugar-cravings with some healthy alternatives.  Sadly, it is no longer acceptable for me to eat a family size chocolate bar as part of my daily lunch and something needs to be done!