Other · Trail Cooking

The Salt Bowl: Yes, It Used To Be Like This

I was looking through a couple of my recent additions to the Trail Library and one book,The Upscale Outdoor Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Campers, Backpackers and Short Order Cooks, had a recipe in it for Instant Shepherd’s Pie. And it occurred to me that many of the older outdoor cookbooks called for dried chipped beef or chipped beef. And that I had never used it all these years. Yet I knew that many stores still carry it, usually up high on the canned meat aisle, up with the pig feet and other weirdo old school meats.

I went shopping and picked up a jar of Hormel® Chipped Beef. 5 ounces, canned in a glass jar. Not as scary as I had figured until I turned the jar over and read the ingredients and nutritional stats. The recipes in the older books usually called for 5 ounces (a whole package) for a 2 person meal. 6,000 mg of sodium for that entire jar. Ouch. No wonder the stuff was nearly shelf stable back in its day.

This morning Ford and I whipped up the shepherd’s pie which I have to say is pretty much not anything like what I would call a “shepherd’s pie”. The lack of vegetables was pretty bad (OK, OK…yeah potatoes are a veggie I know….but talk about lack o’ color in your meal!) Lets just say I wouldn’t recommend ANYONE cooks this recipe up! The finished meal has 7, 530 mg of sodium divided 2 ways. At over 3,700 mg of sodium this is worse than 99% of the commercial freeze-dried meals out there. Obviously back in the day though people loved this stuff because they kept eating it.

On one thing: You can soak chipped beef to remove some of the salt. Modern chipped beef is thinly sliced, it resembles thin pepperoni and is quite soft.

Older versions tended to be tougher from what I have read? Still….all I could think of when I opened the jar was….Alpo® brand dog food. Sorry Hormel®, not to be mean and or diss you, but gag…it would have to be the end of civilization before I could eat it. Of course…Ford thought it was fabulous. But hey he is 13 and loves chewing on jerky all day…..

Lets get to the recipe, rewritten a bit and the methods changed for ease in preparing.

The ingredients:

The Salt Bowl (or Instant Shepherd’s Pie)

In a sandwich bag:

2 cups instant mashed potatoes

1 Tbsp dry milk

1 Tbsp diced dried onion

Also take:

1 packet brown gravy mix

1/4 cup vegetable oil, butter or margarine

5 ounce jar dried chipped beef

In camp:

Thinly slice and dice up the beef. Add it a 2 Liter non-stick coated pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, take off the heat and stir in the potatoes. Cover and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile in another pot or fry pan lid prepare the gravy mix according to the package instructions (usually 1 cup cool water), cover and set aside to keep warm.

Take the potatoes out of the pot and stash in a clean gallon bag or in a bowl, add half of the fat to the pot and heat over a medium flame. Add in the potatoes, smooth out and cook till crispy. Drizzle or smear the other half of the fat on top, cut into quarters with your spatula and flip over. Cook till crispy on the second side.

Pull of the stove and top with gravy.

Serves 2.

And no, I couldn’t even sample it. All I could smell was SALT. Like standing on a hot summer day, dehydrated and licking salty pretzels but a 1,000 times worse 😀 Ford liked it but I took it away after a couple bites. Probably because it screamed ‘junk food’. 😉

~Sarah – who is craving fresh veggies steaming now!

7 thoughts on “The Salt Bowl: Yes, It Used To Be Like This

  1. I had to laugh at your thought that it was the lack of vegetables that made you say it was nothing like what you’d call a shepherds pie. Shepherds pie has to be made from lamb, so using beef immediately disqualifies it from that recipe name. Cottage pie can have beef, but not shepherds pie.

    There are so many things wrong with this recipe – I gagged at the idea of instant potatoes, those would be the very definition of what I wouldn’t eat. And I’d guess that the gravy mix is basically salt with some flavouring added (guessing here based on gravy mixes sold in Australia, yours might of course be different).

    Maybe you could paraphrase Monty Python – this is not a dish for eating, this is a dish for lying down & avoiding.

  2. Exactly….as I read the recipe it made me think “but this isn’t shepherd’s pie” though in the US it seems to be one and the same with cottage pie (which you don’t see the name often used). Yeah, since I knew I wasn’t going to eat it at all I bought the cheapest, nastiest full of chemical laden “gravy mix”. It smelled awful. Made me think of industrial gravy 😉 As you may have noticed…I didn’t post this recipe on the website – it would have been perfect for April Fool’s Day though!

  3. Creamed chipped beef on toast was one of the less appetizing meals my mother often prepared during my childhood. Older veterans of the US military know it better as “sh** on shingle.”

    I never did like the stuff, and I certainly wouldn’t even think of eating it now!

  4. Lol…all I could think of when I opened it was “wow this smells like the dog food we gave our mutts back when I was a kid”. Yeah, I couldn’t even try it.

  5. Oh, my, this brought back the memories of when I was a child. It was actually a treat to have chipped beef in cream sauce on toast, and occasionally on mashed potatoes. But this was made by the same mother who baked Spam on a fancy baking dish for “special.” We’d also have Hormel tamales and canned baked beans for dinner occasionally. It wasn’t until I was 18 and moved away from home that I learned how to eat real food.
    Kathleen B

  6. Oh, yes – this reminds me of the Scouts in the 60’s. It was a real treat compared to the other stuff we had.

    I think a couple of tweaks could easily ‘healthy’ this up. Use dehy hamburger or TVP for the beef, and a lighter gravy – low-NA broth powder, arrowroot or other thickener, maybe a little instant coffee for richness and color.

    The potatoes ARE filling!


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