When I finally get down to making tortillas from scratch on a sea kayaking trip that’s when I know I’m on a major adventure. Over the course of a few long trips, I’ve learned that it takes me about two weeks to establish routines (think: have you seen my ____ or where is the ____?), unwind mentally, and tune-up physically. We usually plan trips for about three to four weeks of travel between communities where we resupply and briefly but exuberantly immerse ourselves in local culture. To simplify logistics at the outset, I pack enough store-bought bagels and corn and flour tortillas to last the first two weeks. Depending on the brand, I usually go through the bagels and corn tortillas faster than the flour tortillas so that I don’t lose any to mold. Sadly, I’ve found locally made artisan varieties, without preservatives, don’t last as long or travel as well. When the time comes, the switch from store-bought tortillas to making them from scratch is an event worth celebrating. It officially marks my transition from negotiating the constructs of modern culture into the simple act of living.
Culinary Arts–Natural History Connections
When it comes to flat breads, I usually make flour and corn tortillas and a variety of biscuits. I aspire to get creative with Indian and other types of flat breads: on my to-do-list. I’ll get there one day, probably when I don’t work double time for every day I squeeze into a trip. On the same to-do-list: learn more species in animal and plant groups that to date I’ve only dabbled in; for example, gulls, grasses, mosses, and lichens. There is a connection between making tortillas and learning natural history—at least for me there is. Some of my most engaging wildlife observations and interactions have unfolded while making tortillas and during other culinary adventures. Culinary arts and natural history both belong in the school of life long learning.
Timing is Everything
Making tortillas is a great way to relax and hangout when it makes sense to do so; that is, for those of us who don’t feel the need to be bucking wind, current, or both (at least not for hours on end). On a storm day, I’m happy to make up a week’s supply.
My favourite recipe for flour tortillas is in the Rebar: modern food cookbook from the infamous Rebar Restaurant in Bastion Square in Victoria (thanks Paula for the recommendation). This cookbook is a British Columbia classic that I see in most kitchens in my neighbourhood. I use mine a lot. If you don’t have it already, you might want to consider buying it. Alternatively, I think any recipe for making tortillas would probably work just fine in the great outdoors.
I make corn tortillas using Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix. Just follow the recipe on the package: 2 cups mix to 1 1/8 cups water. Masa Harina works too.
The secret to making tortillas that don’t fall apart, at least at outside temperatures, is to let the balls of dough rest for a 1/2 hour to an hour before rolling them out.
If you haven’t made tortillas before or you’re using a recipe that is new to you, it’s probably a good idea to try it out at home first.
Cooking Gear & Gadgets
The most useful gear on a long self-propelled trip has more than one purpose, just like everything I use for making tortillas (see photo above):
- smooth flat-bottomed plate
- flexible plastic cutting board
- wide mouth water bottle (1 litre)
- plastic spatula
- frying plan or dutch oven
Making Tortillas: Order of Operations
1. Take a ball of dough and flatten it a bit on a plate.
2. Take a plastic cutting board and sit it on top of the somewhat flattened ball.
3. Take a wide mouth water bottle (filled with water for weight) and gently roll on top of the cutting board-dough-plate sandwich.
4. When the dough as thick as you want it to be, gently peel back the cutting board and then use a spatula to lift the dough off the plate. If it sticks too much, try spreading a few drops of oil on the board and plate.
5. Put the tortilla in a hot frying pan or dutch oven. Use a bit of vegetable oil, if or as needed.
6. Cook until browned on both sides. If you have the temperature just right, you’ll have a beautiful tortilla, deep brown in spots, that is cooked through.
Storage and Transportation
Stack the tortilla and gently slide them into a large Zip Loc bag, store them in a cool place with the rest of your food (securely stored so that bears and other critters can’t get at it), and then transport them in a dutch oven. If you don’t have a dutch oven, you’re missing out!
Soon, I’ll do a post about securing your food and other attractants from bears.