By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST
Growing up in southwest Montana, I measured distance by travel time on the roads around us. As days grow longer and the air warms, our mountain roads clear. They shed most of their ice and snow and my mind starts to turn to the roads ahead. Where will they lead me this summer? What adventures may I find? And, because this is a food column, what will I eat?
Road trips take many forms. In Montana, crossing the state could take all day in a car and some places are so spread out that going to the next town over could be a road trip. A day of driving to the larger Western cities like Salt Lake City, Seattle, Denver is a normal activity.
Others do it as a job. In my years as an arts writer, I have often heard tales of life on the road. Musicians and performers on one tour or another tend to eat like, well, crap. It’s a diet of fast food, of burgers and pizzas. I imagine it is even worse for those who drive for a living. Imagine trying to maneuver one of those semi trailers to a place that isn’t a rest area. I don’t know that I could survive the long haul. I need a vegetable or three.
That isn’t to say the junk food doesn’t or shouldn’t have a place in our travel culture. If you’re somewhere with an In-N-Out and don’t go animal style on an animal style double double, you’re truly missing out. But the first burger joint of my nostalgia is Zip’s Drive In. If we left Bozeman in the morning, heading to visit family in the Seattle area, we would hit Ritzville, Washington, somewhere around lunch. I don’t know what else is in that little town, but the restaurant was a refuge of leg-stretching, french fries and a side of tartar sauce. For pickle lovers like me, there is nothing better into which one might dip a fry. Fight me.
On other trips west, I may or may not have been unsecured atop a mountain of blankets and luggage in the back of a covered truck bed, feeding my aunt and uncle chocolate chip cookies and kanpyo sushi rolls through the window.
Driving and food go hand-in-hand. We get hungry, or bored and turn to tasty snacks. A road trip food must be easy to eat, especially if you’re the driver. You don’t want to deal with wrappers or peels… or crumbs. While I won’t turn down homemade chocolate chip cookies, I tend a little healthier on road trips. Why add a stomach rock to being scrunched in a car for hours? So I tend to pack veggies and dip (especially Hope Foods Thai coconut curry hummus), grapes and jerky.
I have been given guff for my habit of packing grapes on road trips (you know who you are), but maintain they are both delicious mouth explosions and the ultimate fruit for ease of eating. I prefer the crisp, green variety—seedless, of course. Take them off the stem. Wash them, freeze them if you want, and throw them in a bag or a jar. No muss, no fuss, and no peels to deal with later.
Jerky, however, takes the crown in the battle of road trip foods. Let’s shout out Madison Foods in Ennis here. I’m salivating thinking of their jerky. I love how the in-house smokehouse infuses the meat after smoking, giving it a juicy tenderness so you don’t feel you may break a tooth tearing off a chunk. Though Mike Worley, the man in charge of turning raw meat into magic, tells me they no longer wholesale their products, they are still available at Madison Foods. His go-to is the house style jerky, which he likes “because it’s got a bite and also a sweet end.” But don’t sleep on the bourbon jerky, infused with Big Horn Bourbon from Willie’s Distillery. May the road take you through Ennis.
Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University.