Bushka’s Kitchen founder Deana Del Vecchio grew up on a property bordering public land, and used every opportunity she had to get outside.
“I spent an idyllic childhood running wild with my four sisters and our German shepherds all over [our] property,” she says. “My childhood and the outdoors were incredibly intertwined.”
Growing up in New Hampshire gave Deana incredible access to some of the Northeast’s most renowned mountains. From hiking with her father to exploring the White Mountains on her own, the trails are where she found the most peace.
Given her background, it’s not surprising that Deana ended up owning and operating an outdoors-oriented business.
Deana is no stranger to dehydrating her own food, and she mentions the memories of fruit and meat drying in a dehydrator in her childhood kitchen. When it came to her business though, it wasn’t until she was headed to Iceland to hike the Laugavegur Trail in 2016 that she revisited the idea of making her own backpacking meals.
“I was running through my normal checklist when I hit the dreaded ‘food’ bullet point,” Deana said. “I mentally groaned at having to bring salty, white-rice heavy meals not only internationally, but also along a hike I had been looking forward to for months.”
Iceland would be her boyfriend’s first backpacking trip, and as “total foodies” she didn’t want to break the news that their food would be incredibly subpar to their normal meals. It was this conversation that laid the foundation for her company. When she mentioned her concerns about the backpacking food, he responded with, “But can’t we just make our own?”
They bought dehydrators and spent the next weeks testing out different dehydrated meals. They ended up making every meal for the trip themselves.
“My goal has always been to create not only the best tasting adventure meals, but also meals that support how adventure-seekers interact with the outdoors,” explains Deana. To her, this entails a lineup of meals that include cold-soaked and hot, as well as vegetarian and meat-inclusive options.
The core of the meals are in the ingredients, but Deana also mentions the importance of proper preparation. At Bushka’s Kitchen, they do everything themselves, from sourcing and cooking the ingredients, all the way to freeze-drying each meal and packaging the individual pouches.
The ingredients are carefully chosen to include whole grains, fresh produce, and game meat from family farms and ranches. From there, each dish is prepared with careful thought given to balancing healthy fats with carbs (perfect for backpacking) while also making sure each one has enough protein. Deana is careful not to overly salt the meals, and each option is thoughtfully seasoned. Lastly, since Bushka’s Kitchen has their own freeze-drying equipment, they can draw a direct line between cooking, preserving, and packaging. In an effort that seems almost too painstaking, every single meal pouch is filled and sealed by hand before shipping out to customers.
“Consumers are demanding more healthy food in their day-to-day lives,” says Deana. “From ancient grains to less sodium to more transparent labeling—this change in consumer preferences is what we are meeting.”
Hikers looking for this real-food fuel will recognize what they see when they open a meal from Bushka’s Kitchen. The Hunter's Pie has chunks of ground venison with identifiable peas and carrots. The Unstuffed Pepper has red bell peppers and green onions and quinoa.
“So much of the enjoyment and anticipation of a meal comes from our other senses, and not just how something tastes,” says Deana. “Food should be visually appealing. Food should smell delicious. And yes, food should taste incredible.”
For decades, backpacking meals were reminiscent of MREs—unidentifiable combinations of mushy food eaten with a long-handled spoon. While the long-handled spoon is still around, these days the options for backcountry meals in bags have a lot more to offer.
Deana says that this can actually present a challenge, as people don’t expect much from freeze-dried meals, and it can be tough to convince people they’re actually getting real-tasting, real-looking food. Conversely, once people try Bushka’s Kitchen, chances are they’ll turn into a loyal, repeat customer.
The goal is to continue developing recipes, and to eventually relocate to a place with more of a core outdoors focus (they are currently based in San Francisco). Deana hopes this future space will also foster a love of the outdoors, along with an outreach side to help make the outdoors more accessible, and continue inspiring future generations.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com