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Backpacking Recipes: Polenta Mush

Polenta, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Parmesan Cheese
Polenta, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Parmesan Cheese

Polenta Mush is an amazingly simple one-pot backpacking meal that can be combined with all kinds of different add-ins such as cheese, nuts, dried fruit, spices, dried vegetables, olive oil, butter, honey, maple syrup, or even canned fish to produce a wide variety of breakfast or dinner meals.

If you’ve never cooked or tried polenta, it is a special grind of corn used in Italian food that cooks into a thick mush. There’s no need to buy instant polenta. Regular dry polenta (also called corn grits) is fine for this recipe and can usually be found in a supermarket or bought online at

Polenta is also quite easy to cook, clean up, and quite filling, making it a one pot meal staple. But what really makes polenta pop are all the different tastes and textures that you can add to it. This is important to keep each meal interesting and different so you don’t experience polenta burnout.

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

At Home: Pre-measure ingredients and package in a ziploc bag.

In Camp: Bring 2 cups (16 oz) of water to a boil. Add pre-measured ziploc ingredients to boiling water, stir, and keep stirring until ingredients return to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and resume stirring for another 5-10 minutes while polenta mush thickens.

Preparation Tips: If the polenta lumps up, just smush it against the side of the pot to smoothen. Keep stirring to avoid burning on the bottom of your pot.


If adding dried spices, dehydrated vegetables, or sun-dried tomatoes, add these to the pot of boiling water just before adding the polenta so the flavors cook in.

All other ingredients should be added just before serving and mixed thoroughly with the mush. If adding cheese, wait a few minutes for it to melt in the hot mush, stir, and wolf it down.

Polenta Mush Variations
Polenta Mush Variations

Sample Add in Variations:

  • chopped walnuts, raisins and brown sugar
  • slivered almonds, cranberries, and brown sugar
  • chopped dates, walnuts, and honey from packets
  • rehydrated blueberries and brown sugar
  • chopped dried pears, cranberries, slivered almonds, and brown sugar
  • bacon bits (real or TVP), parmesan cheese, rehydrated onion flakes
  • chopped (hot) sausage, parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons oregano, 2 teaspoons onion flakes, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, dash of pepper (add all in boil);
    • mix-in 1/4 cup cheapo dried powdered parmesan cheese after the polenta is cooked and let it melt for a few minutes before eating
    • and/or, minced hot Italian sausage or Spanish chorizo
    • and/or, pepperoni
    • and/or salami slices
  • 2 teaspoons oregano, 2 teaspoons onion flakes, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, freeze-dried broccoli (add all in boil)
    • mix-in shredded gorgonzola cheese

There are endless variations, which makes this meal very adaptable to whatever local ingredients you come across ranging from fresh blueberries or strawberries to summer sausage.

Rating: This meal is a winner

Recipe Source

This backpacking recipe comes from the backpacking cookbook, Simple Foods for the Pack, which I subsequently modified to suit my tastes and available ingredients.

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  1. Looks like a real winner. I often use instant mashed potato in a similar fashion (sweet, savoury…) and works great. By the way, chorizo is a spanish sausage, not italian ;)

  2. As far as I know southern grits are a wee bit coarser, but do correct me ir I’m wrong.

  3. I do the same thing with grits.

  4. I’m using what they call “Instant Polenta”. Just bring water to boil, pour the grits in, and let it sit for a minute. Saves lots of stove fuel. The brand I’m using is from Switzerland (family bring it over) and is called “Maggi Polenta Ticinese”. It contains spices mixed in, so it is basically ready to eat after the pour. Even instant polenta doesn’t work with cold water though, whereas Butter&Herb Idaho mashed potatoes are vile but edible in cold form. The instant polenta I’m using is 80g carbs / 8g protein per 100g, pretty much identical to the mashed potatoes.

  5. Love your food suggestions, hikes, giveaways,…
    All that is great, but do you have any suggestions on finding a travel companion? I CMOS( I carry my own shit), NLFL(not looking for love), just don’t like to travel alone. What to do?

  6. I always enjoyed Polenta when my mom made it and have cooked it myself. Today everything is a special grain. like my mom did i use ordinary Quaker yellow corn meal. Get your water boiling and pour in the cornmeal while constantly stirring. You can then firm it up in a skillet with a little oil or enjoy just as it is, and it goes great with lots of ingredients. I’ve enjoyed polenta as a substitue for macaroni in a lot of dinners.

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