Food to Float Your Boat

Get gourmet on Missouri's rivers

Toward that end, Welch recommends that beginners bring along charcoal briquettes to use as their heat source; they're easier to monitor and manipulate than a blazing pile of firewood. "If something's not cooking fast enough, you just add a few more briquettes. If it's cooking too fast, you take a few away. Instead of turning a dial on the stove, you're adding or subtracting coals."

As the title of Welch's book suggests, he is a huge advocate of the Dutch oven, a cast-iron pot with a lid and handle that dates back to colonial times. (A good one will run you about $25 to $50.) In it, he'll typically whip up a "mountain man" breakfast: omelets, bacon, hashed-brown potatoes, etc. Come dinnertime, he's keen on making enchiladas. Welch also claims that "a Dutch oven does about as good a pot roast as you can do. Put some potatoes, onions, carrots and celery in there with the roast. You really can cook anything in a Dutch oven."

With breakfast and dinner easily prepared over (and sometimes in) the fire, that leaves lunch. Even diehard gourmands often admit that they're never sure what quality foods to pack for the midday meal, since it's spent on the river and half in the bag. But there are easy, drunk-proof suggestions. Both Eggebrecht and Welch advocate pita bread (white or wheat) over sandwich slices for its versatility; it pairs well with anything from hummus to cold cuts to peanut butter and jelly. Speaking of peanut butter and jelly, a friend of mine, Karl, inadvertently invented a float-friendly, sassier-than-Smuckers version of the classic PB&J last summer: peanut butter and Jell-O shot. "I didn't put in enough gelatin when making the Jell-O shots at home," he explains, "so they were more the consistency of jelly." Needless to say, none of us were disappointed with the results, and neither were all the fast friends we made on the spot who were tempted by Karl's saucy sandwiches.

Soggy sandwiches  are for amateurs.
Mark Gilliland
Soggy sandwiches are for amateurs.

Along those lines, one other handy piece of advice bound to make you some new river buddies comes courtesy of Welch. Most folks use bagged ice or frozen bottles of water to keep coolers cool. Instead, try freezing cans of beer. (They don't explode when frozen like soda cans do.) "Frozen beer will stay frozen for a long time," says Welch, "five or six days if you keep the cooler shut and taped." And if you don't? "Come late afternoon, people in other boats will pay dearly for one of your ice-cold beers."

Take Me to the River:
Try these top Missouri picks.

Current River (near Rector). Part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The see-and-be-seen hotspot for summer floating; perfect for first-time floaters. Crowded as hell on weekends, but you're bound to come away with a half-dozen crazy stories. The Current's best-kept secret? It's also great for winter floating.

Jacks Fork River (near Eminence). A tributary of the Current and widely considered one of the country's best floating and fishing spots. Compared to the party-hopping Current, it's relatively unpopulated by drunken hoosiers screaming "Show us your tits!" Best scenery, hands down.

Courtois and Huzzah Creeks (near Steelville). A quick 100 miles west of St. Louis, these sister streams are well-suited for daytrips. Renowned for their clear, gem-like waters. Don't pronounce their names phonetically; locals say Core-ta-way and Who-zall.

Eleven Point River (near Thomasville). Way, way down near the Arkansas border flows this National Scenic River, where hardcore floaters go to get away from it all. Enjoy cold, spring-fed waters and canopies of shade provided by near-ancient sycamores.

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