Best Cook: One-Pan Jan
In her small, Alpine-style kitchen away from the busy streets of Center Conway, New Hampshire, Jan Duprey, a small woman with a thick braid of dark hair pulled off her face, draws a pan of roasted squash seeds out of her oven. A hot, nutty fragrance wafts into the room. “I do this all the time,” she explains. Whenever she fixes butternut squash, rather than throw away the scooped-out seeds, she washes and drains them, then spreads them on a baking pan. “Some sea salt and pepper and a squirt of Sriracha [hot Thai chili sauce] and ooooo … so good. And perfect to take on a hike.” She offers them, warm, to me, to munch while she continues cooking.
Jan zips from one recipe to another to show me how simple it is to eat well on the trail. And, not incidentally, her cooking expresses her frugality, making something delectable out of what some people might think is nothing, just like the squash seeds. “Growing up, we found uses for just about everything,” she says. Indeed, her cupboards are full of recycled containers, her dishwasher stores pots and pans, and a box of camping and picnic supplies is at the ready beside the bookcase. Rarely a day goes by without a hike somewhere in the White Mountains.
Her friends call her “One-Pan Jan,” a nickname she earned the summer that she and her domestic partner, journalist Marty Basch, rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to the Mexican border. They had a small gasoline stove and one pan. Jan took on the challenge of creating meals that were not only practical (every ounce counted) but also tasty. Marty and Jan were on the road for almost three months before returning to their lives in New Hampshire.
Almost 10 years has passed since then, but she’s still famous for her trail lunches, which can be assembled the night before and tossed into a daypack. No granola bars or freeze-dried items. She’s also known for the jars of roasted garlic cloves she prepares in bulk and shares with her best friends. They serve as a base for many recipes.
Jan lights the flame beneath a big pot of peeled potatoes, covered in water. “We hardly ever go anywhere without this balsamic potato salad,” she explains. “It’s great hot or cold, and the best part is that it won’t spoil on a hot day. There’s no mayo in it, so it keeps a week or more.”
After the potatoes are done, it takes her less than five minutes to complete her sweet-and-sour salad. The recipe for the dressing is a kind of reverse vinaigrette, with twice the amount of vinegar to oil. “I made it up years ago,” she says. “At first I used all balsamic, but that seemed too sharp, so I cut it with red wine vinegar.”
That’s how she does it — simple, quick, and most of all, delicious. “It’s what I do,” she says, quite simply.