Events take all day, so I’ve learned to pack some food along to help keep myself from fainting from hunger and thirst. Often, my friends come over to share, and we end up setting out some food on the horse trailer fender or tailgate of the truck.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s a three-part article on the art of tailgating/fender feasting, for events, cross-country schoolings, clinics or lessons with your besties, including some old fashioned recipes for good tasty food that sticks to your ribs after a long day in the saddle.
When packing for an outdoor eating place, I try to make sure I am bringing things that don’t require eating with a knife and fork or sitting at a table, so these recipes have been selected for ease of eating fairly uncivilized … i.e., with your fingers. Usually, we’re standing or sitting on ice chests and mounting blocks, so we need food we can eat from our laps, and it works best to have things that can be eaten with fingers or toothpicks, or that are already cut into serving-sized pieces. Pack-along food is often eaten while driving home, too, so it needs to last all day and not get mushy, melt, or deteriorate in heat.
I also try to keep in mind when I am bringing tailgate food for a group that not everyone is going to like meat, nuts, dairy, etc., so I make sure there is a tasty variety so everyone can eat something, and don’t have to stand there watching others eat! For instance, there should be sweet stuff, some salty or savory stuff, protein of some sort, and healthy stuff like peeled and cut carrots, cut celery pieces, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples or bananas. Even someone on a restricted diet can usually snack on vegetables and fruit, or single-serve sugar-free applesauce in the small containers, which is gluten-free. They pack well and don’t need refrigeration.
Bananas are often the food of choice for riders before cross country, because they are not spicy, a source of good carbs, and take the hunger edge off. But a banana at 6 a.m. isn’t enough food to help you last the day! I’m here to help!
It’s helpful to divide your tailgate food into things that need to be refrigerated, and things that need to stay warm. As we get further into fall, having cool days is a blessing because you can put your things that need to stay warm in the insulated truck cab, while placing your cold stuff in the cooler outside on the ground under your trailer gooseneck or truck tailgate to keep it out of the sun. (Keep the lid on tight in case of stray dogs looking for samples!)
When I prepare and pack food ahead of time, I use plastic snap-on lid containers, and sort the food into containers that fit. It keeps the food from rolling around and spilling inside the container as it travels, keeps everything airtight and away from flies. Also most of these are small enough to fit on the edge of a horse trailer fender, too — because mostly I will serve right out of the containers to save space. It’s always breezy in the open fields we park in, so keeping stuff in containers helps to avoid spills and chasing blowing wrappers around.
You can get fancier and have all sorts of pretty dishes for serving, but most of your folks are going to get just a few minutes to grab a bite, so make it easy for them to load a paper plate and don’t get too worried about looks.
I have a “tailgate” container (about shoebox size with a good fitting lid) packed with coffee/tea stuff above in a large baggie, along with paper cups, paper plates, toothpicks and spoons, a good kitchen knife for cutting up food to serving size, and two kitchen garbage bags with tie-shut tops — one for garbage, one for recyclables.
For hot things, my favorites are coffee, tea and soup. An insulated carafe of plain black coffee, with a baggie of sugar packets, creamers, stirring sticks, and I’ll have open a small container of half and half nearby. Add a stack of paper cups and you are going to save someone’s (usually a freezing, half-awake parent) day with a hot cup of coffee.
My next hot favorite is hot soup, either from a crock pot plugged into a converter outlet in your truck, or in an insulated warm container. I serve soup in cups with small spoons; your eaters can choose to sip or spoon it, and also offer crackers. Any kind of chicken soup is always popular, and for cream soups I stick with some variation of tomato, mushroom, or broccoli. These are hearty, without being too spicy for those who can’t eat rich food and ride, too. Hot soup brightens even the worst day!
Hot tea is always good especially on the drive home, so if you aren’t a coffee drinker you can put boiling water in your carafe before you leave in the morning and it should stay hot enough to give you a cup of tea. Pack tea bags, instant cider packets, or even the instant soup packets. A good quality insulated carafe should keep water hot for most of the day.
For cold foods, I always pack a protein, such as hard boiled eggs, some cut or sliced small meat like summer sausage or prosciutto (dried and thus able to withstand temperature variation), deli sandwiches (see Part 2 for sandwich hints), or even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into fours so they can be shared. When I pack hardboiled eggs, sometimes I peel them the night before and cut them in half, then pack them in a container to grab in the morning from the fridge. But you can also bring them along shell-on to keep them clean and fresh, too. It is often hard to peel eggs with dirty hands, though!
Lastly, it’s always good to have a batch of cookies, sliced sweet bread, or Bundt cake chunks. Almost any kind of cookies or brownies go over well — homemade of course is the best, but I avoid doing chocolate chips in the brownies or cookies in the summer, as they make a mess when they get warm and melt. Old standbys that travel well are muffins of all kinds, oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, or just brownies made from box mix – nobody turns down brownies! Other choices might be some cold apple pie or pumpkin pie wedges wrapped individually in waxed paper, or granola bars to help everyone sock away some carbs for a cold day in the saddle.
Don’t forget drinks! I am always after myself to hydrate. I now bring a gallon jug of water and pour it into my insulated water bottle rather than try to haul about all those single water bottles. A variety of soft drinks and juice for your peeps — know what they drink, and if you don’t know, this list should cover it for adults and kids: a couple of diet selections, a couple of Cokes or Pepsi’s, and orange, apple or cranberry juices along with an electrolyte type of sports drink in a couple of flavors. Along with your coffee, tea and water, that ought to cover it for everyone. Also: when you pack the cooler, fill a baggie with clean ice for drinks rather than use the loose ice in the cooler.
I always have a small bowl of individually wrapped hard candies for riders to take, that can fit in a pocket, like peppermints. These are good to have whether you are a rider, groom, volunteer or nervous parent, and can pretty much stay good no matter what the weather.
I always pack a bottle of alcohol gel for hands, or some anti-bacterial wipes along with a roll of paper towels, so people can clean their fingers a bit before eating. I find a stack of napkins tends to blow around, so I bring a roll of paper towels instead, they work better for clean up, too.
It’s also good to remember that everyone has different tastes. You may have favorites you prefer to bring or different recipes you’ve used, and that’s great! Variety is the spice of life.
Next, Part 2 (link) and Part 3 (link) will provide some favorite recipes for fender feasting! All with hungry horse people in mind! Enjoy! Go Eventing!