MSR Backcountry Cafe: Apple & Sage Stuffing

Recipe and photos by Tara Alan

If you’re anything like me, you never grow tired of the dressing (or stuffing!) your family makes at every winter holiday meal. Whether it’s concocted with cornbread or mushrooms, oysters or dried cranberries; whether it’s stuffed inside a bird or baked in a pan, it’s your favorite side dish, and you secretly wish you could have it more often. So why not tuck into a whole bowl of stuffing, and eschew the cranberry sauce and green beans? Well, now’s your chance!


I first made this simple apple and sage stuffing a few winters ago when I was far from the snowy wonderland of southern Vermont where I live, and was instead cycling through sunny Greece.



It was then, high atop the Lasithi plateau, when I came across a wizened, gnarled old apple tree whose bounty was mostly rotten. I’d found a few good fruits among the decayed, and carried them with me in a pannier, bouncing around with my onions and garlic. The next day, I found wild sage growing by the roadside, green and fragrant.


Later that evening, my husband Tyler and I camped on a secluded beach and I set about turning what food I had into a delectable dinner. With apples, sage, onion, and garlic, along with a hefty amount of crunchy dried bread slices, called “rusks,” this recipe was born.


Though I was enjoying the relative warmth of a Mediterranean winter, the taste of this stuffing brought me back to winter at home: cold and snowy, with the comfort of feasts and family galore.

Before I get to the recipe, let’s briefly talk about winter cooking. First of all, you’ll need to a stove that is suited to the cold. For best results, use a liquid fuel stove for winter cooking. Next, you’ll have to think about your ingredients. If you know that your apple, garlic, and onion are going to be frozen by the time you make this recipe, chop them ahead of time and carry them along with you in a Ziploc bag. It’s no easy feat to core and chop a whole frozen apple! Finally, if you’re melting snow for the water in this recipe, melt it first, before you start making stuffing.

And now, on to the recipe:

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic

1 medium apple

3 tablespoons butter

¾ teaspoon dried rubbed sage

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon onion granules

2 chicken bouillon cubes

8 slices stale sandwich bread or equivalent of baguette (I used a light wheat bread in this recipe, but you can use whatever you have. While stale is best, fresh will work fine with a few modifications. Alternatively, go for dried bread, such as rusks.)

½ cup water, plus up to an additional 2 cups (amount of water added will vary greatly depending on your bread’s type and level of staleness).

Peel and chop the onion, garlic, and apple. I leave the skin on the apple to add a little color to the dish, but you should core it, of course. Add about three-quarters of each item to a non-stick cooking pot, saving the final portion for later. Measure the butter, sage, pepper, and onion granules to the pot as well, along with the bouillon cubes. Tear or slice the bread into chunks, and set them aside.


With your ingredients prepared, prime and light your stove, and set the pot on it to heat. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the onions are cooked. As you stir, try to mash the bouillon cubes.

Add a half-cup of water, and heat until the mixture has warmed back up. Next, add your bread chunks and the remainder of your chopped apples/onions/garlic, and carefully toss everything until the bread is moist and soft. If you’re using fresh bread, it will have a tendency to get gummy, so be very gentle and don’t over-mix.

Depending on the type and staleness of your bread, you will likely need to add more water. Keep adding water and gently tossing until all of the bread is soft and moist.

Then, enjoy!

Tara Alan is an avid cyclist, adventurer, camp cook, and writer of Bike Camp Cook and of the award-winning website

For more of Tara’s recipes click here.

Originally posted January 21, 2015