Simple Survival Cooking by Gary Benton
One aspect of survival most people worry about needlessly is food. Most of our concerns are psychological, not biological. For some reason we all have a deeply rooted anxiety over having enough food and eating on a regular basis. While we can go weeks without food, we can die in as little as 24 hours without water (in the heat of the desert). So, I’ve not convinced you, huh? Well, I am not surprised at all. See, it is the number one question I get about survival, “What do you eat?” The answer is, pretty much anything slower than me.
We can trap small game, net birds, gather plants, catch fish, and the list goes on and on. But, do you know how to cook it or preserved it for later use? Most people always think of roasting a piece of meat or fish, but you will get more nutrients and vitamins from it if you boil it. Almost any empty tin or container can be used. Or, perhaps, you will have to improvise by using an animal skin and hot rocks. Use your imagination and you will be surprised by the ways you can do things. Usually, ways you have never remotely considered before. But, let’s discuss how to cook and when to cook certain types of foods.
Most meat (rabbits, squirrels, opossums, rodents, etc..) should be boiled. However, they may be roasted. Make sure the liver of the animal has no spots or lumps, is firm to the touch and is an even color. You should keep the head, liver, and kidneys. Boil the head for approximately 100 minutes. After the head has cooled to the touch, remove the eyes and all flesh. You can even collect the blood from any animal you kill and allow it to set covered, until a clear liquid comes to the top. Pour this liquid off and allow the blood below to firm up. Once the blood has caked, it can be cut into squares and added to soups or stews. Add a few plants and you will have a nice dinner.
Plants are all around us. Make sure if you do not know the plant to use the edibility test (in another article) to insure it is safe to eat. Always eat the plant exactly like you tested it (if you eat the stem cooked during the test and had no illness, then always eat it cooked). Another aspect to keep in mind is that some toxins in plants may be killed if the plant is cooked, but never eat any plant you do not know is safe.
Roots are excellent roasted on hot coals. Other green plants will make a nice side dish or salad for you. Wild onions add a nice touch to any survival meal and usually found in most of North America. However, you may have to resort to what you would never normally consider food. Insects are excellent and all around us.
Insects and worms are actually very good for your diet. They are high in proteins and may be roasted. A preferred method is to boil them, remove them from the water once cooled, and then crush them into a powder. You can then add this powder to your stews or soups. Most people have an aversion to just picking up an insect and eating it, which is not safe to do anyway, and this “powdering” method will mask the meals contents a little. I find them easier to eat this way.
Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of food if you are near the ocean. You can wrap them in broad leaves and place them directly on hot coals. Or, you can wrap them in leaves, cover the leaves with mud, and then cook them until the mud dries. Once the mud has hardened, remove your food from the fire, break the mud shell, and open the leaves. Use caution not to get pieces of mud on your food. All shellfish should be cooked for at least 10 minutes to make it safe to eat. Additionally, eat all seafood caught immediately, because is spoils quickly.
Birds are almost everywhere. They also make an excellent source of survival foods. Some, like gulls, may have a strong fish taste. I suggest you skin most birds, because it is quicker and easier. Plucking the feathers takes a great deal of time and may not be worth the energy. Nonetheless, the choice is yours. Carrion should be boiled, but all others may be boiled or broiled. Keep in mind, boiling will retain most of the nutrients you need.
Well, now that you know how to cook foods for immediate use, how do you preserve meats? The fastest and easiest way is to smoke it. Jerky is the term used to describe this method and it is fairly easy to do. While jerky can be made using the sun or the wind, smoking is the best way. Build a small fire with a pit. To smoke meat, make a small tepee (three green sticks placed in the ground like a triangle), tie the tops of the sticks together, and make a platform (once again, use green wood) no closer than two feet from where the coals will be.
Remove most or all of the fat from the meat you are preparing. Then, cut the meat cross-grain in slices no wider than ¼ of an inch if possible. Actually, the thinner the meat the quicker it will cure. If you have salt (if you are near the ocean you can boil saltwater to produce salt) rub the meat with salt. Salt will speed up the drying process. Once the meat has been cut, place it on the cooking platform allowing individual pieces to touch, but not overlapping. Do not place the meat in a pile on the platform. There has to be space around the meat for it to cure properly.
To smoke the meat, add green hardwoods chips or chunks of wood to the coals. Chunks of wood or chips may be soaked in water first if you prefer. This water treatment will give off a lot of smoke and allow the “chunk” to last longer. Leaves from hardwoods may be used as well. Avoid grasses or pine boughs, they will just flare up and burn away. Keep in mind, you want smoke and heat, not direct flame. Also, pine or fir will make the meat taste bad. Use hickory, cherry, or oak for the best flavors.
Once the fire is smoking, is when I add the sides to the tepee. Using cloth, aluminum, or even pine boughs, cover the sides of the structure. Allow a small opening at the top for the smoke to be released. Now comes the hard part, you must wait approximately 18 hours for the meat to be “jerked.”
However, once the meat is cured in this manner it will last a very long time. Just remember to keep it dry and wrapped to keep it clean. I usually crumble up a couple pieces of jerky and add it to soups or stews for a very unique flavor! When jerky is added to other soup contents (insects or blood) it may make the meal easier for some to eat. I have also found taking a handful of rice, then adding some jerky, make a great camping soup. I always carry a cup of dry rice in my survival kit.
Survival is never easy. It is a constant battle to find enough foods to keep our psychological needs satisfied as well as our bodies. Remember, you can snare small game, net birds, catch fish or find shellfish, then prepare them as I have suggested in this article. Also, try your hand at making jerky so you can preserve you meat for later use. All of the cooking methods I have discussed here do work. I know because I have used them. But, the taste may not be to your liking. In survival our goal is to live and we must eat what nature provides us to do this.
Take care, stay safe, and I will see you outdoors!