During wartime or a natural disaster, food shortages and lack of natural gas or electricity for cooking require a great deal of improvisation and reliance upon back-to-basics cooking techniques used by our forefathers to survive. In an emergency, it helps to know what to do with all the wheat, rice, cornmeal, sugar, molasses, vegetable oil and dried beans, milk, fruits and vegetables which you’ve wisely cached along with firewood or cooking fuel.
Colonial, pioneer and nineteenth-century military cooking methods and recipes are useful when preparing meals from simple cached staples. Many of the recipes included in this information paper don’t need perishables like meat, eggs or yeast, which you might not have.
Recipes for the modern kitchen with a temperature-controlled oven will naturally have to be adjusted by trial and error if you are baking in a clay oven in the field or cooking over a campfire.
Improvisation is called for to substitute what is available. For example, if a recipe calls for bacon drippings, you can use any cooking fat like lard, margarine, butter, vegetable oil or shortening.
Butter Flavor Crisco can be used in most recipes, doesn’t require refrigeration and is available in easy to measure sticks.
The interaction between a sweetener, baking soda, and buttermilk or sour milk (which you can make by adding a little vinegar to reconstituted dry milk; 1 tablespoon per cup of milk and let stand 5 minutes) can substitute for yeast if none is available.
White hardwood ashes can replace baking powder as a leavening agent.
Honey, molasses or syrups and be substituted for sugar in most recipes by using less water. 1 cup honey = 1-1/4 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup liquid.
Use whatever dried fruit is available regardless of what the recipe calls for. Experimentation is the order of the day.
If you remember to add spices in stages (they can’t be removed if you use too much) and if all of the ingredients you use are food, then the chances are the result will be edible (especially if you are hungry enough).
Sources of Recipes
Living history reenactors of the American Revolution and the War of Northern Aggression take great delight in recreating authentic army meals around their campfires, and hardcore reenactors eat the mess. Patricia B. Mitchell has published a series of cookbooks (available from Sims-Mitchell House Bed & Breakfast, 242 Whittle Street SW, P.O. Box 429, Chatham, VA 24531) to make this task easier and many excerpts from her books “Revolutionary Recipes,” “Union Army Camp Cooking,” “Confederate Camp Cooking,” “Confederate Home Cooking” and “Cooking for the Cause” are included in here in this series of blog post. Some recipes have been included from “Colonial Treasure Cookbook” (Hutcraft, High Point, NC 27262) and from “Colonial Fireplace Cooking & Early American Recipes” (Shoestring Press, 430 N. Harrison, East Lansing, MI 48823).
Regional cookbooks, especially from the South, are a source of recipes for nutritional meals from simple foods. Recipes have been included from various southern cookbooks including “Cookin’ Yankees Ain’t Et” (The Merry Mountaineers, Highlands, NC 28741), “Southern Recipes” and “Piggin’ Out in Dixie” (Southern Cookbooks, P.O. Box 100905, Nashville, TN 37224).
Recipes and field cooking techniques have also been excerpted from “The Green Beret Gourmet” (The Guttenberg Press Publications, P.O. Box 973, Rockledge, FL 32955).
Some quick bread recipes which don’t require yeast come from “Sunset Breads” (Sunset Publishing Corp., Menlo Park, CA 94025), a cookbook with recipes from all over the world. If you have active dry yeast or sourdough starter, this book is an excellent reference for other bread recipes not included in this paper.
Vegetarian cookbooks should also be a good source of survival recipes, but being a confirmed carnivore, the writer of this paper has no personal knowledge of any such books. Backpacking books are also an excellent source of field cooking techniques and recipes.
There is a chapter on field nutrition and camp cooking as well as an extensive appendix of recipes in “The National Outdoor Leadership School’s Wilderness Guide” (Simon & Schuster, Inc., Simon
& Schuster Building, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020). “Roughing It Easy” by Dian Thomas (The Dian Thomas Company, P.O. Box 171107, Holladay, UT 84117; 1-800-846-6355) is a comprehensive collection of outdoor cooking recipes and techniques, including many variations on improvised tin can stoves and ovens, pit and open fire cooking, dutch oven cooking, building a solar reflector cooker or solar oven and a section on drying fruits, vegetables, and jerky.
So enjoy this blog series on emergency food perpetration and buy a few of the books above!