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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 have 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. If it is faster than me, I just trap it if I can.
We can trap small game, net birds, gather plants, catch fish, collect shellfish, 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 to boil it. Perhaps, you will have to improvise by using an animal skin or birch bark, and hot rocks. Use your imagination and you will be surprised by the different ways you can do most things. Usually, it will be in 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 dead animal has no spots or lumps, is firm to the touch and is an even color. You should keep the head, liver, and kidneys of healthy animals. 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 in a cool spot, 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.
Meats can be simply stuck on a stick and place over or near the hot coals to cook. Never cook directly over or in the flames of your fire. The meat will be burn on the outside and be raw on the inside. However, if you have a container, I suggest you usually boil your meats. This allows you to retain the vitamins and nutrients. Or, you can place the meat on a spit and slowly turn it over a bed of coals. Once again, you are limited in cooking meats only by your imagination.
Plants are all around us. Make sure if you do not know which plant is safe to eat, that you use the edibility test (in another article) to insure it is safe. Always eat the plant exactly like you tested it (i.e., if you eat the stem cooked during the test, then always eat the stem and always have it cooked). Another aspect to keep in mind is that toxins in some plants may be killed if the plant is cooked. Roots are excellent roasted in hot coals. Other green plants will make a nice side dish or salad for you. Wild onions add a touch to any survival meal and are usually easy to find in most locations. However, you may have to resort to what you would not normally consider food, insects and worms.
Insects and worms are actually very good for your diet. They are high is 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. Fish can be placed on a spit and placed over a bed of hot coals. Remember, all shellfish should be cooked for at least 10 minutes to make it safe to eat. Additionally, immediately eat all seafood caught 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 of meat preparation and it is fairly easy to do. While jerky can be made using the sun or the wind, smoking is the best and fastest way.
First, you should build a small fire in a pit. To actually smoke the 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 (you have a source if you are near the ocean. You can boil saltwater to produce salt) rub the meat with salt. Salt will speed up the process and make it taste better. Once the meat has been cut, place it on the cooking platform allowing individual pieces to touch slightly, 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. These chunks of wood or chips may be soaked in water first if you prefer. This water treatment will give off a lot more 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, not direct flame. Also, pine or fir will make the meat taste bad. Use hickory 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." Feed the fire as often as needed, but you want smoke and not flames.
However, once the meat is cured in this manner it can last a very long time. Just remember to keep it dry and wrapped up 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 and then adding some jerky to the water makes a great camping soup.
Survival is never easy. It is a constant battle to find enough foods to keep our psychological needs satisfied as well as our physical needs. Remember, you can snare most 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 your meat for later use. All of the cooking methods I have discussed do work. I know because I have used them. But, the taste of some of the foods 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!
Survival Food Cooking