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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Food for Long-Term Survival, by Sheila C.

Preserved food in Mason jarsImage via Wikipedia
Many food strategies have been discussed in preparation for a TEOTWAWKI scenario: beans, rice, MREs, coupon-based purchases and heirloom vegetable seeds, just to name a few. However, there are certain limitations to a food-storage-only strategy. MREs, for instance, are quite expensive and only provide one meal at a time. They would be great for an emergency G.O.O.D. situation, but not long-term sustainable when you are packing everything you have in the world on your back. And beans and rice are wonderful staple foods, but what do you do when you run out of them… or worst case scenario happens and you have to flee your refuge? I have to admit, I have a considerable supply of beans and rice and heirloom seeds, but I also have many years’ experience preserving food and developing meal plans for backpacking. I have found that there are numerous ways to preserve food with contingency plans. I have a passion for food, and in this article I am going to discuss approaches to raising, harvesting, and preserving various types of food with flexibility in mind.
Several years ago, while on a backpacking trek with my teenage son, I concluded that the little pre-packaged backpacking foods were not going to meet our needs. We had just spent a good part of the day hiking over the top of a rugged mountain, and were ravenous. I prepared one of those expensive backpacking meals on our little stove while my son setup camp. As we finished up with “dinner”, my boy looked over at me and asked, “Is that it? There’s nothing more?” Suffice it to say, it was time for a change.

Since then, I 've looked at food a bit differently when I buy storage foods. I think of dehydrated foods as backpacking food and I imagine how I will use it in meals on a trek. I also look at much of my planning for food storage with the thought that I may need to carry some of that food on my back someday, and how to make it lighter. So in spite of my thousand-or-so Mason jars, I always look at food preservation as a multi-faceted process – some of the food will be preserved to use at home, while some will need to be light and ready to go.

In a long-term survival situation, protein and fat are two of the most important sources of nutrition, especially for athletic people. Carbo-loading can only take you so far, and then your body will have to start breaking down muscle for energy. Meat and fish are some of the best sources of protein and fats. On my little farm, I have some chickens, goats and cows. I also live in an area where there is an abundance of wildlife. Today, most meat is preserved in the freezer, with some being jerked or canned occasionally. However, if there were to be no power, how would this vital resource be preserved? Although I have many canning jars, my strategy for meat will be smoking and drying. While I may can a few jars of meat, I will be more interested in keeping those jars for fruits and vegetables, and here’s why – re-hydrated meat in stews and some dishes can be almost as good as fresh, and it makes more sense to me to have it in its most condensed form. I have been using jerky in backpacking dishes for several years. It is light, easy to work with, has good flavor, and it provides that very important protein we need when climbing rugged mountains.

There are many ways to “jerk” meat. While the most important additive is salt, a good jerky mix with spices and seasonings is hard to beat. I have stockpiled some good seasonings, and I also grow garlic, onions and peppers that could be used if I run out of my supply. I try to buy another carton of Morton’s salt every time I go grocery shopping (at the cost of around 50 cents). My family uses a propane smoker for fish and jerky today. However, propane may be difficult to obtain in a TEOTWAWKI situation. The Native Americans sun-dried the bison and other wildlife they preserved for their winter food. Sylvan Hart (The Last of the Mountain Men) had a space between his fireplace and the rock wall behind it that he used for smoking meat. There are many ways to make jerky, and I anticipate my strategy would change some if I did not have access to modern conveniences, so I have developed several crude backup plans for drying meat. For instance, apple wood is abundant in my area, and I would use the coals from an apple wood based fire along with mason’s screen I have on hand for makeshift drying racks over the burning coals. Or I could use those screens with thinly-sliced pieces of marinated meat in the sun. I feel that I may need to improvise, based on the conditions of the world around me.

Last year, on one of my backpacking adventures, I forgot to bring the fuel for the backpacking stove. We improvised and cooked all of our meals over the fire on a small aluminum grill I carry tied to the back of my pack. I was amazed at how well I could control the heat (with a bit of effort) and how tasty the fish were when we cooked them directly over the fire. I had to be careful not to leave them over the fire too long or they quickly began to dry out. It was this experience that got me to thinking about how an efficient little drying system could be “McGyver-engineered” on the fly. I started looking around at things I have at home, and thinking about what could be used and how. My point is that there is sun, wind and fire available in most scenarios, and a person may need to get by with some ingenuity.

When I plan my backpacking meals, I always include some type of jerky-meat as the base. That teenage boy of mine can really eat, and he needs his protein. I usually try to make one-pan meals, and I start with water and jerky. I have noticed that high-quality jerky re-hydrates better. It usually takes about 20 minutes of low heat and water for the jerky to start “plumping” up, as it re-hydrates. It is at this point that I begin adding other dehydrated ingredients to the dish, because the jerky seems to take the longest to re-hydrate. The flavors in the jerky need to “jive” with the flavors of the dish, so I plan accordingly. Presently, I buy various types of jerky to match my meal plans – turkey, chicken, spicy-chicken, and beef – but I have also developed ideas about how to flavor homemade dried meats in order to be cooking ready. When I have prepared a meal, it is a solid meal and the boy is full. And it costs me less, takes up less space and is lighter than most of the fancy backpacking meals.

Last winter I used some venison jerky to make a stew in a Dutch-oven on my woodstove. I just wanted to see how it would turn out. While it was not the same as fresh venison, it turned out nicely and it made a good meal, even in the world of modern conveniences. I spent a large amount of time experimenting with woodstove cooking last winter and found that there are a lot of possibilities for food drying. If I needed to dry meat in the winter, I would use a set of racks over the woodstove. I also found that some meat tasted better when wrapped in foil and cooked inside the woodstove, so I believe there is good potential for using the inside portion as a drying mechanism as well.

Many people still prefer canned meat, and I will probably want to can some meat if I do not have the option of my freezer. For canning of meats, it is important to note that they MUST be done with the aid of a pressure cooker in order to be safe for consumption. I have eaten a number of very tasty dishes prepared with meat from a Mason jar. Canned meat has a long history in our civilized world, so I would never dismiss it as irrelevant. It can be a delicious substitute to fresh and dried meats. I have decided to limit canning meat because I like the flexibility that dried meat provides, and I love canned fruits and vegetables, so I will be keeping most of my jars for them.

I try to raise a good variety of vegetables in my garden, for both fresh veggies and for the seeds. I don’t really need the seeds right now, but it makes me feel good when I can plant something I grew last year, and it comes up and produces what I expect it to. My seed harvest is pretty simple, I leave some of the plants to go to seed and harvest them when they are mature and dried. I have some beans that will be harvested as “green beans” and I have some that I vine-dry for a mature bean harvest. Apparently (according to Mom) home-canned green beans can cause botulism if not canned in a pressure cooker. Mature beans take a lot of work to produce a pot of beans. Dried beans have to be hulled after they are picked in their dry shell from the vine. However, the work is worth it to me because they will fit nicely into a backpacking meal if need be and they are easier to store.

I also raise a substantial quantity of tomatoes. Tomatoes are almost a staple food for me, as they have great nutritional value and are used for the base of a large amount of my home recipes. I prefer canned tomatoes for most of my recipes; however, sun-dried tomatoes work nicely in a pinch and are a preferred ingredient for some of my Italian dishes. Tomatoes are another vegetable that people will tell you to use a pressure cooker for canning. I grew up canning, and we canned a lot of tomatoes without the pressure cooker, but I understand that botulism is not a pleasant experience. I was told as a child that we were supposed to boil the tomatoes from a home-canned jar for 10 minutes before we tasted them. Apparently that worked, because I never have experienced botulism.

Most vegetables can be dried and re-hydrated well, but there are many of them that really don’t do well being canned. Summer squash is a vegetable that dries well but I have yet to see someone can it in a way I would want to eat it later. Canned corn is pretty good, but dried corn is also good and can be a versatile ingredient for one-pot dishes. I was a child of the hippy generation, so I grew up tending a huge garden. We let some sweet corn dry in the husk and then hulled it. We ground some of it for corn meal and it made the yummiest cornbread I have ever tasted. We also re-hydrated some of it, and while it was not that great by itself, it tasted good in a dish with other veggies. We also dried peppers, onions and carrots for stews and flavorings. In the summer, we had large screens full of fruits are vegetables drying in the sun almost constantly. Dried vegetables are a good source of nutrition and easier to store and transport.

The root vegetables are the easiest to preserve if you are not on the move. Potatoes, carrots, beets, and onions all do well if you store them in a cool dry place (preferably a basement). In the old days, people built “root cellars” that were made for precisely this storage need. They were below the earth’s surface and therefore did not freeze during the winter and stayed cool during the summer. I lived in an old farmhouse as a kid that had a “Cadillac” of root cellars, encased in a nice concrete form with a fancy little roof on it. I think the less fancy root cellars were probably more functional, but we had a lot of space for stuff and it was somewhat clean. However, my present day root storage plan involves a dugout place in the crawl space under my house. It is the best I can do without a basement or a formal root cellar. In short, root vegetables will last for the longest if they are kept cool, dry, and away from light. Root vegetables can also be dehydrated for the backpacking adventure.

For me, there is nothing quite like a wonderful jar of peaches in January. I grew up with a fairly big orchard operation, and while I developed a resentment of canning, I also developed a lifelong love of canned fruit in the winter. Scurvy was a terrible problem for early settlers because they went for long periods of time without access to Vitamin C. Fruits are wonderful sources of Vitamin C, as well as many other essential nutrients. I think I would probably fill most of my Mason jars with fruit if I did not have the sense to stop myself. If you want to get the most Vitamin C, apricots are where it is at. They are reported to have one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C and other antioxidants that support the immune system. Fruits are also less “dangerous” to can, in that you do not need a pressure cooker to make them safe. However, do not forget to dry a bunch of fruit in case you have to carry them in a backpack. Fruit really is (in my humble opinion) the most flexible for preservation and the most fun to enjoy.

An older woman friend of mine (a master gardener) recently said, “I am a home maker – wherever I am, I make it a home because I provide food and comfort. This is what makes a home, so I am a home maker.” That statement resonated with me because it is so real for now and in any situation we may face in the future. I make it my priority to understand food from as many angles I can because I am a home maker, regardless of where that home may be (backpacking, living in my little retreat, or running for my life). I believe the world could use more home makers.

Preserving Herbs

MarjoramImage via Wikipedia
Most of my herb garden has bolted to seed in the summer heat, but that’s OK. I have a lot of herbs harvested and preserved for this season. When the herbs revitalize in the cooler fall weather for the Little Harvest, I will preserve even more herbs.
A lot of people ask about preserving them, when to harvest and how to keep them.
I’ve done it automatically for so many years I hardly think about it anymore: toss the seed onto the ground, water it, watch it grow, pinch and snip for fresh and when it gets big or bushy, cut larger bits to preserve, let some go to seed to collect seed for next year’s harvest – except for the herbs that take two years to grow and harvest, like parsley.
Most herbs grown for their foliage can be harvested in small amounts for fresh herbs throughout the growing season as soon as they are large enough to sustain such harvesting, and should be fully harvested before they flower. Pinching back the flowering buds can extend the harvest season and increase the bushiness of the plant, giving a larger harvest. If you wish to save the seeds, go ahead and let a few herbs flower and harvest the rest. If you want a second fall harvest from them, pinch back the seed heads but let the plant bolt a bit during the hot months, when the weather cools, the plants will refoliate and can be harvested until frost. (Basil, parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme…)
Herbs harvested for their seeds go through three stages: green seeds, brown seeds, gray seeds, before the seed heads shatter and scatter. Harvest when they are brown or gray, before they shatter. (Dill, fennel, caraway…)
Herbs harvest for their flowers should have the blossoms harvested just before full flower if you’re harvesting them for the petals (for candying and salads) and crafting. If you’re harvesting the flowers for oils and pastes and syrups, harvest just after the buds open when they have their most intense flavor. (Borage, chamomile, violas, nasturtiums, squash blossoms…)
Herbs harvested for their roots should be harvested in the fall after the foliage fades, so mark them if you’re wildcrafting. Even if they’re in your garden, pushing in a stake beside them will help you find the root when you dig. (chickory, dandelion, ginseng, goldenseal…)
Tarragon and lavender should be harvested in early summer and sheared to half their height to encourage a second fall bloom.
Perennial herbs can be harvested until a month before first frost. Prune and do a final harvest then, so there won’t be any tender new growth when frost arrives.
Most herbs get dried and stuffed into small jars. Others do better preserved as a paste, and still others do well as syrups. Freezing is a less than palatable option but acceptable for herbs that will be used in soups, stews, and sauces. Freeze-drying is an option but not easy for most home growers.
Drying Herbs:
During the herb harvest season, I’ll have bundles of herbs drying from various locations. Some of my bookshelves are industrial metal shelving with holes on the upright supports, and these are perfect for hanging herb bundles. I also fasten string to hooks in the ceiling and hang coat hangers from them – each coat hanger can hold 3 -5 bundles of herbs. My chandeliers and ceiling lights are perfect for suspending bundles of herbs.
I bundle a few stems (no more than a pinkie’s width on normal sized human hands – on mine, that’s thumb sized – about 4 – 6 stems) and fasten them with a rubber band, then slip a bent paperclip through the rubber band, on hook holding the herbs, one hook slipped into the holes of the bookshelves or over the string or chandelier or coathanger. There they hang until crisply dry, usually 2 – 4 weeks, when I crumble them over a sheet of paper and use that to funnel the herbs into their jars. I use old spice bottles I buy at flea markets and garage sales or half pint mason jars. For massive amounts of herbs, I may use quart mason jars.
Oven Drying: Arrange cleaned herb stems in a single layer on a cookie sheet with temperature set at 180° F. Heat for about 4 hours, keeping the oven door open the entire time (to let moisture escape). Stir herbs occasionally during this heating process. Store herbs in airtight containers once fully dry.
Cool air drying: Wash and dry herbs. Layer a cookie sheet with paper towels and then arrange herbs in a single layer. Place in the refrigerator and remove once herbs are completely dried (check daily).
Seed Drying: Tie a paper bag loosely around the seed heads, then hang to dry – about 3 – 5 weeks. When dried, shake the bags to release the seeds, then pour the seeds into a jar.
What herbs do I dry?
Bachelor button flowers
Calendula flowers
Cedar tips
Chicory root
Dandelion root and blossom
Hibiscus flowers
Hop flowers
Jasmine flowers
Kudzu root
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena
Raspberry leaves
Rose hips
Yarrow flowers
How to freeze herbs:
Wash and paper towel dry herbs. Mince the herbs with a knife, not in a food processor. The food processor minces it too fine. Spread out on a baking sheet and freeze. When the herbs are frozen, put them into a re-sealable freezer bag with as much air squeezed out as possible. When you take herbs out, squeeze out the air before re-sealing and putting the bag back into the freezer.
Frozen herbs are only suitable for cooking.
The basic herb paste recipe is:
4 cups herbs
¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil, cold-pressed nut oil, sesame or safflower oil…)
In a food processor, I pulse these until a paste is formed, drizzling in small amounts of additional oil as needed. Some herbs need more than others. It makes between ½ and ¾ cup of paste. You can freeze them in ice cube sized dollops, or store them in tight sealing jars with a small amount of oil poured on top so no herb sticks up.
What herbs make good pastes?
Lemon herbs (basil, mint, balm, grass, verbena…)
Celery leaves
Rose petals
Pelargonium leaves
Herb syrups are also a good way to preserve herbs.
Approximately 1 ounce of fresh herbs
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups raw sugar
Mix the water and sugar into a saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a rich boil, then remove from the heat and add the herbs. Use a spoon to bruise the herbs against the side of the saucepan. Cover the saucepan and let the herbs steep for 30 minutes. Strain out the herbs and squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible from them, then discard the solids. Transfer the syrup to a sterilized jar or bottle. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator. It can be frozen for up to 10 months. It can be processed in a pressure canner and stored away from light for several years.
What herbs make good syrups?
· Anise hyssop: 6 to 8 sprigs with flowers, or a handful of flowers
Basil: 6 to 8 sprigs of anise, cinnamon, green or lemon basil; flowers are good
Bay: 10 to 12 leaves
Bergamot: 6 to 8 sprigs, or handful of flowers
Calendula: Petals only from 10 to 12 flowers
Chamomile: Large handful of flowers
Elderflower: 6 to 8 flower heads
Ginger root: 5 or 6 thin slices of peeled root
Lavender: 10 flower spikes or 1 tablespoon of flower petals
Lemon balm, lemon thyme or lemon verbena: 8 to 10 sprigs
Mint: 10 to 12 sprigs of orange mint, peppermint or spearmint
Rose: 1 generous cup of petals
Rosemary: 5 or 6 sprigs
Sage: 4 common sage sprigs; 6 fruit-scented or pineapple sage sprigs; flowers, too
Scented geraniums: 12 to 15 leaves, or handful of flowers
Sweet woodruff: 1 generous cup small sprigs and/or flowers
Tarragon: 6 to 8 sprigs
Vanilla: 1 bean, halved and split lengthwise
Violas: 1 generous packed cup violets, Johnny-jump-ups or pansy petals
Salt Drying
Fresh herbs
Kosher salt
OK, you can probably use any salt, but I prefer kosher salt because it’s flakier and seems to dry the herbs faster. Layer fresh herbs (cleaned, air dried, unbruised) between layers of salt, covering the herbs completely. Leave them until the herbs are thoroughly dried, about 3 – 4 weeks. Shake the salt off and store the herbs in airtight containers. The salt can then be used as a seasoning, so you get dual use out of this method. You can mix different herbed salts together – leave some of the dried herb in the salt to both look pretty and boost the flavor a bit. Most any culinary herb can be dried this way.
Sugar Drying
Fresh herbs
I prefer raw or turbinado sugar for this. Do not use brown sugars or powdered sugars or stevia or artificial sugars. Granulated white sugar is good, too, if you use it. Layer the fresh, cleaned and dried, undamaged herbs with sugar, covering the herbs completely. Leave them until thoroughly dried – about 3 – 4 weeks. Shake the sugar off and store the herbs in airtight containers. The sugar can be used to sweeten beverages and in cooking or baking. Use sweet herbs for this type of drying: mints, violas, lavender, roses, vanilla beans, pelargonium leaves.
1 ounce of herbs
1 stick of softened butter
Chop herbs and mix with butter to taste. Divide up into single serving pats or cube sizes large enough for cooking. Freeze. Be sure to label them because if you make lots of different herb butters, they will all look the same once frozen. Thaw the single serving pats before serving, but the cooking cubes can go frozen into the pot or pan.
3 – 5 5” sprigs of herbs
8 ounces light vegetable oil (sunflower, safflower, olive, peanut…)
Rinse off the herbs and allow them to dry thoroughly. Slightly bruise the herbs and put them into the sterilized bottles. Heat the oil on low, just until warm. Pour the oil into bottles, over herbs. Allow the contents to cool. Seal bottle with a lid or cork. Allow to sit in a cool spot out of direct sunlight, for about 1 week before using.
Strain out any fresh herbs. Dried herbs can remain in the oil, but the oil will stay fresh a bit longer if these too are strained.
Oils should be used within 2 months, maximum. Straining out the herbs and refrigerating will help the oil last longer, but not too much longer than 3 or 4 months.
Good choices for herbal oil infusions include: basil, bay, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme.
2 – 3 5” sprigs of fresh herbs (a single herb or a combination)
¼ cup dried herbs (single or combination)
1 cup vinegar
If using pungent herbs like garlic, onions, or peppers, use 1 clove or 1 small pepper per cup of vinegar – unless you’re making pepper sauce, then pack the jar with peppers, a garlic clove or two, a pearl onion or two, and then the vinegar.
To make: put the herbs in a sterilized jar. Gently warm the vinegar, then pour it over the herbs. Seal the jar and let it steep for a week or two. Strain out the herbs. If you want a decorative touch of herbs in the jar, add a fresh sprig or three of herbs to the jar.
Use these vinegars fairly quickly for maximum flavor. If kept in a dark cabinet, they can last up to a year.
Some vinegars are better with certain herbs, although any vinegar will work for most herbs.
White and white wine vinegar: borage, dill, savory, sage, basil, lavender, fennel, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, garlic, onions, peppers, chives
Red Wine Vinegar: basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, peppers
Cider vinegar: lovage, orange peels, raspberry, lavender blossoms
Alegar: peppers, garlic, onions, chives, sage, dill,
Rice vinegar: parsley, dill, savory, sage, rosemary, purple basil, tarragon, thyme, garlic
Use herbal vinegars for meat marinades, tomatoes or cucumber dishes, salad dressings, bean salads, potato salads, soups, stews, or sauces.

Instant potatoes‏ Storage?

Instant Mashed PotatoesImage via Wikipedia
On all of the boxes and packages of instant mashed potatoes I see at the grocery store, the expiration date is only a year or so out?

Is this an item that stores longer than the package indicates, or am I looking at the wrong type?


love the book.


Thanks for your email Burt.
Sometimes food has an expiration date for stocking and rotation purposes and it doesn't reflect accurately how long a food product can last. You see it in salt, sugar, and honey, products that easily have decades worth of shelf life. Other products such as canned goods can often be eaten years after their expiration date as long as the can isn't leaking or swollen.
In my book, “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collape”, I describe a few easy to find food products, available in pretty much any supermarket around the world, that are good options for the survivalist that doesn’t have fancy survival food available. While a few MRE and specialty food for emergencies last a long time and taste pretty good, it does get expensive if you only stock up on those. Its better if you have a few staples for bulk, and sprinkle the menu with a few of those other ready meals so as to have some variety and not get bored.
One of these commonly available food products that I recommend is indeed instant mashed potatos. The dehydrated flakes look almost like paper and they infact last well beyond their expiration date as long as they are kept in a dry sealed package away from bugs.
In my book I describe something similar done by Incas, here’s the excerpt,

Dehydrated mashed potatoes: I like this stuff a lot. It stores almost indefinitely as long as it’s kept dry. The ancient Incas used to make something similar: “The Incas had an interesting way of dehydrating potatoes. Small potatoes were placed outside on the ground at high elevations to freeze during the night. The next morning the potatoes would be gathered into piles. The men and women would stomp on them which would cause the water to squirt out. When they wanted to use the dehydrated potatoes they would just add water.” http://coe.fgcu.edu/STUDENTS/WEBB/MESO/incafood.htm
Potatoes are ones of the basic food staples around the world. A lightweight package that stores almost indefinitely and just needs water? Priceless.

Rotate every couple years, but its good to know that they may as well last decades if stored properly. Note that this applies to dehydrated mashed potatos alone. Often you will find many brands that add other ingredients to the instant mix to make it more tasty, usually milk poweder, butter and herbs. This will reduce the shelf life so keep that in mind and check the ingredients.
If you buy bulk and plan for long term storage you might want to store them inside food-grade plastic buckets lined with Mylar bags. Fill the bucket, drop a few oxygen absorbers and seal the Mylar bag with a hot iron. This removes the oxygen and is one of the best methods to keep food stored for long periods of time. Some comercial products like this bucket contain a vairety of food stored, these compliment nicely the staples you may store.
Emergency Survival Food Supply 275 Meal Pack
Emergency Survival Food Supply 275 Meal Pack

Sometimes the original instant mashed potatoes packaging is already pretty good and there’s no need for this, just leave it sealed, in a box where the packaging wont be damaged.
Idahoan Real Mashed Potatoes With Vitamin C, 26-Ounce Units (Pack of 4)
Idahoan Real Mashed Potatoes With Vitamin C, 26-Ounce Units (Pack of 4)
I like the aluminum lined packages ( used sometimes in tuna pouches). Plastic foils like these will keep the instant mashed potatoes good for years beyond its expiration date.

Take care!