There are a lot of survivalist and prepper types around today and the TV is full of them. Although, I have never been a fanatic, I took my Boy Scout motto to heart and have always tried to ‘Be Prepared.’ One thing I have learned in my journey is that preparing to exist with no outside inputs would be a very difficult task indeed. The main thing is not arming to the teeth, but having enough food to survive on until you can produce your own.
The average American eats about 2000 pounds (one ton!!) of food a year. A family of four would need four tons! Just buying that much extra food would be expensive, but the food stuffs have to be non-perishible, which typically makes them more expensive yet. And, then consider that about a year or so into this endeavor, you will have to start rotating your stocks – eating it and replacing it with fresh supplies. This means, after a year or so, unless you are wealthy and can afford to give or throw away your out-dated supplies, you will have to live full time on your survival food. I’m betting your teenagers will go AWOL if you make them eat MREs for breakfast every day.
But, the real problem for the average person is that the economic challenges of stockpiling enough food for their family are nearly insurmountable. However, I have a solution that anyone can use. Read on…….
Step 1: Back to Basics
Of the 2000 pounds a person needs per year, approximately 630 pounds are dairy products, primarily cheese and milk – 185 pounds are meat, poultry and fish – 273 pounds are fruits – and 415 pounds are vegetables. Our diet is much more balanced than at any time in history. For much of our past, we, especially the poorer folks, ate a diet very heavy in grains. In a do-or-die situation you can, too. And, if you substitute a good portion of the dairy, fruit and vegetables with cheap whole grains, your funds will go a lot farther, enabling you to extend your food supplies months or years.
Grain will keep a LONG time but its also so cheap anyone can afford to just discard their old stock or better yet, feed it to domestic animals, if you have them, and let them recycle for you. A whole grain-heavy diet will not hurt you and may even improve your health, depending on your diet now. Most importantly though, it will provide you with the extra energy you need perform survival tasks and even a complete diet of grain will KEEP YOU ALIVE!
Step 2: Best Whole Grains
There are many types of grain you can use in a survival situation, including wild grasses. But because of availability, the two main types of grain you probably want to consider for long-term storage and use are corn and wheat, both of which are easily available at any feed store. You should buy whole kernel corn (shelled corn) but cracked corn is acceptable also. Wheat grain is sometimes used as seed, and if so, is usually treated with insecticides. Make sure you ask if the wheat is ‘seed wheat’ or for feed only. Both corn and wheat come in 50 or 100 pound sacks.
For those who are finicky, let me assure you that is perfectly safe to eat these foodstuffs. I think you would find that most cereal factories handle their grain in no more sanitary conditions than your local elevator. Yes, you will have to clean it a little to remove some fine weed stems or other bits of plant material, but I have never, ever found any insects, insect parts or anything really unhealthy in any bag of livestock feed. And, trust me, I have opened a few of them in the last 60 years.
I prefer storing grain in plastic garbage bags inside 5 gallon plastic buckets. I throw a few mothballs in after I tie the bag to discourage insects. Five gallon buckets hold 30-35 pounds of grain, are easy to move around and stack well. By storing your food in small quantities, if you lose one container or two, you will still be alright. Suitable buckets with lids are available at local hardware stores.
Step 3: Preparing Whole Grains for Cooking
There are two primary ways to prepare raw grain for cooking – grinding and crushing. Grinding is done by mashing the grain between two moving surfaces that have cutting teeth (burrs) or have an abrasive surface. Crushing is done by mashing the grain kernels between two hard objects such as rollers or hammers.
The easiest method to prepare grain at home is to use a grinder or mill. Above are pictures of my mills. The red one is a mill I have had for many years. It is heavy duty, made of cast iron and at one time I had it on a trailer with my log splitter and ran it with a five horsepower gas engine. It is the same one as the High Speed mill in Lehman’s catalog. I would buy corn from the grain elevator and grind a whole truckload at a time for my livestock. I ran many truckloads of shelled corn through this mill and the burrs, bearings, etc. are still in good shape. I now have it mounted on a bench and replaced the pulley with a crank since I only make flour for our use and do not feed livestock anymore. I run the raw grain through this mill first and then use the other one – a Corona mill, to finish it into flour. More expensive mills with stone burrs are able to reduce the grain to a finer textured flour than the Corona, but I have to make do with what I have.
Make no mistake, grinding grain by hand is hard work. You have to run each batch of grain through the mill several times, adjusting the burrs to just barely crack the grain at first and then move them closer and closer on each successive grinding until they are very close together to make the flour as fine as possible.
You can find grain mills at Lehman’s, on Ebay, etc. Grainmaker makes a good one also. Whatever method or mill you choose, make sure it will work without electricity or gasoline.
Step 4: Going Mobile
Can you use your whole grains when you have to be mobile? You bet! During colonial times, soldiers could march and fight for days, surviving on nothing more than a bag of parched corn. Parched corn was the original MRE. Parched corn is made by cooking dry whole corn in a lightly oiled skillet until it is browned. It is kind of like corn nuts, a little tough to chew, but it supplies lots of nutrition and energy.
You can use other grains on the move also, but you need a way to prepare them. Of course, you can grind your rations ahead and carry flour, but if it gets wet it will be ruined. If grain gets wet, on the other hand, it can be dried in the sun and will be just fine. You can crush the grain on a rock with your rifle butt, however, a better way is to carry a small portable grinder like those shown above.
These are coffee mills I bought on Ebay. They both cost about $12 each. The silver one is a cheap Chinese brand and the little brass one is from Turkey. They both work fine and act like they are durable although the Turkish one is pretty small and doesn’t grind as fine as I would like. You’re not going to grind a bucket full with these, but you can, in a reasonable amount of time, grind enough to make a biscuit or some mush. They won’t grind whole corn, but they work fine for wheat. I ground a half a cup of wheat with the silver one in about 15 minutes, running it through 4 times. The first time through, you want to just barely crack the wheat berry and then adjust the burrs and go again. I cut a notch in a tooth of the adjustment nut to keep track of the turns. I turn the nut one turn tighter on each grind.
Step 5: Processing Whole Corn
Dry field corn is tough to grind for the average person unless, of course, you have a motorized heavy duty grinder like the High Speed one shown above. But, grinding with a manual grinder is hard work. To make processing corn easier, you might consider making (or having a welder make one) a tool like that shown here. It’s a sort of mini, steel samp mill or mortar/pestle. Samp mills were used in colonial times and were heavy logs suspended by a rope vertically over a hollowed out stump and used to smash corn into submission.
I lost the one I had made years ago (my movers thought it was junk and left it at my last abode!!) but here is a diagram of how it was made. You put a little corn into the pipe and smash it with the rammer or pestle. It will reduce the corn into pieces that are then much easier to grind by hand.
Step 6: Using Whole Wheat
Modern Americans are all unfamiliar with how to use whole grains in cooking. You will have to do some experimentation and further research to find your own particular solutions, but here is some advice.
You can make regular raised yeast breads with whole wheat flour, for example, but it is not going to be like the bread you are used to. Even ‘whole wheat bread’ today is at least half processed flour. The bread you make from your home-ground flour will be very dense and heavy, will not rise well and will have a gritty texture. But, it IS bread and will keep you from starving. It is like what your ancestors ate while settling the country and they did fine. To make it, just follow a regular bread recipe. You can add gluten, which is available commercially and it will help the bread rise a little better, but not much.
Another, easier way to make bread is to make any number of flat breads or biscuits with baking powder or saleratus as a leavening. To make a skillet biscuit like that shown above, mix ¼ cup flour, 1 tsp sugar, one tsp dry milk or protein powder, ¼ tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and enough very hot water to make a slightly stiff dough. Pour it out into a medium hot, lightly oiled cast iron skillet and brown well on both sides. By itself, I find these palatable, but with a soup or stew, they are actually pretty good and have a full, nutty taste.
Another way to use your wheat is to make a mush by cooking flour in boiling water. Add 4 tbs to one cup of boiling water and cook for a few minutes and you will have ‘cream-of-wheat’ cereal. With sugar this makes a tasty breakfast. You can also add your dry wheat flour to soups and stews to bulk them up and make the grains more palatable.
Step 7: Using Cornmeal
You can prepare corn meal (flour) in the same ways as wheat flour and even mix the two for a different taste and texture.
Corn dodgers or hoecakes are made the same way as the whole wheat biscuits and are good to carry for hiking or hunting. These are also good with some syrup poured over them for breakfast. Cornmeal can be cooked with water to make cornmeal mush. Cook one part cornmeal in two parts water for several minutes and serve with salt or sugar. Let the leftover mush chill overnight, slice it and fry in a little grease. In colonial times, mush was often served for supper and fried mush with some molasses was served for breakfast. Cornmeal dumplings can be made by adding one teaspoon baking powder to one cup of cornmeal, add a little salt and mix into a stiff dough. Drop spoonfulls into boiling water or stew. Whole wheat flour can be used to make dumplings, as well, or added to stews to thicken them or just add bulk.
Step 8: A Final Hint
Unless you have an expensive mill with stone burrs, your flour will be rather coarse. I have a health problem which is aggravated by eating foods like these so I run my flour through one of these little electric coffee grinders. They only cost around $20 and by running your ground flour through for just a few seconds, you can give it a very fine consistency. If need be, I can run one of these on an inverter and small lead acid battery. And, by using it for only the very last grind, the blades and motor should last quite a while. One of these, along with a manual coffee grinder would work quite nicely for those who are surviving alone in an apartment.
So, can you live on bread alone? Probably not forever, but maybe until you can go buffalo hunting again!
If you like this 'Able, you might like my book on Amazon, 'The After Time - A practical guide to surviving after a major disaster.'