In my youth, I was extremely fortunate to be raised by my great-grandmother. She lived to be 96 years old and she managed to share some of her survival knowledge with us. Cooking with mud was her way of remembering the struggles she faced while settling down.
She and her family came to America when she was only a child and they managed to obtain a 100 acre homestead. They built their log home and they furnished it with the few items they brought with them. Times were tough back then and they lacked even the most basic utensils, such as pot and pans. As you can imagine, these items were very needed to prepare the game and greens foraged by the family members. There were times when cooking with mud was the only alternative to prepare a hot meal for her children and husband.
She had to be extremely resourceful to feed her family. Parsnips and fish were common foods of their menu for the day. Cooking with mud was the only method of cooking these ingredients. She used to clean the fish, but leave the skin on. Once she reached the creek on their property, she laid down and started digging up the rick black earth.
Once the earth was loosened up, she started splashing handfuls of water from the creek to the lose earth to make a thick batch of mud. Then she built a wood fire and let it burn down to glowing coals. During the time the fire was burning, she washed the fish and parsnips and coated them completely with mud. About one-half inch of mud was all it took for each item. Next, she would place the items on the coals and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Once the mud was hardened, she turned them on the other side. She used to bake the fish for about an hour, turning them every 10 to 15 minutes. When everything was done, she took them from the coals and let them cool enough to be able to transport the foods back home.
When she did break the hardened mud from the fish, the skin came off with it and you had clean fish to eat. Strangely enough, cooking with mud is clean and it’s a proper survival cooking method. Next time, you’re out camping, experiment by cooking some fish, carrots and potatoes using nothing but mud.
Cooking with mud step by step:
Make mud the proper consistency first. This is rather simple and you need to find earth by a river or stream. Dig the mud up loosely and add water till the consistency is sticky. Sticky enough to allow you to pack it around the items you intend to cook. The mud should stay on the foods and not drip off.
The mud pack around the item you intend to bake should be about ½ inch all the way around.
The fire should be burnt down to a good bed of glowing coals.
Place the mud packed foods gently on the coals and bake for 15 minutes or until the mud hardens. Once you notice the mud is hard enough, turn or roll over the items. Allow them to bake uniformly through without burning the food. You can also cover the items with hot coals rather than turning them.
Potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsnips and such vegetables take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, depending on the size. Small trout and warm water fish, take about 40 minutes.
When the food is cooked, take it out of the coals and lay it on the ground. Allow the food to cool for about five minutes before you remove the crust. You can break the mud crust off using by striking it with a rock or using your knife.
A final word
Cooking with mud is a survival cooking method that works in any kind of environment. Even if you are in an area where there is no water, you will find a low ground area that can be dug down to a wet muddy level. You can make a solar still to collect water and make mud. In sandy areas, you can get your mud from the base of a cactus or tree. The buildup of dead plant life is more earth type than sandy and will provide you with sticking mud.
Cooking with mud is survival knowledge that is being lost to time and only few people around the world still use this cooking technique. While I do agree that there are many other ways to cook your food, I believe it is important to remember and honor the past. Cooking with mud can also be an interesting survival experiment for your camping trips.
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