Modern survival foods include MREs and emergency ration bars. These bug-out-friendly items can be stored for extended periods of time and provide sustaining nutrition, which are two critical requirements for survival food.
While there are many emergency meals and snacks on the market today, they are not the first foods of their kind. Look back in time, and you’ll find many hearty foods that our forefathers used for traveling or emergency sustenance.
Today’s survival food is toughly packaged and can last for years, but you can’t make your own MREs in a cave. After the last meal, you’ll need to be able to make your own “survival food” to replenish your supplies.
Thankfully, our forefathers experimented with subsistence foods and left us with the recipes that worked. They discovered how to prepare foods with nutrition and longevity using simple ingredients, and they were even able to do so without electricity. Tough times call for tough foods, and these are some of the most rugged recipes from history.
This brick-like cracker has its origins in ancient Egypt, but the form we know today bears the most resemblance to a food item made during the American Civil War.
Baked months in advance, these soldiers’ rations were rock hard right out of the oven and even worse when they arrived at the troops.
Soldiers soaked their hardtack in water or coffee to make it more chewable (especially for those with bad Civil War teeth). As an added bonus, any insect larvae in the hardtack would float to the top of the liquid for easy identification and removal.
The hardtack recipe is straightforward. You could add other ingredients, but then you’d be making bread rather than hardtack.
5 cups wheat flour (600 g)
2 quarts of water
three teaspoons of salt
In a large mixing bowl, combine the wet and dry ingredients.
When the flour, salt, and water have formed a dry bread dough, roll it out flat with a fat stick (or rolling pin), or pat it out by hand. If the dough has any sticky spots, add more flour.
Make a 12-inch-thick dough sheet, cut it into 3×3-inch squares, and poke holes in both sides of each dough square.
Bake for 30 minutes per side at 375 degrees F for a total of one hour of baking time on an ungreased cookie sheet.
As with most foods, keep your hardtack in a cool, dry, dark place away from pests, if you have one.
Hardtack, once thoroughly dried, will last for years if kept dry and away from pests.
To eat it, simply soak it in your preferred liquid. Because it is completely dehydrated “bread,” hardtack is lightweight and travel-friendly. It contains a lot of nutrients in a small package.
This strange “survival” food is best described as the weirdest meatball you’ve ever eaten. Pemmican is an ancient forerunner to modern survival rations, made from dried meat and rendered fat, among other ingredients.
While different cultures around the world have made their own versions of this calorie-laden concoction, Native Americans are credited with putting it on the map. Pemmican, which is traditionally rolled into serving-size balls, can also be pressed into other shapes.
Although it can be eaten on its own, some cultures have used it as a greasy “bouillon cube” to make a base for soups and stews.
The traditional pemmican recipe consists of two or three main ingredients.
The first is dried jerky that has been ground into slivers or dust. This gives the finished product protein and bulk. This jerky can be salted meat or dried meat with little or no salt. Just keep in mind that salted meat will keep the pemmican fresher for longer.
The second ingredient is rendered animal fat, which provides this food with a lot of calories. The fat also serves as a glue, holding everything together.
As an added source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and fiber, dried fruit or berries are an optional third ingredient. You could buy these ingredients at your local grocery store and make a test batch at home, or you could make a batch in the field from dried game meat and rendered fat. It’s entirely up to you.
8 ounces of lard
8 ounces packed powdered jerky (chopped in a blender)
8 ounces dried fruit (any dried fruit will do, but berries are ideal)
The recipe is extremely simple. The only difficult part is actually blending the pemmican ingredients.
You’ll need to keep an eye on the temperature. If your animal fat is cold, it will not easily blend with the rest of your ingredients. And if you overheat the fat, the hot melted lard will cook your raw ingredients, which must remain raw to avoid spoilage.
Warm the lard in a pot to a soft pasty texture (below 100 degrees F) while stirring.
Stir your “dry ingredients” into the softened fat until thoroughly combined (about two minutes of stirring).
Some daring explorers have added small amounts of flour or other starch sources for added carbohydrates or spices for added flavor.
Scoop out the pemmican by hand, with or without the additions, and compress it into round balls or flat cakes.
Allow for cooling before storing.
Instead of using rawhide containers, wrap the pemmican pieces in wax paper (not too tightly). This food can last for months if the weather or your storage area is cold. However, as the weather warms, eat it before the fat begins to smell rancid.
Pemmican has the most calories per ounce in this article. A 2-ounce ball of pemmican contains 336 calories (mostly from fat), 57 mg of cholesterol, 17 grams of protein, 770 mg of sodium, and 20% of your daily iron requirement.
Parched corn is a distinct Native American cuisine that is essentially a coarse form of popcorn.
Parched corn, like pemmican, was once a popular Native American food. This food was quickly adopted as a snack and as a lightweight trail food by colonists, trappers, hunters, and pioneers.
To make corn soup, parched corn can be ground into coarse meal and simmered in water.
This food can be made in small or large batches and is simple to prepare.
To coat the bottom of a skillet or pan, you’ll need some fat. Bacon fat is preferred, but any edible oil will suffice.
You will also require dried sweet corn. Other types of corn can be used, but sweet corn is the best option. If you can’t find it, you can buy frozen sweet corn and thoroughly dehydrate it.
Your final seasoning ingredient is a pinch of salt or sugar. It tastes like popcorn with salt but more like kettle corn with sugar.
Warm your pan over medium heat after greasing it with oil (you can do so on the stove or over a fire).
Start stirring after adding a handful of dried corn. You only need enough corn to cover the bottom of the pan, not an entire pan.
After a few minutes, the corn will start to swell and pop. Continue to stir until all of the kernels are browned. Remove from the pan and season with salt or other seasonings while it’s still hot.
Enjoy it after draining the excess oil!
Parched corn should be kept in a ventilated container. Cloth bags and leather pouches were traditionally used to keep the corn from sweating.
In the event of rain, place the parched corn bag in a jar, metal tin, or plastic bag to prevent moisture absorption from the air. When the weather permits, remove it from the waterproof covering.
Parched corn can be stored for months if kept dry and cool (until the fat goes rancid).
This popcorn predecessor contains 120 calories, 46 mg of sodium, 5 grams of fat, 120 mg of potassium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein in just 1 ounce.
While the term “fruitcake” and the concept of it date back to the Middle Ages, baked goods like this date back to Roman times.
For centuries, people have carried sustaining cakes made of flour, honey, spices, and fruit, from old-world hunters to soldiers in the Crusades.
Fruitcake became extremely popular throughout the British Empire in the late 1800s.
Later, during World War I, English families sent “trench cakes” to their brave relatives fighting in the trenches of continental Europe.
4 cups mixed dried fruit (2 to 3 cups golden raisins for a classic flavor)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 can (400 g) sweetened condensed milk
12 cups of water
1 teaspoon rum or brandy (optional)
Bring the fruit and water to a boil in a pot. Simmer for two minutes, uncovered. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
While the fruit cools, line a deep square or round baking tin with baking parchment paper, bringing the paper 12 inches above the tin’s edge.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stir in the condensed milk, egg, and flour to the fruit pot (and liquor, if using). Mix the batter thoroughly.
Place it in the prepared baking dish and bake for two hours (or until a toothpick comes out clean after being inserted into the cake)
There is only one way to store fruitcake properly: wrap it in a cloth that has been soaked in liquor. To keep the cloth from drying out, wrap the fruit cake in plastic wrap or, more historically correct, in a metal tin. Fruitcakes embalmed in this manner can last for many months in a cool location, possibly even a year.
If you like fruitcake, this could be the most delicious survival food on our list. Even if you don’t like these fruit bread bricks, they contain a lot of nutrients.
A 4-ounce slab of typical fruitcake contains 369 calories, 20 grams of fat, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 4.3 grams of protein, 68 milligrams of cholesterol, and 102 milligrams of sodium.
While some heritage foods have persisted because they were delicious, others have persisted because they have proven to be a good way of storing nutrients.
Remember that old does not always imply outdated or obsolete!
We hope that one or more of these historic survival foods inspires you to try something new and that you end up making them because you want to rather than because you have to.