The Frontier Diet: The Proven High Speed, Low Drag Travel Foods, by Hambone

Saturday, Jul 3, 2010

As you make your plans to beat feet to a pre-selected retreat site or evacuate your area of operations for a short-term emergency, food has to be part of that planning effort.  As I read through SurvivalBlog site, I see folks posting their ideas.  These ideas fall into some general categories – freeze dried / dehydrated and MRE style meals, with the remainder looking at commercially wet-pack canned or other prepared food.  All have much to offer to a person or family looking ahead and seeing the possibility bad times.  They all have some drawbacks, as does any set of foods, when you travel.

Food and water are major constraints to any movement cross country, the longer you plan to be on the move or the greater the distance you must travel – the greater the burden you face to supply yourself.  Add in the need to have food that is nutritious, needs little if any preparation, and that can be eaten cold – you really have something of a planning problem. 

I would like to suggest you can look to the history of this Nation and draw on the successes of past long distance travelers – from the fur trader to the civil war soldier.  I have identified a set of four basic foods that I believe will meet the need for portable food, are lightweight, flexible and offer the basic nutrition you require while traveling. 

This I call the Frontier diet – four high-speed, low drag foods that can get where you are going without weighing you down.  I’ll cover each of the four in some detail, explain why they were picked, link to recipes and why I think they are worth your consideration.

The four foods are: Coffee (or tea), hardtack, parched corn, and pemmican.  All are easy to make at home, with the exception of the coffee and all offer excellent storage lives, ease of preparation, and all may be eaten cold if necessary.  Each offers a specific set of advantages and they all can be used together to provide a bit of variety in your meals.

The coffee I am talking about is the commercial, freeze dried product found in small, one-cup packets.  I would not consider any other type of packaging – the packets are air-tight, waterproof and frankly, I find the flavor to be superior.  I suffered through many years with the “coffee product” found in C rations, Long Range Patrol Rations, and more recently in MREs.  All were pretty nasty, at least in my opinion.

The value of coffee in the Frontier diet is in its use as an appetite suppressant.  Strong tea (green, black or other non-herbal teas) will also provide the same effect.  Tea normally requires hot water to provide a satisfactory product – though cold soaking tea bags for several hours will provide a drinkable product.  Freeze dried coffee will quickly mix with water at any temperature.  Either will provide a way to knock down hunger pains until you can reach a suitable or protected rest position for a better opportunity to feed yourself or your crew.  The coffee can also be used to soak your hardtack (hard bread) to make it somewhat easier to eat.  Which brings us to hardtack.

Hardtack or hard bread has been part of a soldiers ration since Roman times.  Often reviled, always hated, hardtack (or sailor/pilot bread) serves to provide a long lasting, lightweight food that offers needed calories for travel.  Commercially baked hardtack or hard bread is a staple in both Alaska and Hawaii.  Modern commercial hardtack is seen as “Saloon Pilot” crackers in Hawaii and in Alaska as my favorite “Sailor Boy” pilot bread.  Very long lasting when stored properly and eatable by itself cold, hardtack is improved with anything you might have, from peanut butter to apple sauce.

You can make your own hard bread, SurvivalBlog has several recipes already posted or you can use this one.  Remember, if you add salt to your home made hardtack, it will reduce the storage life as the salt attracts moisture.  Store in a cool, dry location and physically protect the product, lest weevils become part of your travel diet.  Should the product become infested, use the old Union Army method of preparation – break up the hardtack into your coffee, skim off the larvae and enjoy!

Actually, hardtack can be crushed and added to your coffee or to hot water for making a kind of porridge.  Not the world’s best perhaps, but at least different.  Crushed hardtack can be used in dumplings and other related foods.

Next, parched corn.  Corn has been a staple of frontier ‘dining’ since before the United States was an independent nation.  Made from dried corn, parched corn offers a very long term storage item, a useful addition to your diet and adds both calories and variety to the food you eat.  You can make your own or purchase a commercial product.  I will have to say parched corn is an acquired taste but offers many options as a food.

I make my parched corn in a cast iron skillet with just a bit of olive oil.  Start with dried corn, heat the skillet and add the corn one layer (or kernel) deep.  Keep the corn moving in the pan until it plumps and turns brown.  If the corn starts to pop, reduce the heat slightly.  Dump the parched corn in a bowl to cool.  It is ready to eat.  Add any spices or salt after the corn is cooked. The corn should be browned, plump and soft when you bite into it.  If not try again.  Start with small batches until you are happy with the results.

I pack mine in a wide-mouth water bottle (airtight container), and store in the cool location.  I also grind some of the parched corn in the wheat grinder with the stones set in an 'open' position to give a course meal.

Most people find the taste of sweet corn most palatable.  I use dried field corn as the fiber content is much greater and serves to keep constipation at bay while in the field.  While diarrhea is killer while in the field (I carry some Imodium tabs as a precaution) I have found that constipation is the bigger issue with most troops on cross-country movements, especially while eating MREs.  Hence my choice of the field corn as a basis for the parched corn.
The dried corn is available in many stores - use only corn sold for food.  Feed corn in 50# sacks runs under $15 here in Alaska, so it should be less expensive in your area.

Parched corn can be eaten cold (dry), it can be added to hot water with or without hardtack or pemmican to make a soup.  You can even carry some parched corn that you have ground in advance as pinole.  Add 6 to 8 tablespoons to cold (or hot) water and some sugar, either brown or white and enjoy a popular drink.  Pinole may be added to milk if available.  Pinole is suitable to be eaten dry as well.  Store pinole in an air tight container such as a dry water bottle.  This dry, ground corn product was also called “Rockihominy”.

Your parched corn can be soaked overnight to make a kind of Nixtamal.  Normally the corn is soaked with lime, but on the trail, this is normally not possible.  The corn can be soaked with ashes from your campfire and the resulting mixture washed thoroughly before use.  Do not use your aluminum cookware for this, as lye and the metal do not mix.  Use only a steel container if you wish to try this.

The corn, once soaked, should have swollen and the hull separated.  This corn may be used in soups, fried with any leftover grease you may have or simply eaten cold.  This product does not have all the nutrition advantages as lime (lye) soaked corn, but it is easier to chew.

The last item in our travel food bag is pemmican, food of trappers, fur traders and Antarctic exploration teams.  A mixture of tallow and dried meat. It is a staple that has a long storage life. It may be eaten cold and contains nutrients needed to keep you going in tough times.  The famed explorer Amundsen used pemmican made with dried peas, a key reason his party survived with the Scott expedition did not.  Made from tallow and dried meat, pemmican is an energy dense food with excellent keeping properties.

Several folks have posted their recipes on the site, so use the keyword search as "Pemmican".  If the thought of eating fat leaves you a bit queasy, you can try pemmican made with peanut butter.
This version of pemmican uses peanut butter rather than melted suet or lard as the binding agent, which is likely more palatable with the younger members of your family.  Grind [or pound] the dried meat to a mealy powder. Add any dried berries, seeds or nuts if peas are not to your taste. Heat the peanut butter until softened. Blend all ingredients.  When cooled, store in a plastic bag or sausage casing in a cool dry place. It will keep for months if stored properly.  Some pemmican recipes call for honey, cayenne pepper and other spices.  Experiment now, while you can.

If you purchase a commercial product, check the ingredients closely.  Classic pemmican is about 50% fat and 50% dried meat.

So now you have four high-speed, low drag foods for the G.O.O.D. bag - all which can be eaten cold, dry or as part of mix using all the foods listed - just add water for a better tasting meal.  You can roll your own, except for the coffee, and adjust the taste to suit you - not some mythical 'public'.  You should now see the advantages for tactical travel, the added value of making these food items for your self and tailor them to your tastes.  All have long term storage potential, and do well in most climates.

Including all or some of these foods into your planning can give you a better outcome.  Adding some simple items like sugar, condensed milk, salt and spices can expand on your meal choices.

Related Links for Further Research
http://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/science/food2.htm (mentions scurvy)
http://www.wellsphere.com/eating-disorders-article/rabbit-starvation-syndrome/226634
http://www.wellsphere.com/healthy-living-article/4-reasons-you-think-you-are-hungry-when-you-aren-8217-t/923338  (hunger issues)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemmican
http://www.natureskills.com/pemmican_recipe.html
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/200-299/nb257.htm  (this also mentions scurvy)


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