Common Sense Cooking in a Grid Down World, by Linda in North Carolina

Saturday, Dec 8, 2012

My husband tells it the best: the utility power was out for miles around after the transformers blew. Driving up to our home in a darkened neighborhood after a harrowing commute, our house shined with soft glow outside of solar lights along the driveway and in the windows, candle light flickered inside, food was cooking out back on what appeared to be a stack of blocks, music from a wind up radio played in the background and my wife handed me a steaming mug of hot chocolate as I walked in. No generator in use….no power….yet warmth and reassuring life in a grid down neighborhood! "Lord, am I glad I married a prepper”!

Massive snow/ice storms, utility interruptions,  hurricane aftermath, solar flares, EMPs….many different problems can cause serious and lasting power outages. Thinking about having a plan….and having a real plan that works and that you have tested is different. When responsible for food preparation, you have to Plan to “Never Fail”!!!

We all know of the massive “bug out plans” in the event the grid goes down. Unfortunately, most of us who live in more populated areas such as suburbia would not be able to implement such a plan due to the traffic gridlock and high security risks that would occur within minutes. Being trapped on the highway exposes needless vulnerabilities for short term (weeks) of rustic food preparation. Setting up now and staging in needed skills and food stuffs will help you to transition into primitive skills our grandmothers were experts in.

Call it “Short Term Transition Crisis Cooking”. In every situation, the first stage can be the most frightening and you will feel overwhelmed. Face that fear head on and work through it a step at a time calmly. With a little planning, scheduling and advanced preparation, you can keep a regular nutritious and comforting meal schedule. You will calm the jangled nerves of all family members by your preparation.

Establish a Routine, then expand it. Families exist better with an established daily routine. Set meal times, then work backwards to ensure your preparations are in order and ready and all is done before darkness descends. Our grandmothers were marvelous at not wasting energy, food resources and keeping everything on track. Any bored or restless youngster was instantly put to work helping prepare for the next meal or tomorrow’s meals. Without modern conveniences we all take for granted, there will be a lot more manual preparation tasks to be done. Learning by doing will also teach your youngsters better self reliance; a mind set skill that is vastly needed.

Make a list for instant response for the first three days while you adapt to your new reality! Include how you will cook, what you will cook and how you will clean up. It matters equally!

Know your cooking resource, and know better it’s limitations! I hear many urbanites touting their piped gas stoves which are wonderful. However, many piped natural gas systems rely on electric pumps to move the resource. Depending on your utility’s emergency plan, you may have interruptions due to location, pumping limitations, physical damage (earthquake) etc. I highly recommend having a few back up plans. Practice every chance you have now. You’ll thank me later!

For example, our cooking plan is as follows:

Cooking Resource

Stage

Availability

Limitations

Flame ignition/heat  source. Have as many options as you can muster!

All

Ranges from weather proof pocket matches or lighter to other fire starters, self ignition for grills etc. Solar

Weather, skill, tools to start fire with.

Gas Grill or charcoal grill

Immediate/crisis
Most of us are familiar with grills so can instantly bring a meal together from the freezer etc with little stress in the hours following a crisis.

175 Lbs on hand in cylinders

20-10 lb bags of charcoal stored in metal garbage cans with lids.

Weather. Not frugal for long term cooking or boiling of water, soups etc.

Piped natural gas stove

Immediate

Unknown

Disruptions of pumping by utility, physical damage from earthquake etc

Canned heat, sterno etc. camping style cooking

Immediate

20 hours worth

Temperatures hard to regulate, good for quick warm ups or small meals. Canned heat can leak and must be checked. Not good for ultra large meals.

Volcano Stove

Long term. Medium investment

Unlimited only by fuel such as wood or charcoal

Learning to use, regulating heat source. Recommend starting with hard to burn foods such as soups or stews, stir-fries and advance as skill and familiarity increases

Rocket Stove, either metal or made of bricks/blocks
*Recommend two! Comes in handy for cleanups, cooking more than one large item or even laundry.

Long term. Tiny investment to build from cans/bucket or used blocks or bricks. Many plans available on youtube.com and online.

Unlimited only by fuel such as wood or charcoal. Uses miserly amounts of wood per meal. Regular use extends other precious resources

Weather can be a problem with high winds/ pouring rain or pelting snow. Harder to use after dark.
*set boundaries/barricades for children and pets

Solar ovens

Long term. Investment varies from home made versions for a few dollars to ultra sophisticated models. Plans to build your own available widely on line

Unknown. Limited by amount of sunlight.

Extremely slow process for some cooked items depending on time of year and how often you must redirect oven. Extended poor weather impacts ability to cook. There is a learning curve to using one and making enough variety during sunlit hours. Volume of food cooked can be a limiting factor too.

Now for the meal planning itself:

Plan time for each meal to “build” to the next meal. For example, when cooking dinner, use the residual heat to start that pot of beans or rice rehydrating for tomorrow. If cooking pasta for dinner, I stir fry dry pasta in a little oil at lunch to enhance the flavor before adding water/broth using the last heat of the lunch cook time. I personally cook from bulk supply, so when I cook oatmeal for breakfast, I use the extra leftovers in bread for the dinner meal etc to avoid waste. (you can set up your recipes this way too) If you are a “store bought” kind of cook, stock up on the large sized pre-packed soup mixes in different varieties. Having these ready to go will only require some type of hot bread to be fried, baked etc. Reduces stress….for the cook and those eating.

Plan for more hot food than needed in the first weeks of any high stress time. I can not stress this enough. During these first days there will be many demands on your time, and bringing a hot delicious meal on time to the family will be a huge comfort.  The first week is the hardest! Start with tried and true items that are hard to burn (like a simple soup) and build your skill set as you evolve. Nothing breaks a cook’s nerves worse than choruses of “I’m hungry” in between meals and ever circling herds of family foraging while you are trying to work! Setting up a stockpot of constantly low simmer soup will help deal with the high stress, technology void and fear of the unknown and instantly supply a cup to anyone hungry in between meals. I recommend a slow cooker method such as a cinder block rocket stove so that few resources are used for hours of cooking. (good to add any leftovers into as well!)You can also have a constant pot/kettle of hot water on the ready with one of these. Our grandmothers knew this lesson and always had a soup pot on the stove and a kettle filled and ready. It brings normal into an otherwise surreal situation.

An often overlooked item is clean up. Paper plates are wonderful, but chances are will not last. Establish how you will clean up after meal time. Personally when starting the meal, I set a large older dishpan on the second rocket stove to start heating for wash up. A dish pan is wide and not so deep, and add a little soap and dishes as needed to begin soaking. When full pull off the fire (add another one) and wash, then rinse in cold water. Use the final pot of water to wash your dishcloths/sponges to hang dry, rinse any food residue near your cooking area, clean tables/counters etc. so that you can begin set up for the next meal making it easier to start over. (If needed you can add that last hot wash water onto any waiting laundry too for presoaking)

Most of us have endured utility interruption….we can overcome this by creatively planning and not just knowing our limitations…but by showcasing them! Practice your plans and experiment with your cooking methods. In times of stress, we all need the comfort emotionally and physically of timely meals or a hot drink, even a plate of rice crispy treats! Choose to cherish these skills you are learning, and face the challenges with a smile and cheerful outlook! With a few resources and practice, you provide inspiration and encouragement, uplifting the spirits of those around you.


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