There’s a misconception out there that survival foods can’t possibly taste good. You’re supposed to be “roughing it” after all. However, pemmican, beef jerky, and fruit leather are all three options that have both stood the test of time and proven this assumption otherwise.
These are the old-school survival foods with a modern twist: We’ll be using an oven to dry the foods. In a survival situation, camp fires and the sun can provide the heat sources.
Pemmican has been enjoyed by the Inuit people for centuries and was an integral part in those people being able to survive the rigors of Arctic life. When anthropologist and explorer Vihljamur Stefansson traveled through Alaska at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the many discoveries he brought back was this delicious dried meat.
Begin with beef, venison, bison, or elk and slice it nice and thin. You may need to leave it in the refrigerator for a while to firm it up before slicing. Lay it on the lowest rack of your oven at about 150-200 degrees (keep the door open so moisture doesn’t build up). Leave it there until it’s dry and crispy (it breaks, not bends).
You’ll want to crumple this meat up until it’s in powder form. Then add liquid rendered fat to the mix. Stop pouring when the fat soaks into your meat powder, but doesn’t drown it (kind of like the consistency of fudge). In general, the ratio will be 60% meat, 40% fat (by weight, after the meat has been dried). Now add your flavorings of salt (ALWAYS as it helps with the preservation), pepper, sage, etc. Many people add dried fruit at this point, traditionally cranberries, but also raisins, dates or cherries.
At this point, you can roll it out about an inch thick and cut it up into squares. Some folks (me included) roll it out a bit thinner, and cut it into strips that resemble jerky. Others still simply roll it into a ball to eat as you please. Either way, you get a delicious form of protein that will keep for practically ever.
Another favorite is beef jerky, which has also been around for ages, but was probably made famous by cowboys in the old West.
While just about any meat will work, you need lean cuts—this can’t be stressed enough. Beef, venison and turkey are great. Pork is possible, but probably too fatty for most. Cut the meet in strips about ¼ inches across and make sure you go with the grain. Like with pemmican, it’s easier if you firm the meat up in your fridge first.
Now you need your marinade. This is largely a personal choice, but popular ingredients include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, crushed garlic, onion powder, chili powder, salt and pepper. Brown sugar and honey are great too. Like pemmican, salt is important to aid in preservation. Boil your marinade, let it cool and then pour it over your strips of meat. I generally let my marinade soak in for at least 8 hours.
Stick the meat on racks if possible in the oven at around 150F for several hours. You don’t want it brittle like with pemmican, just nice and dry. Your jerky needs about 150 degrees over the course of six or eight hours. Turn them over about half way through if you don’t have racks. Though not brittle, jerky should eventually break when bent. That’s how you know it’s done.
Once it’s cooled, vacuum seal your jerky and you’ll get two to three months out of it. If you put it in the freezer, you can get it for a few months longer.
For a change of pace, let’s now try fruit leather, which is essentially fruit turned into jerky and is absolutely delicious. It’s also a great way to preserve a bounty of excess fruit as an alternative to canning or jams/jellies.
You can use a number of different fruits for leather. Common choices are berries, peaches, plums, apples, apricots, pears and grapes. You can make fruit leather out of just one of those or make a combination leather.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the less sweet your fruit, the more likely you’ll need to add sugar. This is a personal choice though.
Chop up your fruit, place it in a saucepan and then add in four cups of water for every cup of chopped fruit you’re using. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover it and leave it on low heat for about 10 or 15 minutes. Stir the cooked fruit and then taste to see if it will need sugar. You can also add in spices or lemon juice.
Give it another 10 minutes or until you have a thick puree. Then puree it again in a blender or food processor. Taste one more time and adjust as necessary.
After adding plastic wrap (the heavy-duty stuff safe for microwaves) or parchment paper to a rimmed baking sheet, pour your puree over it so that it’s about ¼ inch thick. Then put it in the oven at 140 degrees for eight to 12 hours. It’s done when the leather has a nice smooth surface that isn’t sticky.
These three old-school methods of food preservation and preparation really don’t take a lot of work, but offer plenty in terms of taste. Best of all, they are healthy, too.