I was lucky to have grown up in a house with two good cooks that taught me how to cook. Mom was a classic southern “soul” food cooker with menus of fried chicken, pork chops, stews, fresh vegetables and cornbread. Dad was a fancier cook having learned some of the trade at the famous Blackstone Hotel in his native hometown Chicago before the Big War.
My mom often spent hours slaving over the kitchen stove to produce her many culinary delights, while dad’s true chef skills were played out best on the outside charcoal grill or the big clay pot cooker he carried home aboard a USAF C-124 from the Philippines on supply runs to Vietnam long before they were popular in America.
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I was taught to cook many different foods in many different ways, but what I was taught most was the use of spices and marinades to enhance the flavors of the most basic of meats and garden vegetables. Nothing we ate as kids could be called anything close to bland.
What I learned as a child, young man, college student, and now long married father has spilled over into fixing meals as a prepper and survivalist. Trust me, after Katrina blew through our area years ago, I not only learned to cook without utilities, but with the foods on hand at the time. That was a challenge, but none of us starved or even went the least bit hungry.
I also serve as the main cook at our Bug Out camp that also doubles as our deer hunting camp. If it were not for me, the other guys in camp would likely scare all the deer away with growling stomachs. Deer camp is a great place, too, to try out a wide variety of menus on the “guinea pigs” in camp. The emphasis here is on pigs. So, my cooking skills (or lack thereof) have truly been honed by fire.
Plan to Spice it Up
Just the same as you gear up your prepper lists for any type of SHTF event that might befall you or your area, be sure to include cooking spices, and other recipe supplements to help you produce good tasting meals under duress. Survival food does not have to be bland and survival cooking does not have to be survival starving either.
Naturally you want a good supply of the basics, but create a real depth in your available food spices way beyond salt and pepper. Also use care in the overuse of salt especially on meats as it can make a good cut tougher, and a marginal cut almost impossible to eat unless it is marinated for a good while.
So, what other spices to have in abundance? My own always go-to spice is garlic powder, not garlic salt. I don’t use the salted version at all. My wife complains that I would probably put garlic powder on breakfast cereal if she weren’t looking, but even I agree that would be going too far. However, for just about anything else from meats, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and any veggie, I lay on the garlic powder.
The list of granular type spices that can be used out of fairly long term storage shaker containers is endless. Shop your local grocery store spice section just to see the wide variety of basic spices and spice combinations available today. Be sure to stock up and use all the standards you like, but also try out some new spices to jack up your menus before a SHTF hits.
My own list of spices is not terribly extensive, but they include curry powder, Italian spices, sage, coriander, bay leaves, paprika, basil, celery seed, chives, chili powder, mustard, cinnamon, sesame seeds, poultry seasoning, parsley, poppy seeds, and several others.
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When you make up your prepper lists for spice supplies, pick spices in containers for long term storage, but also plan to rotate them on a regular basic. Some spices can in effect spoil or just lose their zest over time. Use spices in cooking trials to find out what combinations you like best for a wide variety of foods especially dishes you might have to make under survival conditions.
There are some very good spice mixes on the market that are worth trying out. These include an endless selection of Bar-B-Que spices for rubs, or shaking on while cooking meats on the grill or in the oven. I don’t have a favorite because I try new ones all the time.
Staple spice mixes that work well across the board includes Cavender’s Greek Spices, Tony Chachere’s Cajun Spices, and Paul Prudhomme’s New Orleans Spices. I also use and recommend a variety of fish, chicken, and pork coating mixes. These are simple, easy and provide a really quick way to prepare these meats to bake or grill in some cases.
Marinades are coatings, soaks, or additives that not only add spice to all kinds of meats, tough cuts or not, but also can help to tenderize meats. Marinades are also great for game meats which may often have a bit of a wild taste depending on how the meat was cleaned and processed after the harvest.
You can make your own marinades, or buy both granular or powder marinades as well as liquid pour on marinades. Good marinade sauces include items like Worcestershire Sauce, Dale’s Steak Seasoning, Italian salad dressings and others you’ll find on store shelves. Simply put the piece of meat in a heavy zip lock bag, pour on the sauce to cover the meat, then seal it up. Refrigerate if the power or generator is ON, and be sure to flip the bag every couple of hours.
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Marinade timing is a factor. Most meats are enhanced by several hours of marinating and even overnight marinades are recommended in some cases. This may depend on the kind of meat and its thickness. For steaks, and such after shaking on the spices, use a fork to poke the spices into the meat for enhanced flavor.
Other Spicy Thoughts
There was never a vegetable grown that did not taste better when spiced up. Even canned goods of every description can be bettered by adding some spices. Go garlic powder. Try items like butter or cheese flavored spices, or in some cases some sweet spices or flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. You have to experiment before the SHTF to find success.
One thing you have to constantly keep in perspective as a prepper survivalist. Regardless of the stocks of food along with spices and all else, much of it will eventually run out. So go ahead and use that last bottle of steak sauce or some other luxury food item before it spoils or is gone. You may never be able to replace it anyway, unless life truly gets back to some kind of normal.
I am by no means any kind of a chef. I just have learned to cook basic everyday foods that my family likes to eat and will eat. When it comes to a real survival situation, it will be essential that foods are made palatable so everyone maintains their energy and nutrition even if at very basic levels. One way to help that process is to add some spices to the life of your cooking. Remember food is life. It might as well taste good at the same time.
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