The following survival foods have a history of providing nourishment during winter months, in times of famine, or for travelers: coconuts, flatbread, pemmican, butter tea and dried plums. These endurance foods may not be on the typical list of prepper supplies. However, these foods and recipes are worth your consideration, whether you want emergency supplies or portable snacks for a wilderness trek.
Coconuts are an important staple food for most people living in tropical climates. An average coconut provides a few ounces of water, 1,400 calories, 13 grams of protein, fiber, many essential vitamins and minerals, and other beneficial digestive and metabolic components. Mature coconuts are the preferred choice because they provide more energy and nutrients, although less water, than young coconuts.
Most of the caloric energy in mature coconuts is provided by fat and protein. While coconut meat is very high in saturated fat, the makeup of the fatty acids is proven to increase good-HDL cholesterol and provides other cardiovascular benefits. Modern nutritionists recommend limited intake of coconut meat (about 1/5 of a medium coconut or 80 grams) due to the saturated fat. However, as a survival food, coconuts provide many components that can sustain you.
Coconuts with the thick husk intact can be stored for up to six months if kept cold; husked coconuts will keep up to 2 months. Once the hard shell of a coconut is cut open, coconut meat deteriorates rather quickly at room temperature, so needs to be consumed as quickly as possible.
Armenian Flatbread (lavash)
Flatbreads are the world’s oldest breads. One of the most ancient forms is a thin, crisp Armenian flatbread known as lavash. Other forms of crispbread include Civil War “hard tack” and Swedish Knäckebröd.
Traditionally, lavash is made in autumn, baked until crisp, and then stored for use throughout winter. Lavash may be eaten as a cracker, or softened with water or oil to use as a wrapper for meats or vegetables. The following recipe for lavash is a basic yeast dough made with wheat flour.
Three lavash flatbreads about 10x14 inches each.
• 1 packet dry baking yeast
• 1 cup water, divided
• 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
• 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1 cup whole-wheat flour
• 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
• 3 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
• 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (to oil rising bowl)
• 1 teaspoon salt stirred into 1 tablespoon water to brush over dough before baking
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand with a spoon and a large bowl), mix together yeast, 1/4 cup water, and a pinch of granulated sugar. When yeast mixture is foamy, stir in remaining 3⁄4 cup water, remaining sugar, salt, and whole-wheat flour, and mix until well-blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for one hour, or until doubled in size and bubbly.
2. Add 1 cup all-purpose flour and beat until well combined. Gradually add more flour until soft dough forms that is slightly sticky. Stir in enough of the remaining flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms that is only slightly sticky. Too soft is generally better than too stiff. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. If adding seeds, flatten dough into a disk and sprinkle seeds evenly over dough.
3. Knead dough about 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth, silky, and still very soft. While kneading, use additional flour only as needed when dough sticks to your hands or the kneading surface. Place kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it over once to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (70 degrees -85degrees F) about 1 hour, or until doubled.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncover bowl and press the dough all over to deflate it. Divide dough in thirds. Roll out one portion at a time and keep remaining dough covered while you work.
5. Roll dough thinly on a lightly floured surface into a rough rectangle approximately 10×14 inches. Transfer to a baking sheet. Brush dough lightly and evenly with salted water. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 22 minutes, or until lightly browned in spots. Bread will puff and brown unevenly. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling and baking with remaining dough.
Store crisp lavash in an airtight container. Because it is made without eggs, butter, or oil, lavash will keep almost indefinitely. Break lavash into irregular pieces to serve as crackers, or rinse the whole flatbread lightly under water and cover with a towel until softened to use as a wrapper.
Native American Beef Jerky (pemmican)
Pemmican is one of the original “superfoods,” a nutritious survival and trail food dating back hundreds of years. Native American plains cultures made this meat product from dried or smoked meat. They pounded the brittle meat into powder, combined it with melted fat, and then packed it into skin bags that were folded and sewed or sealed with more fat to keep out air. Kept dry or buried in the ground, packaged pemmican could stay edible for five years or longer. Northwest tribes also made fish pemmican by pounding dried fish and mixing it with sturgeon oil.
These dried meat products were an extremely valuable commodity for both Native Americans and Europeans who insinuated themselves with the local tribes. Pemmican was—and still is—compact, portable, and highly nutritious.
The following pemmican recipe comes from the North American Cree tribe. A traditional preparation would be made from buffalo or elk without salt or sugar. Other modern additions include ground dried berries (such as wild Saskatoon or chokecherry, or cultivated blueberry or cranberry) to replace up to half of the meat.
Makes 8 to 20 pemmican snack servings
• 2 cups (4 oz.) shredded, dried lean meat or jerky*
• 1⁄4 to 2 cups fat, such as tallow (rendered suet), lard, or clarified butter (ghee)
• 1⁄4 tsp. salt, or to taste** (optional)
• 1⁄4 cup brown sugar, or to taste** (optional)
*Use jerky from any dried, fully cooked meat, including beef, buffalo, or game meat.
**Although neither salt nor sugar is traditional, modern tastes sometimes prefer them. If seasoned jerky is used, additional salt is not usually desirable.
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap.
2. Grind meat into a powder using a mortar and pestle, food processor, or high-speed blender. Place meat powder in a large bowl.
3. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat fat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until completely melted. Pour melted fat onto meat powder. Add salt and sugar (if using). Stir until fat congeals and mixture is well combined and smooth.
4. Spread mixture on the lined baking sheet, about 1⁄2 inch thick, and allow to cool. When mixture is firm, cut into small bars. Wrap bars in aluminum foil, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Store in an airtight container. If kept cool (40 degrees), pemmican can be stored for several years.
You can chew a piece of pemmican as a snack, as well as make it into soup known as rubbaboo of which there are several versions—pemmican boiled in water with flour dumplings or simmered with onions and salt pork—basically pemmican cooked in water with whatever else you have on hand.
Savory Tibetan Butter Tea (Po Cha)
Tibetan butter tea is not a sweet or spicy drink, rather more like a savory broth. So if you are thinking “chai”, instead put the idea of salted bone broth in your head. Depending on the tea you use and how strong you brew it, your po cha may also have a smoky, bitter finish. Actually, the po cha I make with Lapsang Souchong tea compares to a creamy mushroom broth sipped by a camp fire. Not a bad reverie!
As a survival food, butter tea provides antioxidants and energy, boosts the immune system, and helps prevent chapped lips (due to the fat content), which is especially helpful in cold or windy climates. Po cha is made first by brewing black tea to make a strong liquid called chaku.
The strength of the chaku is a matter of preference. So feel free to adjust the amount of tea to your taste and style of tea (mild, balanced, or smoky) and to boil the tea longer. Beat hot chaku with cream or milk, butter, and salt to make frothy po cha.
Makes two large servings of po cha
• 4 cups water
• 1 to 2 tablespoons loose black* tea (or 1 to 2 filter bags)
• 1/4 to 1/3 cup whole milk or cream, preferably from grass fed animals
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or ghee, preferably from grass fed animals
• 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
*Teas that work well are smoky teas such as Pu-erh, Russian Caravan, and Lapsang Souchong, or a robust and fruity Yunnan and Sichuan tea, or a more delicate tea such as Darjeeling or Nigiri, or plain Lipton brand black tea.
1. To make chaku, bring water to a boil, add tea, reduce heat, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Strain the tea. Chaku keeps indefinitely.
2. To make po cha, bring chaku to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low, add milk or cream, butter, and salt. Using a hand blender or whisk, blend the ingredients for 2-3 minutes, or until frothy. Pour into heated mugs or small bowls. Sip hot butter tea slowly.
Tsampa is a snack that may be enjoyed while drinking butter tea. It is made from roasted barley flour combined with butter tea (or water) to make a soft dough. Small bites of tsampa are eaten while sipping po cha.
Chinese Salted Dried Plums
Salted and dried plums, known as sour plums (Hua Mei) and “Traveling Plums” (Li Hing Mui) were once an important staple for people trekking across Asia. Travelers used them for long-distance travel, to restore salt lost from perspiration and reduce muscle cramps. Today, this sour, salty snack is popular in Hawaii, one of many types of “crack seed” snacks. Salted dried plums are made by first soaking fresh plums in a salt solution, which are then air-dried. The snack is lightweight and can be stored at room temperature. You can buy salted plums at Asian markets or stores selling Hawaiian crack seed, or make your own using the following recipe with either plums or cherries. Sour cherries will, of course, make a more mouth-puckering snack than sweet cherries—your choice.
Makes 1 pound salted dried plums
• 1 quart water
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 3-8 tablespoons salt*
• 3 medium lemons, juiced
• 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (optional)
• 3 pounds fresh plums or cherries (any variety), halved and pitted
*The sweeter the fruit, the more salt you may want to use. For example, for sour cherries, use 3 tablespoons salt and for sweet cherries use 8 tablespoons.
1. In a small saucepan, combine water, brown sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, and cook 10 minutes, or until brown sugar dissolves.
2. Raise heat to high, add Chinese five-spice powder (if using) and prepared fruit, and bring back to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and poach gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow fruit to cool in syrup at least 2 hours or up to 5 days before drying.
3. Preheat an oven or food dehydrator to 130 degrees to 140 degrees. Pat fruit dry with towels and then spread on the drying trays. Dry until fruit is pliable, has shrunk considerably, and there is no visible moisture when squeezed or cut. Sweet varieties of plums or cherries might remain slightly sticky. The extent of dryness is somewhat a matter of preference. Less-dry products have considerably shorter shelf life—from 2 weeks to 2 months. If you want to store dried food longer then dry them until hard and brittle.
4. After drying, cool fruit 30 minutes, or until no longer warm. Remove from drying tray. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
There you have it, five historic survival foods: tropical coconuts, Armenian flatbread, Native American pemmican, Tibetan butter tea, and Chinese salty dried plums. Consider using one or more of these survival foods and recipes as emergency supplies or simply for your travel needs.
Carole Cancler is the author of The Home Preserving Bible. She has traveled to more than 20 countries on four continents to attend cooking schools and explore food markets. She studies the anthropology of food with a focus on how indigenous foods have traveled and been integrated into world cuisine. Read all of Carole's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.