Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Preparing Food

Unless you just love the idea of slurping cold ravioli from the can after the world’s gone berserk, you’re going to need some semblance of a plan for food preparation. Ideally, you’ll have more than one solution, because variety is good – and because something nasty can thwart Plan A.

There are lots of ways to continue eating even when the power or gas aren’t working. I’ve had to make food without such luxuries before. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to do if you’re prepared beforehand. But if you wait until things have already gone wrong to figure out how you’re going to turn your stockpiled food into meals, you’re just adding more unnecessary stress to your life.

When I was in the Army, I did of course eat my share of MREs. If you can get your hands on MRE heaters – the funny-looking green packages that sometimes come with the food – do it. They’re fascinating little things, and work very well whether you’re in the field or at your dining-room table. The heaters require only a small amount of water, which does not even have to be potable, to function. You can pour water from your toilet tank or a creek into the heater pouch and be fine, because the food bag that you then drop into the heater pouch is sealed. Just be sure to clean the food bag off very well before you open it, that’s all. Rinse it with potable water, then wipe it down with a clean rag if you have one.

If you can’t acquire the heaters – eBay, for example, does not like for sellers to ship them with the MREs – boil a pot of water or put the sealed food bag in the sun. You can even stick the entrée bag on your car’s engine block if necessary. The bags are very tough, so don’t be afraid to put them in hot places. They are, after all, designed to sit in boiling water.

I do not, however, stockpile MREs. As much as I appreciated the food when I was in the service, it’s more expensive than “normal” food. I’m a civilian, so Uncle Sam doesn’t hand me a case of MREs for free anymore. The civilian brands, usually marketed to hikers and other outdoors types of people, just don’t appeal to me, either. But if you want a compact, nutritious meal that’s easy to store and tote around, by all means get MREs. The food’s not bad at all, for the most part. I was quite fond of the ravioli in particular, and pretty much any meal that came with the Snickers Munch bar. Mmm…peanuts.

My family and I do most of our cooking with the electric range. We bake cookies and casseroles, cook chili, et cetera with the stove. It’s a fantastic appliance, and we use it almost every day, so we’re quite used to the convenience. However, we know that a power outage is going to ruin this for us, so we have other ideas. In the past, we’ve had to do without all of our appliances, so we’ve figured out a few basic things about “alternative cooking.”

We have a wood-burning smoker, which usually cooks burgers and other meat. But when our power’s out for too long, we’ve put that sucker to good use on leftovers and other foods. Because our smoker uses firewood (and, therefore, open flames), we have to be careful when we choose the cookware. Cast-iron cookware is best, in our opinion, because it doesn’t get messed up when you put it on the grill. Hit yard and thrift sales or Goodwill if you don’t have suitable cookware. It would really stink if you couldn’t boil your frozen veggies before they went bad in your useless freezer because you didn’t have a way to safely put them on the smoker or barbecue pit.

In an emergency, though, a metal coffee can will do. Also, keep in mind that you can remove labels from food cans, and open them up, to cook the contents. We’ve heated more than one can of green peas, ravioli, et cetera this way. For the peas, stir in a pat of butter and a pinch of salt right before you dig in.

Speaking of opening cans: how’s that electric can opener going to work out for you without juice? We have two manual openers, which cost us between four and eight bucks each. I’ve never liked electric models, myself, because they seem like a waste of money to me. Then again: some canned foods come with pull-tab lids now anyway, so you don’t have to worry about an opener if you can buy only those types of cans.

Another cooking option involves the wood-burning stove. We have a box-shaped stove in the living room, which is perfect for stovetop cooking. There’s no such thing as incredibly-accurate temperature regulation – you get either “hot” or “hotter” with a wood-burning stove – but it’s very easy to heat or cook various foods. We’ve made scrambled eggs, rice, macaroni and cheese, et cetera on the stove, and everything tasted just fine.

Years ago, when I was six or seven, we had a Coleman camp stove. This was tucked away in storage, because my parents weren’t using it anymore. When our electricity was disconnected, which led to a fourteen-month stint without it, Mom and Dad had to dig out the stove. This enabled them to heat water for coffee, cook basic meals, et cetera. The problem was that, because they hadn’t anticipated the long-term power outage, they had not stocked up on Coleman fuel…or maintained the stove. Soon, the stove broke, and there was no way to fix the thing. We were almost out of fuel anyway at that point, so my parents had to go to other methods, like the barbecue pit.

Making a cup of java without a Mr. Coffee is easy, by the way, for those of you who’ve never done it. When we don’t have electricity here at The Homestead, my parents grab the coffee pot and the basket. They boil water on the wood-burning stove and pour it through the basket (which, of course, has the filter and grounds in place). The water drips through and into the coffee pot, which makes my parents happy. My sibs and I very much prefer happy parents, so we sometimes volunteer to make the coffee for them, just to get on their good side.

The good old sun is great for heating pre-cooked food, at least in my experience. We’ve used that giant, burning ball in the sky to warm all sorts of things. Just put the food on a dark surface and let nature work. Some people have gone so far as to build solar or cardboard-box ovens. I’ve yet to give this a try, but I certainly don’t rule out that possibility for the future.

There are plenty of ways to cook your food even without electricity or gas. The main thing is to think ahead and plan before things go crazy. That way, you can test your ideas and figure out what really works – and what’s going to require some fine tuning. The next time you crank up the wood-burning stove to heat your living room, why not try making a couple of scrambled eggs on it? We might as well practice our skills before they’re actually needed. That way, we have some extra confidence when we do have to use them.


  1. very interesting post. took many inputs from it. your work and dedication is highly appreciated!

  2. this was a great help

  3. Glad I could post something useful for y'all!

  4. Yep, gotta have additional can openers. I have one in my food storage as well. Have you tried cooking a solar oven? I've been exploring this method recently and have been FLOORED. It's my new cooking nirvana. Similar to your electric range, I can cook practically whatever I want to in it. I purchased one from and it's been one of my best preparedness investments for sure.

  5. I haven't tried a solar oven yet, but that's on the family's to-do list. We live in Texas, which gets PLENTY of sun, so I'm sitting here dreaming of all the great stuff we could cook right in the front yard.

    Of course, I'm also a sucker for the wood smoker in our front yard, because we have plenty of trees - and smoked meat is just good!


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm