Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Tennessee Squirrel Cooker

The Tennessee squirrel cooker is a very handy little cooking devise that I always carry with my trail gear.  It only weighs a few ounces and takes up hardly any space.  I stick mine in under the cords holding my bedroll closed, and I never even know it's there until it's time to cook dinner. Pictured below: top, Tennessee squirrel cooker tucked under bedroll straps (note leather cover over fork tines); bottom, squirrel cooker in hand 

It may be called a squirrel cooker, but you can use it to cook a portion or two of just about any kind of meat. I've cooked squirrel, rabbit, beef, chicken, fish, hotdogs, and sausage to name a few.  I've also been know to stick an ear of corn on it to roast.  Pictured below: top, chicken breast cooking on the squirrel cooker; bottom, how squirrel cooker fits together

A friend of mine who is a blacksmith made my squirrel cooker, but you can buy them at mountainman rendezvous or order them on the internet (Woodenhawk Trading Company at has them for $15.00 US).

I actually added another piece to my squirrel cooker so that I can use it like a set of miniature fire irons.  This is real handy for suspending my small cook pot over the fire.  Pictured below:  Squirrel cooker with extra piece used as miniature fire-irons
A squirrel cooker won't do much good if you are cooking dinner for a crowd, but if it's just you, or you and a partner, the squirrel cooker will do the job.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making Jerky in Your Kitchen Stove

Jerked meat was a pioneer staple in the days before refrigeration.  This was, and still is, an excellent way to preserve meat.  It's easy to do, it doesn't require any special equipment, and the meat will keep for months.  In this post I'm going to tell you how to make jerky in your kitchen. 

Jerking meat is a process for reducing the moisture content of the meat to the point where bacteria can no longer grow in the meat.  Meat does not have to be cooked before it is jerked, although some authorities recommend blanching wild meat in boiling water before it is jerked.  Many different meats can be jerked.  Venison, beef, and buffalo are probably the most common.  You want to avoid fatty meats as they will not jerk well and can become rancid or spoiled.  If you buy beef to jerk I would suggest that you buy a very lean roast In this instance I am jerking a round roast that weighs 44 ounces. Pictured below: round roast ready to jerk.

The first step is to slice up the meat.  You want to cut the meat in nice thin strips about a quarter inch thick.  The old timers always sliced their jerky so that the grain of the meat ran up and down the strip.  I have no idea why, but this is the way that I do it because they might have known something that I don’t.
 Pictured below: meat cut into strips.

After you have sliced the meat you need to decide if you want to add spices to the jerky or if you just want it plain.  If you are making jerky to snack on you'll probably want to spice it up.  If you are making jerky to store and use in cooking you will probably want to leave it plain.  When I make snack jerky I marinate it is soy sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Sometimes I add a little red pepper or jalapeno juice to make it hotter. 

In this instance I am using about 2 cups of soy sauce, a teaspoon each of salt, black pepper, and garlic, and a half teaspoon or red pepper. Let the meat soak in the marinade for at least 3 hours; over-night is better.  Pictured below: top, spices I use when making snack jerky: bottom, meat marinating in spices.   
To dry the meat out you can use the oven of your cook stove.  I put a pan in the bottom of the oven to catch any drippings off of the meat then drape the strips of meat over the wire cooking racks in the oven.  Turn the oven to its lowest setting (below 200 degrees for sure) and leave the oven door propped open about six inches.  Pictured below: meat on racks ready to jerk
 Check the jerky periodically.  It will probably take about six to eight hours to dehydrate.  The trick to good jerky is to get it dry but not too dry.  You can test the jerky by bending it.  When it is about right it will break when you bent it, but it won't snap.  If it snaps it’s too dry.  Pictured below: finished jerky ready to bag.
 When your jerky is done take it out of the oven and let it cool.  You can store it in zip-lock bags or sealed jars and it will keep for a long time.  Put the bags/jars in the refrigerator and it will keep even longer.  Pictured below: bag of jerky.

This finished batch of jerky weighs in at about twelve ounces, or about one-forth of the weight of the original meat.  This represents a lot of concentrated nutrition, so don’t over-eat on this stuff.  One piece is enough for a meal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Paper Plates as a Survival Tool?

I am all about recycling and reusing stuff.  I try to avoid buying things that are designed to be thrown away.  But I make one serious exception to this rule, and that is that I keep a good supply of paper plates, Styrofoam bowls, plastic cups, and plastic tableware.  Now these items are not for any kind of long-term, end of the world as we know it type of survival scenario.  My paper plates are for short term emergencies, like when there is an ice storm and the power is out for two or three days.

If you don't have paper plates during one of these short term emergencies you have, basically, just three choices about dishes:

Choice 1 - You use your dishes and pile them in the sink and hope that the power comes back on before you run out of dishes.  When the power does come back on you will be faced with a sink full of dirty dishes, covered in dried out food, that have to be washed.

Choice 2 - If you live in the city and your water still works, or if you live in the country and have a generator that will power your well pump; you can rinse the dishes off in cold water.  This will not adequately kill germs on the dishes, and you should not eat off of them again, but at least they won't have crud all over them.  You need to set them aside and give them a real washing when the power comes back on.

Choice 3 - You can put a big pot of water on your gas or wood stove (if you have one), heat the water up, and do dishes the old time way.  Not horrible, but it is kind of a pain.  Especially if the power is out for a week or more, which has happened to us.

So here's what we do now.  We have our supply of paper plates, cups, and etc.  When the power goes out we eat a lot of stuff that doesn't require cooking.  Sandwiches, cereal, fresh and canned fruit, peanut butter, cheese, canned drinks, breakfast bars, Vienna sausages, sardines, almonds, crackers, chips; that sort of thing.  We turn the generator on for a couple of hours a day to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.  We eat everything off of paper plates, and throw it all away.  No mess to clean up when the power comes back on.

If we just have to cook something on the stove, then we heat up a little water and wash the pots and pans the old time way.  More likely we cook in our cast iron skillets which we hardly ever wash anyway.  We usually just wipe them out or maybe rinse out with a little cold water.

Anyhow, lay in a supply of paper plates and you'll thank me the next time the power's off for a couple of days.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Super Storm Sandy - When Will They Learn?

Super Storm Sandy has once again revealed two of the most destructive beliefs that a human being can have. Number one, "It won't happen to me"; and number two, "If something bad happens someone will take care of me."

Let me start off by saying that my heart goes out to those who had to evacuate and returned to find their homes damaged or destroyed.  I also have some sympathy for everyone who has to deal with the hardships of being without power, food, and water.  I say "some" sympathy because I stress the fact that it should only be a hardship, not a life threatening situation.

For those who chose not to evacuate and then called on first responders to come and rescue them; they should be ashamed, and they should have to pay for the cost of the rescue.  If a responder was injured or killed in the attempt to rescue one of these people then that individual should be charged with reckless endangerment and prosecuted.  If you don't have the guts to follow through, then don't ignore the warning to leave.

For those who are without food, water, light, or heat, please heed these words of advice, IN AN EMERGENCY, YOU CAN'T DEPEND ON ANYONE BUT YOURSELF. 

You have to be prepared for an emergency, and guess what, sometimes you don't have four days warning before the emergency happens, so be prepared ALL the time.  You don't have to build a bunker and buy an arsenal of weapons.  Just do some simple things like store some food and water under your bed; buy a propane or kerosene heater and some fuel for it.  Buy a propane cook stove.  Buy a kerosene or propane lantern and a couple of hand cranked flashlights.  Keep some batteries in the refrigerator and buy a battery powered or hand crank radio.  You can get all of this stuff for less than the price of a Louis Viton bag and a pair of Prada sunglasses.

Did you notice the news footage of stores in the Northeast in the days just before the storm?  People carrying out cases of water, empty shelves everywhere.  It's the same footage we see every time an event like this occurs.  We also hear stories about price gouging and looting every time there's a disaster.  Please, please, do yourself a favor and prepare when times are good for the bad times that will inevitably occur.  You don't wait until your car is skidding toward a tree to buy car insurance.  Go out as soon as you can and buy the things that you need to prepare for a disaster, natural or otherwise. Someday, in the not to distant future, you will be glad that you did.