Monday, October 17, 2011

Preparing Food without Electricity

The last article was about preserving food without electricity, it's not easy but it is possible. This one is a little more difficult, and is made up of some common sense solutions and some unorthodox solutions to preparing your food when you can't use the stove, oven or microwave. I put this story in another article, (don't remember which one) about preparing for the coming Hurricane Charley. We were in Wal-Mart getting some camping type gear and food when the lady in front of us proudly placed her emergency essential can opener on the belt so that she could open cans of food when the power went out. Did I mention the can opener was an electric can opener? Well it was. There are times in life that it is very difficult not to laugh out loud at a person's stupidity, this was one of them. Preparation is about more than just the right idea, it's about the right idea and focus.

Anyway, here we go.

Common Sense solutions

1. Grills - Whether charcoal or gas, (gas is cheating) a grill can be used to boil water, cook meats and veggies and all sorts of good things to eat. If you can get one of those charcoal starters that uses a single piece of paper to light charcoal or wood chips, get it. There will be a time that you will run out of starter fluid. This brings up another "Con" to the grill idea. You need fuel, charcoal, wood, a copy of "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope", (use caution though cause they can leave a bad aftertaste in your mouth.) One more "Con", the smoke and scents released sends up a clear signal to everyone within a mile or so that YOU have FOOD.

Answer to Con 1: It is not extremely difficult to make your own charcoal. All you need is some scrap wood or agriculture waste (corn stalks, etc) a grill and about one box of corn starch. Remove the grates from all sections of your grill, if you have a small grill, you may want to use a 55 gallon steel drum. Plug all the ventilation holes in your grill from the drip pan hole to the vents on the top and side. Jam it full of dry waste, then ag waste then wood scraps. Light the dry waste and let it burn until there is a fire going under each section of waste and wood. Close the lid and vents to shut off the oxygen supply that feeds the fire. The continued heat will carbonize the waste and wood into chunks of charcoal and carbon. Grind the carbon until you are left with a fine powder. Mix the powder with small amounts of water and corn starch. Press the "Mud" into a form or flat cookie shape and let dry for two weeks. Wallah, you have charcoal.

Answer to Con 2: Grilling inside is NOT an option. Carbon monoxide is released when charcoal is burned. About the only options you have to cover the smoke is to redirect it, cook at night when it's less visible, or use gas. Covering the scent is going to be more difficult if not impossible. A large mound of Black Kow fertilizer may discourage strangers from sniffing intently.

2. Smokers - (see grills)

Unorthodox Methods

1. Sun Oven - Boy Scouts build their own versions of Sun Ovens for special projects but Food Storage Made Easy (awesome FB page) had a videos on their site of testing a commercially made, portable sun oven for less than $200. Whether you are making bread, roast or whatever, the Sun Oven they recommended can do it. Pros: No smoke, it's portable, it's affordable. Cons: Well it's not called a Sun and Moon Oven, so you can only cook where there is daylight.

2. Parabolic Mirror - For about $40 you can purchase a parabolic mirror from a science supply store. It also, like the Sun Oven, uses the power of the sun to cook food. Set up the mirror on a tripod where you can adjust the angle and place a grid over the mirror. Pros: Heats up fast, portable, affordable. Cons: Again, daytime cooking only and the sturdiness relies on your handyman skills.

3. Pepsi Burner - cut one soda can about one inch and a half up from the bottom of the can. Insert another soda can into this open area to stretch out the sides. Cut this second can in the same way you did the first. Place the second can bottom side up into the first. Press them together firmly. Use a hammer and a small nail to punch out four holes in the center indentation of the top can. Punch 16 more holes around the edge of the top can, try to be as evenly spaced as possible. Pour two tablespoons denatured alcohol, rubbing alcohol, (unscented) into the holes in the center of the can and let it drain into the can's interior. Light the center of the top can with a match. This burner can be reused until the aluminum weakens. Two tablespoons is enough to get a couple of cups of water to boil.

4. Don't have a sun oven or parabolic mirror? Need to reheat some already cooked meats or MRE's without the heater? Roll up your car windows and set a frying pan on the dashboard. On a hot day eggs will cook over easy and cheese sandwiches will melt.

5. Battery power - no I am not recommending you try to plug in your 220 volt oven into a battery bank. Take a set of jumper cables, two thin copper wires, insert wires into hamburger, hotdog or whatever and connect positive charge cable to one wire and negative charge wire to the other and watch electricity cook your food for you. Con: Severe drain on battery, but it will work in a pinch.

No matter what the emergency or how hungry you or your family is do not eat chicken or pork that hasn't been completely cooked. You don't want a medical emergency when the SHTF. Have plenty of camp stoves, emergency stoves and refills on fluid ready. These you can buy cheaply after hurricane season in many local grocery chains and at WalMarts.

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