21 Pioneer-Era Recipes for Your Survival Cooking

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Most preppers I know are fixated on food, specifically on survival food. Although not nearly as critical as water and air on the totem pole of survival necessities food is still absolutely essential to life, and even before you starve from several weeks without it your energy levels and overall well-being will diminish significantly in the meantime.

You have to keep those energy levels high by stoking your biological furnace with calories for fuel. For most of us preppers, we focus on no frills, shelf stable items that come in cans, pouches, tubs and tins, you know, survival food.

But the notion of living off premade stuff can get kind of daunting. Sometimes you just want real, homemade food. But does that really fit into a survival-centric lifestyle?

As it turns out, yes, it can. Our ancestors, pioneer people who literally forged this country and others by either taming the wilderness, or carving it away from hostile occupants didn’t have all the fancy preservatives we have today.

For them, their food was just that, food, not necessarily survival rations, and to that end they relied on simple but filling and generally nutritious fare that could go the distance. In this article we are bringing you 21 pioneer recipes from days gone by that will still fill you up, and keep you going when the chips are down.

In This Article

Austere Conditions Aren’t Necessarily an Impediment for Cooking

If you or anyone in your family is responsible for daily cooking, you know what an involved process it can be. Sometimes dozens of ingredients, every conceivable kitchen gadget, multi-step recipes…

It can feel overwhelming, but there is no denying that people love the results. There is just something about fresh, home cooked food that recharges and replenishes you in equal measure, and in a way that prepared, processed food simply cannot.

Sadly, many preppers assume that proper home cooked food is going to be a thing of the past in the aftermath of a major disaster or any long-term survival scenario, particularly one resulting from a societal collapse.

Happily, this is just not true. When you get to the recipes below you will see that nutritious if simple and sometimes plain dishes can be made using a minimum of ingredients and very few pieces out of your typical kitchen arsenal.

When you consider how a pioneer’s kitchen looked compared to our own, if they had one at all, you’ll find that it is quite a bit simpler. Minimalist, even. Part of this is because they do not live in a land of plenty like we do today, but also because cooking was far less frivolous.

They focused on the basics, and though some dishes we take for granted today would be considered impossibly luxurious by their standards they still had a well-rounded menu for the most part.

So will you, if you learn and master these recipes.

Simple, Filling Fuel for Hardworking Bodies

As you peruse the recipes below you will probably notice how simple, how basic, many of them are.

If you are used to eating extremely flavorful, masterfully seasoned and definitely rich food much of it will probably taste pretty plain considering your modern palate has acclimated to the over salted too sweet American menu.

This is not to say that the below foods don’t taste good, but then they will probably take a little bit of getting used to.

Consider that these foods are not necessarily supposed to thrill and delight you, though they will do that if you are starving I can promise you. Instead, they are nutritious, simple fuel for hard-working men and women.

The dishes below are simple to prepare, made from easily sourced or versatile ingredients, calorie dense and for most of them long-lasting, able to go the distance with minimal or no additional preservation.

21 Pioneer Recipes for Survival

Beans and Rice

Beans and rice has something of a reputation bordering on meme status among preppers. A boring, plain and bland survival dish that usually serves as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The reality is not quite so bad. Beans and rice have much to recommend them as a survival food because both are extremely long lasting, easy to transport and easy to store when dry.

Together, beans and rice are a nearly complete nutritional profile, packed with plenty of protein, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates it is more than sufficient to fuel a body in desperate need of sustenance.

And while playing beans and rice can get old pretty quickly, a little bit goes a long way and will fill you up.

The good news is that various bean and rice dishes can easily be flavored using additives like stock, spices, seasonings and other adulterating ingredients to change the flavor profile and the texture. Tossing in a few scraps of meat can make for a hearty dish that is sure to please.

beef stew
beef stew

Stew

Stews are another prototypical dish enjoyed by cultures around the world, and are ideal on menus where daily ingredients are anything but certain and in a constant state of flux.

Starting off with a basis of broth or consommé, any variety of meats, vegetables and seasonings can be added to the stew pot to produce a hot, hearty meal with just a few hours’ worth of simmering.

For the busiest homes or campsites, a perpetual stew might be made. A perpetual stew is one where the broth is never allowed to diminish entirely.

As stew is ladled out to be served, additional ingredients are added, usually whatever was forged or butchered from the nearby area. Since all of the ingredients mingle together slowly over time the flavor of such a stew is often quite sublime.

and there is no need to worry about the age of ingredients or the so-called “master broth.” a stew should be kept hot at all times, and germs cannot survive high temperatures so there is nothing to worry about in that regard.

If you have plenty of fuel and a constant influx of ingredients, whatever they might happen to be, a stew is an ideal survival ration.

Bread

One of the most fundamental foods around, bread in one form or another has been with humanity for a very long time, and nourishing bodies while staving off hunger pains for the duration.

Whatever kind of bread you prefer and whatever sort of grains you have on hand, there is a type of simple bread that can be easily made using little more than an open flame.

Ovens, pans, baking sheets and the like along with various recipes, ratios and other additives can produce truly unique and delicious bread, but for creating calories that are easy to pack and long lasting bread is, was and will remain a staple.

Depending on how much time you have and what sort of ingredients, bread can be as complicated or as simple as you want.

You might have a family recipe that is entirely adequate for the purposes of survival, or maybe you want to learn one or two super simple recipes just in case. Either can do the job in a survival situation.

Jerky

Jerky is an ancient method of meat preservation that we still enjoy today, and though it got its start as a method of keeping meat from spoiling and reducing the return on investment for slaughtering an animal, jerky today is enjoyed just as often as a snack or trail food.

Despite this, jerky remains an invaluable survival ration because it is so long-lasting, stable, and nutritious.

You can buy off the shelf jerky made from whatever meat you desire or make your own just the same. Either will last for months at a time, but more important for our purposes is learning how to make jerky using rudimentary tools and processes.

The trick with jerky is drying out the meat. A dehydrator or electric oven are ideal for the purpose, as jerky should be dried very slowly using low heat so it does not cook.

It is even possible to make jerky using the drifting smoke off of a fire or nothing more than the sun’s rays if the weather is cooperative.

Pemmican

Pelican is an ancient American Indian survival food consisting of ground or powdered dried meat, liquefied fat and often additives like dried berries, nuts and seeds. Once it is finished pemmican looks very much like a modern fruit bar, only one made from meat.

Pemmican is in many ways an ideal survival ration, being extremely long lasting, super calorie dense and adaptable. You can eat pemmican out of hand, crumble it and fry it, add it to a stew or soup and more.

Made properly in using high quality ingredients it is quite tasty, and is another food that lends itself to production in austere environments.

Making this ancient ration is an involved process and requires practice, so don’t think this is something you’ll whip up easily on the first try from half remembered instructions.

This is something that I believe all preppers should learn to do, so make sure you get in that practice now while you can.

Cornbread

Cornbread is a famous and greatly loved side dish that is typical of southern fair, and I don’t know anyone who lives below the Mason-Dixon Line that doesn’t like the stuff.

Cornbread, for those who somehow don’t know by now, is bread that is made from ground cornmeal, one with a crumbly, muffin-like consistency.

easy to prepare and highly calorie dense, cornbread has been a staple at meal time in the United States for well over a couple of centuries now and its popularity is showing no signs of waning. Considering how abundantly corn grows throughout much of the country, this should be a staple dish that everyone knows how to make.

You can make cornbread a little lighter and fluffier or a little denser according to preparation, but perhaps the only thing against it is that it just doesn’t travel that well.

Cornbread is notoriously crumbly no matter how you prepare it and you are just as likely to have a sack or tin full of fine, sandy corn bits as you are a slice of delicious cornbread if you try to take it on the road. Nonetheless, it is an excellent option on your survival menu.

cornmeal mush
a bowl of cornmeal mush

Mush

Mush, actually corn mush, is a type of porridge in which cornmeal is boiled in water or milk, allowed to congeal into a semi-solid consistency and then cut or carved up into slices or hunks before being gently pan fried in oil.

Like cornbread, this is another stereotypically southern dish and some would say iconic.

Sometimes served as part of a well-rounded and calorie-dense breakfast it is usually served with syrup, jam or molasses but can be eaten by itself.

Compared to cornbread, mush travels better when packed carefully though it does not have a particular long shelf life. What it does have is a good taste and is yet another way to put your corn stores to good use.

Perhaps the best attribute of mush is that it is easy to prepare a very large batch for feeding many people and do so relatively quickly compared to baking multiple loaves of cornbread.

Pancakes

Call them flapjacks, griddle cakes or just pancakes, chances are you know them and love them. Today they are an indulgent breakfast treat but in times past they were a customary sustenance food that was easy to make quickly and consistently even if they weren’t very appealing.

Pancakes are typically made of any starch based batter and may or may not contain eggs, milk or butter. A thin batter, however it is made, is then poured on a hot, flat surface like a skillet or griddle and gently fried on a thin coating of butter or oil.

Believe it or not, pancakes have been enjoyed more or less all around the world over the years and one form or another, with the typical variations being the specific ingredients list of the batter and the shape of the pancake itself.

Thick or thin, dense or fluffy, pancakes are a crowd-pleaser and highly adaptable since you can add anything from fruit or nuts to chocolate and jams to them in order to increase variety and calorie payload.

hard-tack biscuits
hardtack biscuits

Hardtack

Hardtack is a notorious ration most known for being used in situations where resupply was going to be a long time coming and shelf life was absolutely everything. Charitably called a cracker or perhaps a biscuit, hardtack is made from flour and water, with salt only sometimes added.

The picture of simplicity and frugality, it has been used by explorers, sailors, soldiers and pilgrims for centuries.

Able to last for months or even years, this stuff got its name from the fact that bakers baked it hard, really hard, because any bread product would naturally soften over time with exposure to humidity and the elements.

Believe it or not, these things would be baked multiple times before shipping them out and if not rendered edible by wetting them they could easily damage teeth.

As incredible as it sounds, hardtack is still commercially available today and you can even make your own just like our forefathers did all those many years ago. It isn’t pleasant, and it isn’t very good but it will definitely keep you alive and so long as you keep it dry this stuff will keep for years.

Pinole

Pinole is a sort of cousin to cornmeal, consisting of ground, roasted maize that is subsequently mixed with a variety of other ingredients, including chia seeds, vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, agave and sometimes other spices before being used as a calorie-dense ingredient for all kinds of other foods.

Pinole can be used to make tortillas, added to breads, incorporated with cereals and even made into drinks. The most common use as a survival food is similar to corn mush where it is made into a heavy porridge.

As a nutritional supplement to your pantry it is excellent, and is high in vitamins, key nutrients like amino acids, fiber, antioxidants and plenty of protein.

It is slow to digest and very filling and is an excellent sustenance option assuming you have the time and gumption to create it. It requires quite a few ingredients and must be slowly and laboriously ground to produce in that typical fine powder form.

Vetkoek

Vetkoek, meaning literally “fat cake,” is a traditional and culturally significant fried bread from South Africa.

Looking for all the world like a traditional homemade donut without a hole in the center, these savory cakes consist of flour, salt, sugar and yeast and maybe served as a main course on their own, as a side dish or stuffed with a variety of other savory ingredients.

Yet another simple bread dish that is highly versatile and adaptable in conjunction with other foods, toppings and ingredients these fluffy, savory cakes have much in common with similar breads that are indigenous to cultures found around the world.

Cornmeal Fritters

Another corn dish on our menu, cornmeal fritters are a little more than thick discs of cornmeal batter that are subsequently deep fried until crispy. Cornmeal fritters form the basis of a variety of foodstuffs, and often contain seafood and other vegetables but may be enjoyed by themselves without any accompaniment.

Cornmeal fritters are delicious, crispy and easier to transport compared to typical cornbread or corn mush, and the fact that they are fried in oil significantly pumps up the calorie payload.

Fritters are another type of dish that have many cultural variations all around the world, and have been enjoyed for millennia.

If you want to make the most of cornmeal with little else and have oil to spare for frying in a large vessel cornmeal fritters are convenient, portable, reasonably tasty and filling.

Rusk

Rusk is nothing more than twice baked bread. You can take any bread, even cake, bake it again and what you’ll have is a biscuit that ranges somewhere from “crispy” to “molar cracking”. This is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of bread and make it easier to transport.

Despite its obvious usage as a long-lasting ration, rusk has a dizzying number of regional and cultural variations around the world.

Used as an accompaniment for coffee, a snack food, a dessert, a side dish with a main course, a religious offering and so much more, rusk is definitely adaptable and assuming you have bread on hand it doesn’t get any easier to make than this.

The next time you are baking bread, biscuits or any other dough based offering make a good use of your leftovers by baking them again and exploring the wide variety of textures and results that could result. Pretty soon you’ll be a master at making rusk!

Potato Cakes

Corn has gotten a lot of attention on this list but vegetables can be employed to make nutritious, filling and long-lasting survival rations also.

One of the best is the potato cake, made by frying in oil or baking a porridge patty or batter made from ground or finely grated potatoes. These starchy cakes are packed with calories and easily adapted for breakfast, lunch or dinner by topping them with various ingredients.

Potatoes have long been a crucial core item in many diets around the world, and they are packed with vitamins and minerals in addition to being long-storing and easy to grow.

Their suitability for use in a variety of recipes with long-lasting results makes them an A+ prepper staple. If you live in an area with soil suitable for the production of potatoes make sure you push these near the top of your list.

Frybread

Fry bread is a type of flatbread, made from wheat flour, salt, sugar and fat that is then deep fried in oil or lard. Served and eaten alone or with toppings like jam, sugar, honey or sometimes meats it can also be used as a wrapper like a burrito or taco.

Originally created by the Navajo in 1864 prior to their undertaking a long, forced, on-foot relocation under orders from the US government, frybread is associated with the American Indians but it is not a traditional staple.

Instead, being a subsistence food created for a purpose using basic ingredients given to them by the United States government.

Despite this complicated and sometimes painful history, frybread is nonetheless long lasting compared to most other fresh breads and extremely calorie dense.

it is easy to make even in field conditions using nothing more than the basic ingredients listed above and a cast iron skillet with a little bit of oil. Once mixed into a simple dough and left to rest for 30 minutes to an hour the dough will rise and can then be formed into small disks prior to frying.

Whole Fish

One popular method of preparing fresh caught fish is whole preparation, typically accompanied by skewering the fish and what is known as, hilariously, fish on a stick.

More so than most other creatures, roasting fish whole over an open fire is easily done and produces excellent results, with the scales crisping up while keeping the flesh of the fish moist for immediate eating while longer cooking over low heat can produce a dried fish similar to jerking.

Fish are plentiful and comparatively easy to catch compared to most other game, and if you are in an area with plentiful lakes, rivers and streams fishing might be an excellent supplement for your survival pantry.

Settlers, trappers and explorers what often catch fish by the bucket load before drying or cooking them wholesale after skewering several on long spits and you can do the same thing today to truly mass produce survival rations.

Pork Chops

Pork has long been a staple in many diets around the world, and you had better believe that our pioneer forbearers ate plenty of it. Pork chops, side pork, bacon, pretty much every piece of meat you could get from a pig they would eat.

Pork also takes particularly well to preservation through salting, and this made it ideal for long-term storage and lengthy journeys.

Pork chops are a classic dish that is absolutely timeless, and whether they are prepared simply by grilling or pan frying or whipped up as part of a more intricate dish, pork chops can and should remain a part of your survival diet.

Packed with calories and extremely healthy compared to other meats, you can hardly do better than a succulent pork chop for dinner.

Cured Bacon

Bacon is one of the most beloved meats in the world, or at least in America. Incredibly rich, flavorful and packed with calories cured of bacon will also last quite a long time even when it isn’t being refrigerated so long as it is kept clean and wrapped.

Bacon is greatly beloved for its ability to make basically any dish even better, no matter if it is savory or sweet, but also adored by those heading out on a long journey because it is long-keeping.

Compared to typical bacon you would buy at the grocery store, bacon that is suitable for curing is going to be cut much thicker, more akin to a ham steak or a little less in thickness.

Curing is typically accomplished using salt but sugar curing is another option if slightly less reliable than salt curing.

Even if you aren’t a bacon fan otherwise you should seriously consider looking into developing the skill set needed to cure your own. Bacon is so calorie dense it can add a significant boost to virtually any dish, including stews, beans and rice and more.

Oat and Fruit Bars

If you are like me chances are that you have a favorite sweet snack that you’ll take with you and heading out camping, on the trail or just stashing in your road bag in case you get a munchie attack I need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

There are certainly lots of options on the market, but you might be surprised to learn that you can make a sweet treat bar that will meet anything else out there, and even more surprised to learn that people have been making them for hundreds and hundreds of years if not longer!

By combining toasted oats with fruit preserves, seeds, nuts and other trail mix like options and then solidifying them inside wax paper you can create portable, long lasting meal replacement bars that taste amazing and are completely packed with nutrition.

Various cultures have been doing this around the world for a very long time, and although they might have not been using the ubiquitous bar shape the concept is the same.

You might consider the addition of Honey to help further preserve your bars while adding calories, flavor and helping the whole thing stick together.

Don’t settle for preservative written fake fruit bars from the grocery store. With just a little bit of work and experimentation your new favorite sweet treat can be yours!

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a staple of German cuisine, and love it or hate it topping and side dish here in the states. But what you might not know about sauerkraut is that it originated as a staple that was long-lasting and easy to preserve through fermentation.

Fermentation jars used for making sauerkraut used to be a fixture in pantries throughout Europe and in the pantries of many European settlers who moved to the states.

By inserting a whole cabbage that has been cored and packed with salt into a brine solution inside the fermentation jar before sealing it the anaerobic bacteria inside would begin to ferment and subsequently preserve it.

This gives sauerkraut its distinctive flavor, but it also allowed a portion of the cabbage to be removed at any time for consumption without disrupting the process.

The equipment and skills needed to make your own sauerkraut are easily obtained, and love it or hate it, you should definitely learn to eat it as it is one of the more nutritious and longest lasting vegetable dishes available to you.

Conclusion

Survival food is not all about prepackaged, heavily preserved fake processed foodstuffs. Our pioneer ancestors had to rely on real survival food that they made themselves from a variety of wholesome and readily available ingredients.

If you are ready to save money, become more invested in your personal food chain and consume more healthful if basic meal options, this list of 21 pioneer recipes is perfect for padding your survival cookbooks.

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