American Survival Guide - - GEAR GUIDE - BY DANA BENNER

A“sur­vival sit­u­a­tion” can mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. For some, it might mean deal­ing with some kind of apoc­a­lyp­tic or nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. For oth­ers, it means just strug­gling to keep a roof over their fam­i­lies’ heads and food on the ta­ble on a daily ba­sis. How­ever you de­fine “sur­vival sit­u­a­tion,” there are two com­mon fac­tors ev­ery­one shares: the need to eat and the de­sire to eat good food.


When I was grow­ing up, money was tight. There were five of us kids, and my par­ents worked very hard to make sure we had every­thing we needed.

No­tice I said, “every­thing we needed,” not “every­thing we wanted.” We had a roof over our heads, food in our stom­achs


and clothes on our backs. My mother was an ex­pert at mak­ing ev­ery red cent count.

But what she re­ally ex­celled at was cook­ing. She was an ex­pert at mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing. Noth­ing went to waste, and some less-thandesir­able things were made not only ed­i­ble, but also tasty.

Broths for soups and stews were made by ren­der­ing the bones, necks and heads of every­thing from fowl to fish. Left­over meat, if there was any, and veg­eta­bles were made into hash. You didn’t know what was in what she made half the time; per­haps we re­ally didn’t want to know. What we did know was that it filled our stom­achs, kept us go­ing and tasted good.

How did she do it? She learned tricks from other peo­ple, and she was will­ing to try new things.

That is what I do to­day. In this ar­ti­cle, I hope to give you some ideas on how to do this for your­self.

Just be­cause you find your­self in a “sur­vival sit­u­a­tion” doesn’t mean you have to eat things that taste like card­board. Sur­vival food is much more than freeze-dried meals in a pouch. While these meals are great in a pinch (and I, my­self, have my share of them stocked up), they are not what I would call “get­ting the most” out of your meal.


My mother taught me how to cook; I of­ten find my­self us­ing her recipes for any­thing from wild fowl and fish to deer and up­land game. She also taught me to be open to new ideas. As a re­sult, I take ad­van­tage of ev­ery chance to learn some­thing new. No mat­ter where I am, I try to get new in­for­ma­tion on how to pre­pare dif­fer­ent foods. Some­times these recipes work; some­times they don’t.

But what I have learned over the years is that there is no rea­son to eat poorly. Just be­cause it hap­pens to be wild game or fish doesn’t mean the only way to pre­pare the meal is by pok­ing a stick through it and hang­ing it over a fire.

While in New Or­leans, I took a cook­ing class at the New Or­leans School of Cook­ing. I learned how to use the dif­fer­ent spices and styles of cook­ing that make New Or­leans’ cui­sine fa­mous and are not nor­mally found in New Eng­land, where I live. I now reg­u­larly put a Ca­jun touch on every­thing from wild game to corned beef. Even left­overs can be made to taste bet­ter with just a lit­tle spice.


While in Key West, Florida, I learned some valu­able lessons from two ex­cel­lent chefs: José at Hog­fish Bar & Grill, lo­cated on Stock Is­land, and Ri­cardo of Smokin’ Tuna Sa­loon, lo­cated in Old Town Key West. Each chef taught me lessons I can carry into any sit­u­a­tion.

Any food, no mat­ter how plain, can be turned up a notch with just a few sim­ple in­gre­di­ents. For in­stance, just adding a lit­tle cit­rus (lemon, lime, or­ange or grapefruit) can add an en­tire new di­men­sion to the fla­vor of your food. (And we all know cit­rus helps fight off cer­tain ill­nesses, which is very im­por­tant in any sur­vival sit­u­a­tion. Just adding an or­ange slice or lemon wedge to your wa­ter will give it a pleas­ant fla­vor, as well as pro­vide the vi­ta­min C you need. Just imag­ine the ben­e­fit of adding it to your cook­ing.)


The fol­low­ing list is a com­pi­la­tion of the items I try to keep on hand in what I call my “sur­vival kitchen.” These are just ba­sic items, noth­ing re­ally special, but they can make your meals re­ally pop. You might not be able to get them all, and that is fine. Do­ing what you can with what you have is what sur­vival is all about.

Black pep­per: This is a must for al­most ev­ery recipe. You can do with­out salt most of the time—as long as you have black pep­per. The good thing is that you can find this spice just about ev­ery­where. It is cheap, and a lit­tle of it goes a long way. There are also many health ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with black pep­per.

Salt: Be very care­ful when us­ing salt. If you are cook­ing seafood, you re­ally don’t need to add salt, be­cause it al­ready has plenty of salt in it nat­u­rally. If you are us­ing canned or pre­pared foods, they, too, al­ready have salt in them. In ad­di­tion to com­mon salt, there are many fla­vored salts you can choose from.

Gar­lic: Fresh gar­lic is al­ways best, but it can be ex­pen­sive and hard to ob­tain in some sit­u­a­tions. Feel free to

sub­sti­tute dried gar­lic or gar­lic pow­der.

Pars­ley: As with gar­lic, fresh is al­ways best, but dried pars­ley will work and is eas­ier to ob­tain and store.

Onions: Of course, fresh is best, but dried, minced or pow­dered onion will work if you can’t get ahold of fresh onions.

Cit­rus: Noth­ing beats fresh cit­rus fruit, but, in a “sur­vival sit­u­a­tion,” and depend­ing on your lo­ca­tion, fresh cit­rus fruit might not be an op­tion. Good-qual­ity juice from con­cen­trate or bot­tled juices work fine, too.

Chipo­tle Adobo: This is the se­cret to many Mex­i­can and Caribbean dishes. This mix­ture of dried, smoked jalapeño pep­pers in a tangy red sauce is hot stuff, so make sure you start off with small amounts. This is what gives food a smoky fla­vor and its bite.

Joe’s Stuff: The trick to New Or­leans cook­ing is the proper mix­ture of spices. Joe’s Stuff is a sea­son­ing blend put to­gether at the New Or­leans School of Cook­ing. It takes all the guess­work out of the equa­tion and is a blend of all the spices that make New Or­leans cook­ing special. I use it a great deal.


When you think about it, peo­ple have been do­ing a lot with very lit­tle for quite a long time. We of­ten make soups and stews from left­overs by adding some sea­son­ings that bring new fla­vor to the in­gre­di­ents. The sur­pris­ing thing is that it doesn’t take that much ef­fort or ex­pense to make re­ally great-tast­ing food, even in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion.

Bot­tom left: Us­ing a Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven, au­thor Benner can cook, even when the power goes out (as it did in this case).

Mid­dle left: The in­gre­di­ents for spiced-up tuna

Left: This is the orig­i­nal Smokin’ Tuna Dip from the Smokin’ Tuna Sa­loon in Key West, Florida. The au­thor based his own “spiced-up tuna” recipe on this one.

Bot­tom right: Chives and lemon will make this fish some­thing special.

Be­low right: Cook­ing cod cakes

Be­low right: Lake trout with fresh chives—quick and sim­ple. Wrap every­thing in foil and cook on a grill or over an open fire. Be­low left: Pheas­ant breasts wrapped in ba­con and ap­ples. Ap­ples can be for­aged, and the ba­con could be bartered for in a...

Left: This fowl stew is made from pheas­ant, grouse and wood­cock. The broth is made from stock that is the re­sult of ren­der­ing the bones. The meat was left over from pre­vi­ous meals, along with the meat from the legs. Bot­tom left: Cod cakes made from...

Above: Stews are a great way to use up left­over meat such as beef, veni­son and bear, as well as left­over veg­eta­bles. Noth­ing goes to waste in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion.

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