5 Survival Foods Your Grandmother Used To Make

Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason November 2, 2018 08:37

5 Survival Foods Your Grandmother Used To Make

Thanks to modern food processing technology, building up a stock of survival rations is easier than it’s ever been. From cheap tinned goods to tasty dehydrated meals that let you eat well even when you’re living out of a rucksack, modern survival foods make prepping easy.

Even your freezer is a powerful survival tool (as long as you can keep it working).

What do you do if you can’t benefit from all these modern options, though?

Maybe you’re pretty much self-sufficient in food, don’t want to buy what you can grow yourself, but can’t afford a full-scale food processing factory to turn out your own Mountain House meals?

Or what if the crisis has already hit and you’re trying to build up a reserve to get you through the next winter?

There are plenty ways you could find yourself trying to put together a survival food reserve without the benefits of modern foods, but the good news is it’s easier than you might expect. After all, just a few generations ago our ancestors were building up food stores without most of the foods we rely on today.

They weren’t doing it as a precaution against a possible crisis, either; it was a vital part of survival from one year to the next. If you lived on the old western frontier, or anywhere rural until the early 20th century, you better have a good supply of preserved food laid up by the time the first snow fell or your chances of making it through to spring weren’t that good.

Considering that, it’s no surprise that previous generations had their own ways of putting up food that would last a long time. As recently as our grandparents’ generation most people knew how to preserve their own food.

Those skills are just as useful for modern preppers as they were for our predecessors, so let’s look at some of the survival foods your grandmother would have made.

Kielbasa

5 Survival Foods Your Grandmother Used To Make KielbasaHam is one way to preserve pork; sausages are another. Many of our ancestors came to the USA from central and eastern Europe, where pork sausages are a major part of the diet. There were two reasons for that. One is that sausages could be made from scraps and poorer cuts of meat; the other is that, properly cured and air-dried, they can be stored for months in a cool, dark place.

While the hams were soaking in brine, pounds of pork would be forced through my grandmother’s mincing machine, seasoned, then packed into sausage skins. Then the strings of sausages were smoked and hung up to cure.

Once they were dry they would last through the winter and well into the next year; grilled, or cut up and cooked in stews or soups, they were a tasty and versatile source of storable protein.

The truth is, our grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in a world where home refrigeration was a luxury. They needed food that could be stored for the long term, because crops and livestock were mostly available for processing on an annual basis.

That meant pretty much anything they canned, cured or otherwise preserved was good for at least a year. So, if you have your grandmother’s old recipe books around the house, dig them out and take a look; there could be a lot of great survival food ideas in there.

Related: How to Make And Can Vienna Sausages (2 Years Shelf Life)

Head Cheese

5 Survival Foods Your Grandmother Used To Make Head CheeseDon’t be misled by the name – this old delicacy isn’t a dairy product (although it does usually have bits of head in it). Originally from Europe, it was popular for generations in the USA, too. In fact it’s still popular in some areas, mostly in Cajun and Pennsylvania Dutch country.

In the mid-20th century almost every rural family would lay up a stock of it after the slaughtering was done. One great thing about head cheese is it can be made from almost any animal; a calf or pig is the usual choice, but cows, sheep and deer work fine too.

Head cheese is a great way of not only using up tricky cuts, but also of preserving meat for long-term storage. It’s made by taking the head of an animal, removing the brain, eyes and ears, then slowly simmering what’s left in a pan of seasoned water. This process doesn’t just cook the meat; it extracts natural gelatin from the head.

After a few hours, depending on the size of the head, the meat is stripped off and chopped into small pieces.

The gelatin-rich stock is simmered a bit more to reduce it, then the meat is put in a mold or jar and the stock is poured over it. When it’s cooled you’re left with a meat jelly that can be eaten cold. For long-term storage it was made in jars, then canned while the stock was still hot. That way it would last in the root cellar for months.

Related: 7 Super Cheap Foods To Stockpile That People Usually Throw Away

Ham

Ham’s one of those things we pick up in the grocery store and the label says “Once opened use within 3 days”. Ham isn’t so delicate, though. In fact it originated as a way of storing meat through the winter – and sometimes well into the next year, until a new batch of hogs were ready for slaughter.

When my grandparents butchered their hogs, that was the cue for ham curing to start. Some hams would be buried in salt then pressed to get the blood out, washed, and hung in the root cellar to dry.

Others would be soaked in brine for a week or two, then hung up. The brined ones were ready to eat as soon as they’d dried; the others developed a richer flavor, but had to be left to cure for months.

Lard

How To Stockpile Lard, The Calorie Rich Survival Food Of The Great DepressionIf there’s one thing this site seems to love as much as articles about surviving an EMP attack, it’s articles about lard. That makes perfect sense to me, because lard is a great survival food. It’s healthier than a lot of modern spreads, and even butter.

It’s versatile, and can be used for frying, baking and general cooking, as well as an ingredient in some delicious baked goods. It can be used to preserve meat. It’s rich in calories and also has plenty of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Best of all, it’s easy to make and stores for a long time.

My grandmother made her own lard every fall when the hogs were slaughtered. Butcher a well-fed hog and you’ll end up with plenty of fat. To the horror of today’s health-conscious foodies this wasn’t thrown away.

It was cut into small cubes, put in a pan with a little water, then slowly rendered down over a low to medium heat. After a couple of hours she was left with a basket of delicious pork cracklins and pints of lard. Poured into jars, pressure canned and stored in the root cellar, that lard would last a year or more.

Related: How To Make Delicious Lard With 2 Years Shelf-Life (+ 5 Tasty Recipes)

Maple Syrup

5 Survival Foods Your Grandmother Used To MakeNutritionists might hate sugar, but it’s a great survival food. Easy to digest, packed with calories and useful for preserving other foods, sugar is something we all stockpile.

Our reserves won’t last forever, though, and what do we do once the last spoonful of sugar is gone?

Not many of us want to go through the hassle of growing, then cutting, sugar cane and building a press to extract the juice. Luckily there’s an alternative sweetener that’s much easier to produce.

My grandfather used to tap a couple dozen maple trees for their sap every spring. Once he’d filled enough buckets with sap my grandma would slowly boil and skim it until it was reduced to a thick, sweet syrup. We ate that on pancakes, but it’s also a great all-round sweetener.

Sauerkraut

Fermented cabbage isn’t to everyone’s taste, but if you can’t get your hands on fresh greens for a while you’ll be grateful for a source of essential vitamins. Sauerkraut was developed as a way of preserving cabbage for long-term storage, and it used to be a regular item in the fall canning season.

If your food reserves are based around dry goods and canned meat, digging out your grandmother’s old sauerkraut recipe will let you add some much-appreciated vegetables to your diet.

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Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason November 2, 2018 08:37
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22 Comments

  1. PB dave November 2, 14:49

    Survival ?
    That was an everyday mentality , serve 3 squares a day and waste nothing.

    Reply to this comment
  2. wan November 2, 15:57

    Great survival food

    Reply to this comment
  3. Wannabe November 2, 16:21

    One thing I learned from my grandma is she was a spoiled brat who didn’t do any of these things. She even gave up cooking at a certain age because she was just too old to do it. Kudos to those out there who had grandmas who were like this. My wife’s grandma was a trooper and made meals until she replaced the sugar content with salt. Not good for cobblers that’s for sure. She always made great brisquette though even well into her eighties. Wish my daughters were interested in this stuff, they would learn a lot but all they care about are sports, electronics and ask all the time, hey dad, what’s for supper?

    Reply to this comment
    • Doodle Bug November 5, 04:24

      I have a WWII cookbook my aunt gave me. It has a section on wild game, if I wanted to cook possum I could. My aunt tought me to skin a rabbit and make fried rabbit ,gravy and butter milk biscuits. I can make deer hash and squriaI stew. Thanks to her. She also worked third shift in a cotton mill. Thats not even half of what she did.

      Reply to this comment
    • Clergylady November 5, 17:08

      You should require they at least help with some meals. They do need to learn.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Linda November 2, 17:09

    How come no one mentions scrapple? It’s everything left over from the pig except the squeal with cornmeal and spices. It’s easy to make and stores for a long time. Just slice it, fry it, smother with Apple butter. Yummy.

    Reply to this comment
    • lraude November 3, 01:44

      You can also use honey, jam, ketchup, or what ever you had for scrapple. I grew up on it and now living in the deep South am able to get it made by Jones co. To me served with eggs sunny side up is Heaven.

      Reply to this comment
    • Lindylou November 5, 05:03

      I’d never heard of scrapple!

      Reply to this comment
    • sawyer45306 November 5, 13:06

      There other names for basically the same thing in differing regions of the USA. Some know of it as Goetta, and I grew up calling it Gritz, with a Z, not an S as the corn meal is spelled. We used pin oats or buck wheat instead of the cornmeal to bind it.

      Reply to this comment
      • Rick Fortune November 6, 18:02

        Another great product of like composition is from a company in Milwaukee, WI named Glorious Malones. A family owned company who has built a home kitchen business into a proud business that employees local folks ansd contributes to it’s neighborhood.

        Reply to this comment
  5. Ben November 2, 19:07

    This was a way of life back then.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Big Dave November 3, 02:18

    Deceased friend of mine told that he lived with his grand parents as a boy. In the fall they butcherd hogs and he helped his grandad fry porkchops and steaks which were then layered in a large stone crock and covered in hot lard, layer by layer. The crock was then stored in the cold cellar by the spring, Each morning Grandad would dig ot a couple chops and finish frying them with sliced potatoes for breakfast.
    Another use for lard.

    Reply to this comment
  7. hilly7 November 3, 03:52

    We didn’t have Maple Syrup, we had Molasses.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Clergylady November 3, 14:27

    Mom, born 1904 in Bucks County Pennsylvania, learned to do most of those thing and more.
    Good article.
    I grew up drying food on screenes and canning fruits and vegetables. I still love good fresh food the best. That means a garden or farmers market is a “must have” part of my meal planning.
    I live by three groups of Indiginous people here. They make a lot of jerkey. Most is raw, unseasoned, elk, venison, or beef. They eat it by enjoying a piece to nibble on frequently or as a basis for stews at other times of the year. A favorite medicine, or in tiny bits for seasoning, is the needles from juniper bushes that dot our high mountain desert area. The flavor is much like rosemary. They get salt crystals from a salt lake. A bowl of broken up crystals sits on the table so you can add your own salt to taste. Most native dishes weren’t cooked with any salt or just a tiny bit. There is a tiny wild celery here and wild onions. Those are eaten in season and dried for later.
    Most food preservation here involved drying foods for future use. Wild fruits, native dent corns, plants for seasoning or medicine were used fresh or dried.
    They grow a sort of blue gray Hubbard winter squash. Kept cool, it will keep till spring. It can also be thinly sliced and sun dried for adding to stews. I love it’s thick richness in the broth of stews. Corn was dried raw for grinding into meal or roasted in the outdoor ovens then hung up to dry for adding to stews. The blue corn was ground for tortillas after becoming a sort of hominy made with ashes then dried. It was also dried and ground raw to make a winter time hot gruel that was drunk with a pinch of salt. I like it with a pinch of sugar and butter. Very not traditional.
    The native communities have gardens near streams or springs. Corn fields are usually dependant on summer monsoons. Many groups have a communal area near a stream where they grow wild seedling fruits.
    Fruits were sun or shade dried. Without our modern methods and products the fruits all browned but they are still tasty to nibble or stew for the off season.
    Last frost is usually in mid April- early May while first frost is usually in September with snow falling in October or November. That leaves a 4-6 month growing season with Mostly cool nights. Food preservation was survival. Many families with older members still practice that way of life but sadly many young people are growing up without that knowledge or experience.
    Most still gather and dry a wild plant used for tea. It full of vitamins and minerals so it’s important for survival and pleasure. Its good hot or cold, so it’s used year around. It is gathered in August. Enough to last a year must be gathered in the few weeks it is available. It is made into little bundles that are hung up indoors to dry.
    Preparing for the year was essential to the survival of every family. There was a time of year for each hunt except deer that were taken whenever possible. Birds from quail and doves to ducks and turkies were also hunted for food.
    Here in the harsh climate of high mountain desert a mix of Hunter/Gatherer and Gardening were essential. I would think it’s still a good mix in most places. I add canning in glass jars and fruit fresh sprinkled on fruits before drying.
    It used to be the way of life for everyone. I don’t so much mind things in metal cans or frozen but I like the process of growing then canning. A freezer is ok. Handy in fact. But I’ve taken my home solar, off grid, and the power for a freezer would have to be a future addition. 4, 330 w panels and 8, 220 ah batteries will run my home and a refrigerator. A microwave now and then for convenience is handy but used wisely. A washing machine is only used on sunny days to leave plenty stored in the batteries for night or low light days. My backup heat source may be my primary one in reality. It is a rocket stove with optional pellet hamper. I can burn sticks or pellets or the chips from my chipper. The secondary chamber is 16″ across and gets very hot very quickly. I kept 3 gal of water hot and cooked on that flat top area. I figure on doing the same here. My newer home is under 900 sq ft and better insulated. It should be quite comfortable with just using the rocket stove.
    I’ll still have the propane water heater, forced air heater, and cook stove and a 250 gal tank of propane. That is required for code. Hot running water for a shower will be an appreciated luxury. I won’t plan on propane as a primary heat source.
    Planning ahead is necessary for my sense of security. I grew up that ways and still live that way. If SHTF and we can stay put… Were fine for quite a while. When it snows I don’t need to get out except for church. I’m the pastor.
    When we clean up the brush and cut the elms we save everything to burn later in the rocket stove or fruit woods in the smokehouse or my BBQ. I buy a ton of pellets once a year. I don’t cut or split traditional firewood anymore. I’m about to have my 72nd birthday this winter and my husband at 80 with a pacemaker doesn’t need to be doing that. The rocket stove took care of that for us.
    I sold my old electric driven pellet stove and the fireplace insert we used to heat with. I have another insert and a fireplace sitting out in the yard. I’m thinking I might incorporate them into the outdoor kitchen I’ve planned to build next year. I’ll just use whatever is too big for the rocket stove in them. I can cut the 3-4″ stuff to length with the chainsaw. Forget splitting. I aim to cut down the elms every year. That leaves a lot of sticks and twigs. Perfect for the rocket stove or to run through the chipper. Elm isn’t a particularly hot wood but in the rocket stove mixed with pellets it boils water or frys a pan of potatoes nicely. That’s good for me. My newer chainsaw is electric. Almost $40 at Harbor Freight. The solar array has two outlets to plug into. So free power to cut up the limbs or for the chipper to handle the twigs and smaller branches.
    My next solar project is for a smaller 12v pump in my second well. That should be plenty for the newer home. Then an array and inverter to put power into the shed where my sewing and crafts will go. I need to buy the pump and submersable wire. I have most of what I need gathered up to do those projects when we get a break in the cold weather. Also I’m still moving into our home-slowly. Just what we need for now. I’ll see what we really want this way.

    Reply to this comment
    • Doodle Bug November 5, 14:49

      Your life sounds great.

      Reply to this comment
      • Clergylady November 5, 17:06

        🙂 sometimes tough but yes good. I love rural life and choose to live mostly in small communities or on rural land. I’m blessed to have 3 acres in a tiny community too small for anything but a post office and some small churches around.
        I found the repo mobil home and had it moved in from an hour away. Quite happy with it. Just three years old and in good shape. I repainted most of it to make it lighter and brighter while getting rid of blah beige. It’s insulated for zone 2. There are built in storm windows. So far very easy to heat with a camp propane stove. The rocket stove when it’s installed here will be lovely. It kept us warm last winter in a drafty 1970 doublewide with holes in the floors and walls. Coming back here feels like home but my old doublewide was badly vandalized while I was away.
        An injured arm from a fall in the spring has made work slow this year and I finally gave in and had surgery on it a few weeks ago. Now I’m even slower but that will pass. Camping in here and working a bit at a time is ok. Not in a hurry except I want my pellet stove soon. Being in the space gives me a better feel for what I can do and what will fit.
        Sort of living in both places at once right now.
        Also planing next years raised beds for the new garden.

        Reply to this comment
  9. sedley November 3, 17:12

    Wow. It looks like you copied my grandparents and my parents recipe book! All the items described (excluding ham) I prepare with my parents each fall when we have hog’s slaughtering season. It is a tradition when family and closest neighbors reunite and give help with these food items preparation. Some hog’s meat is eaten immediately and accompanied with tens of litres of beer or with a plum brandy (which we call slivovitze – another great survival item 🙂 ). Even if we can buy all the items in a supermarket now in our village everyone prefers to prepare his own ones. I am from near Pilsen (Czech republic in Central Europe).

    Reply to this comment
  10. Mad Fab November 4, 07:11

    Good article, but would love a few recipes to go along with them. Ahoy, Sedley. Knew u were Czech when u said slivicitz. My family is from Praha.🤣

    Reply to this comment
  11. Doodle Bug November 5, 04:26

    I have a WWII cookbook my aunt gave me. It has a section on wild game, if I wanted to cook possum I could. My aunt tought me to skin a rabbit and make fried rabbit ,gravy and butter milk biscuits. I can make deer hash and squriaI stew. Thanks to her. She also worked third shift in a cotton mill. Thats not even half of what she did.

    Reply to this comment
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