Primitive Cooking Methods
There are two very important elements to successful primitive cooking. First you must have something to cook. For this you may want to consult our booklets entitled “Primitive Survival Techniques” or “Primitive Hunting & Fishing Technologies”. Cooking in the wilderness can be accomplished very effectively if you use their head. Plan out what you intend to do and then look around you. There are plenty of natural materials in a natural setting to provide whatever you will need, whether it be for your fire or utensils or shelter.
There are many techniques to cooking in the wild, some require you to production some sort of primitive tool or container and some techniques that require no other utensils. For these you would utilizing only the fire and the coals. In most cases, unless you are toasting, browning or reflection cooking, which requires the fire itself, everything else that you prepare will require no more than the heat of the coals. Cooking over an open flame, which will burn the outside of what you are cooking and still leave the inside unpleasantly uncooked, is one of the most common mistakes made by the novice outdoor primitive food preparer. Flames are much hotter than coals and much more inconsistent in heat their distribution. You will have far less control over your heat.
Furthermore, all woods do not burn at the same rate. A quick thumbnail hint is that hardwoods burn slow and hot, soft woods burn cooler and faster. You should also avoid using pine wood to cook with. It will make a quick and hot warming fire but it should never be used as a cooking wood. Whatever you are cooking you need to have plenty of coals. For this reason it is a good idea to keep a fire going producing coals while you use another area of your fire ring or a separate fire ring or pit to cook in where you may constantly transfer coals as needed, thereby, keeping an adequate supply of hot coals on hand. You can avoid getting burned with about five minutes work making yourself a coal stick. To do this find a green stick about 4″ in diameter and about 3-4′ long. Split this down the middle from one end about half way. At the bottom of the split, tie off the stick with rope, string, bark, sinew, whatever. This will keep the split from continuing down the length of the stick. You now have a tool that is springy and it will stir coals, pick up coals or add wood to the center of your fire, all without getting you burned. Add additional kindling or wood as needed to keep the fire burning well.
Your cooking success will be more assured if you plan on what type of fire will serve you best for what you are trying to cook. Never build a fire larger than you need it to be. There are many choices of fire pit styles and each has its advantages over others depending on the materials at hand and what you are planning to prepare. Some of these are as follows:
This is the best fire for small animals such as a rabbit or squirrel.
Over the top of a basic pit fire, build a dangle rod or tripod. Then wrap the body of your prey with string, twine, sinew, etc. You may even want to wet this cord before securing it to the animal. Leave enough cord to allow your prey to dangle near or over the fire. By giving it an occasional spin you will find that this allows the meat to turn and therefore cook evenly. Be smart here however. You don’t want it to dangle close enough to the fire for it burn the string and/or scorch the meat. It is also a good plan if you use a reflector in conbination with the dangling method. You may also wish to catch the drippings for making gravy or for flavoring of some of your other creations.
FLAT STONE COOKING
A flat stone either pre-heated in the fire or placed over two other stones and hot coals raked beneath much like a grill, will make a fine griddle for cooking hotcakes, eggs, meat or anything that you would normally cook on a griddle. This works best if you have an extra good source of hot coals and you preheat the stones well first. If you utilize some grease or fats from your prey on the top of the stone first, this will minimize the sticking which so often aggravates novices in this type of cooking.
HOT ROCK COOKING
For hot rock cooking you will need a container of some sort. A burn and scrape bowl, a tightly woven basket coated with rawhide glue or pine pitch that will hold water or a gourd bowl. Liquid is then placed in the container f or stew or for purifying and rocks are heated in the fire You will need several of these, about the size of a large egg. Do not use rocks found in or near to the water. These may hold water within them and they may well explode when you are heating them. You will also need some sort of hot rock handling device like the coal stick spoken of earlier. When the rocks are nice and hot place them one at a time into the water with the thongs. The heat in the rocks will be transferred to the water, gradually causing it to boil. You then remove the rocks from the liquid, place them back into the fire, so they will heat up again. You continue doing this until your dinner is served. You may wish to manufacture a simple basket with a handle to place the hot rocks in to lower them into the liquid with, thus making them easier to remove. If you are using naturally secured water you should purify it. You can easily purify water by boiling it for at least five minutes.
A spit is a green stick used to skewer your meats or vegetables and then held over the coalsin some manner. You may do this by hand or support the spit with two forked sticks. You may also us this method in conjunction with the dangle method. The easiest way is to secure the bottom of your forked stick a stone or stuck or simply stuck into the ground. You may even use this method to bake bread. Take the dough and form it into what looks like a snake and then coil wrap it around the stick. Bake it over the heat of the coals. Just remember to turn it often you are only browning it. When cooking meat you may encounter the problem of the meat not turning with the stick, as you turn it. A simple solution to this problem could be to drill two or three small holes in the middle of the stick you are using to skewer with. Whittle two smaller sticks that will fit through the diameter of the holes you just drilled snugly, pointing them on one end. Then you can skewer your prey and pierce the body through with the two smaller sticks, through the drilled holes and through the other side of the meat you are cooking. Now, it will turn. You can also bind the meat with cord to keep legs and wings from dangling and falling into the fire as they cook.
Nuts, berries, seeds, grasshoppers, tubers and such may be parched in a basket or bowl by shaking them round in a container with some hot coals. These may be eaten or ground up and added to stews. Many of these items may also be ground into a flower from which you might make a dough. This is also a good method for long term storage of these items.
Remember, you are primitive cooking so you must utilize what nature provides. This may be as simple as several short logs stacked on top of one another to the height of two to three feet and staked on each side to keep from tumbling down or it could be constructed to have three sides thus utilizing more heat. The reflector should be placed behind the prey being cooked. In this way the prey being cooked will be between the reflector and.the fire, thus reflecting the heat of the fire and cooking the prey thoroughly. The reflector method can be used in conjunction with many of the other cooking methods. In addition to its value as a cooking method, the warmth it can provide you by situating your shelter between the fire and the reflector, thus reflecting some of the heat back to you.
DIRECT COAL COOKING
To cook using this method you place your items right on the bed of coals. A great many foods may be cooked by utilizing this method If you use hardwood coals then you will have very little to no ash to stick to your food. Bread dough prepared by flattening it into pancakes or rolling into balls and placing these directly on the coals. When the outside is browned thoroughly, remove them from the coals and break them open. After you have let them cool a bit you may eat the bread from inside. The outside is usually too burned to eat by the time the inside is done but the inside should be very tasty. Steaks may be laid directly on the coals and turned frequently. Laying meat directly on the coals really sears and seals the meat’s natural juices in and makes it one of the juiciest steak you’ll ever eat. Tubers, such as potatoes can be cooked this way. You should bury them in the coals. Poke them from time to time to see if they are tender, thus done. Don’t let the hard feel of the outer layer deceive you though. The longer they stay in the coals the thicker this outer layer will get, as it burns. Corn on the cob, soaked in the husk and laid on the coals steams corn very well. Some folks like to take bark or tanned deer hide and soak it. Then the items desired to be cooked are placed onto the bark or skins and then the top of the skin or another layer of bark is placed on the top. This method will keep your food more tender, but it does take longer to cook and is really rough on the skins.
THE ORIENTAL STEAM PIT
This is a favorite method of the Orientals even today. A steam pit is nothing more than a pit dug large enough to hold the items your planning to cook. Line the pit with stones and build a fire in the pit. This will heat the rocks surrounding it. After you have a good bed of coals, remove the bulk of the fire and most of the coals. The remaining coals are then covered with a layer of ash and/or wet grasses. Place whatever you are cooking on the top of the grass and then pile more grasses over this. Wet this slightly, not enough to cool the rocks down, just enough to cause steam. Grasses taken from marshy areas seem to work best for this as they are used to the water and will not break down so rapidly when wet. Then, seal the opening of the pit with a flat rock and place dirt all over the structure. You do not need not be constantly attending this type of fire. Thus you can set this up in the morning, spend the day hunting, hiking or fishing and have a tasty meal awaiting your returen. It is very important to not open the pit until the food is done. So, you will need to get a reasonable estimate of the necessary cooking time before you utilize this type of cooking system. You need not worry about food over cooking in the steam pit for it is cooling down the whole time it is cooking. Also, since it is buried you need not worry about animals eating it before you get to it. This is also one of the best ways to maintain the nutrition content because this method will steam in all of the vitamins as well as all the flavor.
Meat or fish may be cooked on a board or plank by securing the meat to the board by tying it or pegging it in some manner. Then simply place the board near the fire, with the meat side facing the fire until it is done. Do not use pine. Do not use a commercially produced slab of wood. Use what nature has left for you. This way you can be sure to avoid the tonix elements of the wood to transfer into the meat plus pine will give your meat a funny and to me an unpleasant taste. You may use the reflector method in conjunction with this type of preparation.
Cooking meat by covering it with clay and baking it in the coals has the effect of a clay oven or kiln and it will steam the meat until it is tender and juicy in its own juices. To use this method acquire some good sticky clay or mud, and smather it over the entire item you are cooking. Good clay can be found in river banks or in shallow holes near consistent water sources. If you take a moment to remove the sticks, stones and other items from your clay you will have a substance that will be easy to work with and will be less likely to shatter when it is heated. Punch a hole with a small stick through the top of your clay mound. This will allow the steam to escape, thus again minimizing the possibility of a shatter. Place it directly into hot coals and cover it with more coals, in effect, bury it in coals. But, be careful not to cover up your steam hole, which of course eliminates the reason for the hole in the first place. You may wish to place herbs and spices in the body cavity. Any animal you skin and eviscerate should be covered with some non-toxic leaves like yucca or grape leaves before covering it with clay. In the case of a fresh, wild fish or fowl, you need not even remove feathers or scales as these will pull off as you remove the clay. It is also not necessary to eviscerate fresh, wild fish or fowl for the entrails cook into a tiny ball in the body cavity that is easily raked out when it is finished cooking and does not taint the flavor of the meat. Don’t do this with domestic fowl like chickens. The work entirely different than wild fowl.
Lash together two tripods that will stand independently. Now lash as many horizontal poles across the front and back as you will need to cook on. There is no need to make this rack any larger or taller than you will need for the amount of meat you have to cook. Now lay strips of meat you wish to cook along the length of the poles draping them down over either side of the pole. Fish cook up really well on this type of rack. Just cut fresh fish open, eviscerate, spread open and breaking the backbone in several places. Do not skin them as the skin will help to hold the meat together as it cooks. Lay the open fish over the rack with the meat side out and skin side down. The rack should be placed near your fire where the meat will catch the smoke coming off of the fire, but not too close, you don’t want to burn up your rack. As your fire burns down to coals, place a layer of the coals beneath the rack, also. This is a slow cooking process that smokes the meat and flavors it to perfection and the smoke will help keep away the unwanted insects while it is cooking. You may also cook the meat to the point that it dries into jerky. This is the best way to preserve your meats for later use. Dried fish is not all that tasty, but dried fish may be ground, bones and all, into a fine powder that can be added to stews later for the added nourishment.
It is a good idea to know how hot the fire or coals are that you wish to cook on. There is a simple method for determining the temperature of the fire or coals. Hold your hand over the spot that you intend to cook at about three inches above. Count how long it takes before you feel the need to move your hand away because it is too hot. Just as when you were a child count one-one thousand, two-one thousand etc. If you move your hand at or before one-one thousand, you have a very hot fire of between 450-500 degrees. Two to three counts and you have a 400-450 degree hot fire. Four to five is a moderate, 350-400 degree fire and six counts or more is a cool fire and probably not much value to you as a cooking fire.
In summation, just because you are utilizing primitive cooking methods, this doesn't mean that you cannot enjoy a nutritious, palatable, pleasing dinner. A little experimentation will pay off fine dividends before you try to impress your friends and neighbors. The first key is preparation. The second is consistency and the third is patience. If you have these three keys in proper place you will be pleased with the results.