How to Make Lye

For many people, Fight Club was their first introduction to lye.  Beyond those people many more people still are unaware of the variety of uses that lye has, and how useful it is in the PAW.  It is used to produce soap and bio-diesel, it is used to cure food and can be used as a heavy-duty cleaner.  It is one of those things that is vital to your post-apocalyptic needs.  Lye is an alkali that can be retrieved from the ashes of hardwood (such as ash, beech, birch, oak, etc.), so making lye is as simple as drawing it out of some ashes.

At this point it should be noted that lye is extremely caustic and can cause painful and lasting damage should you get any on your skin.  If you are exposed to a chemical burn from lye, immediately rinse the exposed area under water for 15 minutes (don’t listen to Tyler Durden, that guy isn’t real and he wants to blow things up) and then tend to the wound normally to prevent infection.

  1. First, you need to have a vessel in which to store your ashes.  A barrel is a good choice, but you can use anything.
  2. Drill a hole near the bottom of the barrel and fit it with some kind of cork.
  3. Next, you need to build a basic filtration system at the bottom of the barrel, start out with  small rocks and then cover those with a thick layer of grass.  This will filter the ash and let your final product run clear.
  4. Fill your barrel with ash from hardwood.  You can simply keep all the ash from any camp fires or cooking fires you have and periodically add it into the barrel (provided they are wood fires).
  5. Once you have enough ash in the barrel (your preference), you need to add water (the softeer the better) to your barrel to let the ash soak.  Uncork the drain hole, pour water into the barrel until it starts to come out of the drain hole, then plug the drain hole again.
  6. Let the ash soak for around three days (or until a potato floats enough that a 1-inch diameter circle is above the water) and then drain the barrel into the containers you wish to store your lye in.

If you want to run a continual system, just continue to add ash and drain off the lye and add water about once a week.

This process will give you lye that is properly strong enough to make soap.  If you need a stronger solution of lye, you can boil it down.  If you need a weaker solution, add a bit of water.

Author’s Note – For as long as I’ve known how to do this, I’ve known about the potato trick (this is actually how American colonists determined the strength of lye) but I’ve never known why that determined the lye strength.  Can anyone explain why?  +100 Internet points to the person that does!

How to Make Ketchup

There’s no avoiding it: Ketchup is a staple of the American diet.  We drench our fries in it, put it on our burgers, some of us even dress our scrambled eggs in it.  Ketchup gives us a way to add flavor to what might otherwise be considered a bland meal.  Ketchup is a preserved product, meaning it will last longer than the tomatoes it is made from.  Knowing how to make ketchup can be a useful skill when you start to resettle after the Armageddon event.

The original tomato ketchup was a derivitive of a fish sauce discovered in Malaysia during the 18th century.  By the 19th century the tomato version had been created and consisted of tomatoes, salt, mace, nutmeg, allspice, clove, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper.  As the recipe evolved, vinegar replaced salt as the preserving agent, making it sweeter.  During World War II, GIs stationed in Southwest Asia saw a shortage of tomatoes and ketchup, so they invented a ketchup based on what they had available: bananas.  Banana ketchup became so wildly popular in the area that it was commercialized and is still sold and used today.  It is essentially the same as tomato ketchup just a bit sweeter.

Ketchup Recipe

  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar (3 cups per 100 tomatoes) or Salt (1/2 pound per 100 tomatoes)
  • Spices to taste (typically onion, cayenne pepper, garlic, black pepper, cinnamon, celery seed, etc)

The first thing you need to do is remove the skins.  The best way to do this is shock the tomatoes.  Boil them for about a minute and then put them in extremely cold water.  This will cause the skins to seperate from the meat of the tomato and will allow you to remove the skins fairly easily.  After removing the skins, cut the tomatoes open and scoop out the seeds and water jelly.

Simmer the tomatoes until they are mushy enough to be pushed through a sieve (usually about 30 minutes).  Surprise, surprise – the next step is to run your tomatoes through a sieve.  Add your spices to the tomato puree and cook between 200 °F and 325 °F for about 12 hours.

You will end up with about 60 ounces of ketchup for every 100 tomatoes you use.  Remember to store it in sealable containers to prevent contamination and enjoy a little luxury in an otherwise bleak existence.

Further Reading

How to Brew Beer

Post-apocalyptic life is hard.  Every day that goes by it’ll feel harder.  That’s why it’s imperative that you find a little joy where you can.  One thing you might try is brewing your own beer.  It’s also helpful if society starts getting back on its feet since people will gladly barter for alcohol.

Beer brewing has been around for centuries and hasn’t always been as precise a science as it is today.  The basics of beer brewing are:

  1. Soak malted grain in hot water to release malt sugars.
  2. Boil the malt sugar solution with hops for flavoring.
  3. Cool the solution and add yeast to begin fermentation.
  4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.
  5. After fermentation is complete add sugar and bottle to create carbonation.

Depending on the ingredients you use, these steps can make an infinite number of flavors of beer.  Sadly, some of these ingredients will be hard to come by in the PAW.


Barley is the type of grain typically used to make beer, but you can pretty much use any type of grain.  You can scavenge grain for all kinds of places.


Unfortunately, unless you live in Germany, the Northwest US, or the UK, you probably aren’t going to be able to find hops for your brew.  You could always scavenge at a local Co-Op or brewing supply store for hops and yeast, but its not a renewable resource.  This isn’t a show stopper, hops are just for flavoring and aroma so we can actually make beer without them.


Yeast in a concentrated form is difficult to come by as well.  But unlike hops, yeast occurs naturally pretty much everywhere in nature, so it’s just a matter of exposing your concoction to the elements for a little while.

Armageddon Brew

  1. First you need to malt your grains (about 5 pounds).  This can be accomplished by toasting them near a fire.
  2. Now you need to boil the malted grains in 5 gallons of water for about an hour.  At this point, if you have them, add about 2 ounces of hops.  At this point, your concoction is called “wort”.
  3. While the wort is chilling it, place it in a field or forest for a few days where it can gather the wild yeast in the air, just make sure to put a screen of some kind over the wort so no leaves or twigs or other contaminants get into it.
  4. Under ideal temperatures (60-70F), the yeast will need roughly 1 month to complete the fermentation process.  Add time for colder temperatures and subtract for warmer temperatures.  If the temperature is too extreme, the yeast will die and the fermentation process will terminate before completion.  You can tell the wort is done fermenting when it stops bubbling.
  5. At this point, add 3/4 of a cup of sugar to the beer, stir it up and bottle it.  Let it sit for about a week and it should be properly carbonated.

So kick back with your tasty beer and forget about life for a while.

Bannock on a Green Stick

  • 1-cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk powder

Mix all the ingredients well, making sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout. Sometimes I will melt the butter before adding it to the mixture. Then slowly add water while mixing until a dough ball is formed.

Make the bannock dough into a cigar shape and wrap it around a green stick. Try to keep the thickness of the dough about ½ inch.

Slowly roast the bannock over a hot fire, rotating occasionally until it turns a golden brown. You will hear the butter sizzling and your stomach rumble as the bannock cooks.

Unleavened Bread

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (extra for dusting)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water

The idea for this recipe came from I Kings 17:10-16, the story of Elijah and the widow.

Combine the ingredients, then put dough onto floured surface. Knead for five minutes, then roll out until about 1/8 inch thick. Cook for about 20 minutes.

Homemade Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water

In large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, yeast and warm water.  Stir until dough pulls cleanly away from side of bowl.

Knead 10 minutes, adding a little flour at a time, if dough feels sticky.  Put in bowl to rise and cover with a towel to keep any contaminants out. Let rise until double, then punch down.  Let rise on counter covered with inverted bowl for 15 minutes.

Shape into a loaf and place in your cooking container.  Let rise in warm place about 1 hour or until it has risen about 1 inch above pans. Bake for 45 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow.

How to Make Jerky

Jerky is a classic travel food.  It’s lightweight, nutritional, and it lasts for a long time.  In the apocalypse, it will also serve as a way to preserve excess meat.  After all, one can only eat so much venison after killing the deer before it spoils.  If you have ever made jerky before, you probably made it using a food dehydrator or the oven.  Clearly this won’t work when gas and electricity are no longer available, so how does one make jerky?  For this we hop in the Wayback Machine and set the year to 1492.  Native Americans, by this point, had developed the technique for curing and drying meat to preserve it for long periods of time.  This is the same technique that has evolved into the modern jerky recipe.

There are two different ways to jerk meat in a post apocalyptic world: sun-dried and smoked.  Smoked is the preferred method, since it takes less time and the meat is less likely to spoil during the process.  But, if you have no alternative, sun drying your meat is still a legitimate alternative.

Initial Preparation

First thing you need to do, regardless of which drying method you choose, is to slice the meat.  The thinner the strips, the quicker it will dry.  I would suggest going no thicker than a quarter inch.  If you have a sharp enough knife, I’d even go as thin as an eigth of an inch thick.  When cutting the meat you should cut against the grain.  Cutting against the grain makes for more tender jerky which you will thank yourself for later.

You need to make sure that you retard bacteria growth on the meat until it has fully dried.  Once the meat is fulled jerked the bacteria will not be able to survive (since there is no water left in the meat), but until then the bacteria can cause spoilage which will ruin your jerky.  The simplest way to stunt the bacteria growth is by curing the meat with a basic salt rub.  Fuuly coat the meat in salt and rub it in thoroughly.  If you want to add some flavor to your meat, you can mix is some honey, brown sugar, chili peppers, etc.

Now it’s time to start drying the meat.

Sun-Dried Jerky

***DISCLAIMER*** You should note that this is not an FDA approved method for making jerky because it is unreliable and there is a chance of spoilage.  If you decide to use this method, take extra precaution to avoid getting sick from your jerky.

You can lay you meat out wherever you want, just make sure you put it somewhere that will get direct sunlight for most of the day.  You can lay it on any surface you want, just make sure it’s clean.  Better yet, tie your meat strips up with string so it hangs in the air.  This allows it to sun and air dry at the same time, speeding up the drying process.  Drying your jerky this way will take 16-24 hours of direct sunlight, so several days work.

There are two concerns to address when sun drying your jerky.  The first, and most pesky, is insects.  You can be sure that your jerky will attract the attention of insects like flies, which can carry bacteria onto your jerky, spoil the meat, and ruin your batch.  The second concern is dew.  You need to make sure your jerky will not accumulate morning dew.  Otherwise it will absorb the moisture and put you back a while, potentially far enough that bacteria manages to spoil your jerky.

Smoked Jerky

You can build yourself a permanent smoker if you are in a more permanent situation (I plan on writing about how to build on in the future).  If not, you can make a makeshift smoker in a few minutes.

The first thing you need is a cover to hold the smoke in.  The easiest way to do this is to make a teepee to cover your firepit.  Just tie three branches (made of living wood so it doesn’t catch fire) together to make a tripod, then wrap something around it to hold the smoke in.  Ensure there is a hole at the top for some of the smoke to escape.  Dig a hole in the ground that is slightly smaller than the diameter of your teepee.  Either make a grate out of living wood or scrounge a metal grate from a department store/abandoned house/etc. and place it over top of the hole.

Make a fire in the firepit and let it burn down to coals.  Place your meat on top of the grate and then put living or soaked wood on top of the coals.  The reason to use living or soaked wood is because either one will cause a lot more smoke and will help prevent it from flaming up and actually scorching your meat.  DO NOT use Pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, cypress, cedar, larch or any pines, conifers or evergreens for your smoking wood!  These will either ruin the flavor of the meat or potentially create posionous smoke that can affect your jerky negatively.  For better flavor, use hickory, alder, cotton wood, apple wood or mesquite as they produce a flavorful smoke.  This will take roughly 6-8 hours to finish.

Final Steps

You can tell when the jerky is finished by trying to bend a piece in half.  If its done, it will start to snap when bent.

After your jerky is done, keep it as dry as possible and it will last you for at least 2-3 months.

How to Make Mulligan Stew

Mulligan stew goes by many names: irish stew, hotch-potch, hot pot, burgoo.  This recipe is believed to have first originated in the early 20th century in hobo camps.  The beauty of this recipe is that its not so much a recipe as it is a guideline.  If you’ve ever heard the story of stone soup, mulligan stew is the epitome of this idea.  The idea was that a bunch of hobos would get together and add whatever they could scrounge or scavenge together in a pot and cook it.

Mulligan stew is essentially the combination of chunks of meat and chunks of vegetables.  It doesn’t matter what kind of meat or what kind of vegetables because it will all come together just fine in the end.  To make the stew, you need a pot and a fire.  Cut whatever meat and vegetables you have into bite-sized pieces and put in the pot.  Fill the pot up with water just enough to cover the contents.  Place the pot on the fire, covered, for at least 2 hours.

Example Recipe:

  • 1 pound of meat
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 onion
  • 8 ounces of mushrooms
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 6 ounces of tomato paste
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 can of beer
  • 6 carrots
  • 2 potatoes
  • parsley

Further Reading: