How to Build an Oven

In the P.A.W., it would be nice to be able to make a nice loaf of bread or even just cook something without using a campfire and risking burning your food all the time.  This isn’t as far-fetched of an idea as you may think.  In fact, you could build an oven to use while you’re travelling if you have the time.

The basic premise of cooking in a conventional oven is cooking by convection.  When you bake a loaf of bread in a modern conventional oven, the heating elements in the oven heat the air closest to the flames, causing it to rise, moving the colder air near the flames and repeating the process until the air inside the oven is a relatively uniform temperature.  You then place the bread dough in the heated air of the oven.  The heated air transfers its heat into the dough, causing the temperature of the dough to rise to roughly the same temperature as the air around it.  At this temperature, the ingredients in the dough cook and eventually you have bread.

Earth Oven

The easiest and quickest oven you can build is an earth oven.  You don’t need anything too special or permanent to build it – just some mud and a fire.  The basic concept of an earth oven is that you are creating an enclosed space that holds the heated air required to oven cook anything.

Because dirt/mud is exceptional at holding, we’ll use mud to build the shell of our oven.  We use mud because it is malleable until it drys, at which time it will hold its shape.  The first thing we need to do though, is find a way to make our oven space hollow.  The easiest way to do this is to use wet sand.  We can shape the wet sand into whatever form we want and the mud won’t destroy that shape, and dry sand is just as easy to remove from our oven as wet sand would be.  So we first make a mold for our hollow space, then we coat the mold with several inches of mud.  The thicker the mud walls, the more heat it will retain for longer.  Let the mud dry into a hardened mound, then cut an opening into one side of the mound all the way to the sand/molding material.  Dig out all of the sand/molding material and you now have an oven!  Build a fire inside the oven to heat the walls of the oven.  Once your oven is to temperature and the outside of the oven is hot to the touch, put out your fire and remove all of the fire material from the inside of the oven.  Place your food inside the oven and cover the hole up to avoid letting any heat escape.  Eventually, your food will be cooked.

Pompeii Oven

The Pompeii oven is a precursor to the modern brick oven, commonly used in pizzerias.  The Pompeii oven works on the same principles as an earth oven, and is actually the evolutionary successor to the earth oven, but it is more permanent and used with the fire still inside the oven while cooking.

For convenience, a Pompeii oven is built at around waist height or higher (because who really wants to crouch all the time while they are cooking?).  This is best acheived by building a dais out of brick or stone or some other material that is fire proof and resistant to age and the elements.

Then you want to build a slab that the oven will be built onto.  You might be fancy/lucky enough to have concrete and rebar to make this slab from, otherwise go for a material that is fire proof and resistant to age and the elements.

When considering bricks or brick material for building your oven, there are two factors to consider:

  1. Can the material withstand high temperatures? (refraction)
  2. How well can it reflect heat? (conductivity)

Ideally, you want a high refraction, low conductivity material because it won’t be destroyed by the heat of the oven and it will reflect heat given off by the fire efficiently.  Firebricks (bricks made of a type of clay composed of high levels of alumina and silica) are the ideal material, but ceramic and clay will work just as well.

Lay out a pattern of bricks on your slab for the floor of your oven.  Most people use an offset pattern for the floor because it prevents a seam in the floor which can cause your food to snag when putting it in or taking it out of your oven.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you lay them out as long as they are tightly lined up with each other to prevent heat leakage.

To form the dome of the oven, you can either build it free standing, or over a wet sand mold as with the earth oven.  Building the dome free standing, you will lay the bricks one layer at a time and let the mortar dry before moving on, occassionally adding a wedge between rows of bricks to account for curvature.  Don’t forget to leave space for an opening!

If you don’t have access to modern mortar, you can use clay, mud, pitch (tar), or you can make your own.  Essentially, you just need something that will bind to your bricks to make a solid structure.

When building the door and door frame for the oven, you want to ensure that your door is at least slightly bigger than the opening in the oven.  This will ensure that the door doesn’t swing into the oven and, when closed, forms a seal to heat and moisture leakage from inside the oven.  Don’t make it an airtight seal.  An airtight seal will cause what is known as backdraft: The flame will go down as it burns through the existing oxygen, then when you open the door the onslaught of fresh oxygen causes the fire to roar back up, potentially exploding out the opening of the oven and burning you.  The door itself can be made from whatever you can manage: a hunk of scrap metal, dried mud, a rock, an old oven door, etc.

It is also a good idea to build a chimney into the door frame so that smoke and hot air have an escape path that isn’t your face.  _Don’t put a chimney into the oven itself!_  This fundamentally defeats the functionality of the oven.

After your oven is built, you need to purge it of any excess moisture.  This curing process ensures that your oven doesn’t crack when in regular use.  To do this, build a small fire for 6 hours each day for 5 days.  Start at 300F and increase by 50F each day.  If you can’t accurately guage temperature, just build a small fire and increase the size each day for 5 days.

Once you’re ready to actually start cooking with your oven, start you’re fire near the front of the oven and once it gets going, push it off to one side or the back and let the oven heat until the outside is hot to the touch.  Then cook to your hearts content!

Found on the Internet: How to Field Strip a Squirrel

No matter what the situation, a fella’s gotta eat!  And you can only survive on berries and spam for so long before you go crazy.  If you trap or hunt an animal, you need to know how to gut it down to it’s edible goodies.  Squirrels are one of the more prevalent varmints in North America and are easy to set traps for.  Creek Stewart explains step-by-step how to field strip a squirrel in a surprisingly bloodless and efficient way.

How to Field Dress a Squirrel [via The Art of Manliness Blog]

Found on the Internet: Thermos Cooking

Cooking over an open camp fire isn’t exactly the most predictable way to cook.  It’s easy to char the outside of a meal, while leaving the inside raw or under cooked.  Cooking in a pan is even more unpredictable, plus you constantly have to monitor your meal to ensure it doesn’t burn.  However, boiling water over a campfire turns out the same result every time – boiled water.  If you have a thermos, you can add boiling water to your ingredients, let them simmer for a while and when you come back, you’ve got a properly cooked (read unburned) meal waiting for you.

http://www.thermoscooking.com/

Found on the Internet: How to Make a Bow from Hardware Store Items

Having the right tools is important to survival.  Having a bow could be the difference between “making it” and starving to death.  You may not be able to get your hands on a fancy compound bow, but Instructables user dejapong shows us how to build a makeshift bow for less than $20 worth of materials from a hardware store.

Make a Bow for Under Twenty Bucks [via Instructables]

Bad Plants: What Not to Eat in the Wild

Growing up, we had a yew bush in our front yard and my parents had to almost constantly tell me not to eat the berries from this bush.  They looked so vibrant and delicious-looking that I couldn’t help but be tempted.  It turns out that had I given in to this temptation I would have been perfectly fine as the berries themselves aren’t poisonous, but the entire rest of the plant is (It’s reputed that some bowyers have died from handling too much yew wood while making bows).  There are many plants in nature that rely on their toxicity to survive.  Unfortunately, we humans are incapable of detecting this poison where the natural world has ways of telling.  So we have to rely on our wits to help us avoid these plants.

An easy (but tedious) way of determining a plants toxicity is to look for signs of other animals eating parts of it or observing the plant to see if any animals eat it.  Some animals aren’t affected by poisons that affect humans so this doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t poisonous, it just makes it less likely to be poisonous.

Universal Edibility Test

If you encounter a plant that you think may be safe to eat, you should conduct the Universal Edibility Test on it to ensure that it is, in fact, safe to eat.  The UET minimizes your chances of being injured or dying from contacting a poisonous plant.  It is a long and tedious process, but it could very well save your life.  You must have an empty stomach at the start of the test so you need to fast for at least 8 hours before you start.

  1. Separate the plant into five basic parts: leaves, roots, stems, buds, and flowers.  Some plants have parts that are edible while the rest is poisonous (as with yew bushes).  Separating each part lets you test the individual pieces to determine its edibility.
  2. Rub a part of the plant on a bit of sensitive skin (wrist, inside of the knee or elbow, etc.) and wait eight hours.  During the waiting period, you shouldn’t eat anything, but it is acceptable to drink water (and only water).  Throughout the waiting period, watch out for a burning sensation, redness, welts, or bumps on the skin.  These indicate that you are having a reaction to the plant, and if it affects your skin, it will affect your stomach.  If you encounter any of these reactions, rinse your skin, wait 8 hours, and start the test over with a new piece of plant.
  3. It has been shown that some toxins that were present in a plant raw were not present after boiling the plant.  If you have the means to boil the plant, then do so.
  4. Whether or not you boiled the plant, place the plant against your lips for three minutes.  If you feel any burning or tingling, remove the plant, rinse your lips and start over with a new piece of plant.
  5. Taste the plant for 15 minutes without chewing.  If you experience burning, tingling or any other unpleasant sensations.  Discard the plant, rinse your mouth, and start over with a new piece of plant.  Remember that just because it tastes bad doesn’t mean it’s poisonous.
  6. Chew the plant thoroughly and leave on your tongue for 15 minutes.  DON’T SWALLOW!  Again, if you experience any burning, numbness, or tingling spit out the plant, rinse your mouth, and start over with a new piece of plant.
  7. Swallow the soggy, masticated bit of plant.  Now you get to wait another eight hours while watching for signs of nausea.  You can only drink water during this time.  If your feel nauseous at any point during the 8 hours, induce vomiting and drink lots of water.
  8. Eat about a quarter cup of the plant (specifically the part you have been testing) in the same manner as you’ve tested to this point (just without all the waiting).  Once you get it all down, wait for adverse effects again for eight hours, only drinking water.  If you feel sick, induce vomiting, drink lots of water and start over.

At this point the plant part can be considered safe to eat, just don’t gorge on it.

Signs To Avoid

Memorizing all the plants in an area can be tedious, and will do you no good if you are surviving in a different area, but that doesn’t mean that you’re totally screwed.  There are some surefire ways to determine if a plant is poisonous or not:

  • Plants with shiny leaves.
  • Don’t eat mushrooms. Some are perfectly safe, but others are highly toxic and it’s very difficult to differentiate between species of mushrooms.  Also, mushrooms don’t offer much in the way of nutrition so they really aren’t worth the risk.
  • Umbrella-shaped flowers.
  • plants with milky or discolored sap.
  • Bitter or soapy taste.
  • Smells like almonds.
  • Leaves in groups of three.
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
  • Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsleylike foliage.
  • Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.

There is a saying about berries that holds true:

White and yellow, kill a fellow.
Purple and blue, good for you.
Red… could be good, could be dead.

Additionally, a good way to determine if a red berry is poisonous is to look at how they’re grouped on the branch.  If berries are grouped in bunches, then avoid them.  If the berries grow individual off the branch, then they are probably good.

Found on the Internet: How Do I Tell If a Mushroom Is Safe to Eat?

Clearly, if websites were people, The Armageddon Blog would be good pals with Lifehacker.  Or at least, follow Lifehacker around all the time talking about how great of friends they are while Lifehacker tries to ignore the creepy guy following him around.  Yet again, there’s another article on Lifehacker that is relevant to the interests of this website.  If I’ve drilled one fact over any other on the site, it’s that food is probably the most important thing to your survival.  You’ll be able to scavenge food from houses and stores sometimes, but more frequently as time goes on, you’ll need to rely on nature for sustenance.  Mushrooms are one of the more prevalent foods you’ll find in a forest, but they can be potentially dangerous (more so than any other plant you’ll come across).  So how do you know which ones are safe?  Alan Henry let’s us know a few guidelines for determining this:

If you spend any time outdoors, you’ve probably seen mushrooms growing under trees or in your yard, but if you’re out camping or just enjoy foraging, here are some ways to tell if the mushroom you’re looking at is edible.

[How Do I Tell If a Mushroom Is Safe to Eat?] via Lifehacker

 

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