Q: How Did Folks Survive Before the Internet and Electric and Happy Meals?
A. Pretty well.
The long answer to the question, how did people survive before the Internet, would make a great book. They survived by their wits, ingenuity, and shared knowledge base. Mothers taught daughters who taught their sons and daughters who taught . . . well, you get it.
Writing prepper fiction is an exercise in speculation. What would happen if? How would they do that when? What did people do before the comforting hum of electric buzzed through their appliances? In my E-book short story, The Story of Stone, I found myself wondering what people actually did to preserve hundreds of pounds of meat without the ease and convenience of refrigeration. Native Americans routinely hunted and butchered American bison.
Here are the facts: A half ton buffalo is a small one though. A cow can go to 1,000 pounds. The carcass weight will be about 60% of the live weight, the meat yield about 70% of that. About 420 pounds for a 1,000 pound bison.
So, doing the math, that’s 400 pounds of raw meat sitting out on an open prairie for ONE smallish buffalo. What next?
Pemmican. They made pemmican—the original power bar. The meat was sliced thin and dried over slow fires. My experience with this technique has taught me two things: it’s labor intensive and works like a charm. Once the meat was dried to a crackly texture, it was pulverized on a mortar and pestle. Meat dust. (I dry my beef in the oven at the lowest possible heat setting for about seven hours. Above 160 degrees for safety.)
Added to the mix would be whatever fruit was in season at the time of butchering: blackberries, blueberries, cherries, chokeberries, currants, etc. The fruit was also dried and pulverized.
But the magic is in the fat! Kidney fat (internal fat located over the kidneys is quite different than the body fat or leaf fat found along the torso of an animal) was rendered down to a liquid and in a ratio of 1:1:1 (1 cup meat “dust” to 1 cup fruit “dust” to 1 cup kidney fat) mixed and formed into balls or bars or . . . Kidney fat dries to the consistency of wax. It was also used for sealing canning jars, as candles, and to make soap.
Wrapped in wax paper, pemmican can last, unrefrigerated for up to fifty years; it’s reported. I haven’t tested that theory, but I’ve had pemmican sitting on my shelf for two years, and I would not hesitate to use it in Rubaboo (fun word for stew) and boil the devil out of it. Pemmican is a perfect food. It contains protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fat.
In Before the Strandline: The Story of Stone, a little boy and his sister stumble upon someone with “the knowing of a lot of things” in the character of Grandpa Wayne. In this excerpt he teaches the children how to live beyond the event horizon that has devasted their modern world.
He [Grandpa Wayne] smiled his happy pumpkin smile, stuck out his hand to shake, and said, “Let’s go make happy meals.”
Gabby’s grandpa showed Stone and the others how to cut the buffalo meat as thin as paper, so they could drape it over the rack he used for drying it out. He showed them how to dry the blackberries on the cookie sheets over the open fire. The children had the job of running back and forth to the woods to gather the right kind of wood to keep the fires low and steady. They cooked buffalo meat for hours and hours and hours, all night long, until it crumbled, same with the berries.
Grandpa Wayne, with the glow of hot coals in his face, told them about the buffalo from the next farm that had busted down the fences when the feed and water ran out, when the electric fence quit working. He talked about how the buffalo cows followed the crabby old bull into the woods. Running wild, they roamed the woods and fields now.
He made it an adventure. He made it exciting, to think about living like Native Americans that had to hunt buffalo for their dinners.
How did they live without the Internet? Pretty well. But while we have this amazing power at the click of a mouse, I hope we’ll explore all there is out there to know about living well in hard times.
Linda L. Zern
Find all the author’s Strandline Books and Strandline Short Stories @ amazon.com/author/lindazern