Are you anticipating the end of the world? So are these people, and they want to help you cook through it.
Photo via The U.S. National Archives
These may be boom times for apocalyptic anxiety, but let's get one thing straight: The fear that our world is on the brink of crumbling predates November 2016. Americans have been working through their end-times anxiety for decades now, sometimes channeling it towards self-sufficiency. Quite a few have been doing that by cooking.
It’s resulted in a genre of cookbooks that lean on a vocabulary of frugality, a genre bigger than one may imagine. A casual search for “prepper cookbook” yields such a frightening array of instructional books written in anticipation of our planet’s demise.
Preppers and survivalists can often be castigated in the American imaginary as panic-addled lunatics, and prepper food gets a similarly bum rap. The very phrase conjures the gnarly mental image of freeze-dried pockets of powder.
But humans have lived through times of scarcity before—the Depression era, the aftermath of natural disasters, the utterly commonplace fate of losing your job in our capitalist hellhole. And they've created gastronomic magic out of it, the kind you can't get in a Mylar bag.
What will we eat as the grocery shelves around us empty and we contemplate the end of the world? Here are some answers cookbook authors have dreamt up through the decades. The first step towards readying your preparedness pantry might just be to populate your bookshelf.
The Prepper's Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals
Ready Nutrition’s Tess Pennington was raised by a prepper in Houston, so the very concept of readying herself for disaster practically courses through her bloodstream; it helped, too, that surviving frequent hurricanes was a condition of her childhood. In this 2013 cookbook, Pennington writes with clarity and directness; what pragmatism looks like for her is quinoa tabouli and beef stroganoff. She covers the basic meal groups—breakfast, lunch, supper—and devotes entire sections to kid-approved snacks and canned foods.
Most comforting of all, though, is the fact that it's a book brimming with careful optimism. “In all honesty, I want my message to be one of hope,” Pennington told Backdoor Survival in 2014. “I am not one to gravitate towards being a doomer.”
A Prepper's Cookbook: Twenty Years of Cooking in the Woods
Now, now—don’t confuse this with The Prepper’s Cookbook (articles are important!). Besides, author Deborah D. Moore writes with a voice so singular in this 2016 cookbook that it’s impossible to confuse with Pennington’s. Moore opens her book with a charming, eyebrow-raising poem, "A Woman's Ode to Prepping," which lays bare her philosophy. "I'm not into fashion / I like camouflage," she writes. "I got flour, sugar and my salt, / And if you don't, that's not my fault." You can practically hear her chanting it.
Inside, you'll find hamburger and sausage gravies, seafood Wellington, even a section on how to can bacon. Moore's been a prepper for over two decades, as the book’s subtitle explains, living off the grid in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; she knows what she's talking about.
The Survivalist Cookbook: Recipes for Preppers
Robert Paine’s 2013 compendium of over 75 recipes, from Georgia Cornbread to Apple Brown Betty, will help even novices develop a culinary contingency plan for when SHTF. His is a cooking of improvisation: If a recipe calls for bacon drippings that you just don't have, he instructs, any cooking fat will suffice, be it lard or vegetable shortening. To him, "experimentation is the order of the day"; dire circumstances may force your diet to become a bit more elastic than it's used to.
"If all of the ingredients you use are food," he reminds the reader, "then the chances are the end result will be edible (especially if you're hungry enough.)"
The late Clara Cannucciari was a YouTube sensation, and, here, she draws from her wildly popular Great Depression Cooking cooking tutorials to document the recipes she relied on in the throes of the Great Depression. As a child of Sicilian immigrants in Illinois, she learned early on how to navigate punishing economic realities and keep her belly full.
It’s not a prepper cookbook in the obvious sense, but a number of survivalists swear by it because of Cannucciari’s ability to show how take whatever meager ingredients you’ve got at your disposal and spin glory out of them by making eggplant parmesan or Italian ice. Cannuciari died in 2013 at the age of 98, but there's a lot she can still teach us.
Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow Naturally
Originally published in 1977, Carol Hupping and Rodale's guide to preserving and canning everything you can possibly imagine has last been updated in 1990. Yet it remains one of the earliest books dedicated entirely to the subject of preservation. It's a book that shows you how to gain self-sufficiency through making fruit leathers and sun-dried tomatoes, as well as extending the refrigerator life of seafood, freezing unbaked bread dough, and canning fruits and veggies.
Apocalypse Chow! How to Eat Well When the Power Goes Out
Published in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Apocalypse Chow! demonstrates the possibilities of pantry cuisine, the kind you can create the minute your lights go down; husband and wife duo Jon and Robin Robertson had weathered four hurricanes since 1983, and each experience taught them how to keep themselves well-fed. It resulted in 68 recipes that, warning, are all vegetarian; the authors don't much care for the tastes of Spam and canned brisling herring. Fire-Roasted Blueberry Cobbler, anyone?
Cookin' With Beans and Rice
Home Economist Peggy Layton has authored an impressive number of books on food storage, and quite a few are single-subject—Cookin' With Powdered Milk, Cookin' With Dried Eggs. This book, as the title spells out quite clearly, is devoted entirely to beans and rice, two storage-friendly staples that present endless possibilities. I mean, shit: Pinto bean fudge? Sounds like a fitting last meal to me.