Emergency Food of the Past and Future.
Update (17-9-15). The pinole and honey strips that I made when this original article was first written have now been sitting in a tin in the kitchen at room temperature for two and a half years. The only deterioration that I can see is a few discoloured patches corresponding to some small spots of corrosion in the tin's lining. I tried some of the unmarked pinole and honey and there is nothing wrong with it at all! A little bland, perhaps, but this is an emergency ration. Pinole and honey Scrapboard Slab as an emergency ration appears to be very promising, the only restriction being not to store it in direct contact with metal.
Pinole is Maize Corn that has been parched and powdered. It is probably one of the most useful emergency foods for the Traveller or Soldier to know about. Pinole is also called Nocake (from Nookik) or Rockahominy. Pinole's low water content not only makes it a highly concentrated source of food but also makes it resistant to spoilage and gives it a long storage life.
In recent years Pinole has become quite fashionable in certain circles. One of the best sources of information, however, is the Concentrated Foods chapter of Horace Kephart's classic Camping and Woodcraft.
The thing to understand about Pinole is that it is a very concentrated source of nutrition so that only a small quantity needs to be consumed at a time.
When wanted for use, they take about a tablespoonful of this flour in their mouths, then stooping to the river or brook, drink water to it. If, however, they have a cup or other small vessel at hand, they put the flour in it and mix it with water, in the proportion of one tablespoonful to a pint. At their camps they will put a small quantity in a kettle with water and let it boil down, and they will have a thick pottage.
La comida del desierto, the food of the desert, or pinole, as it is generally called, knocks the hind sights off all American condensed foods. It is the only form in which you can carry an equal weight and bulk of nutriment on which alone one can, if necessary, live continuously for weeks, and even months, without any disorder of stomach or bowels. ...
The principle of pinole is very simple. If you should eat a breakfast of corn-meal mush alone, and start out for a hard tramp, you will feel hungry in an hour or two, though at the table the dewrinkling of your abdomen may have reached the hurting point. But if, instead of distending the meal so much with water and heat, you had simply mixed it in cold water and drunk it, you could have taken down three times the quantity in one-tenth of the time. You would not feel the difference at your waistband, but you would feel it mightily in your legs, especially if you have a heavy rifle on your back.
By taking Pinole with cold water it swells up in the stomach rather than in the dish so more calories can be consumed in less time. Pinole is high in nutrients and calories, so this is not just empty bulk. Personally I find that taking a spoonful into the mouth and then drinking water is easier than trying to down a spoonful suspended in water. It also saves you the chore of having to clean your cup. If you decide to carry a bag of Pinole I suggest you keep a disposable plastic spoon with it.
In previous centuries most Native American travellers, hunters and warriors would carry a small bag of Pinole. The lived on game and edible plants whenever they could, but when this was in short supply they'd take a spoonful of Pinole a couple of times a day and not fear hunger for as long as the bag lasted. Explorers and Mountain men such as Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and Lewis and Clark also made use of Pinole. A small volume of Pinole has a place in any modern traveller's kit too.
Making Your Own Pinole.
Traditionally Pinole is made by parching uncooked maize corn in hot clean ashes, sifting the kernels out of the ash and then pounding them to powder in a mortar and pestle. The alkali of the ash may have some added nixtamalization effect. In the past I have made Pinole at home by parching sweetcorn in an oven and then running it through a liquidizer. Some clever folks have worked out a much easier way, however. Corn that has already been ground is available in most grocery stores and the greater surface area means parching it after grinding only takes a few minutes.
Take some Cornmeal, Masa Harina or Polenta and place it in a cooking vessel. You can use a skillet, frying pan or saucepan but a wok is ideal. You can also spread the Cornmeal/Polenta on a baking tray and parch it in an oven but cooking it on a hob is more time and fuel efficient for the quantities you will probably make. Some webpages will tell you to have your Pinole ground as fine as possible. In fact a coarse grind makes it more palatable when it is taken in the traditional fashion.
Heat your wok at a low heat and stir the contents. I prefer using a low heat so some of the components in the corn meal get a little more time to cook. We want to drive the water from the cornmeal and lightly cook it, so reduce heat as necessary and keep stirring. You will see the pan's contents give off a white vapor and after a few minutes the meal will begin to brown. We want the Pinole to be a light brown colour so keep heating and stirring until the contents of the pan change from a yellow powder to something that looks like sand or brown sugar. Turn off the heat, you have made Pinole. Well, nearly. Leave it to cool so any remaining water vapor can be escape
Often Pinole had sugars added to it. Native Americans used dried maple syrup but any sugar will do. This improves the taste and gives a quick energy boost while the carbohydrates in the corn begin digesting. Throw in a dash of salt to take care of your electrolytes and some cinnamon if you wish. You add this to your personal taste and personally I'd avoid overdoing the cinnamon. One of the sources that Kephart quotes suggest adding ground chocolate and/or 10% ground popped corn.
Pinole can be made from things other than Corn. The same source quoted by Kephart also notes that Pinole can be made from wheat or browned oats. Pinole made from parched wheat probably has more easily assimilated proteins. The malted barley used in brewing might be an interesting alternative.
Scrapboard Slab Pinole.
Whilst Pinole is a very effective foodstuff it is somewhat inconvenient to handle. Taking a tablespoon of powder into your mouth can be fiddly, particularly if you lack a spoon. There are several Pinole recipes on the internet that use Pinole to make a form of cookie or biscuit but the challenge is to create a more solid form while still retaining Pinole's long shelf life. Adding more water to the Pinole or perishable components such as butter, peanut butter or eggs may detract from one of its most useful properties.
My first experiments in this direction proved to be very successful.
Take a volume of Pinole and add a couple of tablespoons of honey (golden syrup or other thick syrups should work too). Add a small amount of oil this may not be necessary, particularly if you warm the honey before mixing. You may add about a teaspoon of water but go very easy on this. You don't want to increase the water content of the final product since this will affect the storage life. Any water should ideally be driven off during the cooking and drying process. Warming the honey and oil mix before adding it to the Pinole may help it mix in more easily.
Mix the ingredients in together, adding more honey as needed, then spread it out on a sheet of greaseproof paper with the back if a spoon so that it is about a quarter inch thick. Heat in a microwave at about 70-80% for two to three minutes. Exactly how long will depend on your microwave power and the proportions of the ingredients. An advantage of using a microwave it is easy to stop the process frequently and see how it is doing.
Remove the slab of Pinole from the microwave, press down a little more with the spoon and allow to cool. Place in a dry place so it dries further. The Pinole slab should get harder and more solid as it cools. The cooled result should not be too crumbly but can be broken easily without much effort. Remember that Pinole is a very concentrated food so break into lumps of about one inch square. Store it in a waterproof bag for travelling. If you have a vacuum sealer you can try wrapping individual slabs.
I don't know if this Pinole recipe will keep as well as powder, so if you are adding Pinole to a long term emergency kit use powder to be on the safe side. Slab Pinole can easily be made before a camping trip or other anticipated used.
Slab Pinole is probably a better option if you are travelling abroad. Customs officers can get very interested in mysterious bags of brown powder.
A couple of foil sealed squares of Slab Pinole should be included in every Soldier's field ration pack.
To Use Pinole.
Pinole can be used as an additive for various recipes but its greatest virtue is as an emergency food. Pinole is very concentrated and nutritious. It also has the characteristic of gaining volume when it reaches the stomach so it makes you feel full as well as actually giving you sustenance.
Take a tablespoon of powdered Pinole or two to three square centimetres of Scrapboard Pinole Slab. Place in your mouth, swallow, chewing as necessary and wash down with water.
Take only the small amount recommended. If you still feel hungry in an hour or two you can take a little more but you will probably find that you are not actually hungry. That seemingly tiny amount of Pinole has pleasantly filled your stomach and all those carbohydrates and proteins are keeping you fuelled.