Camping 101

My thanks to the following: Baron Aquel of Darkstead Wood, Baroness Johanna Dudley, Mistress Ygraine of Kellswood, Lord Corwyn ap Gruffith Cynnil for their good ideas and Lord Li Kung Lo whose Pennsic preparedness class at Sheep Thrills helped me when I started camping.




Fire safety

Camp chores

Food and Drink







Countess Mara's Instructions for Making Jerky

Homemade beef jerky is great stuff. It's a tasty non-sweet snack that doesn't need to be kept cool (though you'd better keep it dry!). It's just the thing to feed overheated fighters, or anyone else who's been running around in the heat (except vegetarians, of course!). Homemade jerky is less expensive than the commercial variety, and it tastes better and doesn't contain the weird chemicals.

This is not a period recipe. Mistress Marian of Edwinstowe told me that medieval people sliced and dried meat and fish, but they cured it with smoke rather than spices, and they certainly didn't eat it as a delicacy.

I learned to make jerky many years ago, when Herr Johan von Traubenberg did a workshop on it for the Carolingian Cooks Guild. These instructions derive pretty directly from that workshop. Jerky is not hard to make, just a little tedious.

First, figure out what you're going to use to dry it.

Option 1: I use an electric food dehydrator, which will cost you somewhere between $70.00 and $200.00 or so, depending on the size and the features. Look for them in stores with a large selection of kitchen appliances, or stores or catalogs catering to home vegetable gardeners. Or call "American Harvest" at (612) 448-4400 and ask them the current price and shipping charge for a "Harvest Maid Model FD-50 food dehydrator", which is what I use. It comes with 4 drying trays, and you can buy extra trays if you want them.

Option 2: Build your own dryer. Get 6 cake-drying racks, a socket for a 200-watt lightbulb and some plywood or masonite. Build a box that will hold the cake racks in a stack about the light bulb, with about a foot between the lowest rack and the light bulb, and 2 inches of clearance between the racks. There should be openings of about an inch wide near the top and bottom of the box so air can circulate. Of course, it needs a door so you can get at the racks, and the racks should slice so you can clean them. You can find more detailed instructions in a book by Gretchen McHugh, "The Hungry Hiker's Book of Good Cooking", published in 1982 by A. Knopf, Inc., ISBN 0-394-51261-8.

Option 3: Use an oven. I've gotten this to work, but it's a real pain. It ties up the oven for at least 18 hours, and ties you to the home for the same time period. Get yourself a package of bamboo skewers (like for shish-kebobs). Thread your meat slices onto the skewers and lay the skewers on the over racks so that the meat dangles down below the over racks. Set the oven to about 150 degrees and prop the door open with a wooden spoon. If the oven is too hot, the meat will cook rather than dry. I think that a gas oven with just the pilot light on will not supply enough heat to dry the jerky - if there's not enough heat the meat will spoil. Turn the oven OFF while you sleep.

You need a sharp knife for cutting the meat, even if you're going to do most of the work on a meat slicer.

Look for a piece of meat with a little marbling (fat strung through the meat in threads). The more fat that is left in the jerky, the more likely it will go rancid. I usually buy top round roast. I recommend that for your first batch you work with a piece weighing about 2 pounds.

Now decide how you want to flavor it. The only essential ingredient of the cure is salt. I think is important that the salt be kosher salt, but I am not sure why (maybe the smaller crystals of the table salt react differently?). Usually I mix freshly ground pepper, powdered ginger and dried minced garlic with the salt until it looks like dirty sand. I never measure, but you might start with a half a cup salt, 3 tablespoons of pepper and 2 tablespoons each of ginger and garlic. Put in any spices or herbs you like. A wet cure (like teriyaki sauce) can also be used, but the meat will take longer to dry and sometimes the flavors in a wet cure change oddly during the drying process.

If you partially freeze the meat, it will be easier to slice. Since I usually end up freezing the meat solid when I try this, I just use a very sharp knife. Start by cutting off every scrap of fat you can. After trimming off all the fat off, you could then slice it in a meat slicer, but I'm not so sure I would use one if I had one, because as I slice, I cut off the fat surrounding blood vessels in the meat (Fat left in the meat may go rancid, or may melt during the drying process so that the finished jerky has little pools of oil on the surface. Even after the oil is blotted off with paper towels, the jerky doesn't taste quite right). Slice it across the grain, keeping the thickness of the thick-sliced commercial bacon. Thinner slices will dry faster. I prefer the texture of thick pieces.

In a glass or plastic container (NOT metal), alternate single layers of meat with a generous sprinkling of the cure. I put on enough so it looks like snow just starting to stick. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and put a weight on top. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight so the cure flavors can soak in.

Note for the first batch: Divide the first batch you make into several smaller portions and put different amounts of cure, and maybe some different flavors of cure, so you can find out what you like.

Put single layers of meat on the racks of your dryer, and set it going. Mine takes 8 to 16 hours, depending on the current humidity and thickness of the slices. I think homemade dryers might take longer because they have no fans. Jerky should crack when bent. Heat keeps it pliable, so take a piece out the dryer (choose a thick one if they vary) and cool it a moment before testing it. If in doubt, remember it is better to over- then under-dry.

I've never been able to keep my jerky long enough to find out when it will go bad. Keep it in the refrigerator for long term storage. It will certainly survive a week or two of being left out (even in hot and muggy weather) if kept dry.

This recipe may be freely copied and distributed. Please append your commentary to the end rather than editing my text.

Another Beef Jerky Recipe

1 flank steak, 1 1/2 lb.
1 tsp. seasoned salt, liquid smoke or BBQ salt
1/3 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Accent
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce

Trim off all possible fat, semi freeze the meat, slice it with the grain, 1/8" thick. Marinate overnight in a shallow glass pan, thoroughly covered. Lay strips of marinated meat in a single layer on oven rack (place a cookie sheet or tin foil underneath to catch the drippings). With oven door open a crack, roast at lowest possible temperature (125 - 140) for 8 - 12 hours. Taste occasionally, until it is chewy as desired. Makes about 1 1/2 lb. of jerky.

Notes on the recipe

The key points are to select lean meat, slice it thin (partially freezing the meat helps), marinate overnight, dry slowly on low heat and test the jerky from time to time to see if it has the proper texture.

It is best to slice the meat into strips rather than slices.

Don't be afraid to vary the ingredients, but the marinade must be salty to cure the meat. I usually use eye round roast, garlic salt and onion salt rather than powders and I sometimes leave out the Accent since it has MSG.

My food dehydrator takes about 12 - 18 hours to dry the jerky.

Since jerky is dehydrated meat the weight of jerky will be much less than the weight of meat you used.