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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Recipe Week: MREs

Since this is recipe week, and I'm the only military veteran amongst the regular writers here, I was chosen to write about recipes for making MREs more palatable. This was probably not the best choice, since I am far from a gourmand and have very boring taste buds. I was raised in a German-Swede family where the daily diet was pretty bland compared to the diets of peoples from nearer the Equator (where spices tend to grow best), and I never acquired a taste for food spicy enough to cause chemical burns. Subtle spices are more interesting to me than seeing how hot the local pepper sauce is.

The MRE "Cookbook"
With a few exceptions, I never thought that the C-rations and MREs that I was issued (I got some of the last C-rats before the Army transitioned to MREs) tasted all that bad. The main problem with both was that there was, and is, a limited menu of meals and they get boring after a few days of eating them. Bored soldiers are quite ingenious, and there are thousands of recipes available for modifying MREs. Every MRE comes with Tabasco sauce now, and the company that makes it published a “cookbook” for how to work with the ingredients available in the early menus. There's a bit of a history lesson at the beginning of the cookbook about the what military needs for stored foods, and you'll need to scroll down a bit to get to the cookbook itself.


A collection of recipes for more recent MREs can be found here, with changes being made to reflect the changes in the contents of the menus.

The MREs that are available today are quite different from the ones I was issued in the early to mid 1980's. Back then we had the very first generation of MREs and they were pretty bad. They were designed to be stored for decades with flavor being way down the list of priorities. There have been over 24 changes in the “menu” since 1985, and I have tasted quite a few of them. Gone are the freeze-dried meat patties (not pleasant) and the strawberry Styrofoam (freeze-dried strawberries - actually quite good) due to the fact that they required water and time to re-hydrate before eating. No more ham omelets that had the consistency of Silly Putty. No more chicken a la king, that was just unsalvageable as food. We've gone from 12 different meals to 24 for more variety, and they've tweaked the packaging and contents every year since 1995. If you have MREs and don't know when they were made, check the list of menus and you should be able to narrow the date down by seeing which meals were added or deleted each year.

There are also commercial versions of the MRE, packaged the same but without the green, tan, and black plastic. They are comparable to the military meals, and are easier to buy if not always cheaper. Like any prepping supplies, do some research and know what you're buying.

Recipes
A few of the recipes that I actually used and remember were similar to some of those found in the links and they tended to be alternate uses for the things found in the accessory pack (instant coffee, creamer, sugar, etc.) and could be used with similar things found in your kitchen shelves. Mixing and matching items from different meals can widen the options, so don't throw something out just because you don't like it as is -- trade it for something you do like, or use it to modify the flavor of a meal you've had every day for a week.
Frosting
When you want to add flavor to a cookie or brownie, take the pack of instant cocoa and add water a few drops at a time while mixing. Use very little water and it'll make a chocolate frosting. Add a bit of instant coffee for a mocha flavor.
Pudding
Mix a pack of instant cocoa and a pack of instant creamer. Add water to get the consistency of pudding. If it's not sweet enough, add a sugar package next time.
Drink Mixes
The various drink mixes can be added to the entrees to change the flavor, orange works better than grape in my experience. The citrus flavors can also be added to instant or brewed tea for a change of pace if you're bored with plain tea.
Tips & Tricks
The real trick to using MREs as survival food is to have a variety of other things to add to them. 
  • Fresh food of any kind will liven up a boring pouch of texturized vegetable protein that has been molded to look like meat. 
  • Spice jars with more than one type of spice don't take up much room on a shelf or in a cache.
MREs are bulky, and best suited for short-term use in the field or in a bug-in situation. I'd rather not try to carry a week's worth of MREs in a back pack; there wouldn't be room left for much else.

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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