Cookies are comfort food at its best, but how do you make cookies with 100% wild ingredients? Here’s how to make cookies after the zombie apocalypse hits.
A few years back I remember running across a link to the recipe for Carol’s Cookies from the post-apocalyptic show, The Walking Dead. I was excited, hoping to find a really awesome recipe for a wild foraged cookie. They were supposed to be made from acorn flour and beet sugar, both of which are pretty advanced to extract.
Sadly, I was disappointed. The official recipe from AMC is more or less just a cookie recipe, with white flour, shortening, and sugar. A recipe from another site actually includes acorn flour, along with a bunch of other conventional ingredients.
Sure, there’s plenty of scavenged ingredients around. But the thing is, if there is flour and shortening in your supplies, making cookies really isn’t that big of a deal. If you had flour, chocolate, shortening and sugar…just make some chocolate chip cookies and call it a day.
The fun part about making a post-apocalyptic comfort food is getting creative. I’m planning my post-apocalyptic cookies for wild ingredients all harvested from the land.
Wild Foraged Flour
While wheat flour may not be on the menu in the wild, there are plenty of other wild grain crops and flour substitutes. Keep in mind that there’s no gluten in any of these wild flours, and the cookies will need a bit of help to stick together during baking.
- Nut Flour – Paleo cooks are already replacing wheat flour in recipes with nut flours. Wild almonds for almond flour may not be that common in these parts, but hazelnut flour is just as tasty. Black walnuts make an astringent flour, but it’s good in small amounts. Acorn flour is a great option provided you process it appropriately.
- Bark Flour – There are a number of trees that were used by indigenous people for flour, especially in Scandinavia. The inner bark of birch trees contains a surprising amount of calories and tastes a lot like buckwheat. Both the inner and outer bark of pine trees can be made into flour, and it has a warm, earthy flavor.
- Wild Grains – Wild quinoa grows all over the world and it’s really easy to identify and harvest. The greens are known as goosefoot or lambs quarter, but if you allow the plant to go to seed the grains are a smaller form of cultivated quinoa. Yellow dock is a buckwheat relative, and it produces huge harvests of seeds for yellow dock flour. The erect stalks ripen in the fall but stand above the snow for harvest all winter. Amaranth and other wild grains are a good option too.
- Plant Pollen – Nutrient-dense and readily available, pollen can be used as a wildcrafted flour substitute. Pine pollen is abundant in the spring and easily harvested, and cattail pollen is available midsummer. This beautiful bread is made with cattail pollen, mixed in with white flour. To make it all wild, you could make cattail pollen and nut flour cookies instead of yeasted bread.
- Plant Flours – There are a number of other creative plant flours out there, including red clover blossom flour. It adds a sweet green flavor to baked goods, and it’s easy to harvest in large quantities.
Wild Foraged Sweeteners
Wild sources of sugar are actually pretty easy. We make our own maple syrup each year and use it in place of sugar in most of our cooking.
Even if you don’t have any equipment now, you can make syrup taps from hollowed-out sumac or elderberry stems. After that, all you need to do is boil it into a syrup.
Maple sugar is easy to make too, it just requires a bit more boiling and then some rapid stirring to finish. Since liquids were hard to store in the ancient world, native peoples poured the syrup into big hollowed-out logs and stirred it with paddles until it turned into sugar. Maple sugar cooks very similarly to modern brown sugar, so recipes don’t even really require adaptation.
Beyond maple, just about any tree that loses its leaves in the fall can be tapped for syrup in the spring. Literally dozens of species. Notable exceptions are oaks, which have tannins in their sap and a few other more obscure species like buckthorn. Here’s a list of just under 30 trees that can be tapped for syrup, many of which I’ve tried.
Wild honey is also an option in many locations, but with honey bee decline who knows if they’ll actually make it through whatever apocalypse befalls the rest of us.
Wild Fat Sources
Since butter’s not really an option, and there’s nothing wild or natural about shortening, the fat for cookies is where things get squirrely. In my case, literally.
Small game can be remarkably fatty, and unlike the fat of deer that has a gamey taste, squirrel and rabbit fat is smooth and nutty. If you have a squirrel trap on hand before the apocalypse, you have a ready source of squirrel lard for the harvest. Here’s how to gut a squirrel quickly, in case it ever comes up, along with some recipes for cooking up the meat for dinner.
A good-sized grey squirrel, harvested in late fall or early winter has somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 a cup of lard waiting to be rendered, and the taste is quite neutral. We’ve rendered squirrel fat for cookies and they were pretty amazing. I still have quite a bit left over and there’ll be more squirrel fat cookies in the near future.
If you don’t have a squirrel on hand, fat-free cookie recipes often use applesauce in place of oil because surprisingly, it has some of the same cooking characteristics. As a bonus, you’ll get a bit of extra sweet too.
My friend Susan from Learning and Yearning tells me that “In the Outlander books the Indians pressed sunflower oil from the seeds. I think that would work in cookies. Also, deer tallow should make a good butter substitute in cookies.”
Eggs and Binders
During the right season, you’ll be able to harvest eggs from birds’ nests to act as a binder. Each species has slightly different cooking characteristics, but they’re all similar to chicken eggs.
Goose eggs have larger yolks but more watery whites. Duck eggs have richer yolks and stronger proteins in their whites.
It’d be easy to whip duck egg white into a glorious meringue or add a bit of nut flour in for macaroons. These hazelnut macaroons would adapt beautifully to wild foraged duck eggs, wild hazelnuts and maple syrup instead of sugar.
I can’t speak for the eggs of small wild birds, and I hope I’m never desperate enough to have to rob a Robin’s nest. For the purpose of this experiment though, I’ll be approximating wild bird eggs with quail eggs.
Vegan cookie recipes substitute cornstarch mixed with water in place of eggs, and while cornstarch may not be an option, cattail root starch or other plant starches would work too. I would think a bit of ground wild rice would work as a starchy binder too. Another vegan egg substitute is flax seeds soaked in water, and flax grows wild in many parts of the US.
Seasoning and Mix-Ins
Cinnamon and chocolate chips may be out of the question, but there’s a remarkable amount of seasoning in the wild if you know where to look. I came across this article on rewilding your spice cabinet a couple years back, and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities right around me.
Wintergreen leaves would be perfect for Christmas cookies, and wild ginger leaves taste pretty much exactly like tropical ginger root. Sumac is lemon-y with a bit of tropical flavor, and there are dozens of wildflowers that add fun flavors too.
Wood and plant ashes also add distinctive flavors to food, and the taste varies based on the original plant burned. Coltsfoot, for example, has been burned a salt substitute and adds salty flavors to foods.
Wild Leavening Sources
There are plenty of completely unleavened cookies out there, and shortbread is a great example. Other cookies use whipped egg whites for leavening, like meringues and macaroons.
Both of those are great options too. Baking soda wasn’t actually in production until the 1860s, and before that people used a number of different things as natural leavening, all of which are readily available in the wild.
The Hopi added wood ashes directly into a thin crepe-like blue corn cake called a Piki. The ashes themselves are alkali, like baking soda, and they give the cakes just a tiny bit of lift. The problem is, they also impart a very strong flavor.
Europeans saw this early form of chemical leavening, and in the 1780s they created a refined version known as “pearl ash.” King Arthur Flour describes the process for making pearl ash from raw wood ashes, “To make pearlash, you first have to make potash which itself is made from lye. To make lye, you pass water through a barrel of hardwood ashes over and over until an egg can float on the residue… To make potash, you evaporate lye water until you have a solid. Pearlash is a purified version of potash.”
Their description stops before the refining process, but I found another source that says, “The potash was refined in a kiln at a high temperature to burn off the impurities. The resulting white salt or ‘pearl ash’ (potassium carbonate or salt of tartar) was water-soluble, and formed a strong, alkaline solution.”
While you can build a primitive kiln to make pearlash (and to make some really awesome primitive pottery while you’re at it), the potash will also work as a leavening without the extra refining step. Either way, pearlash is known to react a bit in recipes that have a lot of fat, giving the final baked good a soapy taste. In that case, it may not be the best choice for cookies which are often high fat.
There is a second option, called Hartshorn or Salt of Hartshorn, and that’s still used in Scandinavian countries today. It is made from deer antlers, from which ammonium carbonate is extracted. A modern chemical form of it called baker’s ammonia is still sold to make old German and Scandinavian recipes that date back to the 17th century.
“Ammonium carbonate is especially suited to thin, dry cookies and crackers. When heated, it releases ammonia and carbon dioxide gases, but no water. The absence of water allows cookies to cook and dry out more quickly, and thinner cookies allow the pungent ammonia to escape, rather than to remain trapped, as it would in a deeper mass. (Source)”
While during cooking, cookies made with hartshorn smell intensely of ammonia, but once they’re baked there is no off smell or flavor. That makes this a much better option than ash-based leaveners.
The problem is, try as I might, I haven’t found a single source that explains how you get from antlers to salts of hartshorn. Since the process was common 400 years ago, and the resulting hartshorn was cheap enough to be used by peasants in the Scandinavian countryside, it can’t be too technically involved.
If you have any idea or a thought on a source for information on making salts of hartshorn, please let me know in the comments.
Wild Foraged Cookie Recipes
So after all that, here are a few wild foraged cookie recipes I have to share with you.
- Rosehip and Nut Cookies – A bit of jam mixed with ground nuts forms into a very simple, yet tasty cookie. Rose hips have plenty of natural pectins, which help bind the cookie together. Start by making a bit of rosehip jam using maple syrup or honey, and then mix it with ground nuts of your choice.
- Quinoa Flour Cookies – Wild quinoa is plentiful, and it can be used alone in place of regular flour for cookies. This recipe has no other flours, but you’ll have to substitute dried fruit in place of the chocolate chips, and some type of animal lard in place of coconut oil. You’ll also need wild eggs.
- Squirrel Lard Nut Cookies – These are my own creation, and are made from 1/4 cup hazelnut flour, 1 quail egg, 1/2 Tbsp maple, and 1/2 Tbsp squirrel fat. They were absolutely delicious, and I’d eat these any day, before or after the apocalypse.
- Paleo Apple Cinnamon Cookies – Vegan and Paleo recipes are a great place to start if you’re hoping to wild forage a cookie. This recipe uses applesauce and honey for sweetening and is made with a nut flour base. The coconut flour in this cookie is a starchy binder, and you could substitute quinoa flour, bark flour or any other wild grain or plant flour.
- Paleo Maple Meringues – These don’t really require any adaptation to be wild foraged, but they will require quite a bit of elbow grease to whip the egg whites. Skip the vanilla, or add in your own wildflower extracts.
- Pine Bark Cookies – I made a small batch of pine bark flour cookies using 2 tbsp pine bark flour, 2 tbsp dock seed flour, 1 tbsp squirrel fat, 1 tbsp maple syrup, and a quail egg. While I thought they tasted horrible, my 3-year-old gobbled them up…it’s amazing how anything that looks like a chocolate cookie can make a kid happy.
- Wild Rose Turkish Delight – Perhaps not “cookies” in some senses of the word, but Turkish delight is a tasty confection I’d be glad to have in a post-apocalyptic world. This recipe includes wild rose hips, rose petals and nuts, which are easy to come by in the wild. The cornstarch can be exchanged for a wildcrafted plant starch from other wild roots like cattails.
- Buckwheat Flour Cookies – These can be made using wild buckwheat, or buckwheat relatives like yellow dock, or some other wild plant flour. Again, substituting animal fat for coconut oil and dried fruit for the chocolate.
Of course, if you’re going to have cookies, you might as well have milk too. Try using this almond milk recipe to make with most types of wild nuts. Avoid high-tannin nuts like walnuts, but hazelnuts, pecans, and even wild sunflower seeds are a good choice for a natural wild foraged seed milk.
I would love to hear your ideas. I’ve mostly written this for my own entertainment, and I know my imagination doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the wild foraged cookie options out there. Tell me what you’d use to make wild cookies in the comments below.