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Food on the road - what to take and forage for during travel

Discussion in 'Research' started by Jess A, May 23, 2013.

  1. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Travel Menu

    Hi all,

    I was looking at the fantasy writer's quiz and saw the comment about on-road stews and how they are unrealistic and a cliche. So I thought, why not make a thread talking about the possibilities of on-road meals? This will be heavily based on setting. What do your characters eat whilst on road? What do they bring with them? Salted meat, for instance. Hard biscuits. What do they gather?

    I have two characters who know plants/herbs/mushrooms well - helpful in some seasons, some areas, but not if nothing is growing. I have a shape-shifter who becomes a medium-sized cat. But when he hunts, only a percentage of his kills are successful - because in the real world, leopards and wolves and eagles don't catch something every time. They can trap. They can carry certain foods with them.

    It might be useful for writers to compile a bit of a list here of foods in historical times that made for good travelling. A lot of writers have travel scenes, love them or hate them! If you're posting examples, make sure you tell us the setting. For example, Jabrosky's setting is, if I recall rightly, somewhat prehistoric, so that will be different to my setting, which is just standard European, Canadian ecosystems. I also have tundra ecosystems.

    For forage items, this is my list:

    - Berries (I invent a lot)
    - Shrubs, herbs, certain bark
    - Certain fungi/mushrooms (some are deadly of course)
    - Prey - mammals, birds, lizards, insects/worms
    - Roots and bulbs
    - Fruits
    - Water
    - Nuts, seeds, flowers, etc
    - Stuff for their mounts to forage on (most of the mounts aren't horses - they are opportunistic beasts)

    If none of that is about and it's the wrong season, they'd better hope they have enough rations with them, and can stock up at places on the way. They can't guarantee that stuff will even be available.

    Give me your lists, as well as what they take with them and if it's specific to your land.
    Gato Cat, Asura Levi and Butterfly like this.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Well, you forgot eggs. But any kind of foraging is going to be a problem if your goal is to travel. You could stop to forage and hunt, gather food that will last for a few days, and then continue on. But if you're foraging you're not travelling.

    If you're travelling more than a few days, you're talking about dried fruits, jerky, nuts and hardtack, like a weird bag of trail mix.
    Asura Levi and Jess A like this.
  3. tlbodine

    tlbodine Troubadour

    This. It's quite rare that you're going to "happen upon" your breakfast while you're on the road. Hunting/foraging and traveling are two different actions with different methods and goals, it's pretty hard to do both at the same time.

    Here's one that's not already on the list: Milk, in particular, is a valuable food to a nomadic tribe -- because it's so much easier to take a single cow with you and drink its milk indefinitely than to kill the cow and have to lug around its meat/worry about keeping the meat fresh/worry about cooking the meat. Double bonus if the lactating creature doubles as a beast of burden/mount.
    Jess A likes this.
  4. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Many cultures have versions of Pemmican that is really just a mix of all of the above with extra fat!
    Porridge is a staple for many long distance trekkers - add water, milk and even beer and meat [I've had mutton porridge and it is good and filling!].
    Dried beans are also good if available.
    So are spices... you can put up with a lot of porridge and beans if you can change/hide their original taste.
    Cheese can lost a long time especially if it is sealed. [Correct me if I'm wrong but...] Waxed cheeses were developed for Dutch sailors and were reported to last for years...
    Jess A and Devor like this.
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    Huh, I never really thought about this. The woods between the cities in my setting are extremely dangerous, but there's no lack of food if you don't mind the taste or the traces of magical radiation in monster meat. Most of the time you don't even have to hunt it 'cause it'll be hunting you. One of the main characters is an Orc who served an honorable service as a steward in the army of the Orcish Empire so he's used to making great meals out of meager ingredients. There's also plenty of fruits, vegtables, herbs, and so on, though those tend to have a much higher chance of weird magical side-effects than simple monster meat. Really, food in my world isn't much of a concern so long as you're strong enough to avoid ending up something else's lunch.

    That said, there's also various rations you can bring with you from the towns if you want to avoid the chance of magical contamination or getting your face chewed off, fish, jerky, the whole nine yards. In particular, there's a particular potato-like thing (I'm thinking of calling it Gnome-root) that can grow in just about any type of soil, keeps for years, and contains all the nutrients you need to survive at the cost of tasting like something that can grow in just about any type of soil, keeps for years, and contains all the nutrients you need to survive.
    Jess A likes this.
  6. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I don't really understand the prejudice against stew. It's the absolute basic hot meal, and all it needs is water, a fire, a single pot and whatever bits and pieces of food the characters have to hand. If you can get a fire going quick enough, you can be eating in less than an hour. After the supper stew is gone, fill the pot with grains and water, leave it in the embers of the fire and you have your morning porridge. Set snares overnight to trap rabbits or whatever for tomorrow's stew. Vegetables are harder, because you need a lot and you have to either find them and dig them up, or find a friendly farmer to trade with. Or steal them from the farmer, possibly. :)

    You can live well on stew or its weaker cousin, soup. It's a lot more realistic as a journey meal than spit-roasting moose.
    Jess A likes this.
  7. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    Jess A likes this.
  8. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I have a stew meal in my WIP--just a brace of rabbits and a few wild onions thrown into a pot and simmered for a while. My MC is a hunter/woodsman, so he has a fairly good understanding of edible plants. Another character, a healer, knows all about edible plants, healing herbs, and poisonous stuff.
    My world's ecosystem is basically northeastern-US deciduous woodlands, where I live, so to see what's growin' I just have to take a quick hike in the woods in back of my house.

    Here's a list of my world's edible stuff:
    Bulbs and tubers
    Game such as deer, squirrels, rabbits, etc
    Freshwater fish such as brook trout and perch
    Mushrooms (kinda risky, as it's hard to tell what's toxic and what's not)
    Tree bark (if you're that desperate--unless it's sassafrass. That makes a good tea when boiled.)

    I didn't include berries on this list because berries are extremely hard to identify. What looks like an innocent cluster of edible berries may easily be the most toxic plant in the region. If you come across berries in the woods and aren't sure what they are, do not Do Not DO NOT eat them!!!

    My characters bring along hard rations, which in their world is jerked venison or beef, dried fruit, a waterskin, and waybread. waybread is basically a fancy word for hardtack, the hardest, most disgusting substance known to man. It looks and tastes like dried play-doh.
    If you want to find out more about living on the move, see if there are reenactments in your area. I recently went to a mountain man demo, a Civil War reenactment, and a flintknapping and atlatl demo. I learned a lot--how to light a fire with flint and steel, how to tan a deer hide, find water, correctly orient yourself without a compass, and much more indispensible information!
    Last edited: May 24, 2013
    Jess A likes this.
  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Atlatls? Good to see those are still remembered-- and that sounds like a good survival skill.

    (An atlatl is a wooden "arm extender" for throwing javelins, nearly as good as some bows and a lot easier to make from scratch.)
    Jess A likes this.
  10. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I'm thinking about crafting my own atlatl. I made a bow and sling, so why not? Atlatls are an integral part of our heritage, as is flintknapping, the ancient art of chipping arrowheads, knives, spearheads, and the like out of stone such as flint and obsidian.

    I live in an area originally inhabited by the Seneca indians (might be descended from them, in fact), and I love heritage arts. Luckily for me, there are a lot of people in my area who share my passion!
  11. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Even traveling a person with a sling/bow and good aim can manage a crow, squirrel etc... on the fly as it were. Anytime you are resting the horse (whether you stop somewhere or simply walk the horse) would be a perfect time to consider at least keeping your eyes peeled for game. In wilderness areas you may not get something with every stone you throw or arrow you fire, but the game is likely more plentiful from the lack of human/elvish/dwarvish encroachment. I would think a regular joe in the middle ages/dark ages etc... would eat just about anything they could scrounge up; often to the detriment of their belly and bowels.
    Jess A likes this.
  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

    Hunting is extremely labor-intensive. Setting snares around camp is standard procedure in a survival situation -- or, if you just want to make your trail food taste better. Snares are low-maintenance and generally produce once you understand how to set them. The trick is to set several; at least one on every game trail around or through your campsite. They are, literally, set and forget. Snares close to camp will wake you up when they produce.

    The best food is fresh food, though, meaning food that travels along with you. Small ungulates who can walk on their own, or perhaps squab or rabbits in cages on a cart or a packhorse. Rabbits would be good because they're quiet. Well, quieter than, say, small goats.
    Asterisk and Saigonnus like this.
  13. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Hi guys,

    I haven't been on for a couple of days - thanks for all the responses! I forgot eggs and another seriously obvious one - fish.

    I figured my shape-shifter, given he doesn't enjoy the company of the humans for the most part, will be hunting occasionally and scouting ahead. Problem is, cats and many wild animals don't have a high success rate when hunting. But unlike most cats, his kind has a lot of stamina for general travel. Just not intensive hunting.

    It's the stuff to carry along that I haven't done the research in. I'm definitely aware that foraging takes up time. You guys have given me (and perhaps some others on the board) lots of ideas for things to take. Cheese, pickled eggs - could they take a laying hen? The shifter might eat the animals if not watched, though.

    As some said above - foraging can happen when resting horses/mounts and traps can be set around the camp. Trail mixes are good.

    The Duke has a small number of guards and his primary group, plus the shape-shifter and a herbalist/his head witch. They're going to be away for a while, because they're searching for something and they don't always have places to stop and buy things.

    Instead of a cow - what about a billy goat or two for milk and emergency slaughter? Edit: NANNY goat. Poor billy!

    Pemmican was mentioned on another thread - useful reference.

    On stew - I don't see the issue with stew if they're camping overnight - agreeing with Pauline on that point.

    Travelling with others is a great point, Butterfly (thanks for the links) - I daresay many of the routes they take will have travellers. Not all would be hostile. If they came across drovers with their animals - I think the shape-shifter might try to take some. That could be a fun scene.

    Hm wild onions was another I forgot. And waybread, another I thought of but couldn't remember the name. I suppose the herbalist could sneak a pot of honey with her! Or some sort of jam she's made. Don't think it'd make an awful lot of difference to the hardtack. :p

    There are interesting ways to cook things like fish, too. Need to look into it again.

    So far, the list of things to take with you:

    - Trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruits, hardtack, jerky etc)
    - Water obviously
    - Dried meat and dried fish
    - Cheese
    - Live animals for milk, maybe slaughter (goats)
    - Hens/ducks? Or too hard?
    - Waybread/hardtack
    - Pickled items?
    - Dried fruit
    - Potatoes - wouldn't those weigh quite a bit?
    - Porridge - oats/grains and things?
    - Perhaps some spices for the good Duke. ;)

    That said, what about equipment? What cooking gear/hunting/snares etc stuff will they take - the simplest, lightest, most basic sorts of things. Because they do want to travel light where possible. And how many pack animals per person (or rather, how many people per pack animal)? To start, my group has about 8 people. It does dwindle a little to just a few. Assuming a fair distance, since the Duke isn't welcome in certain places (unless disguised, though I doubt he'd be recognised anyway since there's no television and social media - heh). Nonetheless in many cases they need to stick to wilder areas. Because of this, they can't easily swap their mounts - but while they are travelling fast, they aren't travelling super fast. They can rest the mounts and such. It's just not enormous royal caravan slow.
    Last edited: May 25, 2013
  14. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Just a quick comment -- a billy goat would be no good for milk. "Billy" is the term for a male. You'd need a nanny goat instead. ^^
  15. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Haha no sh*t. Sorry --- nanny goat. I'm still hovering over a cup of coffee ...

    But a billy goat might be a good addition to protect his nanny goat? Hehe!
  16. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

    Good morning Jess A,
    I hope this is not too much detail (you can always not read it all), but the following links have some interesting details on food
    requirements for military forces in the field (which I assume is the nearest 'real' life equivalent to the Duke's party travelling) and pack
    animal carrying capacity and food requirements, amongst other interesting details. Of course creatures in your world may be
    Medieval Logistics: English Experience (based on Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, Allmand, Hundred Years War, Contamine, War in the Middle Ages: - this has some details historical details on daily food
    requirements for men and horses.
    Medieval_Logistics - this one has similar details.
    Pack Transport with Donkeys | Practical Answers | Practical Action - carrying capacity of donkeys.
    Feeding donkeys - food capacity of donkeys
    Methods to Calculate How Much Weight A Horse Can Carry - horsetype.com - For all types of horse lovers! - horse carrying capacity (beyond third line gets a little detailed).
    It is a fair bit of reading, so the executive summary from the second link:
    - a soldier requires three pounds of food per day
    - a horse requires 20 pounds of food per day
    Looking at carrying capacity of a donkey, the typical donkey can carry (assuming no cart, which would be more difficult to move off
    road) about 40 kg to 50 kg (Pack Transport with Donkeys | Practical Answers | Practical Action).
    A horse carrying capacity is around 20% of the animal's mass. So a 1000 lb horse can carry around 200 lb
    (Methods to Calculate How Much Weight A Horse Can Carry - horsetype.com - For all types of horse lovers!).
    Feeding the donkey is different to horses (mentioned in other links) as their metabolism is more efficient than a horse. For a 200 to
    300 kg donkey carrying a 25 to 70 kg load travelling at 4 kph for six hours per day should eat around 500 g of coarsely ground maize
    and sorghum and 2.5 kg of chaff. Some chaff could be replaced with hay or straw. This ration should be given in the morning, and
    then again at night (Feeding donkeys).
    I hope this helps you.
    Lohengrin, CupofJoe and Jess A like this.
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator


    I'm going off on a different track here & it's meant to be constructive.

    I honestly wouldn't worry too much about what the characters are eating & drinking. Yes, details like these can add some texture and ambiance (I wanted to say flavor) to a scene. Yet, I've never finished a story and thought about foods the characters ate. Unless the fare has some relevance to the story, I wouldn't overly stress about their culinary options.

    That being said, if your style involves ultra-accurate representations of background detail or heavy amounts of description, then by all means, go for it. It's been my experience that some author's tend to get bogged down in world building detail at the expense of the story.

    Now, onto some practical notes. If you've ever eaten wild game you'd find stewing meat makes a lot of sense. Small game especially can have a gamy taste and often is rather tough. Stewing the meat aids in making the food palatable and easier to chew/digest. So, wherever you read about the cliche of road stews....well if it's cliche it is so for a reason...because it was done a lot. With most game meat, a brine of onion and salt can do wonders...in the field though, you won't be brining. You'll stew it or you'll cook with a spit.

    Another point, depending on your setting, small game could be rather plentiful and scored without the extensive hunting or time commitment that slows travel. Also, if you're going to take big game, you'd better have a large group. One deer can feed a lot of people. If you don't have a way to preserve the meat (like a smoking rack, which takes time) it's going to waste quickly.
    Last edited: May 26, 2013
    Jess A likes this.
  18. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Guys: I'm not allowed to give any more thanks today it seems! Will remedy that in 24 hours. Because I really am thankful!

    Tevaras: That's great - that's a lot of math/working out, but I think a lot of people (including me) will find that useful nonetheless! Thanks for the links - I think this will help me with armies/battle, as well. The first link for instance has some good facts to add a bit of realism to the story. That way I don't stumble over something and say 'the Duke counted 10 pack animals' or 'the Duke supplied his troops with meals three times a day'.

    T.Allen.Smith: That's true of course - what are the chances I'm going to describe more than 1% of what I learn? Probably sod all, but I enjoy learning about this sort of stuff and it's not really detracting from my writing time. I set aside particular times to write - usually the evenings - and have learned to ban research for the writing period unless really stuck on a small, specific point.

    There are a few plot points on this. Plus, I have a strong need for context - just in case I do have to mention something, and it's not quite coming to mind. That way I have information to pull from, even if the reader only hears about that one little point, while the rest remains in my head.

    The info about game meat is relevant due to the shape-shifter. He has to pull his weight as well. He won't do all of the hunting, but I think he would be looked at first. Besides, he can scout and hunt while the others travel, because he would prefer to be doing something else other than being in their company.


    Thanks again guys for the great information! Keep the ideas coming. I'd like to hear about other people's settings as well!
  19. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

    Good evening Jess A,

    Arrgh! I just read the first URL in more detail (Medieval Logistics: English Experience (based on Prestwich, Armies and Warfare, Allmand, Hundred Years War, Contamine, War in the Middle Ages:), it contradicts the second:
    versus (Medieval_Logistics)
    Somewhat higher than the details in the second link. I _hate_ giving incorrect information :redface:,
    sorry about that. Both pages looked like they were from reputable sources. You (and others) will have to decide which figures work better for you (them). Possibly the differences are due to some different assumptions about weight carried, grazing versus fodder etc. I'm not really qualified to judge, not my specialty.

    For the thanks, you are welcome :), glad you find the details it interesting.
  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Since we're talking about food, here's something from Wikipedia about US military rations prior to the civil war. It's the wrong time period, but it's pretty precise. Bullets are added for emphasis. That's in Garrison, though, not during travel.

    Also, I'm moving this thread to the Research forum.
    Last edited: May 26, 2013
    Jess A likes this.

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