How To

Stone Tools: Using a Mortar and Pestle

Editor’s Note: An old military saying is, “two is one, one is none.” For food preparation, I have a grain grinder that is effective, with no similar backup. This article suggests the use of a mortar and pestle for the same purpose. Fortunately for me, I found the set pictured below for less than $15… a welcome addition to my kit!

mortar and pestle

H/t to Survivalistblog

This to me, maybe to others is an interesting part of history. We all know of things like the pyramids in Egypt and South America where the stones are so well dressed that a blade from a pocket knife won’t fit between the stones.

Of course I’m not going to attempt to build any thing as grand as a pyramid of any type here. No, I’m more interested in the day to day stone tools of the aborigines.

With the first being a stone mortar and pedestal, or as it is also called a Metate and Mano, why is this you wonder. Ancient man had to eat, and he did not always have bison, deer or such. There were nuts and grains in plenty that needed some preparation before being consumed.

While out rock hounding along a near by creek, I found an interesting piece of chert, it looked as if it could have been a mortar. So I packed it all the way back home where it set on one of my work tables. A few months later I found a suitable pedestal stone, this one is a large lump of smooth quartz. Needless to say it was packed home.

After being cleaned a couple of times I sat down with an assortment of modern grains, Milo, Wheat, Barley, Rye, and Corn Starting with the Milo and going in order I soon had a dish of fine flour. Each grain was reasonably easy to reduce to flour, except for the Corn. (More on the Corn in a bit).

It is easy to see that with the modern grains that the ease of grinding could have been a factor in the change from hunter gathers to farming. So I started looking at other food sources such as seeds and nuts.

The seeds from the honey locust are as hard as our modern Corn and is quite difficult to grind by hand. Acorns were quite easy to grind into a flour that made an excellent flat bread. There many other seeds that warrant being tried such as pumpkin and beans. Really the list is very long.

To get back on topic, living out in the far boonies sometimes some improvising has to be done. Such as the winter I didn’t have enough store bought bread in the cabin. So I made the # 10 can oven.

So if anything was to happen to society as we know it, an alternative source of easily worked food is needed. Which is why I focused on the afore mentioned modern grains. Really its just a chicken scratch blend. Some blends have up to 9 different grains and seeds. And my chickens don’t eat them all. I have had Milo, Wheat, Barley, Rye, and Corn volunteer all over the yard. I let it grow and go to seed. Sometimes the harvest was a hundred times over what had sprung up of its own accord.

So with a cheap and easy to grow source of grain, we need a way to work it. The hand grinding is the least cost way to make flour for Flat and Artisan breads. You just need a couple of rocks!

Which brings me to a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago. I sat in the floor and in about an hour had enough flour for a small artisan loaf. I spent more time getting the “feel” of working the pedestal or Mano as it sometimes called. Once I had the technique down I quickly ground the seeds. I was really surprised how quickly the seeds were worked into flour. Keeping in mind that I’m 50 years old.

By working the Mano in a circular motion side to side and then by using it as a wheel the seeds were quickly cracked and easily finished.

I know that there are some folks that would say why bother with such a primitive device. When was the last time someone stole rocks from you? Your house or barn can be broken into and contents carried of. But really how many people would think to steal a few odd rocks? Not many. How many people know what Milo and the other grains look like as they are growing? Again not many.

With the proper mix of these modern grains you can keep them growing year round in small patches. Wheat, Rye, and Barley are planted in fall, the rest in spring. Once established these grains will self seed to a certain extent, and can keep you in a basic food supply.

Back to the Corn, it was so hard that it would not work into flour as it was. I had to break it into smaller and smaller bits before it would start to grind. This lead me to a couple of different thoughts. Modern Corn is much harder than what the ancients had, or it was treated in some method to make grinding easier. The only thing I can think of at the moment is that it was soaked in wet wood ash to make hominy. Then dried and ground. I have begun to think that folks who say they hand ground their corn meal are scamming big time.

So I now have 3 cups of Corn soaking in wet wood ash to make hominy. When it is ready I’ll rinse, dry and try grinding it.

Now if you plant small scattered patches of these grains, do make or learn to make live traps or snares. Why? Because you can supplement your bread with rabbit, groundhog, feral pig, and even deer. From these or other animals you can fabricate even more useful tools. And besides those critters will eat all your grain and not leave you with anything!

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