Monday, May 19, 2008

The Larder

At a very basic level, food storage translates into independence, but being able to ride out emergencies, shortages, and disasters is an important skill that many in our culture have lost. Most of us have come to expect the immediate and constant availability of aisles and aisles of groceries, convenient serving sizes, and loads of flashy packaging. Except in small pockets of our culture, the well-stocked larder is a thing of the past because, after all, one unspoken promise of the American Dream is the luxury of a well-stocked grocery open 24 hours a day, or at the very least a local quickie convenience store: "we want our Little Debbie snack cakes and we want them now!" (Though perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to denigrate the shelf life of twinkies, which may in fact survive both nuclear holocaust and the apocalypse. I can see the sci-fi feature now: Twinkie vs. Roach: the End of Days.)

This doesn't even delve into weather extremes, market whims or predatory speculators or even political unrest. Whether folks believe there will be outright shortages reaching into the complacent coziness of the American kitchen, the signs of rising prices and wildly fluxuating availability are quite clear around the world. And the emphasis on throwing energy and resources at biofuels means that the relative insulation Americans have enjoyed is likely over. Climbing food prices are making headlines from NPR to the Washington Post to the Boston Globe all the way to the Wall Street Journal, where pundits are talking about food storage as a better investment than banks these days. Americans are no longer as untouchable as we've been lead to believe.

So all this leads to the questions of what food storage might look like and how we can take responsibility for insulating ourselves, our families, and our community. There's loads of information out there about food storage and emergency preparedness from a range of perspectives, and I encourage folks to read through several of the sites for ideas. Different approaches will resonate for different people, but the insurance of a well-stocked larder is worth the investment. Do it right, and there's nothing to lose because it will all get eaten, and as the Wall Street fella points out, buying now will make your rapidly deflating dollar stretch its food value.

Here are some sites to get you started:

Our larder before and after organizing this weekend:

I've been working on trying to fill our larder for the past year, basically. It's been a long time coming together, but it's finally taking shape. We're to the point where we have back up stores of most everything we use on a regular basis, much of which is store bought obviously, but there's home made there as well. There are 3 Virginia-style hams hanging that aren't visible from this angle, and there are several jars of jam, salsa, and chutney still on the shelves. There are also several wire baskets just waiting to be filled with onions and squash, among other goodies.

My plan is to learn to pressure can this year and fill up even more of the shelves with home-canned food, particularly my tomato sauce, paste, and stewed tomatoes, which I admit that I've been freezing because it's easier and less intimidating. I have a pressure canner on semi-permanent loan from a neighbor, though I'd like to pick up my own in the next year or so. I've been doing some research only to find out that I can't pressure can on my glass-top stove, so I'll be purchasing a propane burner that will enable me to do much of it outside. That should be welcome come August!

What the picture doesn't show are the numerous bags sitting down in the potato bin under the shelves. I'm still searching for some good air tight containers for storing my grains and flours. Those will likely go along the open wall to the left of the photo. Ikea has some nice scoopable bins, but they're neither food grade nor air tight, so I'm still looking. Someone online mentioned Panera Bread as a good source for 3 gallon pickle buckets, so I may try giving them a call this week, though I'd rather something larger that didn't smell like pickles.

Obviously, not all that you see in the photo is necessary food storage. Much of it just comes through bulk purchasing the kids' favorites from our local buying co-op, like the Fruity Munch cereal and Annie's cheddar bunnies, for instance. Also, you'll see plenty of white stuff alongside the whole grains because that's what my family prefers. I've tried and tried to get them to switch to whole wheat pasta and bread, to no avail, so I do what I can. What it comes down to, though, is that I store what we eat rather than what I wish we'd eat, and even this kind of stuff is important for keeping up morale and appetite during emergency situations, especially for kids.

Behind the wire baskets are several gallon juice containers that I've been saving, which hold potable water for emergencies. Recommendations run about a gallon per person per day, so it's not much water storage, but it'll get us through a pinch. We also have a pretty good water purifier in our camping gear that offers some back up. We have an electric well pump, so our water supply is sadly dependent on electricity, a problem of which we are keenly aware and working to remedy.

There are, of course, loads of other foods available in our yard and in our freezer that aren't accounted for in the following inventory. I think of it kind of like a checks and balances integrated system with the larder, the freezer, the gardens, and the pastures each working to support the other so that we will always have food and options. Of course there are no guarantees in life, but the more diverse and local the food systems, the more flexibility and possibility are built in, and being able to roll with what's available is part of being prepared.

What's below is by no means an exhaustive list; it's just an inventory of what we have now, giving me insight into where we still need to go and attesting to how far we've come. I'll also admit to being a bit of a history geek, so I'm always mindful of how useful such lists can be for those who seek to learn about our culture and times down the road. Hopefully, too, this list may offer some useful information for folks out there just beginning to think about how their food storage might take shape. Sometimes seeing someone else's details helps us figure out our own. I'd love to hear about others' ideas and systems, so please feel free to leave those in the comments section.

On a practical note, this room is our well-pump room; it's below ground and keeps a fairly constant cool temperature. We're considering further insulating the inside wall this winter against the heat from our wood stove. This room, however, isn't ideal for storing some vegetables, so we'll continue to investigate root cellar possibilities, but the more I learn to grow during the winter, the more I'm convinced that fresh is the way to go whenever possible. The winter garden will never do away with food storage, nor should it, but more of my energy will go towards fresh eating year round and storing produce practically—prepping only the stuff we'll eat and not just because I can. Those green beans never seem to taste very good, to be honest, and I'd rather just eat my fill while they're fresh and bid them a fond farewell until next year.

Larder Inventory:
3 hams

50# wheat berries--hard red spring
20# all purpose flour
50# bread flour
35# whole wheat pastry flour
10# whole wheat flour (in freezer)
50# yellow popcorn
~10# white popcorn
~5# quinoa
25# realsalt
~35# non-iodized curing salt
25# black beans
~20# white jasmine rice
20# rolled oats
~45# yellow grits
~20# dried pasta

35# peanut oil
12 jars coconut oil
2.5 liters olive oil

1# roasted coffee beans
20# chocolate chips
48# baking soda
12# epsom salts
3qts hydrogen peroxide
3qts isopropyl alcohol
4qts apple cider vinegar

22 12oz cans evaporated milk
3 pints green tomato chutney
13 pints pickled green tomatoes
12 pints green tomato salsa
11 half pints strawberry jam
6 half pints grape jam
4 half pints black raspberry jam
8 15oz cans peaches
5 8oz jars chicken bouillon
5 8oz jars beef bouillon
3 27oz cans green chili
2 16oz jars salsa
1 16oz jar green chili
9 4oz cans green chili

1 bulk toilet paper
various and sundry cereals and snacks
~6 gallons Clorox bleach
2 gallons distilled white vinegar

On order:

50# wheat berries--hard winter red
25# arborio rice
25# brown basmati rice


Verde said...

Wow, that is a great larder. You may want to look into the 50 gal. blue water storage barrels, however. Processing rice and beans and dehydrated foods takes a lot of water.

I was horrified to read that you can't pressure can on a glass top stove! That was what was here when we bought the house and I hate the thing.

Jenny said...

I've been working on this too, although as usual I'm not nearly as organized as you are. For grains and flour I'm using metal lard buckets from Lehman's. But I've heard that condensation can be a problem in some parts of the country. I'm not too worried about it here! They also sell a nice little book called "How to Develop a Low Cost Family Food Storage System" which is very useful. And one of the things they recommend is exactly what you did--store what your family actually likes to eat.

As for canning tomatoes, you can do them in a water bath canner. Just follow the time tables and if you are worried, you can add 2tbsp of vinegar per quart. I have found that the pressure canner isn't all that much faster because of the time you have to wait for it to come up to pressure and then drop back down again. The jars wind up staying in the canner for almost the same amount of time as in the water bath. Of course, for low-acid veggies and meats you need the pressure canner.

That's quite a list! Now I'm hungry.

Christy said...

Good list. I'll have to work on putting my list together. We have some stuff but not enough yet. I don't think we are going to have a basement after we move so I'm trying to figure out what we are going to do there. I may be building a root cellar sometime in my future.

El said...

Don't Fear the Pressure Canner. I adore mine. Our house came with two propane stoves hooked up in the basement for canning, isn't that wild? Of course I just use my dumb electric stove, and just can nightly during high season. I think the pressure canner is a LOT less work than the boiling water bath canners, that, and you can put away beans and meat etc. for winter eating.

I do agree with you though that fresh is better. It's taken me some mental adjustment to get used to the idea of a year-round fresh-food supply coming out of the greenhouse, but: do seed some of your hard-to-store stuff late in your hoop house, like beets and carrots and even some onions and spuds. You can dig them up as you need them, then seed the rows with cold-loving lettuces as you go. We also tended to enjoy lots of sprouts (as you did too) when the snow was really flying here and the greenhouse's stuff was slim.

I cracked up when you mentioned the Bunnies! A staple here too! And as for the whole-wheat thing: I actually had to wean my family off their love of the white stuff gradually, making bread with a higher and higher content of the whole stuff and now they're fine with it, especially since it makes superior toast.

I envy Verde her Wall*Wart rainbarrels and plastic food storage tubs. Not that I am stepping into one, but is that an option for you in MD? I do use half-gallon canning jars to store beans and grains and they seem to work just fine. Just don't drop them :)

Woody said...

If we hadn't put up what we did last summer we would have been hurting these past few months. Our stores helped to keep us out of digging a deeper financial hole from my temporary income shortage. Turns out that there were many lessons learned from busting my arse...

Restaurant supply stores have a wonderful line of dry storage items from Cambro. They are clear and stackable. You can freeze them and microwave in them. I have had them for over twenty years and the only bad thing I could report is the lids tabs break off after five years or so. I know that using them cuts down on the number of mold growth experiments in our fridge. They are very nice for bulk dry storage as well.


Danielle said...

Thanks for all the ideas! I, too, envy Verde's Wal-Mart finds, but I don't think that's a Maryland thing either.

Verde, I go back and forth on the water thing. We have, currently, five 55 gallon barrels we use as rain barrels—these we use to water our livestock primarily at the moment. We also have two ~350 gallon cubes off the side of the house that we're working to clean and flush out, which will eventually be used for irrigation. We also have a small fish pond, and we're 1/2 mile from a small river. So, we have options. I'm actually considering investing in a Berkey water filter as well just because water is so important, and it would make these sources that much more usable.

Right now we're going back and forth between trying to get some kind of solar option for running our well pump, though the past 2 weeks of rain really call that into question, and installing a hand pump well out in the pasture near the garden, which would make getting water to our gardens and livestock easier in an emergency situation. Of course the two aren't mutually exclusive; it's just a matter of which gets money and energy first. Of course, there are pros and cons to each solution.

Jenny, I don't know what you're talking about organized! This from a woman who has her entire farm in an excel spreadsheet. lol Me, I've been just as lax as ever about trying to keep records. Thank goodness for this blog or there wouldn't be any record at all!

About the pressure canner... I'm hoping the tomato stuff won't need to be so vinegary. I've been disappointed in my salsa because of that, and my understanding is that I won't need to use as much vinegar with the pressure canner.

El, I tried adding in a cup of whole wheat to my bread recipes, and they all balked. Interestingly, though, I can use all whole wheat in my muffins and all whole wheat pastry for my cookies and no one minds in the least. *shrug*

Christy, time and patience. How's the farm hunting going?

Woody, great points! Relative security can vanish in the blink of an eye. Thanks for the heads up on the storage—I'll definitely investigate. Good to hear from you. You've been quiet in the blogosphere.

Chile said...

You can get 4-5 gallon food grade buckets from bakeries. The frosting smell is preferable to pickle smell.

Your list is great but I'm surprised at only 1 pound of coffee. You must not be an addict like me. ;-)

I did get a pressure canner last fall but haven't had anything in sufficient quantity to try canning with it yet. I may have to buy a case of tomatoes at the Farmer's Market just to force myself to try it.

tansy said... asked how i know how many seeds i planted, i could ask the same of you about your food stash. i can never keep track of quantities.

but, in the garden, it's rhythmic for me to count seeds as i plant.

weird, aren't i?!

i didn't realize your sheep were navajo-churros! i cannot wait until i bring my ewes home. next year, i get the joys of learning to shear w/o anyone to teach me!

Gypsy Root said...

Looking forward to learning all that you are doing. My husband never had jam from the store until he met me. His mother always canned and froze home-made goods.
I want to learn to can! I am also curious to see what you find in the way of storing your grains.
Oh, I have never heard of the term "larder", what does this mean?

Anonymous said...

Careful with the rice, brown doesn't store anywhere near as long as white, something I only found out myself recently:)


Danielle said...

Chile, that was just the whole bean coffee that I counted. We have about 4 lbs in the pantry of espresso and press pot grind. I do need to get more whole bean, and there's a local coffee roaster that I need to investigate for that.

Tansy, if you can find a shearing class, even if you have to drive a bit, I'd really recommend it. Getting the hands-on experience was sooo valuable.

Gypsy, larder means pantry, basically—it's just an old fashioned word I guess. I use it to distinguish between that and our pantry, which is a smaller room and holds smaller quantities of restocks.

Basically, new stuff gets put in the larder and moved into the pantry little bits at a time, then up to the kitchen. That way I'm constantly rotating the stuff that's stored in the larder so it never gets too old.

Molly, thanks for the heads up. I did know that it goes rancid more quickly than white rice. You can store it in the freezer if you have room, and that helps. Same with whole wheat and other grains; it's just a matter of whether you have room in the freezer to do that!

Tim said...

Hi, I love your blog. My wife and I are just getting started with our garden. We will be canning a bunch of stuff this fall. We will get some pictures up on our blog of the garden pretty soon, we are redoing the blog at the same time. As for the propane burner you were talking about, try looking at a turkey fryer at wal mart. they are not to expensive and have a large sturdy burner that cam hold a huge pot. I absolutely love mine.

Danielle said...

Hey Tim, thanks for stopping by! Are you guys in Alabama? My mom lives down in that neck o' the woods and has just started gardening again after about 30 years. It's a whole different ballgame down there.

Thanks for the heads up on the turkey fryer. We've been toying with buying one for a while, but a large vat of boiling oil and 3 kiddos hasn't seemed like the best plan. ;) My cousin's husband is from Louisiana, and he supposedly makes a mean deep fried Cajun Thanksgiving turkey. Mmmmmm—we may need to get one after all.

Tim said...

Yea, we live in North Alabama, next to Huntsville, The growing season is long here, but I am running out of time to get all of it planted. About the second week of June should be the cut off for most plantings here. Work has been killing me lately. As for the Turkey fryer, the cost of the fryer might be cheaper than a propane burner itself, and you get a pot with lid, and a really cool long stem thermometer with it. When I build my planting shed I am considering putting in an outdoor kitchen for canning and such, so I am thinking about building that turkey burner inside a stainless counter top. We want to try and keep the heat from the canning operation out of the house as much as possible.

Cindy said...

Hey Danielle!

It's been a long time since I popped in to read!

A few two cents' ...

I can tomato paste and tomato sauce in a stovetop water bath canner and up here in Calgary this has preserved quite well in absentia of the pressure canning option. I also keep threatening to buy a pressure canner, but this season again I think I'll do with my water bath canners.

About white flour product substitutes, molasses and honey in my ww bread recipe mask the absence of white flour. I've also converted my family to all non-wheat pasta options. We love Tinkyada's brown rice pasta -- all shapes and sizes. The boys haven't noticed at all the substitution, and because I always buy in bulk, they just see the same glass containers filled up so pretty with swirls and elbows and pennes and strands. I've also brought in a bulk kamut pasta, and that has also been met with not so much as a raised brow.

Of course, this could be because of the delish homemade sauce I ladle on top. :)

Speaking of glass containers filled up so pretty, I, like El, store my beans, oats, barley, etc., coconut, even some edible seeds, in half gallon glass jars and I like how these are like decoration on my larder shelves.

About coffee, we've been buying grower direct from farmers in Guatemala. You only have to order ten pounds at a time, it can come as whole beans or ground and the pretty brown paper wrapped package it comes in is a delight to see., if you're interested.