Sunday, July 26, 2009

Long-term food storage - Backwoods Home

by Jackie Clay

You’ve decided that you’re going to put at least a year’s worth of
food away for your family just in case. Great!

Everyone should do that. We store enough to feed friends, extended
family, and neighbors from time to time, as well. We could not turn
down anyone who came to us saying, “I’m hungry.” So I stock up more
than most people do.

Flours and grains
Man may not live by bread alone, but grains form the base for many
meals, especially during a period of hard times. With flours and whole
grains stored, you have the main ingredient for homemade pastas, breads, rolls, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, tortillas and other flat breads,
pie crusts, cookies, cakes, and more.

I store unbleached (who needs bleaching compounds in their diet?)
flour, at least 200 pounds, in 25-pound store bags, wrapped in plastic
bags and duct tape, in Rubbermaid garbage cans with locking lids in my
pantry. This will feed three of us, plus extra for friends and family, for
over a year, coupled with other flour products and whole grains.

You can add any specialty flours your family likes, such as rye, amaranth,
or Durham (for specialty pastas).

In addition to this flour, I like at least 100 pounds of hard wheat
(sometimes called “wheat berries”). As ground whole wheat goes rancid
fairly quickly, I like this wheat on hand to grind for all of my whole
wheat recipes. In addition, whole wheat grain will grow when planted,
making wheat growing on a fairly small plot possible to restock my supply. As little as a 50x50-foot plot will grow enough wheat for a
small family’s needs.

I also stock about 20 pounds of cornmeal, 20 pounds of masa harina
de maize (corn flour) which I use to make tamales and corn tortillas,
along with 25 pounds of popcorn (grinds nicely for cornmeal, as well
as popping for treats), and 25 pounds of hominy corn (makes hominy
and also masa harina de maize).

Rice, both brown and white, fits nicely in our storage pantry. We also
store about 25 pounds of a combination of white and brown rice with a
few pounds of wild rice mixed in.

And don’t forget rolled oats. They are much more versatile than just
using them for oatmeal. I include them in several multi-grain breads,
breakfast cake, bars, meat loaf, granola, and cookies. And as for oatmeal,
we like it cooked up with peaches, strawberries, and apples with
cinnamon for a treat.

Any grains that are ground, especially cornmeal, masa harina de
maize, and whole wheat, will get rancid quicker than do whole grains,
which usually stay good for many years. Even so, flours (except whole
wheat flour) will stay perfectly good for five years or more if kept dry
and stored in airtight and bug- and rodent-proof containers.

I buy my white flour, cornmeal, etc. on sale at local supermarkets,
usually just before Thanksgiving, as it is cheaper then. Otherwise, I pick it up at Sam’s Club or other restaurant supply houses.

I pick up whole grains from local grain farmers. Sometimes the wheat needs a bit more cleaning if dusty, but a few pours from one basket
to another on a windy day ensures very clean wheat. (And my wheat
is not treated with toxic fumigants in storage bins before being ground
into flour, as is most wheat sold to flour mills.)

When buying flour to store, be absolutely sure the bags are completely
sealed, with no flour leaking out, to prevent flour weevil problems.
In areas where there is a weevil problem (webs and “bugs” in unsealed
cornmeal and flour), some folks freeze each bag of flour for several
days before wrapping and storing it in completely bug-proof containers.
I have not done this, but I am exceptionally careful not to store any flour
products that were not very well sealed from the processing plant, and
I keep them in insect-proof containers. Remember that these moths are
very small and squeeze through very tiny openings.

It is not necessary to buy flours and grains from long-term storage
companies unless you fear flooding. In this case, sealed tins or buckets
of flours would be a good idea. I’ve had plain white flour stored for over
five years, which is just as good today as it was when I bought it.

Beans and other legumes
When one thinks of long-term storage, usually dried beans come first
to mind. I guess this is because they remain good for so long, are nutritious, and taste pretty darned good to boot. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t just buy a hundred pounds of navy beans and say you’re all set for whatever may come your way. All beans do not taste the same. There’s a big,
big difference between a large white lima and a Jacob’s cattle bean, for
instance. Some taste nutty, some bland. Some cook up quickly, some
require hours of cooking. Some remain firm after cooking, others get
mushy and soft. Experiment with a wide variety of beans before committing
to a choice.

We store about 50 pounds of combined legumes, which include pintos,
Cherokee mixed cornfield beans, Jacob’s cattle, Hopi black bush,
navies, red kidney, and a dozen old Native American varieties, along
with lentils, soup peas, black-eyed peas, and garbanzos.

Beans are a great protein source and combine well in many different
dishes. Refried beans, fried dry pea patties, stews, soups, chiles, baked
beans, and casseroles are just a few uses for these versatile legumes.
You can buy your beans in local markets, health food stores, and coops,
or you can do like we do, and grow your own.

All beans store a long, long time in an airtight and bug and rodentproof
container. I keep mine in gallon glass jars and in decorative popcorn
tins, right on handy shelves in the kitchen. While old beans do take
longer to cook up tender, they last indefinitely; I’ve grown beans from
500-year-old seeds. And if you can grow plants from seed, you can certainly
eat them.

Dried pasta
While I make a lot of homemade pasta, I still keep quite a bit in our
storage pantry. When you’re busy with a survival situation, you may not
have time to make pasta. So I’ve put away 10 pounds of long spaghetti,
10 pounds of lasagna noodles, 10 pounds of wide egg noodles, 5
pounds of alphabet macaroni, 15 pounds of elbow macaroni, and a few
pounds of assorted pasta noodles.

This dry pasta keeps indefinitely when stored in a dry, bug and rodentproof
container. As with my beans and other legumes, I use decorative
popcorn tins and gallon glass jars.

Sugar and honey
You will probably agree with me that we all eat too much sugar. And
although honey is natural and better for us than refined sugar, it’s still
sugar. But in bad times, we usually feel better with “treats” from time
to time. And these treats often include sugar. Also, much fruit is home
canned with a sugar syrup, and if you’re going to can to keep your
pantry from running out in bad times, you’ll need quite a bit for fruits,
pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, etc.

Although my husband Bob is a diabetic, we do include sugar in our
storage pantry. I keep a 25-pound sack in a plastic garbage can, along with assorted other dry foods. Much of this sugar is used in canning and
desserts for my son, David, and myself. Bob needs a sugar substitute.
Sugar stores indefinitely if kept dry. If it should get damp and harden,
you can still save it. Beat the bag with a hammer, being careful not to
split the sack. (I would put the paper bag in a heavy plastic bag, just in
case.) Soon the hard lump will be many smaller ones, easy to crumble
with your hand.

Honey is a good long-term storage bet. I keep two gallons of honey,
stored in quart jars. Honey may crystallize if it gets too cool, but it is
still good and will re-liquify if warmed up by sitting the jar in a
saucepan of boiling water. Raw honey only needs to be put into quart
or larger jars and sealed. I have 15-year-old honey that’s still great. (In
case you’re wondering, I try to keep a little of each food for a long, long
time, to see just how long it will remain good. I do rotate my long-term
storage food, using the oldest and replacing it with newer food in an
ongoing process.)

Besides these two sweeteners, I keep 10 pounds of brown sugar and 5
pounds of powdered sugar, stored in the bag they come in until I’m
ready to use them. These bags are stored in the plastic garbage can,
along with the white sugar and much more. The only problem I’ve had
regularly with brown sugar is hardening in the bag. I’ve cured this by
breaking the sugar into chunks, dropping them into a gallon glass jar
and adding a piece of paper towel, dampened with water. Close the jar
and in a few days the sugar will be soft again.

Miscellaneous dry goods
Powdered egg is a handy dry food to keep on the pantry shelves. The
modern powdered egg is much better than the old “green eggs” of military
service days. Not only is it great in cooking, but it tastes pretty
good too. I keep three #10 cans, which hold almost a gallon, on my
pantry shelves.

Powdered margarine and butter are another “must have” for most
families. These are reconstituted with either water or vegetable oil, with the oil tasting much better. I keep three of each, even though we have a
cow and goats. One never knows when they may be dry and you need

Powdered cheese is a great product that stores easily. I use it in macaroni
and cheese, on popcorn, in potatoes au gratin, casseroles, and
more. I keep about 10 pounds of a powdered cheese sauce that I buy
from a local restaurant supply house quite inexpensively.

Dry yeast is a definite must in a long-term storage pantry, as well as
in everyday use. I buy mine in 1-pound vacuum packed aluminum foil
bags. Unopened and frozen, they last indefinitely. Unopened and on the
shelf, they’ll last for a couple of years. Opened and on the shelf, dry
yeast is active for about a year or a little more. I keep an unopened bag
in my propane fridge’s freezer, figuring that if an emergency situation
occurs, causing us to have to do without the fridge, my yeast will still
be good for better than a year. I have another one on the shelf that I use
every day.

Baking soda is also a necessary baking leavening agent, also useful
for an antacid, deodorant, cleaner, and more. It keeps on the shelf forever. I keep 5 pounds.

Baking powder is hard to do without. You’ll need it for quick breads,
such as corn bread and biscuits, which are very important in emergencies
because you can eat well and spend only minutes in baking. It
keeps well for years without losing its leavening ability. I keep two
large tins, one to use and one to store.

Salt is needed, not only to improve the flavor of foods but in meat
preservation and canning. I keep 10 pounds of iodized salt in 1-pound
boxes, and 10 pounds of canning salt. Canning salt is used in pickles
because table salt contains chemicals that sometimes cause pickles to
soften or discolor. Dry salt will keep forever. If it should harden, beat it with a hammer and it will be made useable.

Dry milk is a necessity, even for those of us who have dairy animals.
One never knows when your animals may be dry and you need Dehydrated milk does not taste as good as fresh. But it is great for cooking and it will work on cereal or for chocolate milk. The boxes at your local store will last for years with no change in taste. I keep about 10 pounds of dry milk, even though we have dairy animals.

Spices are indispensable. Be sure to store a wide variety of your
favorites. True, spices do lose some of their flavor in a year or so. But
better to have an old spice than no spice. They will “keep” forever, but
will slowly lose their potency. I buy most of mine in oriental markets
and restaurant supply houses.

Miscellaneous canned necessities
Peanut butter isn’t just for kids, folks. It’s a tasty, great protein
source that’s versatile, as well. No one guesses that the secret ingredient
in my best stir-fry is a tablespoonful of chunky peanut butter.

Remember that besides peanut butter sandwiches and spread on toast,
you can bake cookies and other desserts with this protein-filled treat.
Unopened, it’ll last for years.

Shortening and vegetable oils will make cooking more of a pleasure,
not to mention all the baking you may want to do. Most shortenings will
store indefinitely in the pantry and unopened bottles of vegetable oils
will be fine for over a year, usually longer. Rotate the oils more frequently than the solid shortening. You will probably like using corn oil to reconstitute your powdered margarine and butter, instead of water. You’ll use more shortening and vegetable oil in a year than you’d guess. I store a dozen cans of shortening and 6 large bottles of vegetable oil.

Dehydrated foods
Unless you need sealed cans of dehydrated foods, you can dehydrate
food for long-term storage yourself. It’s amazing how easy it is to dry
foods at home. While I homecan a huge variety of foods, I also rely on
dehydrated foods, which complement the canned foods. For instance,
canned peas taste like nasty mush. Sorry, Jolly Green, it’s the truth. So instead of canning my peas, I dehydrate them. When rehydrated, they
taste almost as good as fresh.

What foods can you dehydrate? Here is just a sample: raisins, cherries,
pineapple, peaches, apples, plums, watermelon, peas, corn, hominy, beans, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkin, apricots, mushrooms, asparagus, turnips, rutabagas, raspberries, blueberries, citrus peel, bananas, mangos, fruit leathers of all types and mixtures, and jerky. Gee, I get hungry just making this list.

Canned foods
While you can buy up a bunch of canned meats, vegetables, fruits,
jams, jellies, pickles, and so forth at the store to put in a long-term storage pantry, it’s a good idea to learn to homecan foods. Both will have
an indefinite shelf life, but homecanned foods will be much more tasty
and nutritious. And if a situation develops where you can not buy more
storebought food, you can reuse your jars and rings (not lids) and
homecan more food to restock your pantry. All it takes is a garden and
a little skill.

Here are some samples of home canned foods you can store and use:
apples, applesauce, apricots, baby foods, asparagus, barbecue sauces,
beans of all types, beef roasts, stew meat, beets, blackberries, cabbage,
corn, carrots, celery, cherries, cheese, chicken, chili, clam chowder,
clams, conserves, corned beef, crab apple jelly & pickles, cranberry
sauce, elderberry jelly, elk, fish, grapefruit, grapes, grape jelly, greens, jams, ground beef, jellies, juices, lamb, maple syrup, mixed vegetables, mincemeat, moose, mushrooms, okra, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, pickles, pie fillings, plums, plum jelly and conserve, poke, pork, potatoes, poultry, preserves, pumpkin, rabbit, raspberries, rhubarb, salsa, sauerkraut, sausage, seafoods, soups, taco meat, taco sauce, tomatoes, tomato catsup, tomato sauce, turkey, turnips, venison, watermelon pickles, wild game, fowl, and much more.

Remember though, there are 52 weeks in a year, so if times get tough
you will need more food than you first think. There may be no fast food, only homecooked meals. Calculate carefully and err on the bountiful
side, rather than have your family go hungry. And can a wide variety.
No family likes to eat beans every meal.

Pet foods
Perhaps the easiest foods to store for your dogs and cats are dry foods.
Under decent storage conditions, a good quality dog or cat food will
remain fresh for at least a year. Store a high quality dry food, not the
“cheaper” brands. As with most everything, you get what you pay for.
Add up what your pets eat in a week, a month, then multiply it by 12.
Store in rodent-proof containers.

It’s also a good idea to include a few cans of quality dog and cat food
for a treat now and then. I knew a lady who survived the depression
with her dear fox terrier. The woman was very poor and could not
afford any dog food, whatsoever. And, of course, there were very few
table scraps. So to feed her beloved pet, she trapped woodchucks and
muskrats, which she skinned for a few dollars and canned the boned
meat for her dog. Coupled with a few meager table scraps, her fox terrier
came through the hard times fat and sassy.

You and your family can come through hard times in triumph, not merely “survive” them. All it takes is a bit of planning, a lot of hard work, and some ingenuity.