Eating from stored food. October 23, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Backwoods Home magazine, cooking with stored food, eating in an emergency, food for emergencies, food storage, Jackie Clay, storing food
Silence Dogood here. The other day, I wrote a blog post called “Hoarding for the apocalypse” (type the title into our search bar at upper right to read the post), in which I discussed the things I felt it was most essential to stock up on in order to weather an emergency or an enduring crisis, a time when store shelves might be empty and transportation to a store difficult or impossible to come by. You could find yourself in this situation if an ice storm knocks out your power and makes the roads too dangerous to travel on (been there, done that), or if the world economy collapses and throws us into a worse depression than the Great Depression of the 1930s (let’s hope we don’t go there!). In any case, it’s good to be prepared.
One of the things I suggested stocking up on was a good supply of long-storing food staples: canned beans, vegetables, and tomato products; pasta, flours, and yeast; crackers and tortilla chips; peanut butter; sealed jars and cans of nuts; dried beans, lentils, split peas, and soup mixes; silken and other shelf-stable tofus, shelf-stable almond and other milks and fruit juices; grains like barley, oats, rice, quinoa, bulghur, and popcorn; nonfat powdered milk, powdered butter, powdered cheese, powdered eggs; instant (sorry!) coffee, cocoa powder, and loose tea or teabags (black, green, herbal, medicinal); herbs and spices, including salt and pepper (buy them whole and grind your own just before using if possible, they’ll stay fresh longer); sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup; vinegars, oils, hot sauces, mustards, pickles, canned or jarred olives, salad dressings, and any other long-keeping condiments you favor, such as sundried tomatoes or jars of roasted red peppers or artichokes.
In other words, stock up on things you like to eat that you know will keep for a long time. In real life, you probably would rather eat fresh or frozen corn rather than canned (and that’s certainly true for green beans!). But if your power fails for whatever reason and refrigeration becomes a non-option, canned corn and green beans (or jarred pickled dilly beans or Cope’s dried sweet corn) will give you that longed-for taste and add variety to a suddenly restricted diet.
Here’s just one example: Open a can of corn and drain it (reserving the liquid to add to cornbread or soup), open a can of black or kidney beans, rinse and drain, mix with the corn, dice one of the long-keeping onions you have in storage, add some salsa or hot sauce from your stash, maybe a little dried cilantro, oregano, and/or basil, stir well, get your chips, and dig in! No heating required. But you will need a manual can opener, and other manual devices such as a whisk, eggbeater, mortar and pestle, and etc. to make up for all those electric devices everyone relies on.
As everyone who’s had to feed a big family on a budget or try to get by when there wasn’t quite enough knows, soup is a great way to stretch your supplies—and your budget. A small can of corn may not look like much by itself, but it can add a lot to a soup; so can a handful or two of rice or pasta, a cup of beans or lentils, a can of tomato sauce, a couple of small diced potatoes or carrots, an onion or a few cloves of garlic, a splash of olive oil, and some dried herbs from the pantry. You couldn’t make a satisfying meal for your family with these ingredients alone, but turn them into a hearty, flavorful soup, and there’ll be enough for everyone to have seconds.
Making sure everyone gets enough nutrients from your stored supplies is crucial. Here’s where that old standby of vegetarian cuisine, protein complementarity, can come in handy. Basically, your body needs what’s called a “complete protein” every day, one that contains all the essential amino acids to sustain life. Mind you, you don’t need to eat a complete protein at every meal, as long as you manage to achieve it over the course of each day. Foods that provide complete protein all by themselves include eggs, meat, dairy products, and mushrooms (and yes, you can buy mushrooms dried or canned and stock up). But you can also make a complete protein by combining a bean or other legume and a grain: corn and black beans, hummus and pita, rice and tofu, peanut butter on whole-wheat bread, chili with brown rice, refried beans in a corn tortilla: The list is endless.
Vitamins and minerals may be harder to come by than protein, especially when your access to fresh greens and produce may be limited at best. That’s why stocking up on vitamin and mineral supplements is so important, to fill in any nutritional gaps. Yes, you can buy canned spinach, turnip greens, and collards, not to mention dried seaweed. But like all stored food, the nutritional value will decline over time, so supplements are a good backup.
Which brings me to my last two points: Stored food will keep better, last longer, and maintain its color and nutritional value better if you can store it in a cool, dry, dark place. (This is not true for fresh produce like apples, carrots, potatoes, etc., which tend to keep longest and stay freshest in a cool, humid, dark place like a root cellar.) And finally, the two most important rules of food storage: Buy what you’ll actually eat (or learn how to make something your family thinks is good enough to eat before you have to eat it), and rotate your food.
Food rotation is a royal pain, but it’s something we all should be doing all the time anyway. It means rearranging your canned beans/soups/fruits/veggies/etc. every time you buy more, so the oldest cans are in the front where they’ll be eaten first. (Remember, expiration dates are your friend.) Ditto for jars of peanut butter, pickles, jams and jellies, and condiments, bottles of juice, bags of chips, and every other food item in your house. If you store flour, pasta, grains, popcorn, cereals, etc. in big glass jars like I do, I find the simplest way to keep track is to cut the date off the package after I’ve dumped the contents into the jar, then tape it on the lid or side of the jar. (Since I buy in bulk, the item is listed along with the date, which helps me identify all those jars of flour!)
Jars keep my dried goods dry and pest-free. I use them for the seed for our indoor birds, too, while the wild birds’, dog’s, and cats’ food gets stored in those huge metal canisters they sell popcorn in at Christmas. (We actually got ours from a wild bird store.) No mice or bugs allowed!
Oops, I almost forgot! Jackie Clay, the homesteading guru over at Backwoods Home magazine, made an excellent point in the last issue: All those cans, jars, etc. are really heavy. There’s a reason grocery shelves are so sturdy. Make sure yours are, too, before loading them with jars and cans, or you’re risking disaster—and at a time when you can least afford it.
Last but not least, it pays to get a good cookbook or two on using stored foods. The authors have had extensive experience cooking with stored food, and are happy to share their tips and tricks for adding flavor and variety. I have several; the two I can put my hands on this moment are the bible of food storage cooking, Vicki Tate’s The New Cookin’ with Home Storage (self-published, 1993) and Backwoods Home Cooking (Backwoods Home Magazine, 2003).
The Backwoods Home anthology is not strictly a storage-foods book, but so many of their contributors cook with canned, dried, preserved, smoked, pickled, and etc. ingredients—a true pioneer mentality—that I’m including it. You’ll find these on Amazon or on Backwoods Home’s website (click the link on our blogroll at right); Backwoods Home has plenty of other great books to explore, including books on cooking and preserving food by Jackie Clay. Check it out!
‘Til next time,