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Eating from stored food. October 23, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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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,


Radical homemaking. January 25, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. I was intrigued and excited to receive an e-mail from PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, announcing the keynote speaker for their upcoming symposium: Shannon Hayes, the author of a book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (Left to Write Press, 2010).

Heading to Amazon to read what people had to say about this, I found this bio of Shannon: “Shannon Hayes writes and farms with three generations of her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in West Fulton, NY, where she grew up. The family raises all-natural grassfed lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. She holds a BA in creative writing from Binghampton University, and a Masters and PhD in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development from Cornell. Shannon is the author of three books: Grassfed Gourmet, Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers….  Shannon currently blogs for Yes! Magazine, and her books are available through most conventional channels, as well as directly from the author at RadicalHomemakers.com and GrassfedCooking.com. Shannon’s newest book, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out from Left to Write Press in 2012.”   

The cover of Radical Homemakers shows Ms. Hayes defiantly brandishing a rolling pin with one well-muscled arm, much like the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter. You can see that she’s picked her battle and joined it exuberantly. And that battle is an old and honorable one, agrarianism versus industrialization, family and community values versus blind consumerism, honorable, rewarding work versus the mindless climb up the corporate ladder, whatever the price.

The roots of this argument go back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It shaped the lives and thoughts of the Founding Fathers; it spawned the Agrarian Movement in the early 20th-century South, led by such literary luminaries as Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.

It inspired the Back to the Land/homesteading movement of the 1970s, led by those pioneering intellectuals, Helen and Scott Nearing, in their Living the Good Life books; it has been the life work of the fine novelist and farmer Wendell Berry, and has been embraced by the novelist Barbara Kingsolver. It has inspired the rise of local and seasonal eating, of CSAs (consumer-supported organic farms) and farmers’ markets, and has created a renaissance of home cooking and a backlash against fast so-called food. It has inspired chefs and cookbook authors like Alice Waters, Mollie Katzen and Laurel Robertson, and seedsmen and seedswomen like Rose Marie Nichols, Rob Johnston, Jere Gettle, and Renee Shepherd. 

Our friend Ben and I are totally on board with this. We moved to Pennsylvania back in the day when an opportunity arose to work for Organic Gardening, a magazine we wholeheartedly believed in. Our escapist reading has been publications like Mother Earth News, Back Home, Backwoods Home, and Plain, and the works of the Nearings, Wendell Berry, Gary Paul Nabhan, Ruth Stout, Jackie Clay, and Gene Logsdon. Our families still scratch their heads over why we chose to make our home in a rural cottage and fill our property with a greenhouse, chicken yard, compost bins, raised beds, fruit trees, vine trellises, woodpiles, rain barrels, and the like. Our colleagues have always asked us why we didn’t seek jobs in New York and Philadelphia, just a few tedious hours’ commute away.

Well, we didn’t want to. We’ve enjoyed our organic connection with our work and with our land, and all the plants and animals we share it with. We’re so grateful to the internet for making broader connections effortlessly possible, enabling our lives to be home-based while still keeping us connected to friends, family, world events, and the latest discoveries in every field. Letting our minds and hearts reach out, even as we’re able to remain centered.

Our choices have had, as you might expect, considerable impact on our style of living. Our cottage home needs painting in the worst way. Our cars are ancient and battered, held together with a prayer and a few strips of duct tape. We need a new stove, new laptops, a digital camera, a washer-dryer. We dream of travel but stay at home. Going to a movie, eating out, buying even the most basic new clothes become major decisions. (Thank God for thrift shops, home cooking, and Netflix!) And yet, imagine this: A life without deadlines, without meetings, without commuting, without constantly having to check your smartphone and talk, text, tweet. “I know a place where dreams come true and time is never planned,” James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote longingly. We know that place, too. We’re lucky enough to live there.

But let’s get back to Radical Homemakers. The title should have clued me in right away that this is an interview book, a profile book, not a how-to book. Homemakers, not Homemaking. The author is also apparently very eager to show that homemaking is not anti-feminist, and feminism apparently occupies a good deal of her approach. (To me, true feminism is doing whatever you feel is right, not wasting time trying to prove that you’re really as good as men—shock surprise!—or that what you’ve chosen to do isn’t demeaning. But I digress.) And she was fortunate enough to have a working family farm to move her family to (for free) when she decided to leave the rat race for a more meaningful life.

Shannon Hayes has, in my opinion, created the meaningful, home-based life she sought for herself and her family. And in Radical Homemakers, she interviews families across the country who have also achieved this goal. What the book doesn’t do is provide a roadmap to help others who have the same dream achieve their goal, especially if they don’t have a family farm to move to or a family who will pay their expenses.

This is in marked contrast to the Nearings’ books, in which they explained exactly what they thought, exactly what they learned to do, exactly how they planned, exactly what they gave up,  and exactly what they did to create “the good life.”

And yet. The Nearings inspired the entire Back to the Land movement with their books. But they made their move in the 1930s, when land was cheap and plenty was available. They were published and accomplished authors, who had led privileged and cosmopolitan lives and had influential connections across the globe. Their connections allowed them to spend half of every year visiting friends and lecturing abroad, and the earnest (young, strong) groupies who flocked to their Forest Farm allowed them to delegate unpaid work, often for years, while they wrote and made music and led a civilized life.

Not that they didn’t feed, shelter, and include their volunteers in their cultural life. Not that they didn’t work hard themselves and live very simply (mostly on unbuttered baked potatoes, raw apples, and undressed salad, if memory serves, on the theory that if you aren’t hungry enough to eat plain food, you aren’t hungry enough to eat, period).

Rather, the problem was that they were delineating the new/old Utopia, based on backbreaking agrarian labor, and their vision was espoused not by farm workers but by Hippies, who embraced peace, love and drugs rather than hard work, who had no experience of work, much less farm work, and who had no support network. The Nearings were as horrified by the people who created a cult around them as JRR Tolkien was by the fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. There simply was no meeting of the minds. The Flower Power generation tried the homestead life, alone and communally, and next thing we knew, they’d become Yuppies, pursuing their parents’ have-it-all consumerist lifestyle with a vengeance.

Well, we’ve seen what happened to the ’80s. We’ve also seen the resurgence of the back-to-the-landers, with urban farms and urban chickens and CSAs and farmers’ markets and slow food and seasonal eating and locavores. We’ve seen how the internet has given all these trends vitality and longevity. And we love that.

So what if Radical Homemakers is an inspirational rather than a how-to book? As long as readers expect inspiration rather than how-to, I see no problem with that. Reading the Nearings and Organic Gardening opened our eyes to new possibilities, honorable livelihood, the concept that you could go back to the land without giving up culture and civilized pursuits. This realization changed our lives’ directions. Who knows what you might find that would trigger a total life change, or a minor tweak that would make your own life whole?

The world of blogging offers a great opportunity to explore the lives of real-time homesteaders, family farmers, and urban bioneers, to see how hard they work, what they’ve chosen to do, the rewards and trials, how their families like it. Some places we love are Jackie Clay’s blog (http://www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/JackieClay/), Gene Logsdon’s musings (http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/), Alan’s adventures over at Roberts Roost (http://www.robertsroostfarm.com/), Daphne’s Dandelions (http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/), Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/), Future House Farm (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/), and The Home Garden (http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/). We love many other blogs, of course, but these cover various aspects of self-sufficiency and food gardening, from urban and suburban spaces to a few acres to a few hundred. Check them out! 

And if you’ve read Radical Homemakers, please let us know what you think!

           ‘Til next time,



Blogging globally, eating locally: a rant. March 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were over seeing what was happening at one of our favorite blogs, Here We Go! Life with the Shibaguyz (http://shibaguyz.com/), when we saw something that made us see red. Not, we hasten to add, in connection with the Shibaguyz themselves. In fact, we were thrilled to read that they’d come up with a way to develop more space for their urban garden and build community at the same time. We can only say, go guyz!!!

No, what aggravated the hell out of us happened when we clicked the link on the Shibaguyz’ site to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website (www.animalvegetablemiracle.com). If you all are fans of growing at least some of your own food and of trying to buy as much of the rest of it locally as possible to support farmers, gardeners, and small businesses in your area, we hope you have read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s novelist Kingsolver’s chronicle of a year in her family’s life when they tried to eat locally, and it’s wonderful and inspiring. The website is an attempt to keep the excitement the book has generated alive.

So what’s our problem? It’s this: Posted prominently in several places on the website is a message to this effect: “We’re sorry we can’t respond to your emails or consider fan letters or requests.” OFB and Silence have seen words to this effect on other popular self-sufficiency blogs we admire, too. However polite the wording may sound, there’s no mistaking the message: “We have better things to do than bother with you.”

We think this is inexcusable. Barbara Kingsolver’s book became a bestseller thanks to the very people she’s too busy to bother with; blogs become popular because of the people who read and support them. (One blog that posts a message like this even asks for reader donations to support it!)

Yes, responding to readers’ comments and queries takes time, and the more popular the blog or website, the more time it takes. If you’re a busy writer or homesteader, or are busy for whatever reason, and hundreds of comments are pouring onto your site every day, we can appreciate that you might not be able to drop everything and spend hours and hours answering them.

But in that case, we have a suggestion: Don’t accept comments on your blog or site. Far better from our perspective to say “We appreciate your support of our blog/website, but we don’t take comments here because we don’t have time to answer or acknowledge them, and we recognize that your time is every bit as valuable as ours.” We have a word for posting reader-generated content on your site and/or taking donations while proclaiming yourself to be too busy to bother with your readers, and that word is exploitation.

Since we believe that anyone who reads our blog deserves our courtesy and attention, we’ll set our outrage aside now and leave you with a couple of more upbeat thoughts. First, kudos to Jackie Clay, who writes and blogs for Backwoods Home Magazine (see the link on our blogroll at right). Jackie is a hugely busy homesteader, writer, and mom, but she somehow finds the time to answer her readers’ endless questions about how to do this, make that, and find the other. We could mention many other popular bloggers, like Frances at Faire Garden (http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/), who always find the time to respond to their readers’ comments, however many they are, however busy they are. We think these are the people who give blogging a good name.

And, on the subject of eating locally, here’s a comment we found quite profound. We think it’s especially apt since Silence is currently editing a book on best foods for a healthy pregnancy. One of the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle visitors left this comment on the website: “Just want to mention that the first step in eating locally is to breastfeed.” Thank you, Judy Harden, for thinking this through!

The zen of goat herding. March 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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1 comment so far

Hi all! I just had to add a second short post today after reading Jackie Clay’s post on her blog at Backwoods Home magazine. Jackie’s posted about her goat, Velvet, who delivered triplets last week. If you love goats, it’s a must-read (or rather, must-see: check out the pics of the adorable goat babies)!

You can click on the Backwoods Home link here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, then look for the link on their site to the “Ask Jackie Clay” blog. Don’t forget to read the comments section where Jackie talks about taking her goats for walks! Being our friend Ben, I of course think she should have a “Name Those Goats” contest. But she and son David probably want to do the honors themselves.

Anyway, it’s a fun read and I know you’ll enjoy it. And you’ll be in awe of how much Jackie knows about gardening and homesteading, and how generous she is about sharing that knowledge. (Can you tell, I’m a Jackie fan from way back?) And please feel free to share your own goat stories with our friend Ben!