January 28, 2015

Pantry Keeping 101, Part 1 in a Series on a Keeping Prepper's Pantry

   There are many ways to manage long term storage foods. Some people purchase a certain amount of food, like a 1 year supply for a family of 4, from a company that sells package deals of freeze dried, prepared foods.These foods are purchased for the sole purpose of supplying the family food in an emergency, but will not be used as part of their present diet. Others buy large quantities of staple items in 5 gallon buckets that have oxygen absorbers in them to keep them viable for 15-20 years, but the plan is to leave those items in buckets as insurance in case it is needed in some future crisis or food shortage. Both of these forms of food storage are more stock piling than pantry management. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stock piling food for hard times, it is a prudent and responsible thing to do, but there are some drawbacks to both buying prepared freeze dried meals, and buying 5 gallon buckets of staples to save for later.
There are some very good companies out there that provide quality foods, that will feed the family 3 meals a day, (Legacy is one that I have heard good things about). For some that is just the ticket, quick easy meals that require very little preparation. But for my family, it just wouldn't work...The prepared freeze dried foods are OK if we were are going on a back packing trip, where light and easy to prepare foods are necessary, and won't be consumed for any length of time.  but if it was the only food I had to offer my family for a long period of time, the limited choices, and relatively bland flavors, would lead to a familial revolt, or worse it would cause food fatigue, ( where people can't stand to eat the same things anymore and just stop eating). I would also have concerns about the lack of dietary fiber, high salt and preservative content in a steady diet of freeze dried, processed foods. Another consideration would be the cost. The freeze dried, packaged foods are kind of pricey.

 I do use freeze dried foods in my food storage plan though, I just buy the freeze dried ingredients, instead of the prepared meals, That way I can control how much salt and other things go into the foods we eat and it just works better for my family.. Honeyville Grains has quality freeze dried foods, like organic sweet corn, organic peas, asparagus tips, and more. Plus some very good quality dehydrated foods like tomato powder, mixed vegetables, carrots etc. All their foods are guaranteed to be non-gmo (with the exception of a few of their soy products), and they have a growing number of organics available. Honeyville has the absolute best shipping offer of any online food supplier, $4.99 flat rate shipping, whether you buy one #10 can or an entire truck load! It just doesn't get much better than that!  I use the freeze dried and dehydrated foods in combination with my long term storage staples like wheat, rice and beans, for our long term storage pantry, but I also use them in my daily meal planning. This insures that our food supplies are rotated on a regular basis, but also makes sure that our storage foods are familiar to us so there is less shock  or balk about eating them should they be all that there is available.

  The stock piling of 5 gallon buckets of staples would take care of the basics, but how long would my family be willing to eat the same few items and really... how long would it take a family of four to eat their way through a 5 gallon bucket of rice or beans? It would probably begin to sprout bugs before it was all consumed. The cost is better and the foods that are stored are more wholesome than the prepared foods but for my family it would still leave a lot to be desired.

So this is what we do... For starters, I prefer to call our process, "Pantry Keeping" rather than "stock piling", since we are not just purchasing food and holding it in long term storage, but we are using it and rotating it onto our table and then periodically replacing what we use. Our method of pantry keeping has several layers, Layer one is an Open Stock, comprised of the staple items that are in my kitchen cupboards, large glass jars on my counters,  fresh foods and condiments in the fridge, plus spices, dried fruits and sprouting seeds.

   Layer Two is a Three Month Pantry, which has a 3 month supply of goods we will use in daily food preps, like home canned vegetables, juices, canned goods purchased from the grocery store, packages of coffee and tea, honey that has been dipped out of the 5 gallon long term storage bucket into 1/2 gallon Mason jars, bottles of tomato sauce and salsa, etc. We call this the Three Month Pantry, because it holds the 3 month supply of some of our most often used items, but it also holds our larger stock pile of olives, pickles, jams, jellies, maple syrup, almond butter, coconut oil, shelf stable meats, cans of salmon and tuna, as well as the medicinal herbs that are not in LTS. We use this as our "grocery store". When I make out my menus, I shop here first for whatever I will need to prepare the week's meals, then if I don't have something I need, I will mark it down on the list I will take to the grocery store.

Finally, There is the Long Term Storage, (known from now on as LTS), which is packaged to last 15-20 years or more, if stored properly and left unopened. Since we store what we eat and eat what we store, our long term storage foods play a daily role in our diet. Although LTS foods are able to be stored for 20 years or more, I try to keep my supplies as fresh as possible by using them to prepare our daily meals. I store supplies of staples that I package myself, in mylar bags that are stored in 2 gallon buckets with a gasket lid. The 2 gallon bucket size is optimal for my family. We can go through a 2 gallon bucket in a reasonable amount of time, so there is less risk of it going buggy or rancid. Since I don't have to focus on using up 5 gallons of something, I can have a variety of things open at one time, giving me more flexible menu options. We have food stores to last us several years, all packaged in mylar with oxygen absorbers to make sure the contents will stay viable for 15-20 years,  but I try to make sure that most of the things we store are cycled through to our table and replaced within 3 years. That way we can be sure to have a fresh, safe stock of food if the regular supply lines are not available.

  The fact that the foods I store are also the foods we eat on a regular basis, means that there will not be any major dietary changes made, should we have to depend solely on what we have in LTS. I also store herbs, seasonings, spices, salt, sweeteners, condiments, vinegar, liquor, (for tinctures and other medicinal purposes), home canned goods, home dehydrated goods, some quality freeze dried ingredients, (not prepared foods...), ingredients like freeze dried corn, peas, broccoli, asparagus, dehydrated tomato powder, dehydrated potatoes, dehydrated cooked beans, sprouting seeds, and raw supplies for making other life sustaining foods like miso and tempeh. We also store dried fruits, which sadly have a short shelf life, but we eat them regularly so the supply is rotated out in a year or less. If we couldn't go to the grocery store for a period of time, we would still have a fresh supply to last a year.

  Since the foods we store are the foods we use, I know that I can create meals that are healthy and that my family will eat. Since they have been rotated and replaced I know that they are going to be edible when I open them, and that they will have retained their nutritive value, and I am almost always eating at last year's grocery prices! A recent example of this savings is: in 2008 I bought three 60 pound buckets of honey, for $100 each. Since honey never goes bad, and it is one of the few sweeteners we use, I bought a large quantity when I found it on sale through my co-op. We just opened the last bucket the other day, so I ordered a couple more on my last co-op order, the price is now more than $200 a bucket. So for 5 years we were eating honey at 2008 prices, (while setting aside money each payday to purchase replacements when we needed to replenish our stock in the future.

  So that is the basic run down of our Pantry Keeping system. In future posts I will go into more detail about each of the levels of storage, outline how we decide what to store, how to calculate what a family would need for a give period of time, how to store foods for long term storage, and how to begin an LTS pantry of your own.

January 25, 2015

Seeds for Thought

After considering all that happened in 2014, what has become very clear is that things never go as planned. The best laid plans can get waylaid when "Life" happens. That is one reason that my husband and I live by the motto, "Be Prepared".  For us preparedness is a lifestyle, part of our every day life. So as I consider the coming new year, one of the things I will be looking at is how well prepared we are for whatever 2015 has in store for us.

   I am presently doing  my first "preps" for the new year. I am poring over our new seed catalogs as they arrive in the mail, in preparation for our next round of plantings in the garden. This is vital, since we lean heavily on our gardens to put fresh, organic food on our table. Not only will I need to plan for what we will plant this coming year, but I will also need to consider what seeds I want to purchase for long term storage. Some seeds store better than others, and all seeds have a relatively short storage life, so before I order seeds I will have to consider what seeds we presently have stored for the long term, and rotate them into use for this year, once I have ordered and received replacements for the storage seed.

  I always have a good supply of  turnip seeds, broccoli, cabbages, kale, clover, alfalfa, many different oriental greens, and other similar seeds. I use these seeds for making sprouts for consumption, as well as for sprouting for seedlings to put in the garden, so I keep a large stock on hand. These seeds have a hard coat and generally have a long shelf life if stored properly. I have used broccoli and cabbage seeds that I found in the freezer, 3 years after their use by date and still had good germination. Even though these seeds will last much  longer than one growing season, I try to use my seeds within 2 years of purchase, just to make sure that I don't let them lose their viability. A rule of thumb is, the larger the seed the longer it will remain viable. I have also found that the harder the seed coat the longer they last, but I don't know if that is scientifically proven. Some seeds like lettuce, onion, and carrot seeds have a large drop off in germination from one season to the next. I usually only buy enough of these seeds for the season, plus a small quantity of seed for long term storage, that I can grow out and save the seed from if need be.

new york  Most seeds that are stored in a cool, dry, oxygen free, moisture free environment will remain viable for years. Even so, I order new seed and rotate my long term stored seeds into my normal sprouting or planting schedule yearly, once the replacement seed has arrived. So at any given time, I have last years seed in the garden this year and I put this years seed in long term storage. I want to have the freshest seed possible should I have to rely on my own stock of seeds, due to crop failure, lack of availability, or extinction.

   The seed that is stored for long term is placed in small mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and is then heat sealed with my Hot Jaws sealer, (an iron will work if you don't have a sealer), then they are labeled and dated. I put the collection of mylar bags of seeds in a 2 gallon plastic bucket with a Gamma lid and keep an inventory list on the outside of the bucket that tells me what seeds are inside. These seeds are then stored with the rest of our LTS buckets, in a cool, dry place.

  Not all the seeds I plant each year are from my LTS cache. I purchase some seed for the present year planting, and put into LTS what isn't used this year. This is usually seeds for tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables that are only planted during the summer months. Each seed packet will contain more seed than I can plant out, so what doesn't get used this year, will be stored in LTS and I will use them along with the new seed I order the following year. That way I don't waste seed, and should there be a lack of seed to purchase the following year, I can still grow out last years seed and save some for the future.

  Once my seed situation is under control, I will move on to inventory our food supplies, make sure the spread sheet that we use to keep track of things is up to date and make note of things that we need to replace. There is always something to be done and every day at Heart's Ease Cottage is a prepping day!

January 23, 2015

How We Became Homesteaders

Hm-m-m.... Where do I begin? Well, if you have been following my other blog, www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com then you have probably read how we got started with prepping. But in case you didn't get to this blog from the cottage blog, I will give you a synopsis of how we came to be where we are today.

 Ceiling down and water standing in the floor
 days after the hurricane. Circa 1989

In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo came through and made pick up sticks of our home, we were in the middle of adding on a bathroom, laundry room and 3 bedrooms to a circa 1944, 750 sq. ft. house we bought 18 days before. We had the new construction "dried in" by the time the hurricane hit, but that was not enough protection to keep the high winds, floods and rain from wreaking havoc on the house and our lives. It took us years to recover. Financially, we were up to our ears in credit card debt, since insurance didn't cover any of the new construction, or the fact that we had to rewire and re-plumb the entire house. With nowhere near enough insurance money to cover the cost of rebuilding, we had to do things little at a time as we could afford to, and when it was something that just couldn't wait until we could afford to begin work, we had to put it on the card. Ouch. Fortunately, once we were given our official Certificate of Occupancy, we could roll all that debt into a mortgage, and eliminate the outrageous interest payments we were paying for carrying so much debt on credit cards.
New construction standing in water after the hurricane
  The Certificate of Occupancy was kind of a joke, since we had been living in the rubble/construction since shortly after the hurricane. For 8 months we had no power or water, I prepared our meals on an old Franklin wood burning stove, that wasn't designed to be used as a cook stove, but we made it work... we had a make shift toilet in the woods and the kids and I bathed from a bucket or from the sink at a convenience store that friends owned, Da showered at the work out room at his place of employment. We worked day and night, Da worked all day at the office, while I measured, cut and numbered lumber for him to knock into place when he got home, we ran wire, laid plumbing, built interior walls, stapled in insulation and hung sheet rock all either by lantern, or when the extension cord a neighbor ran from their house to ours wasn't used to run a single power tool, we could plug in a shop light to illuminate our work area. While we were doing all these things, we had a 7 year old and an infant that needed care, clothes to wash, food to prepare, all with no power and very little time.
N. my oldest son helping with the reconstruction.
E.M helped, too.
We also had very little money to buy food, so our meals were very humble and were made in one pot either on the wood stove or in a dutch oven over an open fire outside. We washed dishes in water we hauled from a neighbors well spigot and drank bottled water. We had no heat that first winter, the chimney that vented the wood stove had been damaged during the storm and the stove smoked like a freight train. So we couldn't heat with it at night and only during the day when we weren't in the room with the stove. It was really futile to try and heat anyway since some of the floors were open to the ground and one gable was still open to the sky... It was a long cold winter.

Master bedroom
  Eventually, we were far enough along to refinance, but nowhere near finished with the house. Most people in our area were out of power for 3 weeks, we had no power for 8 months, most every one else was back to life as usual in a month or so, for us... our baby was three when we got interior doors, he was 5 when we finally had floor coverings. My sink was on 2x4's in the kitchen for 2 years, but we did have indoor plumbing, a stove and a fridge within the first 2 years. It  looked to others like we were back to normal. Ha! That is because we had a car in the driveway,( instead of the deuce and a half dumper that we were filling with pieces of our house and driving to the landfill), and we had a front door instead of a tarp, but inside things were anything but normal. Two years later there we still had rooms with no sheet rock on the walls, we all slept in one room for a year, since the rest of the house was still a construction zone. We breathed the sawdust, insulation, and sheet rock dust while we lived and constructed in the same space.
Since we had to completely gut and redo the 1944 part of the house we took the opportunity to make some modifications. We reconfigured a couple of small rooms to be a big open kitchen/dining/family area that echoed the look and feel of the bedroom addition. We vaulted the ceiling and put in skylights to add extra light and make the space feel bigger. In a way, the hurricane allowed us to have a much nicer design to the total house than we would have had otherwise.

E.M. was 6 months old and N. was 7 yrs. when Hugo hit in September of 1989. This photo was taken in April of 1992, E.M. was almost 3 yrs. and N. had just turned 10. They spent a lot of their early childhood living in a construction zone.

In time though, the sense of the urgency kind of faded and we began to take stock of what happened and how we had survived. It was during that time that we decided that if we had any control over it, we would never be caught without the ability to feed and shelter ourselves again. Even before we were finished with the rebuilding of our home, my husband and kids, 11 and 4 by this point, built an outdoor pantry and we began to stock it with enough food to last us for 6 months. That was the beginning. Now many years later we have an entire system that we call Pantrykeeping, that we use to manage our stockpile and keep everything rotated and in stock. We have a large garden that we keep in production 365 days a year, a variety of perennial fruits, and we continue to practice and hone our homesteading, self-sufficiency skills. Being prepared has become a way of life and every day is a prepping day.

So, with a little background on why we prep, I will in the next few post begin to lay out how we prep. It doesn't take SHTF of TEOTWAWKI kind of events to set life on its ear, it could be a personal crisis, job, loss, illness, or an Act of God. Don't let life catch you unprepared... If you have a survival story of your own, please leave a comment and share it with us we would love to hear from you! Until next time!

January 11, 2015

Smoking Cheddar - Part Three of What Has Gone Before

My all time highest view count for a post on aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com was this blog post I did on smoking cheddar cheese. It is a great way to add distinctive flavor to your run of the mill medium to sharp cheddar cheese.

It is possible to can cheese. It is a high aid food, so it can be canned in a water bath canner. The FDA does not recommend that you can cheese, so I won't tell you to do it, but I and many others have done it for a life time with no problems, but use your best judgement. I will put the directions for canning cheese at the end of this post. Now on with the story....Blog Post Originally from January 2013.

One day this past fall, I was in the back yard smoking chipotle peppers, (I grow jalapeno peppers and let them ripen until they turn red, just for this purpose). As I was taking the last tray of peppers out of the smoker, I was lamenting to myself that there was still so much good smoke left and I hated to waste it... I was casting about for something to put in the smoker to take advantage of the remaining smoke, when it dawned on me that I had a huge block of cheese in the house that I was going to cut up into pieces and freeze. I am vegan and don't eat cheese, but my husband loves it. He is especially fond of smoked cheese, but it is so expensive that I usually only get it for special occasions. So I decided to smoke some of the cheddar just as an experiment.

 I was afraid that the cheese would melt, and I didn't want to waste it, so I started out by just putting one small chunk of cheese in the smoker. I looked in the side door of the smoker and checked for heat. The coals were mostly gone and all that was left was the fruit wood prunings smoldering in the tray, so I put the block of cheese on the rack and put the lid on. I left it 5 minutes and then lifted the lid to make sure it the cheese wasn't melting through the cracks. It was warm to the touch on the surface, but was still firm. So I turned the cheese and smoked it for another 5 minutes, then it took it out and smelled it. It smelled wonderful! When my husband got home, I had him try a piece. He said it tasted better than the store bought smoked cheese.

So I set aside some time the next day to smoke the rest of the block of cheddar that I had. The smoker that I have is a Brinkman Smoke 'n' Grill.  I got it on sale at the end of the season at Ace Hardware for $29, but they normally run about $45. It has two racks and two pans, one pan for coals the other pan for water, (if you a smoking a turkey or something that takes a long time, it is necessary to have the water to keep things from drying out). I took one pan out and set it aside. I put the other pan on the hanger at the very bottom of the smoker. Then I soaked small twigs and branches of fruit wood, no larger around than my finger, in a bucket of water. *Note I have a supply of fruit wood prunings from my fruit trees, but if you don't have fruit trees, you can purchase Hickory smoking chips and the natural briquettes at the grocery or hardware store.*

While the branches were soaking, I took several layers of newspaper, twisted them tightly and dripped candle wax on them until they were coated, (I use candle wax instead of lighter fluid, because I don't like lighter fluid). I put the newspaper in the pan I had set aside, add a healthy handful of tinder sized twigs, and then placed a small mound of  natural hardwood briquettes on the twigs and newspaper twists and lit the paper. I let the briquettes burn until they were covered in a light coating of ash and were mostly white on the outside, then I took a pair of tongs and placed three briquettes in the pan that was in the smoker. I placed a small pile of the soaked fruit wood twigs on the briquettes, making sure they were in contact with the coals, closed the side door and placed the lid on the smoker. Before long thick smoke started to leak out around the edges of the lid indicating it was time for me to put the cheese on the rack.

I took the lid off the smoker and checked to make sure it wasn't hot inside the smoker, then I placed the blocks of cheese on the rack making sure to leave room for the smoke to circulate around each block.
 I smoked the cheese for 5 minutes on each side. I did several batches of cheese, so as the briquettes burned down and the twigs were consumed, I added more to the pan in the bottom of the smoker, using the side door.When I was finished smoking the cheese, I took them inside on a tray and put them in the fridge to cool. Once cool, I wrapped them individually in plastic wrap and then stacked them in a gallon freezer bag, and labeled them with contents and date. They will keep for many month without freezer burn since they are double wrapped.

                  Here is a recipe for one of my husband's favorite smoked cheese sandwiches:

Two slices of homemade whole wheat bread (or a good quality store bought equivalent)
2 -3 Slices turkey breast (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey if it is that time of year)
One thin slice of red onion
2 Tbsp. whole berry cranberry sauce (for the Fall and winter version) or 4 slices of Granny Smith apple (for the Spring and Summer version)
Clover sprouts
2 thin slices of smoked cheddar

Spread mayo thinly on both pieces of bread. Place 1/2 turkey on bottom piece of bread, place cranberry sauce or apples and the sliced onion on the turkey then add the remaining turkey, smoked cheese and the sprouts. Top with the second piece of bread. Press down lightly to settle ingredients, cut into halves and serve. * If you're not a mayo fan then replace the mayo with honey dijon mustard.   Provecho!

*The FDA does not recommend that cheese be canned, but I have done it successfully for years, with no ill effects,  but use your best judgement.
 To can cheese, choose a semi-hard cheese like cheddar or mozzerella, although I have read about someone having good success with cream cheese... It takes about 10lbs. of cheese to fill 12 wide mouth mason jars. Grate the cheese and place it loosely in the jars, keep a bowl full of grated cheese close by since you will need to keep topping off the cheese in the jar as it melts in the jars. Place the jars in the water bath canner that has about 2 -3 inches of hot water in it. You don't want the water to splatter or boil into the jars of cheese so make sure the level of water is no more than 1/2 up the jars when the canner is full of jars. heat the water to a simmer and use wooden spoon to push the cheese down so it will melt. Once the cheese you put in the jar is melted, add more, repeat the process until all the jars are fill to within an inch of the rim of the jars with melted cheese. Use a soapy cloth to thoroughly clean the rim of the jar, removing any oils that the cheese may have left, so that the jars will seal properly. Place a new mason jar lid that has been boiled in a pan of water and and is very hot, on each jar and screw the band on snugly, (but do not crank it down tight, the jars can crack when the begin to create a vacuum.). After all the jars have lids and bands, fill the canner with water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars and put the lid on the canner. Once the water has reached a rolling boil set the timer for 40 minutes. process. When the 40 minutes is up, turn the canner off and take the lid off, but Do Not Remove the Jars from the Water!! Allow the water to cool, before removing the jars. If you remove the jars while the cheese is still hot it may boil some of the oil from the cheese out over the lid and your jars won't seal. Once they are sealed, gently wash and dry jars of cheese to remove any residue that may be clinging to the jars. Dry jars and mark the lids with what kind of Cheese it is and the date.
I recently opened the last of some jars cheese I canned 5 years ago. I needed to make a casserole for a friend that was recovering from surgery. I am vegan I don't have cheese on hand, so I used the storage cheese to make her some comfort food. I opened the jar and smelled it, it had a sharp cheddar smell. I heated the jar under hot water until the oil from the cheese started to liquify along the sides of the glass jar. This made it easier to get the cheese out. The cheese sliced fine but was very crumbly when I tried to handle it much, due to the fact that some of the oil from the cheese floats to the top while it is canning. I took a small quantity and crumbled it over a few corn chips to see if it would melt,and broiled them under the broiler. I then had my husband do a taste test for me. The cheese wasn't inclined to melt over the chips, but my husband said it tasted great. So I made a roux with oil, flour, garlic, seasonings and Srirachi sauce, then I added powdered milk from my food storage supplies, and water to make a sauce, and slowly added the cheese, stirring to melt and to incorporate after each addition. It made a perfectly beautiful cheese sauce that smelled wonderful. I poured the cheese sauce over the noodles and veggies and worked it through with a wooden spoon. Once everything was coated well and there was some cheese sauce pooled up about half way up the noodles, I sprinkled the top with coarse bread crumbs from a home made loaf of bread and then crumbles some cheese on top, sprinkled the top with Italian seasoning, covered the top lightly with foil to keep it from burning. I baked it at 350 for 1/2 hour or so. It smelled great and looked tasty. I got rave reviews from my friend who said the casserole was delicious and a real hit with her 3 year old daughter . So there you have it, canned cheese will not have the same consistency coming out as when it went in, but it was still good after 5years and had developed a fine sharp flavor. And if you smoke it first it will have a rich mellow smokey flavor to boot!

Blog  Link parties this post is linked to:

Are You Prepared - Part Two of What Has Gone Before

This post was made during January of 2013. It gives a small glimpse of our 3 month pantry and some various thoughts on food storage.

We are having an ice storm today. In this area, that could mean downed trees, no power, (or water for those who are on wells), and it could be days before electricity is restored. North Carolinian's are also notoriously bad drivers in inclement weather, so we will be staying off the roads... Actually there will be little reason for us to be on the roads. After Hurricane Hugo destroyed our cottage and we lived in the shell of the house for 6 months, (starting in Sept. so we spent the winter in it), I decided to never, never, never, be unprepared for an emergency again.

Hugo blew into Waxhaw, (180 miles inland), with 110 mile an hour winds, it sat over our area for hours. The winds from the hurricane were bad enough, but the storm also spawned tornadoes, at least one of which tore across our property, twisting the tops of the trees off 18 feet up the trunk and ripping our roof and siding to pieces, throwing most of it into the woods. Fortunately, we were staying with my brother that night, or we may have lost more than our house.

Extensive damage done to the power lines all over North Carolina left us with no power,(and no water), for 3 weeks. Then the day they restored power to our area, there was an accident while clearing pieces of our destroyed roof, which caused our power service to fall to the ground. An electrical crew working down the road came to help and ended up cutting the power at the pole. We were unable to get our power back until after our electrical inspection 6 months later. This meant that most of the reconstruction was done without on site power. We borrowed a generator from a neighbor when he wasn't using it, another neighbor put an extension cord over the fence for us to use, and we worked by propane lantern, using hand tools when it was necessary. With just the two of us working, (and an infant and 7 yr old that needed tending), it took us a long time to get finished enough to get inspections.

 During all this time we were living in the only room in the house that wasn't exposed to the outdoors. We all slept there, my husband, our 7 year old son and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor. The baby, who was 4 months old when the hurricane hit, slept in his crib, swaddled in snow suit, and covered in a goose down comforter. We had an old Franklin Stove that we could use to warm our hands by during the day, and I used it for cooking, but it had draw problems due to damage done to the chimney, so it smoked terribly, and wasn't safe to burn while we were sleeping. It was a long winter and an uncommonly cold one, but we managed, and I'll just say to make a long story shorter, that we all survived. We got the house closed in and had power by late April. But it still took more than 5 years before we could really say we were finished.

After that experience, it became one of my missions in life to research and procure all the things we would need to live comfortably and safely through whatever life threw at us. We now have multiple ways to heat, heat pump, propane wall units, and a wood stove. We have enough water in 55 gallon drums, treated, sealed and sheltered from the elements, to last 3 people for a month. We also have a hand-held water purifier, that will purify water from a mud puddle if necessary. A "bug out bag" is packed and ready at all times. Our camping gear is kept close at hand with lanterns, propane cook stove, sub zero sleeping bags, light weight tents, backpacks and everything we would need to set up housekeeping away from home if need be. We have a "working" pantry for daily use, a 3 month pantry, which has enough food to feed four people for 3 months, and a long term storage pantry that contains enough to feed 6 people for a year. We keep these pantries up to date and rotated and we use what we store and store what we use.

Now... back to 2015!
The world as we know it doesn't have to come to and end or manure hit the fan, for an emergency preparation plan to make good sense. Natural disasters, economic hiccups, personal financial problems, loss of a job or illness can all be very difficult to deal with if you aren't prepared both practically and financially. But if you are like the ants who put away all summer to see themselves through the winter, you can find yourself well equipped to face difficult times, without worrying about how to shelter and feed your family. Are you prepared?

Part of our 3 month pantry which includes freezer, canned, bottled and dehydrated foods as well as bulk medicinal herbs, staples like pasta, rice and dried beans and comfort foods like tea and organic sugar.

In the near future I will be doing weekly posts on Pantry Keeping and Preparedness. I will start from the beginning and outline how to get started and what to do first, from there I will have tutorials on canning, dehydrating, emergency nutrition, natural medicine, first aid, wilderness survival, foraging, non electric cooking,  packing your own food for long term storage and much, much more. I am also hoping to do a Prep Deal of the Week on Tuesday mornings, listing some of the best deals of the week on pantry goods and other preps. Until next time never leave to tomorrow what preps can be done today, step by step, little by little...

Why Pantrykeeping? Part One of What Has Gone Before

This post was originally posted on www.aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com in March of 2011. Much has changed around the Cottage since then, but we still use the same pantry management practices so I thought I would share this one with you.

One of the ways that we have learned to "sway" when the economic winds blow,is to be prepared for hard times by putting up and putting by when times are good so that life goes on fairly normally even if our finances or life situations are in flux.
My husband was a Boy Scout scoutmaster for many years, so the motto, "Be Prepared", was frequently heard around our house. My maternal grandmother was also fond of the motto and her daily life was an expression of its practical application.The thin years of the depression and the challenges of raising four kids on a coal miner's salary taught her the prudence of preparation.
From time to time throughout my childhood, my brother and I ended up living at my grandparent's house.At my grandmother's knee I learned that preparation was the secret to sustainable living. Much of daily life was spent trying to assure that there would be food on the table, not only for today, but for the future. At her house there was a large garden that supplied a steady stream of fresh vegetables for the table and to fill rows of jars in the root cellar for the winter. My father and both my uncles hunted deer and game, which was canned in the pressure canner or smoked and dried.My grandmother's efforts to make sure there was food in the larder was a big help in keeping the family on even ground, no matter what their economic situation might be.

Once I had a place where I could grow our food, I followed my grandmother's example.I gardened and made most of our food from scratch, I learned to can and made jellies and preserves from seasonal fruit, As time went by we had more growing space and I had more kitchen experience, so I started to put up produce from the garden. But it wasn't until the 90's that I started seeing that some canned goods and frozen produce from the garden weren't enough, I needed to plan farther ahead.

I knew about the Mormon's practice of having a years supply of food on hand and started thinking about how we might be able to do something similar. The logistics of such an endeavor required serious consideration. In order to have a years worth of food on hand I would need to have storage space that I didn't have at the time, I would need to do some research on how to store the food so that it wouldn't be lost to bugs, moisture or rancidity. There was much to think about and careful planning would be necessary to see our goals met.

I started out by just keeping track of what we purchased most at the grocery store. I kept all my grocery receipts together and then spent some quiet time with the receipts and a notebook, making lists of things that were consistently purchased. Then to this I added what staples I knew that I regularly keep on hand; things like flour, salt, honey, sugar, oils, rice, coffee, and the like. With this step well documented I moved on to charting how often I used these items.

I kept a composition notebook and pen in a drawer in the kitchen so that I could make note of the things I used as I used them. For example: Monday I made Challah French toast for breakfast, I used eggs, milk, bread, nutmeg, cinnamon, mexican vanilla, Loran hazelnut syrup and spray on vegetable oil to make the french toast. At the table to dress the french toast, there was honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, and some home made jelly, plus coffee, tea and juice to drink. Each of the ingredients, the condiments and drinks were marked in my notebook. This went for each meal and snack for a week. During this time, if I used something up and had to replace it I made note of it. At the end of the week some patterns were beginning to emerge, but I still had a long way to go before I could have a clear idea of what things I would store in my pantry.

While I was gathering information I also started looking for places that I could store extra food supplies. Our house is by purpose and design, compact so most of our storage space is already in service. There were a couple of places where I could put items that weren't needed to be immediately available, but not enough room for what I was intending. We don't have a garage and there is no basement, just a small crawl space. The attic is out of the question since it is way too hot up there for food storage, so some creative thought would be necessary.

I decided at that point, that the year of food idea needed to be taken on in increments. I would start with three months of staples and common daily use items and work from there. I should be able to store most of three months of food supply within the storage areas I had in the house. So I began Phase #1: Staples and basic daily use items for 3 months. I calculated how much of these staple and daily use items we would use in 3 months, example: spaghetti noodles would be used in some capacity probably twice a month, so for a three month supply I would need 6 lbs. of organic pasta. *[ As a side note Traders Joes has the best organic semolina pasta I have found and it is cheaper than I can get it from my wholesale or Co-op sources.] When I went to the store with my list, I purchased what I needed for meals this payday and then if the item was *starred* as a 3 month supply item I would buy one for immediate use and one for stockpiling, (unless it was on sale then I might get two!). I really didn't end up spending more than my food budget even with the extra purchases, I just planned simpler meals that use less expensive ingredients or cut out the meat in a meal or two and it made up the difference.

Before long I was storing my extra staples in snap top storage containers under my bed. I keep a kitchen ledger as a record of my menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes I make up along the way, so I just started at the back and worked forward to keep track of what we had in our storage and where I put it. It wasn't long before under my bed was full so I moved on to my son's bed and then I cleaned out one of our homeschool cabinets that just had "stuff" in it...egg cartons and paper towel tubes we were going to use for projects, misc. art supplies that we really didn't use, last years unfinished school projects (what? you actaully finish all your school projects!? Please do tell how you manage!), and we expanded to that cabinet. In no time we had a stock pile of our family's basics: pasta, rice, honey, sugar, salt, flour, vanilla, yeast, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bouillon, tea, coffee, these were just the foundational things that we always need to have on hand.

Once I was satisfied that we had the basics under control, I moved on to Phase Two, filling in the blanks with shelf stable vegetables and proteins, seasonings and condiments that would finish out meals. This took a little more planning financially, so we started looking for areas of our budget where we could cut out some fat. We have lived pretty lean over the years so there wasn't much fat, especially when the kids were going through groceries and clothes like wild fire, but we found some extra that everyone agreed to give up in the entertainment budget. We played games instead of renting movies, packed lunches when we were out running errands so that if we got hungry we didn't spend on expensive fast food, cut out our "I'm too tired to cook" unplanned restaurant visits and cut down on the planned meals out. We also made granola instead of eating boxed cereal, consolidated trips out to save on gas...of course we did most of these things already to some degree, but during our stocking time we were just more diligent. That got us our three month stock of protein, veggies and fill-ins.

At this point, we had been focused on building our pantry for 3-4 months. The kids were tired of staying home so much and I really needed to be able to say "I'm too tired to cook" on occasion, so we gave ourselves a break and added some fat back into the budget. It was very satisfying to all of us to see our food supplies grow and know that if things got tough, for at least three months we could live off of our pantry stock. Now the problem was just to keep our 3 month stock maintained and then plan for the next step.

I am going into more detail than may seem necessary at the moment, but there is much to consider when taking on this project, so I figure more detail may be helpful to some. But for now I will end with the admonishment that on practically any budget you can put aside some food for a rainy day, it may take awhile but it gives such peace to see the fruits of your labor! The next time I write on this subject I will talk about the long game and what it takes to go from a three month supply of food to 6 then 12 and give you some tips and trick on making your grocery dollars go further.

Blog Hops this post is linked to:

Clever Chicks Blog Hop#121


A New Blog

It is January and the weather has driven me inside, so it seemed like a good time for me to check a resolve off my list... Begin the Homesteader's Pantry Journal blog. This is a new blog that I am developing to focus on the preparedness aspects of Homesteading and Pantry Keeping. I have another blog, aviewfromthecottage.blogspot.com, that focus' on our life as suburban homesteaders, about the daily activities around our place, on going projects, travel and our vegan lifestyle. It is about life, home and hearth and I love that blog, and will continue to actively post there, but I wanted a place where I could focus on a subject that I feel very passionate about; Preparedness/Prepping. Actually, I don't like that word, it connotes as sense of fear or panic, which is totally the opposite of our philosophy. But in order for search engines to reach those with similar interests to mine, I will use the word Prepper in my tag lines. I am not the kind of "Prepper"  that is stockpiling premade freeze dried meals and ammo for a particular "end of the world type scenario. I am more concerned with having a life that is disturbed or infleunced as little as possible by outside forces. By being frugal and prudent, by thinking ahead and being well stocked and well practiced in the arts of simple living, it is my hope that whatever storms are on the horizon, (literal or metaphorical), we will be able to adjust and keep our lives as normal as possible. So I guess you could say that I am a Prepper, minus the panic....

Normally, the first post on a new blog would spend a lot of time establishing the  philosophy of the blogger and what the blog is all about, but I am just going to jump in and share some of the pertinent posts from my other blog, and add some new ones as quickly as possible. I want to have this thing up and running and then I can spend some time on personal philosophy and thoughts on where I want this blog to go. If you are interested in who I am and a little about my philosophy, click the "Our Philosophy" tab under the blog title banner or even better if you haven't seen my other blog, go here and read all about us, our life at Heart's Ease Cottage and our adventures living in the rainforest of Costa Rica. From my comfy chair in front of the fire I say welcome! Pull up a chair and stay awhile.

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