A comprehensive guide to food storage.
As many of us are preparing for potential Y2K problems, I thought we might share some information we have learned over the last 10 years in "preparing" for what might be. Here in Texas, that usually means a hurricane, tornado, drought or flooding. Thankfully, we haven't had to rely long-term on the storage pantry, but there is a sense of peace knowing it is there when needed.
I teach seminars locally on healthy eating, sell wheat and other whole grains as well as kitchen equipment (grain mills, solar ovens, dehydrators, water filters, etc.). I speak mostly to people who have no idea where to start in the realm of cooking with whole grains or preparedness. Since last year, my husband, a computer consultant for the past 18 years, has joined the seminars and is helping educate people on Y2K problems.
We recently returned from a Preparedness Expo in Dallas. We spoke with the Expo secretary and many vendors who told us the attendance was six times more than anticipated. Vendors were selling out their entire stock the first day. By the last day of the show, 18-wheelers were returning home empty, and vendors could only take orders.
People are making ready for the worst and praying for the best. If nothing disastrous happens, we just won't go grocery shopping for awhile.
People need to remember to store only those foods their family will eat. Pre-packaged food storage plans often contain items you'll never use. We advise people to look over any plan very carefully. Most of the time, you can save hundreds of dollars by putting your own plan together. It will assure you of having foods on hand that your family enjoys.
To us, preparedness is simply being a good homesteader and setting out to live as near an independent life as possible. From the portable chicken coop we are building to getting off the electric grid, we are deciding our future as much as we can rather than being at the mercy of others.
Long the staple in food storage plans, grains will last indefinitely when properly packaged and kept dry. When archeologists uncovered the tomb of King Tut in Egypt, they discovered wheat among the artifacts. They took the wheat, planted it and it sprouted, still in good condition. It had been kept dry and free from bugs and was still good after thousands of years.
Our most familiar grains include wheat, rye oats, millet, rice, barley and corn. The bread grains (wheat, barley and corn) require some type of processing before they can be eaten, such as milling into flour for bread, pasta, cereal and chips. The dish grains (oats, millet and rice) can be cooked and served in their whole state.
Grains contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals. Wheat is high in vitamin E, folic acid and the B-complex vitamins. These are lost when the outer bran layer is removed during commercial processing and then stored for long periods before using.
Wheat loses 75 percent of its nutrients within 48 hours after milling into flour. Once the grain is milled the germ is exposed. This contains the vitamin E which turns rancid within 72 hours. To get optimum freshness and the most nutrition from your grains, they should be bought whole and processed just prior to using.
Having a hand-cranked or electric mill allows you to serve the most delicious and nutritious bread, pancakes, pastas, rolls, pizza and desserts possible. A mill will pay for itself very quickly in savings over store-bought products and medical problems due to eating overprocessed and nutritionally depleted bread flour products.
Bread made from whole grain has eight times the fiber of ordinary store-bought whole wheat, and all of the essential vitamins and minerals are still present. Fiber increase has been shown to decrease a host of diseases such as heart disease, hemorrhoids, constipation and cancer. There are no harmful additives or preservatives in truly 100 percent whole wheat bread.
Wheat comes in hard red, hard white, soft red and soft white varieties. The hard wheats have an increased gluten content that makes them ideal for loaf or yeast bread. Soft wheats are generally lower in gluten and are better suited for pastry and pasta.
The red grains have a darker look to the finished product, and the white grains produce a loaf looking more like store-bought wheat bread. Our family likes to make a bread using half white and half red wheat.
The only other ingredients needed for great bread are honey, a dash of salt, oil, yeast and water. Our humid Texas weather tends to produce a better-looking bread when a dough conditioner is added. This can be in the form of added wheat gluten or dough enhancer.
As one of the best sources of protein, beans are a must in everyone's diet. Like grains, beans will keep for extended periods of time when kept free of moisture. Beans can be soaked for a few hours prior to cooking, or prepared in a pressure cooker to shorten the traditionally long time it takes to cook them.
With a few added seasonings, beans can take on a host of flavors. Traditional Mexican, Southwestern, Oriental and Italian flavored beans can add zest to any meal, Adding a loaf of fresh bread or a bowl of rice makes a complete protein and a very delicious meal. Beans contain no cholesterol and are a rich source of fiber.
Dried legumes come in many varieties. They include the popular pinto, lima and butter bean, black-eyed peas, kidney and navy beans, split peas, lentils, red beans and many more. They can be cooked alone, added to soups or stews and milled into flour to thicken soups.
Beans can be sprouted and then added to a salad or used in a sliced fresh vegetable sandwich. Beans by themselves do not make a complete protein, as they lack two amino acids. As noted earlier, this can be adjusted by eating them with cooked rice or whole wheat bread.
Several good books are available to broaden your collection of bean recipes. An investment in a good pressure cooker can add to the efficiency of all your cooking, and not just beans. Be sure to have a variety on hand to alleviate the boredom of eating the same kind of bean over and over. Start experimenting now and see how many delicious recipes you can come up with.
Adding beans to your daily fare will assure you of getting total nutrition. They are high in fiber, potassium, iron, carbohydrates and calcium. The split pea is rich in thiamin, pantothenic acid and potassium.
Many people don't like beans and say they can't eat them due to the bloating and gas they sometimes cause. This is a sign that your body has a depleted amount of enzymes needed to properly digest beans. Start eating more whole raw foods along with a small amount of beans daily to get your system ready for these wonderful legumes. Beans don't have any cholesterol and their fiber can help guard against heart problems.
5 cups water 1 onion, peeled and quartered or 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion 1 tablespoon garlic granules 1 small green pepper, diced 2 cups dry pinto beans, soaked overnight, sorted and washed Sprinkle of cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup salsa or taco sauce
Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high for about eight hours or until beans are tender. They can also be cooked at medium heat on a stove top for about four hours.
Dehydrated fruits and vegetables
Fruits are among the easiest items to dehydrate at home and will last up to two years when properly stored. Dehydration is simply extracting most of the water from the fruit, leaving it dry. Water is added later to reconstitute the fruit and use it in various recipes.
Commercially dehydrated foods are processed under pressure, and all but two to five percent of the moisture is removed. These are packed in #10 enamel-coated cans and sealed with an oxygen absorber packet. They can be stored for five years without nutritional loss, but it's best to use this food within a year after it has been opened.
Home dehydrators range in price from $70 to $250. They vary in the way they control temperature and air circulation. A few models are sealed units, keeping airborne particles off the food and allowing for a constant, even temperature.
Be sure to purchase the model that will adequately preserve the foods you and your family will be using. It makes no sense to spend time and money setting up your food storage only to have it spoil before you can consume the item.
Dehydrated vegetables taste just as good as fresh when added to soups, stews and casseroles. Dehydrated foods will often allow you to stretch your food budget. One case of fresh fruit or vegetables can fit into a #10 can. You haven't paid for the water, and storage is easier. As an example, one can of potato granules makes five cans of potatoes. One cup of dried apple slices yields three cups of slices when reconstituted.
Dried foods such as raisins, dates, figs and prunes have only about 25 percent of their moisture removed, leaving them soft and pliable. They store well in a glass jar or plastic bag for 12 to 18 months.
Even though you may have a productive garden, it's a good idea to have a supply of dehydrated fruits and vegetables on hand in the event of crop failures, pest invasions, drought, or any other disaster that would wipe out your garden. When planting a garden, use open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds. Some of the plants can be left to seed, which will provide seeds for next year's garden. Hybrid seeds produce excellent quality vegetables, but will not reliably reproduce for next year's garden.
Freeze-dried foods are first cooked, then quick frozen at sub-zero temperatures before dehydrating and packing. This is the only method of long-term storage available for meat aside from the process used for MREs (Meals Ready to Eat--military meals in a pouch). Freeze-drying can be done only on a commercial scale. Freeze-dried foods will last even longer than dehydrated foods, but they will also cost a little more.
Spices and condiments
When planning your food storage, don't forget spices, flavorings, baking supplies, condiments and extras that give your food that wonderful homemade taste. See what spices you can grow at home or buy in bulk. Catsup can be made from dried tomato powder, and dry mustard is the base for mustard spreads. Mayonnaise is easy to make from tofu or fresh eggs.
How about chocolate chips or cocoa for cookies and cakes? A plate of oven-fresh goodies can do much for low morale during tough times. Speaking of sweets, don't overlook honey for cooking or baking, sugar for canning and molasses for beans. Salt and sugar will both last for years if properly stored.
Hot cocoa mix, flavored instant coffees and flavored summer fruit drinks can add a refreshing boost to sour faces during times of stress.
Meat and TVPs
If you're not raising your own meat and are not a strict vegetarian, you'll want to store a variety of meat. If you keep a well-stocked freezer, make sure you have provisions for long-term electrical outages. It doesn't pay to have a side of fresh beef in a freezer that can't be kept cold, only to have it spoil when there is no power.
Freeze-dried meat is one alternative. It is fresh meat that is cooked, diced, freeze-dried and nitrogen sealed in #10 enamel-coated cans. All of this meat has been FDA inspected and approved. It contains no preservatives and retains its nutritional value and taste. Tuna, chicken, beef chunks and formed hamburger patties are available. To enjoy them, heat the meat in a sauce, or add 1/2 cup meat to a soup or stew. Using freeze-dried meats is as simple as using any precooked meat.
Another option is textured vegetable protein (TVP), a soybean flour product. If you've seen a loaf of tofu at the grocery store, you might say "no, thank you," but TVPs are flavored to taste just like their "real" counterparts. I have eaten many TVP meals, and they taste fine.
TVPs come in taco beef, beef chunks for stir fry, beef granules, chicken and bacon bits. They can be added to soups or stews, formed into sausage patties, hamburgers or meat balls and used in stir fry recipes. The bacon bits add lots of flavor to an omelet. The chicken and beef are excellent in stuffed cabbage or peppers. To reconstitute, add 7/8 cup boiling water over one cup of TVP and let stand for five to 10 minutes. Only rehydrate what you will use immediately. Any leftovers must be kept refrigerated.
Dairy foods and eggs
You should be way ahead if you already have a dairy cow and some laying hens. You can even use some of the milk, eggs and butter as "money" to obtain other items your family may need. If you don't have a dairy animal or chickens, you'll want to consider having a variety of dehydrated dairy and egg products on hand.
Butter powder can be used for cooking or spreading on bread and other foods. One cup of butter powder plus two tablespoons of water yields 3/4 cup of butter spread. Cheese powder makes cheddar cheese, flavors soups and casseroles or can be used in macaroni and cheese.
Egg powder can replace whole eggs in recipes and for scrambled eggs. Milk powder is instant nonfat milk powder made from whole milk. We use this for cooking and when we run out of fresh milk. Three cups of powder makes one gallon of milk, but you can make as little as 1/2 cup at a time. This milk powder can also make cottage cheese in 10 minutes. Unlike instant milk bought in a box at the store, milk sold by food storage companies is packaged to last for five years, and the flavor is much better, with no bitter aftertaste.
Health, first aid and medical supplies
This is one area not to overlook when planning for any type of disaster. Take time now to evaluate your health and well-being and take necessary steps to get in peak health now. It may be hard to get to a doctor for treatment, and emergency services may be so taxed as to be unavailable in rural areas. Costs are sure to skyrocket. Insurance companies that suffer great financial losses to the point of bankruptcy may leave many stranded.
One way to hedge against these problems is to have a "quality" first aid kit on hand. By quality, I'm not talking brand-name products, nor am I speaking of the first aid kits sold in most sporting goods stores. Though they adequately take care of the minor cut, sprain and burn, most won't come close to handling a real emergency.
I'm not advocating that we try field surgery on each other, but a well-stocked kit with supplies to suture cuts, immobilize sprains and broken bones and properly treat most any emergency much the same way a paramedic would is something to have on hand. Your neighbor may be an excellent doctor or surgeon, but he or she does you no good in an emergency without proper supplies. Consider adding a first aid kit to your home preparedness supplies.
The best kits we found are those used by the military. You can find these at most military surplus outlets.
Probably the most important of all emergency preparations is clean water storage. Having water for drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation is something most of us take for granted. I know we did -- until the well casing slipped and filled with sand. We were without running water for almost a month. Thankfully, a neighbor 1/2 mile away allowed us to come and get all the water we needed.
For over three weeks, we made trips every other day to fill every container we had with water and haul it home. We had to boil the water on the stove for baths and cooking. We washed clothes in the sink, except for towels for which we poured 30 gallons of water per load into the washer and let it do the agitating. We used a bucket full of water to keep the toilet tanks full for flushing.
Needless to say, it was interesting and challenging. We still had electric power, but no water. Since that experience, we keep 300 gallons of water in large food-grade polyethylene barrels on hand at all times.
We had read estimates that 55 gallons of water will take care of the needs of a family of four for a week. No way! We were ultra-conservative, and we used 200 gallons every three to four days. On laundry and hair-washing days, we went through almost 100 gallons (all we could store) in a day.
(Ed. note: We know of many countrysiders who would not call this "ultra-conservative, even in normal situations --and much less so in emergencies. Perhaps they can offer some water-saving suggestions.)
Besides having a water supply, you'll want to keep it pure and fresh tasting. This can be done by adding 10 drops of 35 percent food grade hydrogen peroxide to each gallon of water. This is not the kind of hydrogen peroxide sold in drug stores.
An ozone generator is another way to purify water. They require electricity and can cost as much as $3,000. Countertop water distillers produce some of the purest water available. They also require the use of electricity. Sears sells a Kenmore brand distiller for around $129. We have one that we have used trouble free for over five years.
There are ceramic gravity-type filters which don't use electricity and completely purify even the dirtiest water. These range from pocket-sized models to countertop models. Prices range from $15 to $250. We have a stainless steel countertop ceramic filter system as backup and "get off the grid" system.
Then there is boiling. Water must be at a hard boil for at least 10 minutes to completely kill all germs and make it safe to drink.
Even though your water may currently be safe, having a secondary purification system on hand is sound preparedness.
Chlorine, iodine and fluoride are all added to the public water supply, but I wouldn't recommend adding these to your stored water. All of these additives have been linked to cancer. If you're on the public water supply, you may want to invest in a filter that will eliminate these contaminants. Inexpensive whole house filters are available at home improvement stores.
If your water has a lot of sand in it, try straining the water through a coffee filter before purifying it to drink. This will eliminate most of the sediment.
When the power goes out, many of us can still prepare enjoyable, simple meals without cooking. This is fine after a short outage as many of us have experienced, but be sure you have an alternate way to cook for an extended period.
This also includes boiling water for sanitation, dishwashing and food preparation. Have an adequate supply of fuel (bottled, wood or propane) on hand. For many of us in the south, a wood stove simply isn't practical. We would use it maybe one month out of a year.
If you currently don't have an alternative to the wood stove, consider the purchase of a propane BBQ grill with a side stovetop burner. You can also use the grill portion as an oven for cooking meats, casseroles and even baking bread.
Yes, I use our propane grill to bake bread. Our grill will bake three 1-1/2-pound loaves in 30 minutes. Place an oven thermometer in the grill, remove the top warming rack and bring to high heat for five minutes. The temperature should be about 400 [degrees] to 450 [degrees] F. Turn down to medium heat, wait one minute, and place bread inside. Check the temperature every 10 minutes and adjust as needed. After 30 minutes, remove the bread and cool on racks.
There are also canned ethanol products that produce no toxic fumes and are safe to use in a house, tent or car. They will take a 0 [degrees] F room and heat it to 65 [degrees] F in under an hour. One can last for four hours on high (10,000 BTUs) and can be adjusted to boil or simmer. A coffee-can-style stove can sit over the flame for pots and pans.
PAUL & DEBRA RAYBERN P.O. BOX 1215 NEW WAVERLY, TEXAS 773583