How to Eat From Your Pantry – and Why

Sharon July 22nd, 2008

I’ve written a bunch of posts about the question of how to integrate food storage into your daily life.  Because honestly, not only am I not that interested in foods you buy and put in a bunker for 20 years ;-) , but I think that is a really bad way to go about this.  You lose almost all the advantages of food storage if you don’t integrate it – you lose the advantage of saving money, you lose some of the nutritional value over the years, you lose the knowledge that in a crisis you won’t have to adapt psychologically or physically to a new diet, you lose the advantage of not having to make trips to the store, the advantage of having your comfort and ritual foods be made from things you can always get and afford.  It simply doesn’t make sense to buy food, or preserve food, or grow food and not eat it.

And yet, it happens all the time.  People buy a big reserve for an emergency, but don’t know how to make it tasty or to use it well, or it isn’t familiar, and somehow, they look up and five years have passed, and you are wondering whether the canned chicken is still edible several years post expiration – and you’ve just lost the time and energy and money you put into this.  And no wonder people who did this once don’t really get excited about doing it again.

The thing is, the kind of eating you do if you rely on food storage is fundamentally different than the way you eat when you rely on supermarkets.  You are generally using whole grains, because those have the maximum in nutritional value and storage ease.  Most Americans don’t use whole grains in their whole form.  For many people, this will mean eating fewer animal products – because most of the reasonably prices purchasable options are of low quality (usually industrially processed) and because storing a lot of meat by any mechanism other than “on the hoof” or “freezing” is expensive and/or time consuming.   Freezing is increasingly expensive, and sometimes unreliable – it is a good way to keep meat, but you risk the economic loss of a lot of high value meat in a power outage.   It is simply easier to store more beans and eat a bit less meat than it is to can 200 chickens – you can definitely do it, but you might not want to.

For people who have been used to eating all their produce fresh, this involves changing menus a bit – during the time when things don’t grow, you’ll be eating food grown by season extension, root cellared or long lasting fresh foods, and preserved foods.  What the balance of these things is depends on you – our family, for example, doesn’t honestly eat that many canned vegetables – we’d rather eat raw cabbage from the root cellar, but people who like canned green beans might prefer that to stir fried cabbage.

I’ve written about this before here: http://sharonastyk.com/2008/03/11/living-the-staple-diet/

But the easiest way to get started is simply to start making menus.  You start thinking “Ok, what can I make with what I’ve got?” Come up with as many things you like, and things you think you might like as you can. Look at cookbooks – if you are going to have a lot of squash to deal with, flip through the cookbooks you’ve got looking at squash recipes.  Hit the library and check out their choices, and use inter-library loan to get cookbooks on the relevant subjects.  And, of course, read online. 

Can you make familiar recipes while changing ingredients slightly so they become “pantry” meals – our family always has the ingredients for certain meals in the house – we automatically stock up on these as our stores get depleted, because then we’re never caught out if someone suddenly stays for dinner or we’re out of ingredients.

Think about substitutions – most classic recipes already contain the history of substitution written into them.  The cake you make with vanilla?  It was probably flavored with rosewater when your great-grandmother made it, since vanilla was expensive and tropical.  Great-Grandma probably often substituted one kind of flour for another, used vinegar instead of lemon and a host of other techniques.  Many recipes grew up in regions where they were constantly adapted to one place or another  -paella might have used freshwater frogs and snails, along with meats available in that region, while coastal paellas used fish.  There are hundreds of recipes for pancakes in the world – because you can make pancakes out of almost anything, and people have.  Anyone who says that there’s only one way to make something (Unless they are talking about clam chowder, when there really is only one way to make it, and anyone using tomatoes is evil ;-) ) is just plain wrong.  I avoid cookbooks and recipes sites that speak of the one true way to make food.  That’s not to say some things don’t taste better than others, but with the exception of some fundamentally uneuphonious combinations, often things can be made to taste not funny with a bit of work, even with changed ingredients.

This is one of those practicing things – getting familiar with the food and new ways of cooking it, gradually integrating it into your diet and family life.  It does take work and practice.  It is also worth it.

Sharon

 

14 Responses to “How to Eat From Your Pantry – and Why”

  1. Rosa says:

    Hey, what happened to the font?

    To me, this is the difference between hoarding and storing. if What I store is just going to spoil, that was hoarding. The people who bought lentils & rice for Y2K, but don’t eat them, and ended up giving them to us in 2002 because “you eat that kind of stuff”, that was hoarding. When we kept getting meal moth infestations, buying dry goods any more than a few weeks in advance was just hoarding.

    There’s some leeway in there for trying new things (I just canned 3 pints of zucchini. If it storms this week, I’ll make zucchini bread. If it’s bad, we’re tossing 2 pints of zucchini.) and for mistakes (oops, guess a 5# bag of TVP is larger than a 5# bag of beans….) But just keeping everything you can lay hands on because you *think* you might use it someday, or, worse, because prices are going up, is hoarding. Even if it’s just old newspapers.

  2. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » How to Eat From Your Pantry – and Why I’ve written a bunch of posts about the question of how to integrate food storage into your daily life. Because honestly, not only am I not that interested in foods you buy and put in a bunker for 20 years ;-) , but I think that is a really bad way to go about this. You lose almost all the advantages of food storage if you don’t integrate it – you lose the advantage of saving money, you lose some of the nutritional value over the years, you lose the knowledge that in a crisis you won’t have to adapt psychologically or physically to a new diet, you lose the advantage of not having to make trips to the store, the advantage of having your comfort and ritual foods be made from things you can always get and afford. It simply doesn’t make sense to buy food, or preserve food, or grow food and not eat it. Survival Blogs Off-Grid – life unplugged: Calculating Possible Energy From A Stream July 22nd, 2008 [...]

  3. Sharon says:

    Rosa, I’m not sure I agree that people who sincerely believe that they are in danger of running short of food storing some, even if they don’t end up using it, are actually hoarding. But I do think they aren’t getting the benefits.

    Sharon

  4. Ailsa Ek says:

    Bewildered here at the title of this post. How else would one eat? You go grocery shopping on payday, you buy all the nonperishable stuff you expect to need until next payday, then you eat it, eking it out with perishables purchased on a weekly basis. The difference between regular shopping and preparing for the long-term is that I’m storing more than a month or two’s worth of food and that requires some more thought on how much exactly I need to be putting by.

  5. Excellent post and exceptional common sense advice. I have never understood why so many people store up MREs and bulk survival food they would never eat in every day life. While things like rice, beans, pastas, canned goods, etc. that they eat everyday last for years when properly stored.

    I have always advised using the rotational approach to food storage and USE. You know in the ant and grasshopper story the ant ate what he stored as he stored it. The old fables have a lot of wisdom,

    Jack

  6. Hey, I like the rosewater info. Never occurred to me that we didn’t always use vanilla – and vanilla is getting really expensive, have you noticed? I am slow on the uptake. It’s tropical, it is hard to harvest, it costs $ and fuel to import. So it won’t always be the default flavoring in our sweet goods.

    I was just at a party in Oakland where someone made the birthday cake and whipped cream using her own home-made rosewater. She distilled it using little more than a bowl inside a covered pasta pot. Rose petals (unsprayed) collected from all her friends – roses like Bay Area weather, if they get enough water.

    Wow. Really makes me think… and my auntie in Lebanon (by marriage) is from the village most famous for its orange flower water. It’s a different sort of flavor and reminds me of airline handiwipes back in the 60s – but it can be haunting and intoxicating in cakes and sweets. My hubby puts it in club soda with a bit of sugar.

    We have oranges here in Ca. We could make orange flower water, too… Whereas back East you will go for other local flavorings: maple syrup comes to mind, and molasses, and honey – what else?

  7. Lisa Z says:

    I’m going to look up how to make rosewater–great to know this! I also need to plant some roses that actually have scent and flavor. I have a climber (Wm. Baffin) that’s very hardy and beautiful here in MN, but I don’t think it smells much so wouldn’t flavor water or anything.

    Thank you for all these wonderful ideas. These are good for the “theory of anyway”, no matter what the world situation.

    Lisa in MN

  8. Fern says:

    I suppose we on the east coast will use honeysuckle, maybe clover, lavender, hibiscis, etc. I’ve a cousin who works for a flower distributor in the northern Illinois area, maybe the next time I’m there I can get a batch of flowers from him and play. They won’t be organic, but they’d be free so the better to practice with!

  9. Ailsa Ek says:

    Roses would work just fine on this part of the east coast. We have rugosas everywhere.

  10. Yes of course you can make rosewater on the East Coast. Is lavender a perennial back East? I can’t remember.

    I wouldn’t distill any flower essences from pesticide treated blooms. You’re concentrating the poisons, aren’t you?

  11. jaelle says:

    Thank you especially for your first paragraph, I thought I must have been the only one out there. And the rest of this article.
    I love your site because it’s so positive in what are becoming more and more desperate times.

  12. lissa says:

    the first time i used my steam juicer it occurred to me that it’s much like a still. while i’m not particularly interested in growing enough of anything to process my own essential oils, it has crossed my mind that i could make all manner of floral waters. i just need to figure out a source for chemical free flowers.

    i was aware that floral waters are commonly used as flavorings in middle eastern foods, so i don’t know why it never occurred to me that vanilla flavoring might be a recent thing among my own ancestors… i only remember my mother and grandmother using vanilla (i’m 48). i wish i could ask my grandmother what HER mother and grandmother used…..

  13. Sharon says:

    Lavender grows really well here, and some varieties are perennial, depending on how far north you are. I’ve overwintered it, but it doesn’t really love all the moisture in my area. I wish orange flowers grew here – I love things flavored with orange flower water.

    I will say that it would be a while before I ran out of vanilla – I make my own with dried beans and vodka or brandy, and you can replenish the liquor for a while before it gets too weak – so I have about a gallon of vanilla ;-) .

    Ailsa, I think the difference between eating out of your pantry and eating out of your refrigerator is pretty big, actually. Most Americans eat primarily out of their fridge, stretching that with a few stored staples – pastas, rice, etc… Most foods in most American diets are heavily processed, and often refrigerated, so energy intensive. Eating from a pantry, and stretching it from a garden, home preserved or a small amount of refrigerated stuff is, I think radically different enough that most people may not know how to do it.

    Sharon

  14. Most of us are able to keep what we need in the pantry. Nutritional Menus

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