Archive for July, 2008

Everything You Need To Know, In Order – Part II

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Ok, I’m going to try and work some more on the list of necessary skills.  So five more entries on this subject – and more coming.  Last time was the absolute minimum – but I’m still working on a list of everything you might ever need to know.

1. How to have a sense of humor about stuff, and how to shake off your distress and go on.  How to be kind when you are pissed off and grumpy, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. 

We just had a massive flood here – 7 inches of rain in a few hours. My garden was under 2 feet of water - and I had just spent five days painstakingly planting all the fall garden in the blazing heat.   My basement was full of water and I was sumping at 2 am.  The unprintable people who fixed our roof 3 years ago and did a bad job, and came back this year after we threatened to sue and said they’d fixed it were wrong – we removed 17 *QUARTS* of water from various vessels in our dining room – and that doesn’t include what ended up on the floor.  So I have been practicing this skill set.  It really does make a big difference, both to the people around you and also to the person forcing themselves not to be a jerk (of course, I am not talking about me…;-)).

2. How to wring the most out of everything.  Extreme thrift

a. How to minimize waste and minimize expenditures – reducing need, using care and good management skills.

b. How to take care of your stuff so it won’t break, how to repair and patch it if it does

c. Repurposing of now useless things, making do, creative compensating for things you lack.

3. How to have sex well.

a. How to navigate sexual dynamics and power relationships so that everyone is safe, having fun and acting consensually.  Teaching children the same – when to, when not to, what consent means, etc…

b. The risks of pregnancy, how not to get pregnant when you don’t want to, and the simple fact that no strategy is perfect if it involves heterosexuals and the most commonly used orifices, so - how to be prepared to have a child.

c. How to make your partner happy, if you’ve got one – this will only help in tough times.

 4. How to Grow Stuff

a. How soil works, basic botany, plant identification, a general understanding of the conditions specific plants need and how to create them, a general understanding of plants that will do well in your conditions.

b. How to use basic tools – physical skills for gardening. Hoeing, shoveling – these can be done well or badly.

c. How to recognize diseases and pests, how to recognize when things are ready to harvest, how harvest correctly.

d. Seed saving and basic plant breeding and genetics.

e. Composting and maintaining soil fertility.

5. How to Handle Water

a. How store water, use it thriftily, reuse it safely and thriftily and not contaminate it

b. capturing water for use or reuse as many times as possible, and as efficiently as possible, using swales, run off, etc…

c. Source of contamination and how to purify water

Ok, more coming…handling wastes, cooking, health, arts, building…

Sharon

Minimizing Waste With Preserved and Stored Food

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Ok, you’ve gone through all the work of growing the stuff, canning or drying it, or buying it and hauling it home – how do you keep from losing it to pests, age, lack of planning, etc…?

Chile has a terrific post on managing food waste in general here – we waste at least 1/4 of all our food. Now we probably can’t get that down to 0 – although if you have animals, a worm bin or a compost pile, you can at least ensure that your waste has an upside.  But it is still cheaper to feed your worms on banana peels than on chocolate layer cake you let go bad, and it is better for everyone if people food gets used as people food.

 So how do you handle and manage your stored and preserved food to minimize waste?

1. To the extent you can, try to minimize gaps between harvest time and preservation – the longer you wait, the fewer nutrients, the more spoilage, the lower quality the food, the more you risk one rotten berry giving an off taste to the whole batch, not to mention the swarms of fruit flies.  If you can harvest on the same day, do – it makes a difference.

2. Have a back up plan for edible parts of the food you don’t want to preserve.  The peels to those lemons can be dried to make lemon zest, or used to flavor lemon vinegar.  The apple peels can be used to make apple vinegar.  Watermelon rind pickles, corncob jelly, many things with zucchini – these are the products of excess and thrift.

3. When you are freezing or canning, pack the food in quantities that you can eat quickly. Yes, I know it is faster to can all that blackberry jam in quart jars, not half-pints, but if there are only two of you, you will be throwing out some jam if you can it in containers that are two large. Same with freezing – if you freeze all the chicken stock in one container, you then have to use it – if you can get only what you want, you have less chance of seeing things rot.

4. Expect to have to use some things up quickly – that jar of jam that didn’t seal, or the pressure canned soup that you weren’t quite sure about.  The bits of meat that didn’t fit in that last jar and you didn’t bother canning. 

5. Don’t get more than you can store.  It would be a mistake to buy more food than you can store correctly – if you don’t have jars or buckets, don’t get a ton of oatmeal until you do.

6. Less air, less heat, less humidity are always better.  Life isn’t perfect, but it is worth making some effort on these fronts if  you can.

7. Check everything regularly – open lids, examine sealed jars, take a sniff of the sauekraut.  Do it regularly – and schedule it.

8. In an emergency, get out the canner and dehydrator, and get to work.  Sudden early frost meant you had to pull in all the berries?  Power was out three days and now you have half a cow half-defrosted?  Bad storm took down the cherry tree, and the cherries with it?  Cold snap came too early to ripen the tomatoes?  Well, it is time to get out there with alternate methods – throw the frozen corn in the dehydrator, get the pressure canner running and can that beef as stew.  Food preservation techniques can save you from food losses.

9. Even in a non-emergency, food preservation should be used to extend the life of food that can’t be saved another way.  We can the slightly wrinkled apples in the root cellar as applesauce, we make sauerkraut and kimchi when the cabbage is fading, dehydrate the onions and garlic if they show signs of trouble.  A combination of strategies can work better than any single one.

10.  Once you’ve preserved it, don’t forget to eat it.  This sounds obvious, but it isn’t to a lot of people – things get crammed in the back of the fridge. You worked hard for this – so use it up, plan your menus around the leftovers, make sure you scrape out the jam jar (if you add a little water to a jar of jam and shake it up, you can make a popsicle out of it), and use that pickle brine to flavor your tuna sandwich or as part of salad dressing. 

Sharon

Boozy Pleasures: Preserving With Liquor (and a Small Digression on Making It)

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Another one of those ancient ways of preserving food is with liquor – in alcohol, most bad thingies cannot grow, so alcohol is a great way of making things last.  The downside (or upside depending on your tastes and whether you are over the age of consent) is that the thing is imbued with alcohol (and the alcohol flavored with the thing).  Now this means that while it was once considered reasonable to preserve meat in wine, this is no longer in fashion, because neither winey chicken (not coq au vin, but really, really winey chicken) or chicken-flavored wine is in favor.  But there are many, many good ways to make this  work for you.

 The simplest way to do this is to buy inexpensive vodka (you want something palatable, but it doesn’t have to be fancy) and imbue it with the flavor of something you like.  Thus, cheap vodka is transformed into something kind of fancy, you get a flavoring or a beverage, and people get gifts.  For example, every year I make about a gallon of raspberry-cinnamon vodka.  I take a half-pint of raspberries and two cinnamon sticks, and a cup to cup and a half of sugar, and put them in a clean half gallon glass jar. I pour vodka over it, cap it and occasionally shake the jar a bit to dissolve the sugar.  3 months later, I have something that friends of mine have actually tried to steal from me ;-)

If you leave out the sugar, you will get more a fruit brandy taste, but this takes a bit longer to infuse.  You really can use any high-proof liquor, but it will taste more of the liquor and less of the stuff you add if you use, say, rum. Gin is already flavored, so you might not want that – or maybe you do.

 The better quality the liqueur you use, obviously, the better things will be.  That said, however, the beauty of these things is their power to transform cheap liquor into something better than you paid for.

You can do much the same thing with brandy, either pure brandy or a pint of good brandy to a pint of cheap vodka.  Any fruit will do.  One of my goals, which I forgot about this year when it would have been useful, is to remember to take some glass bottles and put them carefully over growing peaches, apples and quinces.  You slide the jar down so it covers the fruit, and then the fruit grows inside the jar, and you have this cool, fruit in a bottle effect and everyone wonders how it got there.  Then you can soak it in homemade pear or apple or quince liqueur and make something truly fancy.

Vanilla can be done this way - I like vodka better, but brandy is good too.  Macerate several vanilla beans that have been sliced up to get the vanilla out for some months, until it works like vanilla.

Herb liqueurs are good too - I like mixed fruit and herbs – apple-thyme, lemon-lemon-verbena, peach-mint.  But plain herbs are good, both as flavorings for baked goods and also as dessert drinks – a glass of rosemary thyme liqueur is very palate cleansing.  There is something of a fine line between this an herbal tincture – but what a pleasant way to take your medicine!

In his wonderful, wonderful book _Good Spirits_ Gene Logsdon suggests making lemon liqueur, getting it really cold, making lemonade and putting it in half and half.  I tried this, and it is very, very good.

Ok, other than finding new and improved ways to get drunk, what else can you do with alcohol?  Well, you can make rumpot.

 A rumpot (or Bachelor’s jam) is a bunch of fruit put together with alcohol to meld and make something that is syrupy, good and alcoholic.  You want a large stoneware crock or something like that is reasonably airtight but allows the venting of fermenting gasses.  You layer in fruits of whatever kind you have – peaches, plums, berries, currants, apricots, pears…chop the fruit, cover it with a layer of sugar (enough to cover) and pour cognac or brandy over it to cover.  Keep adding fruit as the season progresses, and then leave 3-6 months minimum. It is great on toast (for breakfast!) if you are the sort of person to eat this for breakfast, or it is wonderful over ice cream.

Any kind of dried fruit can be packed into brandy diluted with 1/4 water, and will keep indefinitely that way – the fruit is good to eat, and the now flavored vodka will be good too.  Nuts can be put away this way as well. 

Cheeses can be preserved in good quality wine – put the cheese in a jar, pour the wine over it, cover and store at room temperature.  The only problem with this method is that you might not want to drink the cheese-flavored liquor, and the cheese does get a strong taste.  But this might be ok if you like the taste involved.

Finally, there’s the making of alcohol itself, for food, medicine, fun and fuel. This is a bigger subject than I have any intention of dealing with at this point, so I will just say that everyone who uses alcohol should consider it – it is cheaper, in some cases the quality will be higher and my own limited experiences with home brewing and winemaking suggest that it is fun.  But I will leave you with two cool things.

1. Dmitry Orlov’s Grandfather’s Vodka recipe: http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2008/03/grandpa-orlovs-vodka-recipe.html

 2. How to make Applejack (apple brandy) – I have not tried this, but plan to.  For this you need unpasteurized apple cider.  My state recently went to all pasteurization ;-P, but you can still make your own or buy it occasionally if you plan to use it for “cooking.”  I get mine from a neighbor. 

Let the cider sit in a place warmer than a fridge but cooler than a sauna.  Keep a close eye on it – when it starts to go fizzy, check it more often or put it in the fridge, and keep testing it until there is a faint, sour taste that suggests it is about to go to vinegar.  Then, freeze it.  Because the alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than the water, this operates as an entirely safe method of distillation.  Check it regularly and skim off the ice.  You can do this by putting it in a freezer, or leaving it outside in cold weather – the latter is traditional.  Do this two or three more times, until it is hard to get any water at all – you now have an apple brandy probably around 80 proof (estimate) and you may do with it as you will.

 Cheers, and happy drinking,

 Sharon

Pressure Canning 101

Sharon July 24th, 2008

Ok, Remember my emphasis on safety when talking about Water Bath Canning last week.  Did you think I was anal then?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  With water bath canning, there are a few things that can be dangerous – but mostly, the acidity will protect you from botulism.  By definition, most of the things that you will be pressure canning can support botulism toxin – which means if you do it wrong, you and anyone who eats your food could die horribly. 

 Now I can imagine that there are some people who are just plain terrified, and don’t ever want to pressure can.  But if you eat food from cans, you are eating food using the very same processes – that is, the canned pumpkin or soup you are eating has precisely the same risks and benefits that home canned food has (and, in fact, there was a botulism outbreak involving commercial foods last year).  So the issue here is not “I should be afraid of pressure canning” but “I should be very wary and respectful of pressure canning, and make sure I do it *EXACTLY* correctly.”  Because the truth is that properly canned food is safe.  What I want to make clear is that cutting corners, or using older techniques your Grandma taught you, or just estimating is not sufficient in this case.  I’m one of those estimating type of people – but I don’t do that when I pressure can.

Here are my rules for pressure canning:

1. No one pressure cans until they have water bath canned.  Seriously, until you learn the basics of handling jars, filling them, creating a seal, etc… don’t start pressure canning.

2. Make sure you are up to date on your canning information – use only *CURRENT* canning instructions.  You can use older recipes – or any recipe – but make sure that when you can the food, you can it using currently appropriate techniques for the ingredient that has the LONGEST canning time – that is, if you have a family recipe for meat sauce, can the recipe based on the meat, which is probably the thing that requires the longest canning time.

3. You should have a copy of the Ball Blue Book – a current guide to canning.  I also suggest you take a look at this site for current, up to date instructions, but I strongly encourage people to get a copy of the CURRENT (or at least within the last few years – canning books written before 1994 are not safe!!!)  Ball Book (usually available anyplace canning supplies are sold, or online) or the book that the site mentioned above is selling,  because I think sometimes when you are in the middle of a big project, with your hands covered with stuff and water steaming out of a pressure canner, you might not stop to go online and confirm that it was, indeed, 12 lbs pressure, not 10.  This is not acceptable – so have the book so you can just look it up, or please swear  up and down that either you will look it up, even when it seems inconvenient, or just spend the $6 and get the book.

4. Please make sure you read through the instructions for pressure canning and genuinely understand them before you do it.  No shortcuts – don’t just wait until the steam is kinda puffing out, but wait until it is steady.  Don’t estimate times.  Don’t decide that a lid that doesn’t quite fit is good enough.  Do what they tell you.

5. Make sure your pressure canner (NOT a pressure cooker – you cannot safely can in a pressure cooker) has an accurate gauge.  This is not a big deal if your pressure canner has a weighted gauge (the kind that jiggle and make tons of noise), but it is absolutely essential if you have a dial gauge – take it to your county extension office and have them check it once a year, and make sure you know your elevation and use appropriate pressure for that elevation.  And if you have a dial gauge pressure canner, a study found that the standard should be not 10lbs pressure, but 11lbs – so if you see a recipe, even a recent one, that says “10lbs pressure” – put it at 11lbs.

If you buy a used pressure canner (and there are a lot of used ones out there), make sure you get a manual.  While old pressure canners are much safer than old pressure cookers, there is still a lot of pressure built up, and if you don’t use them as instructed, not only could your food not be safe, but you could get a face full of hot steam (which will burn you) or even be injured by parts going flying.  The companies that make pressure canners will have old manuals available, so if you buy a yard sale canner, the first thing you need to do is get the manual. The second thing is to have the gauge checked (worth doing once even if you have a weighted gauge) and to make sure that the gasket still fits tightly. If you see or feel steam persistently coming out along the gasket, you need a new one.  You can order a kit from the company to fix it, or find a different pressure canner.

SIX THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT DO WHEN PRESSURE CANNING:

1. No jars larger than 1 quart – the food can’t get hot enough to be safe.

2. Never reuse jar lids when pressure canning – ever. Make sure the bands aren’t too rusty and aren’t bent, because the jar won’t seal.  Check the rims of the canning jars very carefully – nicks or bumps will ruin your seal.

 3. Don’t use rubber jars or anything other than the 2 piece canning lids.  TEST YOUR DIAL GAUGE CANNING KETTLE ANNUALLY – DON’T CAN UNTIL YOU HAVE TESTED.  Test a new kettle BEFORE you use it.    READ THE MANUAL – details vary a lot by brand.

4. Don’t raw pack unless you are sure it is safe - ”raw pack” means put food in the jars that has not been cooked.  There’s a general move in canning towards hot-pack only.  That means that the food should go into the jars hot.   You’ll see mixed recommendations about this – but it is always unsafe to raw pack: beets, greens of any kind, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, okra, tomato/okra mixes and stewed tomatoes, and honestly, it is safer not to raw pack at all.  Research has found that hot packed foods are often better textured and flavored as well.

5. Make sure that your heat remains even (if using a woodstove), that your stove is safe to can on (if using glass topped stoves), and that you don’t begin counting time until the steam has been exhausting for 10 full minutes, and that you are present to ensure that there are no sudden drops in temperature or other mishaps.

6. Remove jars carefully – don’t bang them or tip them. 

Honestly, if you find all this too overwhelming, no worries – human beings didn’t have pressure canning until fairly recently.  You can preserve a lot of food by root cellaring, season extension, water bath canning of high acid foods, dehydrating, lactofermenting, preserving in salt, alcohol and sugar, and freezing.  I encourage people to pressure can, I want people to try it – but if you don’t think you can do it correctly, you will be fine without it.

Ok, so here’s how you do it:

 Most of it is the same as water bath canning – you check the rims, you make sure the jars are have been cleaned in scalding water (boiling the jars is necessary if you are pressure canning for less than 15 minutes, and recommended anyway) and are clean, and that lids have been simmered. 

Make sure the food you are canning is really clean and dirt free (reduces the chance that you are putting a big helping of botulism, which lives in the soil, in your food).  Use the recipe you have chosen carefully.  You CAN safely reduce salt quantities when pressure canning – but not when waterbath canning.

Pack hot food into clean, hot jars (if you put it in cold jars you could have one explode on you).  Run a clean spatula (plastic or wood, not metal) along the edge of the jar to reduce air bubbles, and add more liquid if need be to compensate after the air comes out..  Wipe the rim with a clean cloth to make sure that no food gets under it.  Leave the recommended amount of headspace (ie, room for the seal to be made) - always a minimum of 1 inch when pressure canning, unless a current recipe says otherwise.

 Put on the hot lid, put the clean, hot metal band on, and screw down firmly, but not so tightly that no air can escape.

Put in the rack and and relevant amount of water (this varies by brand, so read the manual) in the canner.  Put the filled jars into the canning rack (never put any jars, using any technique, directly on the bottom of the canner).  Screw the lid on the cannter tightly. 

Make sure the petcock valves are open.  Turn up the heat – and PAY ATTENTION.  This is not something you can do while you do other things.  Watch for the steam, and then start timing when the flow is steady.  After 10 full minutes of steam steadily and rapidly coming out, the air trapped in the jars and canner should be exhausted.  If the air isn’t properly exhausted, the pressure may be inaccurate and the food may not be safe.

After 10 minutes of steady exhausting, close the vent.  Watch the pressure gauge until it reaches the correct pressure for YOUR ALTITUDE – if you live more than 1000 feet above sea level you MUST ADJUST THE CANNING PRESSURE to compensate.  Confirm your elevation before you begin canning and refer to the USDA chart for what is appropriate for your canner – if you have a weighted gauge, you can’t adjust it finely, if you have dial gauge, you can, so it matters both where you live and what kind of canner you have.

When you reach the desired pressure, adjust the heat on your stove to keep it at the same level – if it goes over, turn the heat down (or bank the fire) a bit, if it is under, turn up the heat.  Keep an eye on the gauge – I do dishes or other light work, but nothing very distracting. 

You begin timing when you hit the correct pressure, and you must be certain you were at the same pressure level the whole time.  When you have processed as long as required, take the canner off the heat, and let it cool.  Leave the canner alone otherwise – don’t vent pressure or do anything else.  It will take an hour or so to get down to normal pressure.

DO NOT open the canner until there is no steam coming out, even if you poke the regulator with a stick (not your hand).  A face full of hot steam can burn you seriously – don’t mess with it – make sure there is no more left.

Open the Petcock valve SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY.  Wait a bit, until the canner is even cooler.  Unlock the canner lid and remove it carefully.  Leave the jars alone for 10 minutes with the canner open, and use the jar lifter to carefully transfer them to a clean dishtowel, without tipping them.  Allow them to cool undisturbed.  You should hear the “ping” as the jars seal.

When they are entirely cool, check them for the seal.  If you press down on the center of the lid and feel any give or movement your jar is not sealed, and you can either reprocess the food (go through precisely the same procedure again with A NEW LID) or you can put it in the fridge and eat it soon.  You will lose a lot of nutritional value reprocessing, so I wouldn’t do this with anything like greens.

After 18 to 24 hours, wipe off the jars, remove the rings, label them and put them in a cool, dry place. 

When eating pressure canned food, check it when you open it.  If there is any reason for you to seriously doubt the safety of the food – if you don’t hear the popping sound that goes with a breaking vacuum when you open it, if there is an off smell, bulging around the lid, a vent of gas - throw it out, and not on the compost pile, but in the garbage.  DON’T TASTE IT!!!  Botulism has no taste or smell, but sometimes does cause bulging – but can exist simultaneously with other kinds of spoilage.  THROW IT OUT IF THERE IS ANY DOUBT.

There are some things – darkened bottom lids, discolored peaches, a pinkish color on some fruits that are normal – they are chemical reactions to canning and are not signs of trouble. I won’t list them all, I again, reiterate this is why you should read the books and websites carefully and several times until you are familiar with the information.

The USDA recommends that you boil any food that has been pressure canned, or anything that might conceivably support botulism (including tomato products without added acid) be boiled at at a rolling boil in a covered pan for 10 full minutes – and 1 additional minute if you are more than 1000 feet above sea level for each 1000 feet or fraction thereof (ie, if you live at 2200 feet you would boil your for 12 minutes).     Their recommendation is that it would be safest to do this every time, and that it should definitely be done if there is any doubt about your having used a safe canning technique.  It should not be necessary if you have done everything carefully and precisely.

Canned food will keep for many years, as long as the seal is intact, although there is a gradual loss of nutrients.  Jackie Clay at Backwoods Home regularly tests and uses canned food that is more than a decade old, but the general recommendation is no more than 3 years – but I wouldn’t hesitate to eat anything older, as long as the seal seems intact, there are no problems, and, more than five years out, I would boil it for the recommended time, just in case.

Happy Canning,

Sharon

Everything You Need to Know, In Order

Sharon July 22nd, 2008

Like my title?  Never let it be said I’m not ambitious.

 A student in my class asked me for a list of skills we need to get ready for peak oil, prioritized. I admit, it took me about a day after she asked to stop thinking “Holy Crap, how do I figure that all out!”  But it is an interesting question.  And while it isn’t all just about food preservation, I thought I’d take a shot at it. I will, of course, be relying on my fearless readership to point out gaps in my thinking.

 Now I’m not going to get everything, but it did occur to me that we could break it down a bit, and then subcategorize.  So what the heck, here goes.  In order of priority – the main categories are numbered, and the skills in each category are lettered.  I’m going to do this in several posts, so that I don’t go mad.  But here’s the beginnings of my list. 

 1. How not to panic. 

- This is probably the most important skill set – when stuff gets hard, you need to focus and do what needs doing.  In order to do this, you need:

a. To feel like you are able to handle things, because you have mental contigency plans and you have built trust in your own competence.  The best way to get this skill is to plan, to talk and think out scenarios so you would know what you would do, and to practice doing things until you are reasonably confident that not only can you do familiar things, but you can learn new ones as you go.

b. To have the skills to control your own reactions – these may be strong.  You need to be able to put your anger, or grief or fear to the side long enough to make everyone safe and to meet immediate needs.  Meditation, biofeedback or simple compartmentalizing may help with this.  It is also extremely useful to develop the ability to accept that sometimes you will make mistakes and fail at things, and that that isn’t the end of the world.

 c.  To help other people remain calm, respond appropriately, and find a role for themselves. Some kind of leadership training, Community Reponse training or just practice organizing people. Some folks are not good at this – if you can’t be a leader, that’s ok - maybe your job is to find someone who is totally losing it and help them stabilize.  Certainly, knowing how to help your immediate family and neighbors, thinking about how they may respond and how to help them.  For children, it might be helpful to give them some training, or plan out specific jobs for them to do to help them feel powerful and useful.

2. How to learn things – and how to teach them

You are never going to learn every useful skill.  It won’t happen.  It is very helpful, though if you figure out how you and members of your family learn, and think about how you might make it easy for you and your family to learn more things as you need to – if you are a book person, get books.  If you need diagrams, get diagrams.  If you learn best from people, find out who knows what in your area.  But the basic skills of learning things are all pretty much the same – most of us can learn to do almost anything.  So learning how to learn – how to research an issue, how to pick up a physical skill, how to help another person do that, how to analyze a problem and find a solution, how to avoid major errors of logic, and what the necessary basic tools are will really help you expand your skill set.

3. How to get along with everyone else.

I sometimes get emails from people telling me that everyone around them is an asshole, and that they can’t possibly get along with their neighbors. Now once in a while that is actually true – there are horrible places and circumstances in the world.  But if someone tells me that there’s no one in their whole town who they can be friends with, that everyone is ignorant or mean or self-centered – the most likely scenario is that the person talking isn’t very good at getting along with others.  Now I don’t mean that people who are content without a large community are necessarily bad at this – some people are just introverts.  And some people who are bad at getting along in the course of things either can do better in a crisis, can find one role they can fit into, or can be protected by their families, who can get along with them.  But if you aren’t great at getting along, learning to be tolerant, learning to listen, learning to like other people even when they seem weird, and perhaps most importantly, learning to judge them gently (and I am not the natural master of any of these skills either) is really, really important.  Do it now.  This is especially important if you have trouble getting along with your relatives, and might end up with them.

4. How to deal with an immediate medical crisis in an emergency.

a. Basic hygeine, safety, self care and nutrition.  How to make a balanced meal, and to provide a balanced diet, how to make a rehydration syrup, how to wash hands, how to sterilize things, how to cook safely, how to keep water from being contaminated, how to deal with contaminated water, how nutritional needs vary by age, sex and medical condition. How to care for teeth, skin, etc.. without commercial preparations.  How to prevent pregnancy and disease.  How to use tools, including any weapons safely and keep children and others safe in their presence. Sounds obvious, will kill people if you don’t know it.

b. Basic first aid and triage of a situation – everyone needs to know these things – period, no discussion.  Maybe you’ll never use it, but you should be able to stop bleeding, do CPR, help a choking victim, evaluate whether someone can be moved, help clear an airway, and decide whether medical treatment is necessary.  This comes up all the time regardless of whether there’s a crisis on.

c. More advanced medical care, when to use it, and when not to.  This is particularly likely to come up in a localized disaster, an epidemic, or a transport crisis.  If you can’t get someone to the hospital, if the emergency rooms are overflowing with people, if the hospitals are closed or evacuated, or if there’s no way to get someone somewhere because of a gas shortage, snowstorm, ice storm, hurricane, earthquake…  You need to be able to meet emergency medical needs – to observe a concussion victim, make a temporary splint for a broken bone, birth a baby, ease the pain of a dying person, etc…  At least one person and preferrably everyone old enough should get some or all these skills per household.

5. How to feed yourself.

1. How to cook simple foods, and make them tasty and appetizing. How to adapt your cooking to changing availability of ingredients. How to deal with special diets that you might likely encounter. 

2. How to grow and forage simple, easily accessible foods.  These vary a lot by climate and culture, but generally the indigenous foods of your region will give you a good idea of what grows well.  Includes how to save seeds of these plants, what kind of soil conditions they need, teh basics of soil science, and how to harvest and preserve them, as well as how to recognize safe wild foods and how to use them.  I will discuss foraging and gardening later in this, but even if you imagine you won’t have to garden, or you have very little land, learn these very basic skills.

3. How to store your food so that you will have minimal losses from predators, mold, bacteria, theft, etc…  Includes security, hygeine, good storage practices, rotating, maintaining, checking, managing stores. 

4. How to secure your food from predators, and if you are interested, how to be a predator – how to hunt, trap, fish and butcher wild and tame livestock.  Even vegetarians may want this skill set to feed their pets, if the cost of food or its availability becomes prohibitive. Includes understanding the rules of hunting, gun, bow, dog and trap safety and humane practices, when not to take animals, and the best strategies for predator removal.

Ok, I’m about to have mega-thunderstorms, so I’m on my way offline.  More on this – next – storing and cleaning water, growing food, preserving food, growing medicinals, and much more.

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