Archive for October 4th, 2008

Friday (well, Saturday) Food Storage Quickie: A Bit Late

Sharon October 4th, 2008

Hi Everyone - Sorry for the delay in yesterday’s food storage quickie. 

Let’s look over what we’ve added to food storage so far - we’ve added Popcorn (which can be used for grinding or popped), pasta (which nearly everyone will/can eat, since there are varieties made with almost everything), dried fruit, orange vegetables, legumes, salt and spices.  Right now, whether you’ve been using this as a supplement to your usual food storage, or if you’ve just been getting started, you probably have a reasonably balanced diet.  Still, there are some important gaps.  So let’s focus on two of them, flour and fat.

Most people in the US are accustomed to eating bread quite regularly.  Some of us are accustomed to it because we derive from wheat-based staple cultures, such as large chunks of Europe and the middle east, as well as Northern China.  In cultures not far removed from their staple foods, bread is part of most or all meals.  And most of us who derive from other cultures, but have lived any length of time in the US have also become accustomed to enjoying breads, biscuits, buns, noodles, wheat cereals, etc…. quite regularly.  Even those who can’t eat wheat products often find it hard to do without a non-wheat equivalent.

So the question of how you will get your daily bread becomes a non-trivial one. Add to that the importance of other baked goods in celebratory occasions, and most of us will want to have some source of flour.  There are several ways you can do this.

The simplest is to buy long storing, unbleached wheat flour and store as much as you might want.  White flour lasts pretty much forever if protected from insects and moisture.  So you could buy a lot of 10 or 25lb bags of white flour, packaged them securely and store them as long as you want.

The problem, of course is that white flour really isn’t that good for you - it fact, it is pretty rotten.  And since your family may be relying on this for basic nutrition, there are real issues with this.

The next possibility is that you could go and buy whole wheat flour.  The problem is that once whole grains are ground, they begin to oxidize.  After a certain point - a matter of months - they begin to go rancid.  Rancid oils in grain can both make it taste bad and cause stomach problems and also contain free radicals that can cause cancer.  This is not good - and some people can tell whether grains are rancid, while others can’t.  So generally speaking it is probably not wise to keep whole grain wheat flour for more than 6-12 months.  So you could buy a year’s supply of wheat flour, if you were to be very disciplined about using it or giving it away, but this requires more attention and maintenence than you might ideally want.  You have to make sure you rotate it, you have to pay attention to the timing, you must use it up - and if you are eating less bread now than you imagine you might in tougher times, it can be rough to use it.  You could give it away, of course, but not all of us can afford to donate a large chunk of our yearly staples.

So there’s another choice - this is to get a grain grinder (I’ve done reviews of grinders here: and purchase whole wheat.  Whole wheat, properly stored, stores for 30 years or more.  And fresh ground flour is much, much tastier than anything you will get anywhere else.  The down side is that since you will probably want a grinder that works even if there is no power, you do have to spend some time and a bit of effort to get your flour, and it does take some practice to learn to bake well with all whole grains.  So many of us will probably take a middle course - we will store some whole grain flours, some white flour perhaps to lighten up our bread and make an occasional treat, and some whole wheat as well.

Where do you get these?  Well, white and whole wheat flours can be bought almost everywhere that food is sold - and if you are really struggling economically, often these can be bought at a hefty discount from stores, if you are willing to take broken bags.  Because they are shipped in paper containers, they often leak and break.  So talk to your store managers and ask if you can purchase or take any open flour bags (bring a roll of duct tape and some plastic bags to get them home) - or consider dumpster diving for them. 

Prices on both flours and whole wheat are better on larger quantities.  These can usually be ordered through a coop, health food store, or bulk store.  The new crop is just coming in - in some places, you may be able to get something of a discount if you are willing to buy last year’s crop - talk again to the manager of the store about this.

Ok, the next thing this is missing is fat - and while a lot of us worry about too much fat, in a crisis situation, the concern is too little, particularly if you are doing heavy labor.  Also, if you have young children or infants, they will need more fat than most adults.

There is a fairly large range of choices in fat sources, so I’m going to skim over them, and discuss where to get them.  There are also strong cultural connections - different fats make different foods taste different, and people may have different reasons for preferring them.  But here’s a sense of the range.

Animal fats: Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and lard (rendered pork fat) are probably the most commonly used animal fats, but goose fat, beef suet, mutton fat and others are also used in many cultures.  A reliable supply of these probably depends on a good relationship with a local butcher (who often will give fat away or sell it very, very cheaply) or on having livestock.  If you have a cool way of keeping rendered animal fats (do some research on this, I’m not going to cover the techniques here today, but will another time), these are very tasty, provide some saturated fat in your diet (which depending on who you believe may or may not be necessary), and can be quite inexpensive.  Although I keep kosher, I can attest to the fabulousness of lard pie crusts (We were visiting Amish friends, and we ate slices of elderberry pie our friend made.  We rhapsodized about the crust, about how beautiful and wonderfully textured and delicious it was to her, and I told her that I was dying to know how she did it, and well….she told me ;-) .  Even though I’m not going to be duplicating her recipe, it was still pretty good ;-) .)  and schmaltz cooked potatoes are nothing sort of spectacular.

Fish oils are something else - they are very important for neurological health and development, but they don’t keep well - months, rather than years, so it doesn’t pay to stock up large quantities of these - but if you can afford to add them to your diet, either in the form of codliver oil or as supplements, they are worth it.  Flax and hempseed oils last a bit longer and have some of the same benefits, but also degrade quite quickly.  Generally these are not cooked with, because heat reduces their benefits, but are bought in small quantities as an accent.  I can’t think of any really cheap way to get them, unfortunately - it is probably easier, if budget is tight, to eat canned fish, and buy whole flax or hemp seeds.

 Nut and other seed oils: Other than peanut, mustard and sesame oil, these are generally incredibly expensive, and usually used in very small quantities as a flavoring.  Peanut oil has the advantage of an extremely high smoke point, and is often used in asian cooking and frying.  It is probably cheapest at the asian grocery store.  Sesame oil comes in two forms - toasted and plain.  Plain is often used in middle eastern cooking, while toasted is added late in cooking or at the end as a flavoring for chinese dishes.  Sesame oil is not a great frying or high-heat cooking oil, but it often available at Indian or middle-eastern grocery stores.  Mustard seed oil is a common ingredient in indian cooking, a healthy oil and quite delicious, and also available through Indian grocers.

Dairy fats: If you’ve got a cow, or goats and a cream separator and the patience to use it, you can make your own butter.  If you don’t, you can drink whole milk and get away with using very little fat for other uses.  But this implies you have dairy animals and want to milk.  Even if you don’t, you can make your own butter, if you can find a reasonably priced source of cream. 

Butter will last some months if salted and kept in a cool place.  But it can also be preserved in the form of ghee more or less indefinitely.  To make ghee (clarified butter), you heat butter and skim off the white foam until all you have left is the clear, yellow, clarified butter, without the milk solids.  This can be put in a crock and put in a cool place and will last forever, more or less.  This is unlikely to be cheap, unless you have a dairy animal.

You can also buy butter powder from emergency food storage manufacturers.  I admit, it isn’t something I go out of my way to eat, so I can’t comment on it one way or another.

Vegetable fats: These vary a lot in quality, cost and taste, and I’m honestly not going to spend the time here to sort out nutritional advice and claims.  IMHO, if you are trying to figure out what fats to use it is useful to read a lot of information - to start you might read Marion Nestle’s wonderful _What to Eat_ and Sally Fallon’s _Nourishing Traditions_ which disagree quite profoundly, and rather usefully on this subject.  They will lead you elsewhere.  Some people may want to do a lot of research, others may simply need to find a cheap option.  Other people may be influenced by the desire for familiar tastes, to support local producers of oils, etc…

The one thing that is true is that if you can afford it, buying organic oils is definitely worth the money.  They are pricey, but because most conventional oils are extracted using chemicals and may even be contaminated with heavy metals, organic oils make a big difference.  This is not feasible for everyone, but if you are trying to reduce the chemical burden on your body or the planet, buying organic makes more of a difference here in personal health than in many fruits and vegetables.

 Most oils wills will last 1-3 years in a cool place, including olive, peanut, coconut, canola, soy, corn and other vegetable oils.  My own strong preference is for olive and coconut oil as primary oil sources, but again, this is such a large and controversial subject that I’m going to forgo the details here.

Then there’s shortening, you know, that horrible Crisco stuff.  This stuff is disgusting, bad for you, doesn’t taste good, and generally is bad stuff.  The only reason I mention it is that it will last until the next apocalypse.  This is, of course, because it is hydrogenated and isn’t really a food.  But if you are storing food you might not touch, and if you believe you are more likely to starve than die of heart disease (not even remotely true at this stage in the Western World), you could store it.  And it does have uses - seasoning cast iron pans, and preserving eggs, for example.  But don’t buy it because I said so.  There are a couple of organic, non-trans-fat versions of this stuff, but none of it tastes as good as coconut oil, and the lifespan of most of it is under 2 years, and it isn’t cheap so probably no reason to prefer it over coconut oil.

Best sources for cheap oils?  Well, ideally, if you can avoid it, don’t buy the cheap oils.  If you can’t, don’t worry about it, and try your asian grocer, Sams Club, etc…

 This week’s non-food item is blankets.  Remember, it is always easier to warm your body than it is to warm a room.  A good bit cheaper, too.  If you are not accustomed to “sleeping cold” you may find that with some practice adapting, you like it.  I strongly prefer it over sleeping in a warm room.  The key to doing so quite comfortably (and my bedroom is often 50 degrees or below) is lots of cozy blankets.  And since these end up in landfills and dumps fairly often, buying used is a great thing to do.  So make sure you have plenty - the best blankets are wool (hard to find but very nice - even if you can’t have wool against your skin, it is a useful layer), down, cotton filled comforters (flannel ones are especially nice) and polarfleece.  But honestly, all blankets are good if you are cold and need layers. 

Those of you in hot places can just ignore this one ;-) .