Food Storage Baby Steps

Sharon January 6th, 2009

So you want to get started, and you don’t know where to begin.  Here are my suggestions.

 1. Allot some space to food in your life.  This could be as simple as taking the heart shaped cake pans and bundt pans you use only three times a year and moving them up to a back shelf, or it could involve getting rid of a bunch of stuff in a closet or building shelves into a basement area.  You want it to be somewhere away from light, reasonably cool, ideally, and not too moist and without critters in it.  Stable temperature is more important than cooler temps - that is, it is better that the place not swing betwen 20 and 90 degrees and that it be more like 65 all year round.  This applies to dry foods like beans, grains, spices, canned goods and not to root cellared veggies, which is another discussion.

 2. Inventory what you’ve got.  Figure out what you have in your pantry.  I know, it is boring, but sit down and figure out how much food you have.  You can then compare quantities roughly with this guide - it isn’t perfect, but it gives you a sense of what a year’s supply of food for your family might look like (I ignore the stuff on jello and shortening ;-) ).

3. Start eating from your pantry - pick some recipes that rely primarily on storable ingredients adn make them.  Do you like them?  Do they need jazzing up? Do the jazzing.  Then consider buying larger quantities of the components of this recipe.  So, for example, my family always has the ingredients for a thai-style noodle dish we like - tofu (we make our own but you could buy shelf-stable), rice noodles, vegetarian oyster sauce, chili garlic paste, etc… The only thing we need to add are greens, and we usually have those either in the garden, in the root cellar (cabbage mostly), lactofermented, or as sprouts.  Now try some more recipes - what do you like for breakfast?  To drink?  As a side dish.  As you add pantry compatible recipes, add some more of that to your stores.

4. Start check out bulk resources, both locally (don’t forget local farmers) and online.  There are a host of them here in the comments -  If you have a local coop, buying club or bulk store, you can go through them.  Even if you are part of a small household, consider dividing bulk-purchases with others, since they minimize packaging and have a smaller environmental impact.

5. I’ve been emphasizing food storage over preservation, because it is January, and there’s not much to preserve, but now is a good time to begin experimenting with preservation techniques - so consider making a little apple butter out of those apples that are going mealy, or lactofermenting some of your greens.  And begin thinking about what foods, both home grown and wild or gleaned, you can add to your stores.  Remember, it isn’t that big a project if you do just a little at at time.  Now is also a good time to keep an eye out on freecycle and online for equipment like canning jars or dehydrators, or to start building projects.

And, of course, if you live in a better climate than mine, nothing should stop you from diving right into making orange marmalade or dried bananas.  If you click on “food storage” in the sidebar you’ll find a wealth of articles.

 That’s really it - the baby steps!  Not so bad, right?


27 Responses to “Food Storage Baby Steps”

  1. Stephany says:

    I was glad to see a link to a company here in Iowa that produces organic grains and flours in those links.

    I have belonged to a bulk foods buying club for at least a decade now. When I first started with Blooming Prairie they were locally owned but have since been bought out by United Natural Foods. I was really saddened by this but as corporations go, UNF seems to be okay. They continue to operate from our local warehouse which provides a few of my neighbors with employment.

  2. grace says:

    This is good.
    Being only me, I realize that I am able to be
    rather odd in my eating habits. I do things like
    this morning, having 2 boiled turnips with butter for breakfast. Later, half a can of refried beans. Cold. Out of the can.
    So this is going to take some thought.
    grace N. Mex

  3. emeeathome says:

    Oh, Sharon! “Because it’s January there’s not much to preserve” Here in Oz, I’m up to my eyeballs. Wall to wall tomatoes - eggplants coming out of my ears - an avalanche of plums. I have tried something new though. I dried 20kilos of cherries - DELICIOUS!!! Pitting them was not my favourite activity, but the end result was excellent

  4. grace says:

    what are you going to do with the eggplant?

  5. Sharon says:

    Ok, I’m moving to Australia. Now. I love eggplant, and we’re having an ice storm. Seems like a good time.
    ;-) .


  6. sealander says:

    It’s summer here in NZ too…..we’re almost getting Australian temperatures lately :)
    I’ve been making redcurrant jelly and cordial. The zuchinni mountain is starting to pile up so I’ll be freezing some of those soon, and green beans.

    On another tangent, Sharon, you’ve left out an “i” from the book title Depletion and Abundance in the introductory part on your home page. ;-)

  7. grace says:

    Yeah. I do love eggplant. Not only eating it in the various wonderful ways, but also
    just growing it.
    I love the insistent sturdiness of the plant in the New Mexico wind. I love the beautiful plain blossoms and I love the glistening little beginnings of it’s fruit. And because of this love,
    I always grow a lot. Too much. Partly me, and partly because the plants themselves are so willing. Even in the unexpected hail storm, leaves all tattered, they continued to produce.
    Eating fresh I know how. How to “put by” is
    my question. Can they be canned? I am working at finding ways to store food that do not rely on electricity if it comes to that. So,
    making the various lovely dishes I know how to do and freezing isn’t something that I need to know.
    I need to focus on food I can put by. And tho
    I LOVE eggplant, ……….?
    This is a real question.

  8. Survivalist News » Casaubon’s Book: Food Storage Baby Steps says:

    [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Food Storage Baby Steps So you want to get started, and you don’t know where to begin. Here are my suggestions. [...]

  9. Michelle says:

    Hi Sharon
    I’m a beginner food storer so this is brilliant, thank you.
    May I ask for your home made tofu recipe??? :)

  10. Leila Abu-Saba says:

    I’m going to do some targeted googling, but would you post (or re-post) your Thai noodle recipe, please? Thank you in advance!

  11. ctdaffodil says:

    I miss eggplant season - my favorite way to eat it is slice lengthwise in about 1/2 inch slices, heat up the grill, brush them with some olive oil, add a little garlic and kosher salt - let them sit while the grill heats up - grill until soft and then roll up around ricotta cheese - serve with a fresh tomato and basile salsa….(no peppers I just use a little olive oil, chopped fresh tomatos and lots of fresh basil and a squeese of lemon)

    Sharon - your site really is great - thanks so much for all the time you put into it. I’ve been baby stepping this week to reorganize my food life, what with all the news of layoffs etc. We have a winter storm (no school) so not a lot of inventroy will get done today but I do have a question…

    I’ve been inventoring the pantry and freezers - I found a 10# turkey from Thanksgiving 2007 - its been in there the whole time at the bottom of the freezer - do you think it would be ok to make stock with for soup?

    Off to move the seldom used cakepans (seriously)

  12. Sharon says:

    Grace, I know just what you mean about the eggplant plant. Whenever people say they can’t have front yard gardens, just flowers, I tell them to plant eggplant and okra and maybe golden amaranth - gosh are they the most beautiful things. My jar of pomegranate molasses is desperately waiting for summer and eggplants to come around again…mmmm….. and Imam bayildi….strange flavor eggplant…with garlic sauce…ok…I’m hungry now.

    Ctdaffodil, I think the official answer is that 2 year old meat is bad, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve eaten two year frozen meat and didn’t die ;-) , so yeah, I’d put it in the soup pot and see how it comes out. But the USDA would probably say no.

    Michelle, unfortunately, my basic tofu recipe begins “acquire a soymilk maker…” so I’m not sure if it will be helpful. I have made tofu without one a few times, but it was, umm…. a PITA. I can try and dig up the recipe, but the soymilk maker is one of those electric things that does have its virtues, if it is in the budget.

    Leila - Sure, no problem. This Mee Pad, or Thai Drunken Noodles, as Eric was taught to make it by the guys in our favorite restaurant in Lowell, MA (Lowell has the highest density of southeast asian people outside of southeast asia, and is an amazing city we lived in for a few years and loved). Everyone who comes to our house asks for the recipe. It is good modified as a storage recipe, and good in its original form. You can make it with thinly sliced pieces of meat as well.


    2 pounds Thai wide rice noodles (preferably fresh, although dried will work)
    2 bunches scallions, chopped finely, or onions
    2 pounds Chinese broccoli or other greens, chopped coarsely
    2 pounds fried tofu (you can buy it pre-fried, or fry it yourself), sliced thinly
    1 can sliced bamboo shoots (or fresh, sliced and steamed until tender if you can get them)
    canola oil for stir-frying
    1/4 cup oyster sauce (you can substitute vegetarian mushroom sauce)
    1/4 cup sweet soy sauce (also called by its Malay name, kecap manis)
    1 teaspoon Southeast Asian chili sauce, such as sambal oelek (or more to taste)
    1 bunch Thai basil (you can substitute Italian basil)

    If using dried rice noodles, set several quarts of water to boil in a large pot, and boil the noodles until beginning to soften but still firm. If using fresh tofu, press all of the excess water out of it and then fry it in oil until crispy and golden brown on the outside.

    Stir-fry the scallions and greens in oil in a large skillet until the greens are cooked. Add the tofu and bamboo shoots, along with about half of the oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce, and chili sauce. You can adjust the amounts of the sauce ingredients to taste. Add the basil and transfer eveything to a large stockpot.

    Now stir-fry the noodles in some additional oil, along with the remaining sauce ingredients (again adjusting amounts to taste). Cook until the noodles are slightly translucent. Then add the noodles to the rest of the ingredients, stir together, and serve.

    (Makes many servings)

    It is very, very good.

  13. food storage baby steps | Dismantle Civilisation says:

    [...] article from Sharon Astyk. So you want to get started, and you don’t know where to begin. Here are my [...]

  14. Segwyne says:

    My strategy for figuring out what and how much to put up is different. For the past several months, I have made menu plans for the week so I can better plan my shopping and using up what I get from the food pantry each week. Our pantry is open on Wednesdays, so on Thursday I make up my meal plan once I have seen what we get for the week. At then end of the week, I tuck away the menu for later reference. I probably have nearly a year’s worth of menus now, so I plan on going back over them and figuring out exactly how much of everything we ate, making allowances for things that we didn’t like, or when the menu went awry.
    I also now have to make allowances for my husband’s newly diagnosed diabetes, so all those pasta nights will need to be replaced. I feel more confident doing it this way because I have a record of what we do eat, and how often, to base the future on.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Can anyone recommend a buying club in the East? I ordered catalogs from Azure Standard (and totally fell in love with it) before I realized that they were based in the West and shipping would probably kill me. I checked out the United Natural Foods website, but couldn’t really tell if it only sells to retailers. I was kind of annoyed that you can’t obtain any prices without a creating a customer account, either. How are their prices, Stephany?

  16. emeeathome says:


    Most of the eggplant will be ratatoullied (? sp) with tomatoes and capsicum and frozen in 500gm lots for soups and stews. But I am going to try slicing and grilling some, sprinkling with salt and balsamic vinegar and storing in olive oil. I can buy it done this way at the deli, but I have to check and see how long it will keep, and the likelihood of botulism

  17. grace says:

    Thank you! Very interested in the storing in olive oil suggestion, let me know anything you find out. I am pretty much trying to limit self to possibilities other than freezing…ie canning or other. My intention is to let go of the need for electricity in any storage plans. I wonder what canned eggplant would be like for making Baba ganoush? Things like this.
    thank you again,
    grace, NM

  18. Matriarchy says:

    I followed along this course the last time, but it’s an excellent refresher and checker-upper for my pantry. I’ve been wanting to expand from 3 months of storage to 6, so maybe I will try to swing some of that as I read along.

  19. Lisa Z says:

    Elizabeth, United Natural Foods sells to buying clubs. I’m in one, but I don’t run it so I’m not sure what the minimum order is. The price you pay depends on the size of your orders, though. The more people in the club and higher your order, the more discount you get. I don’t know how I’d compare their prices, but they’re reasonable for our area (Minnesota).

  20. seedy566 says:

    Hello Sharon, thanks for this but I see a problem. It will work for a family to secure a year’s worth of food on one condition: that when the food is gone, there are still stores to buy the next year’s supply from. If I am reading the net correctly it looks as though the supply chains are breaking down permanently. So a diet that is based on wheat and rice and grains and oils is not sensible. Expecting the ingredients for Thai tofu to reappear in a couple of years is not sensible either. I ask, what did the first nations people and the first european settlers in your part of the country actually eat? What can you and your neighbours grow? That is your diet from now on. If the stored wheat and grains and oils and sugars allow you to eat modestly while you learn how to actually feed yourselves where you are, than that is a bonus. Otherwise, when the cupboard is bare, it is bare.

  21. Michelle says:

    Hi Sharon
    Ok probably won’t be going out and getting a soymilk maker as I can buy tofu very cheaply at the local supermarket, will definitely be trying out the Thai noodle recipe though - i’ve just planted a stand of edible bamboo and my chinese broccoli is delish at the moment (oh i’m in Australia too!!:))

  22. Michelle says:

    Hi Grace and other lovers of eggplant ;)

    I found this

    recipe for preserved pickled eggplant haven’t tried it myself but the flavour combo sounds interesting….

    And this is my husband’s recipe (not sure how well they’d store though as they always get gobbled down pronto at our place!)
    slice thinly, dip in egg, then in breadcrumbs, then pan fry in olive oil.
    If there are some left over they are yummy cold in a sandwich!!


  23. Dan says:

    # seedy566

    You are absolutely right. But having the food stored to get to year 2 A.C. (after collapse) may mean the difference between living and starving. I think Sharon tries not to tread too far into the Doomer waters in general on here…but it doesn’t take much to imagine a scenario where things break down quickly and permanently. What system does remain will most likely be built around subsistence food that is better grow on large farms (wheat and corn maybe?) and supplementary vegetables grown more locally. If we can make it to something like what India has today and find a way to feed the nation, that would be awesome. So, having the skills to cook from staples and make do, something you learn from active food storage principles, may be another good thing to take with you into whatever lies down the road.

    In the end, none of us know what’s coming. All we can be sure of is that it doesn’t look exactly like what’s been.

  24. Sharon says:

    Seedy, yes and no. I don’t think that every supply chain is going to break down completely in a short time, but even if it did, if it happens in the winter, you’ll be relying on stored food. If it comes with war on your soil, or massive flooding, drought or other natural disasters, you’ll be relying on stored food. If you get sick or injured and can’t grow, you’ll be relying on stored food.

    I think the “either/or” issue of food storage and gardening is false -people have always put by surpluses for the lean years. They go together. The thai noodles are treat - if they go away, they go away, but I don’t see any reason not to enjoy them now - and since having food storage doesn’t just mean having it, but eating out of it, that’s just another reason.

    I also don’t necessarily think that indigenous diets are what we’re going to eat. Those hoping to rely on buffalo on the plains, or chestnut mast in the northeast will have some difficulty. There are areas of the US well adapted to raising wheat and rice. I do think (and have written a great deal about it) that we will be eating much more localized diets - potatoes and milk near the coast, where it is cold and the land is suited to grazing, corn and beans in the south, rice along the southern coast and gulf… but it isn’t quite the same as the diets of native peoples.


  25. grace says:

    The pickled eggplant is GREAT!!!! thank you for this…I will definately try it. Perfect. I like that it doesn’t require processing after it’s in the jars.
    grace NM

  26. NM says:

    I think the USDA is iffy on canning eggplant, but it’s hard to find information on the subject. I tried, last summer. However, here’s a great canning resource in general:

  27. Lois says:

    Thank you another great post, I always appreciate examining what you have got to point out whether or not I would not constantly agree with the fact. It’s not necessarily the exact same this is Asia. Asians maybe notice somewhat otherwise. I always prefer to hunt for an Oriental girl’s perspective.

Leave a Reply