Archive for June 9th, 2009

Tour My Food Storage

Sharon June 9th, 2009

I thought y’all might want the grand tour of Sharon’s famous food storage.  So here goes – come along for the ride?  Note – if you are a zombie, come to take my food, well, you probably know how to use GoogleEarth anyway, so whatever.  Just do me a favor, and try not to smash the kimchi jars as you rampage - that stuff stains the rugs.

 Welcome – did you notice the gardens as you came in?  You came down the driveway, past the fenced front yard where the main gardens are, and then in through the side yard gate (we fenced to keep the goats out) into the kitchen garden.  The kitchen garden is an important part of my food storage – many of the raised beds have window coldframes that can go over them, so that I can keep things going through my favorite lazy person’s method – just leaving the stuff there.  Mulch is another great tool – piled on stuff, a lot of the root crops will keep.  But right now most of what’s growing there is for summer eating, so we’ll skip over that part of it.

Yup, those are kids – they are important in my food storage planning, mostly because I always fail to remember that they get bigger and eat more every year.  It is pretty funny how much four really active boys actually eat already – I think the only way I could possibly afford to feed them is to do what we’re doing – buy in bulk and grow our own. 

As you come in the kitchen door, you’ll see that there’s a large black wood and glass thingie sitting on the top of the rainbarrel – that’s one of my solar dehydrators, and at the moment it is full of rhubarb.   I have a bigger one, but I haven’t dug it out yet, since serious preservation hasn’t begun.  I’m still looking for sawhorses to put the big one up on – right now, I’m using hay bales.  I also use them for my coldframe, and after a season’s use, they make great mulch.  Oh, and check out the cool rocket stove – isn’t that great – my friends Larry and Gail made it and gave it to us.  I’m going to make another larger one soon.  The solar oven is usually out this way too, but it is too overcast to use today.

The mudroom, as you come in, is also a good place to dehydrate – it has a lot of glass and gets extremely warm in the summer – I’ve dried burdock root there and also tomatoes.  But to do that right now, I’d have to clean it – always an issue with me.  So try not to look at the mess!  Actually, that’s a good rule here in general, not just in the mudroom.  I always tell people we’re like your favorite little hole-in-the wall restaurant.  There’s no atmosphere to speak of, you don’t want to look too closely at the kitchen and no one will ever give us four stars.  On the other hand, everyone enjoys hanging out there, the company is good, the food is great and if you don’t look to closely, it has a homey feel.

 Yup, that’s the famous wood cookstove. It gets used a lot for preserving in the fall – I love the thing, and love having the whole surface to work with, rather than just a few little burners.  Right now, however, it is mostly too warm for that, so that’s where I’m keeping the bowls of harvested things.

On the left, you’ll see the wall of wood shelves – before that, I had cheap metal shop shelving there for years, but we managed to put in something nicer and sturdier.  Still, the cheapies worked fine.  The top shelf, over the glass doors, holds my food storage equipment – the food mills, dehydrator, some canning jars, the pressure canner.  Also my homemade liqueurs and pickle overflow, as well as my kerosene lamps and solar lanterns.

Moving down, there are the herbs and medicinals in their jars in the dark spot by the door, then several shelves of home canned stuff – a selection.  At the moment the pickings are kind of thin – I’m trying to use up or give away a lot of it.  Not that it goes bad, but I need room for this year’s bounty.  But there are still plenty of pickles, there’s peach sauce, some rhubarb, cranberry vanilla jam, some strawberry jam, canned chicken broth and a few other things.  I need to do inventory soon, so I know how many jars of each thing we used this year – some things I know we need more of – we ran out of salsa really early, for example. 

On the other side of the wall are dried beans, grains, pastas, sugar, salt,  etc… all in glass jars.  Some of them I collected myself at yard sales, but many of them were people’s discards taken straight out of the recycle bin.  I try to keep a little of everything out on the shelf – I can always go back and get more out of the buckets.  Those shelves could use reorganizing, and I plan to do that…any day now ;-) .  But it does look pretty with everything out like that, if I do say so.   Besides, it frees up my limited cabinet space for pots and pans and dishes and such – and in a kosher kitchen, there are lots of those. 

Over here on the counter I’ve got my grain grinder, and underneath this old one, I store the really awkward big stuff – the giant pressure canner, the crock pots, all that stuff that doesn’t really fit.  Check out my dishwasher – it doesn’t work, it never really did, but it is a great place to store canning jars.  Cool, no?

I hang herbs and greens from the rafters in the kitchen and the big living room – the beams in the living room are from an old Quaker barn – the area has a large Quaker settlement – and they are gorgeous, about 150 years old.  They look really cool with herbs and dried flowers hanging from them, although, of course, it does lead to bits of dried herb on the floor now and again. 

The dining room doesn’t have much but my vast collection of cookbooks – but they are as integral to my food storage as  anything is – we live out here in the boonies, and there aren’t any good restaurants that deliver, so we cook three times a day, every day.  I find a lot of inspiration and good ideas in my self-indulgently large collection. 

Come through the kids’ playroom/schoolroom into the back.  This was Eric’s grandparents’ room, and if we ever find someone to share the house with, we’ll have to move things around, but for now, we use it for miscellany – art supplies, school books, the freezer, and food storage.  Out on open shelves are things like cans of olive oil and bulk pasta.  And the closet is pretty stuffed full of home canned goods, purchased goods and bulk staples.  We put cheap plastic shelving up all along the closet and on the back wall of the bedroom.  This is where the bulk of the bulk stuff is stored – it stays cool down here even in summer.  Also, we’ve got sauces and seasonings, dehydrated things that we put up, and the ever important stash of “inferios” – I let my kids get addicted to cheerios when they were young, and now it is like crack to them - I can’t get them off the stuff ;-).  We don’t buy the originals, though, but the bulk generics – hence the unofficial name at our house.

 I know, we’re lucky in some ways to have all this space. That said, I don’t like it very much – that’s why I’m still looking for housemates – I actually would like less space, since I find it hard to keep clean and feel like we’re not making good enough use of what we have.  So my plan is to eventually move all this food storage upstairs to our room, if we can find a family that wants to share the homestead with us (if you are reading this and interested, I would be most interested in you if you are already accustomed to a certain measure of loudness and chaos – email for more details ;-)).

And yes, I know what I’m getting into. The place before this one was 1400 square feet for us and Eli, and we stored food then, and before that, we had the two of us and three housemates in a 900 square foot apartment -and we still bought in bulk and made space. It wasn’t always easy, of course, and less than now, but it was amazing what we managed, and a lot easier to maintain.  I have so much to do outside, and at the computer – and as you can tell I just am not the world’s finest housekeeper.

We’ve already moved some stuff upstairs, since we really are hoping to find housemates to take the apartment, and maybe the downstairs bedrooms as well.  I’ll show you the situation upstairs.  I’m in the process of rearranging closets.  Yes, I need to fill those buckets up – I’m behind, as you can see from the bags awaiting repackaging.  Yes, sometimes I don’t do things right either.  Actually, surprisingly often ;-)

Oh, and yes, those things trying to trip you as you come up the stairs are one of the central tools we use to preserve our bulk staples – cats.  We’ve got an absurd number of them, but they really do a wonderful job of keeping out the rodents, which is so important!  Zucchini really takes good care of the barn as well.  They are bed warmers as well.

In the bathroom cabinet upstairs, we’ve got most of the health care stuff – we were fortunate that Eric’s grandmother was a nurse, and while not all medications last well, the bandages and bandage scissors, her blood pressure cuff and her stethoscope and other such things (I know enough from my EMT and hospice days to be able to use them correctly) are extremely nice to have.  We are fortunate that we don’t take a lot of medications, but I do store extra vitamins, some benadryl, asprin, and other basics.  I’ve also got some shampoo and toothpaste – I know I can use baking soda, but I don’t really prefer it to either of these.  That baking soda hair thing didn’t work for me.

In our bedroom, we’re in the process of converting the walk-in closet to food storage - yes, we’re lucky to have it – the house is old and the original part of the house doesn’t really have closets, so this is the one really big one we’ve got.  I’m trying to pare down our wardrobe so we won’t miss the closet space.  There are more bulk goods in here, and stuff that can handle the fact that it is necessarily warmer upstairs than down, like honey, and salt, soap and such. 

It is hard to know where to stop – do I show you the linen closet and the extra sheets, the set up so we can house a crowd if need be?  What about the bins of the kids’ clothes that keep us from having to shop so often and mean we don’t have to buy clothes for a few years, if things get rough financially?  What counts?  What doesn’t? Do all the books?  I mean, sure, the preparedness ones, and the cookbooks, but what about the art books that allow us to homeschool, or me to toss in  reference on the blog to Holbein as I’m writing about legumes?

Over here is the porch we use to root cellar – the basement is too wet for that.  Someday we may renovate the basement, but is far too low on the list.  It stays cold without freezing unless the temps drop below 10 below, at which point, I’ve got to run out and cover things with blankets, or pull them into the house – but it is worth the hassle so far, to be eating apples in May that we picked in October.  They taste a lot better than the store ones too. 

Then there’s the main garden out front, if you don’t mind leaving the house again (ignore those weeds) - the kitchen garden emphasizes herbs, salad ingredients and greens – the kind of thing you run out for right before you eat.  But there’s also the main garden that keeps us in potatoes and beets, cucumbers for the summer’s pickles.  And I haven’t even shown you the food forest/orchard/berry patches.  There’s the wild ones – the raspberries that sprung unbidden under the spruces, and there are the blueberries I laboriously acidify each year.   You see small green apricots – I see jars of jam and dehydrated apricots.  You see small cherries, I see lush jars of sour cherry pie filling.  

Then there’s the wild stuff  – I guess, my food storage doesn’t stop at the garden – there are the morels I forage by the creek, the yarrow patch I’ll be harvesting in July, and the apple trees and hickory nuts gone feral back in the woods that will feed us just as much as the cultivated trees. 

Over in the barn, there’s how we store eggs – in the chickens, mostly (although I freeze some and preserve some in fat for the dry winter period).  Milk occasionally gets stored as cheese, but really as goat feed – and we’re putting up hay now, little by little.  That’s really stored milk, in a sense – you just can’t see it.  We store fuel as well – but in the form of trees and split firewood.  I’ve got to stack this wood, and figure out how much more I’ll need.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure where the food storage and preparedness begins and ends – and that’s probably how it should be.  It is all of a piece – welcome to my home, welcome to what measure of security I have.  You’ll have to show me yours sometime!