Archive for the 'Food Storage' Category

Getting to Know Your Community Food Security Resources

Sharon January 13th, 2009

We’re never going to be able to do it alone.  That is, none of us can hold back hunger in our towns or cities by ourselves.  None of us can ever store enough food to feed everyone - heck, most of us with reasonably wide circles of friends and relations probably can’t even store enough for them.  The only option is that we put food security on the radar at every level, from the personal to the neigborhood, to municipal, state and federal.  But that, of course, is a big project, and not one that will happen overnight.  So where do we get started in working on food security?  We talked last week about bringing the subject up with friends, family and neighbors.  This week, I want to focus on bringing it up at the community/city level and what kind of existing institutions might aid you, might already be doing this work, or might be hijacked errr… encouraged to help bring community level food security to the table.

Quite honestly, the very first step is to get to know your community and its institutions.  If you are already very involved, this won’t be a big deal.  But, if, for example, you are new in town, or have been too busy to get engaged, now is the time to see what’s out there.  In a tiny rural area like mine you may be able to find the entire community organization structure by going to one town meeting, whereas in a large city, you may have dozens or even hundreds of organizations and programs to work with. 

Some of the organizations you might want to look for/look into are:

- Food pantries and Soup Kitchens (these people are on the front lines of dealing with hunger in the community and may have some suggestions about what’s needed).

- Food Coops or buying clubs (if you don’t have any of these in town, this might be a good place to start with bulk purchasing)

- Poverty Relief Progams (these may have existing rubrics you can work with, grants available, or you might be able to talk to them about potential ideas)

- Zoning and Land Use Committees (if your area limits front yard gardens or chickens, they are the folks to talk to - and they may have control over empty lots and public space that could be transformed to community or food pantry gardens, edible orchards, etc…)

- Schools - they often have land that could go to school gardens, would welcome participation in food production, and offer an important access point to getting agricultural and food education into the general populace.

- Emergency Planning Programs - your town or city probably has to have some kind of strategy for dealing with a crisis or emergency - you can bring up issues of food and water here.  This is the beginning point for getting that water pump or putting a reserve of basic foods aside for an emergency.

- Gardening clubs and cooking clubs - these are people already dealing with the issue of food production, and can often be encouraged to take up new issues.

- Churches, mosques, temples and civil social clubs like Lions, etc… - These organizations usually have charitable programs and an interest in working with the community - they can start local food storage programs, make use of open greenspace and expand existing programs.

- Town water management groups - these are the people that will ensure you have safe water that comes out of the tap.  They are a great resource to tap.

 I think one of the most important things about this is that you remember two things.  First, don’t assume too much.  It is easy to assume that the garden club is all old ladies and their lilacs - maybe it is,  old ladies can kick ass sometimes, and a lot of them lived through tougher times than we have.  Don’t assume no one in your town’s organization cares about hungry folks - they may just be overwhelmed. 

 Second, remember that the reality of working in a community is that when you identify a problem, the next sentence will be “great, why don’t you….”  That is, be prepared to get to work on whatever project you care most about.  If you can’t do it yourself, come with help in mind, or talk to other people.

Ok, more on exactly what we can bring to our community meetings, and what we might shoot for.


Foraging and Preserving Foraged Foods

Sharon January 13th, 2009

A lot of people don’t have gardens, and some never will.  Or perhaps they have small community gardens, small yards or containers that won’t allow them to produce as much food as they need.  One of the strategies you can use to increase your available space is to forage - to make use of edible plants that are growing wild. 

I’ve written a bit about how foraging for food is actually quite contiguous with agriculture here:

I thought it would be useful to think about ways to preserve foraged foods.  But first, let’s start with the basics of foraging.

My three favorite foraging books are these.  First,  Samuel Thayer’s _The Forager’s Harvest_, which focuses on a band of about 40 common wild plants. He also includes a discussion of storing and preserving those foods.  Very useful, great pictures, lots of details, honest discussion of what tastes good, rather than being merely edible.

Next, there “Wildman” Steve Brill’s great book _Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places_.  Very clear, very well written, lots of good common sense information.  Despite the line drawings, he’s very good on identification.  He also has a great website here:

My third favorite isn’t a foraging book at all - it is _Weeds of the Northeast_ by Uva, Neal and DiTomaso.  This book is obviously only useful to people who live, well, in the Northeast, although there are similar books for other regions.  The book doesn’t discuss edibility at all - its virtue lies in its pictures and detailed information about hundreds of weedy plants, some of which are edible.  It shows plants at every stage of growth, and is a great supplement when you are trying to figure out “is that a….”

A good internet resource is the USDA plant database:  This source has some good info as well:

 It is also worth noting that not all “wild” plants are truly wild (in fact, many plants that enjoy disturbed environments were brought for agricultural or ornamental purpose) - foraging doesn’t necessarily mean figuring out what wild lettuce is - it can mean knocking on the door of that house with the apples or oranges that is letting them drop on the ground and asking if they mind if you pick up the drops.  Many people don’t make full use of edible foods that they plant on purpose - or they may not realize that ornamentals produce edibles. 

It goes without saying that you should use common sense - don’t forage in areas that are routinely sprayed (you can call your town or city to get this information), wash everything under running water to remove traces of icky things, don’t eat anything you aren’t sure is safe, take lessons if you are going to mess with things for which there are a lot of toxic equivalents (I stay away from all mushrooms I’m not intimately familiar with and all of the wild carrot relatives (cow parsnip, water hemlock, poison hemlock, wild carrot, fool’s parsley), because it is possible to end up eating something very poisonous by doing so, and unless you are way better at this than me, I suggest you do the same), be polite and ask if you are using private property, try a little of something before you dive into it whole hog, to test for allergies, don’t take all of any plant or forage for rare plants.

Ok, now, what do you do with your foraged foods once you’ve got them? 

 Well, for some foods, it will be possible to store them in their natural state in a root cellar, or even on a shelf.  Nuts, for example, can be stored, well, like nuts, in the shell, or shelled and frozen.  Acorns can be stored as is.   Wild apples and pears are stored like apples and pears, although generally the wild varieties aren’t great keepers, I find - maybe better to make dried apples or applesauce.  Wild berries are often good made into jam, dried or made into wine.

Many wild foods are greens, and the greens generally have more nutritional value than comparable conventional greens.  This makes them great candidates for preservation by lactofermentation - the bitterness of some wild greens is actually a lovely counterpart of the sourness of lactofermentation.  We make dandelion and nettle kimchi in spring for example.

The other good use for these greens is drying - many of the most nutritious greens make an excellent, highly nutritious decoction or tea for herbal health.  We store both of the above greens as tea herbs by hanging and drying them.  I dry some burdock leaves for the bunnies and goats who love them (they are awfully bitter to human tastes) as well.  Lambs quarters dries gorgeously and can be tossed back into soups or mixed into mac and cheese, and chickweed is great thrown into soup. 

Wild herbs often dry well too - mint runs wild in my damp backyard, and wild thyme through a neighboring park.  Put them up for tea - often they have more essential oils than the cultivated version.

Many wild berries are extremely seedy and small, and often extremely sour.  The best use for them is either wine (chokecherry wine is great!) or jellies, where the fruit itself is strained out.  You can also cook them with a thickener and use a food mill to strain out pits and seeds, and make pie filling that way and can it.   

Making juices is another option - sumac lemonade, for example, can be made by soaking sumac berries before they get bitter (just after they turn red) for a while, sweetening it, and then canning the juice for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.  We’ve been known to make wild grape juice as well, and a friend of mine make highbush cranberry juice.

Many mushrooms are good dried - the only mushroom I really feel comfortable foraging at this point is morels, and we dry them.  I need to take a mushrooming class - but for those with a better skill set, many can be dried or pickled.

You can dehydrate ramps and wild garlic for a lovely, strong garlicky flavor.  I’ve made wild garlic vinegar also, which is terrific. 

Siberian Elm samaras, when harvested dry can be left to dry a bit more and stored like any legume for a months in a jar.  So will ground peanuts or ground beans. 

Burdock roots will keep for some weeks in a cold spot, and also dehydrate extremely well.  Cattail roots can be dried and pounded to create an edible starch.  Wild jerusalem artichokes keep like the fresh ones, in a root cellar.  Wild ginger roots can also be dried and used as a seasoning.

Rose hips keep large quantities of vitamin C even when dehydrated, as will elderberries berries.

Common plantain seeds dry well when the “rattails” are cut off and hung to dry.  We give a lot of them to the birds in winter, but a related species is the main ingredient in metamucil, so you can guess what purpose they serve.

Chicory root can be roasted, and then dehydrated, to make a long keeping coffee substitute. 

I’m told that fiddleheads freeze extremely well (thanks Kathy!)

Ok, I’m sure the rest of you have suggestions that I’ve forgotten - what wild foods do you preserve and store?


Tools You Need, Tools You Don’t

Sharon January 8th, 2009

This refers only to food storage and preservation tools - although I probably should do a series like this for other areas.  But for today, let’s start with the kitchen stuff.

 Now this is one of those things that people vary a lot on.  First of all, there are personal and physical issues - I find it rather pleasant to grind grain manually, and I have healthy young children willing to take a turn, for example - and elderly person with arthritis might find it unbearable.  6 gallon buckets full of 40lbs of wheat aren’t that big a deal for six foot me to hoist around - but a 5′ woman might want to store her grains in smaller containers.

Then there are issues of taste and skill.  The good thing about powered tools is that they generally don’t take any skill - so someone with weak knife skills might find it much faster to chop a couple of onions in a food processor, whereas someone with good knife skills might find that the time to get out the processor and clean is longer.  Some people have strong opinions about taste and texture - they may find the texture of the food processed chopped liver unacceptable, and the manually chopped better, or vice versa.  A job you hate always seems to take longer - so it might be worth a powered tool, say, to grind sausage if that’s one of your hated chores, but not so much if you find sausage making relaxing.

Then there’s space issues - someone in a tiny galley kitchen is going to have to limit himself to fewer kitchen tools than someone with a huge farmhouse kitchen.  Even those of us with tolerable amounts of space (and while I have a lot of storage space, my actual counter space is quite limited) will have to make choices about what appliances are kept out and what are moved to less accessible places.

So this is definitely a ymmv.  My own feeling is that we should make the best choices for ourselves, but we need to think through carefully our use of tools - a lot of us simply assume that because a powered tool exists, it is preferrable to the non-powered one.  Somewhere in the back of our heads, we tend to think “no one would have made a salad shooter unless slicing cucumbers was really hard” (ok, that’s kind of a joke, but that is how the powered grain grinder or the food processor work ;-) ).

I don’t at all object to people making a compelling case for a tool I don’t want or use, what drives me crazy is the automatic assumption that we need all the tools, we should spend a lot of money on them, and that a good kitchen has everything in it.  Now I have plenty of kitchen tools, but I try really hard to go over Wendell Berry’s list of points to determine the value of tools before I buy one.   They are

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.

2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.

3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.

4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.

5. If possible, it should use some sort of solar energy, such as that of the body.

6. If possible it should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenence and repair.

9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships. (Berry, _The Art of the Commonplace_ 219)

You could spend your whole life building a world around this vision, but let’s stick with the kitchen for now.  Not all of these factors will be achievable in one tool - but they are useful grounds for thinking about how to use tools in our lives. 

And I would encourage people to consider the whole cost, and the whole time used - something I think is implicit in Berry but may not come through to those not familiar with his body of work.  That is, his version of “cheaper” would include the question “do you have to work more hours to afford it?”  “Do you have to pay interest on a credit card to buy it?”  “What is the ecological cost?”

The same is true of asking whether it helps you do the task well - we should calculate into its time costs the amortized time needed to earn the money, the item’s potential lifespan and the times spent cleaning and repairing something that breaks easily, as opposed to something that doesn’t.

One thing that I am trying very hard to do is when I replace things, to only replace them with things that do not have plastic parts.  Plastic is essentially unfixable - so a plastic corn cutter that breaks is a piece of junk.  So no more plastic tools unless I have no choice.  This sometimes means not buying locally, which is unfortunate, but I’m finding it worth it.

The other thing that I’m working on very gradually is replacing ceramic bowls, glasses and dishes with enameled metal and wood.  This is because, frankly, I’m a complete and utter klutz, and Eric is better, but not enough ;-) .  I am tired of throwing away broken pottery.  We can handle good dishes, which don’t break as easily and aren’t used as often, but for everyday, we need hard-to-break.

I was planning on including a “what I like and what I don’t list on this” but that will have to come later - I’m having internet service problems.  So forthcoming…. and in the meantime, try looking at your life and stuff through Berry’s lens.  Boy is it enlightening!



Dairy Food Preservation and Storage

Sharon January 8th, 2009

Ok, folks, today we’re going to cover the storage and preservation of dairy foods and faux-dairy foods.  That is, how to keep your milk and what to do with it.

 Let’s start with types of milk storage:

1. Dry milk.  This comes in several forms (nonfat, full fat, low heat process) - the low heat, full fat tastes the most like regular milk (note that I did not say “just like regular milk).  The non-fat powdered lasts the longest - more than decade if stored in the right cool, dark, dry conditions.  Works fine for most milk uses, except perhaps drinking straight, although if you gradually mix it with regular milk, upping the proportion of powdered, you can cut costs and get children, at least, accustomed to it.  I keep some of this stuff, but I don’t love it since it all comes from industrial dairy - there are organic versions, but they are pricey and industrial organic.

2. Evaporated milk - milk reduced.  Can be used in baking, for coffee, or diluted to make something sorta drinkable if you add a lot of other flavors.  Keeps a long time in cans, expensive.  Not something I bother storing.

3. Condensed milk - sweet.  Ok for making key lime pie and pudding, not really milk. 

4. Powdered faux-milks - rice, soy… I don’t use these, so I’m not real famliar with them.  Readers here have reported that they are ok.  Probably better than nothing if you will be relying on them.

5. Cheese.  This is the traditional method of storing milk - turn it into cheese and keep it in a cool place.  Yogurt, kefir, and butter are other traditional methods.

6. In an animal.  In this method, you grow grass or save it as hay, and add some supplemental grains or roots, and the animal produces a daily supply of milk which doesn’t need to last too long.  Extras become cheese,  butter, kefir and yogurt.

7. In the form of soybeans or rice to be made into soymilk or rice milk.  I have a soymilk maker, which we use mostly for making tofu.  It does require electricity,

We have chosen a combination of #1 (we do store some powdered milk and use it in baking, and to thicken yogurt), #5 and #6.  Our two little tiny goats give an enormous amount of milk for their body weights - at this point, on the low end of their lactation curve, a little less than a quart of milk a day.  It takes about 10 days for the two of them to eat a small square bale of hay (they get hay from November to April), and they get a few ounce of grain and sunflower seeds each day.  A quart a day keeps us in yogurt and milk for drinking and baking, but not in cheese or enough, say, for dairy based soups.  So eventually we’d like to move primarily to on the hoof and cheese based dairy.

But while I think more people could have tiny goats than do (mine weigh about 55 lbs and are the size of a comparable dog, quieter than dogs, can be picked up by a healthy adult and carried where you want them to go and don’t require a ton of space, although they like it - perfect critters for a suburban yard), and it certainly would be possible eventually for neighborhoods to, say, go cooperatively in on a small cow that would rotate around the neighborhood lawns, most of us aren’t there.  But whether you are using powdered milk or real milk, you can make quite good yogurt, cheese, kefir etc…

Yogurt is incredibly simple.  You do need a starter - you can order funky starter cultures online from the resources at the end, but really the easiest way is to go to the store and buy a brand of plain yogurt that has live cultures on it.  A couple of spoonfuls of that will seed your next culture. 

If you are using powdered milk, mix up a batch, if you are using fresh, just pour it in a pot.  Heat 1 quart of milk up until bubbles form around the edge of the pan.  Stir in 1/4 cup of powdered milk (yes, over and above what you’ve already used) if desired - this will make the yogurt thicker and more nutrious. 

Take the yogurt off the heat, and let it cool until you can just put your finger in for 10 seconds. Stir in 2 tbsp of yogurt with live cultures.   Pour into either a thermos or a jar and put in a warm, draft free spot.  Leave for 6 hours, and check - it should be thick and yogurty.  All set! 

Yogurt will keep for a few weeks at around 50 degrees, or less time in warmer weather.  But it keeps longer than milk.

What about non-dairy folks?  Must they suffer life without yogurt?  Nope, here’s a recipe for making soy yogurt out of soymilk - I’m told it is good for things like tandoori chicken (which I might try since the regular type isn’t kosher):  I’m told, but have not tried, that canned coconut milk can be turned into yogurt as well, by following precisely the same directions, and adding a small amount of dairy yogurt (or you could order powdered cultures).  This obviously would be a less efficient way of preserving coconut milk than keeping it canned, but might provide a tasty (I’m told it is pleasantly sweet and great with fruit) yogurt substitute for non-dairy households.  Let me know if you try it.

Kefir is a cultured milk product that, like yogurt, slows down the decay of milk, but doesn’t stop it.  But it is tasty in its own right, and extremely good for you.  Among other things, it has very small curds, so babies can eat kefir, and the bacteria in it can help you with digestive difficulties, even more than yogurt.  To make kefir, you need to order or barter some kefir grains - there are sources down below, or you can find someone with some and get some from them.  Once you have it, it stays alive as yogurt does, with a little from that last batch. 

 One advantage of kefir is that those who are lactose intolerant can drink kefir and eat kefir cheese in many cases (not all, and people to build up a tolerance) because the critters in the kefir eat almost all of the milk sugars (lactose) in the milk.  So if you haven’t been able to eat milk or yogurt, you might be able to enjoy kefir.

Here are instructions for kefir making - kefir can also be made on coconut milk and some soy milks - lotsa info here:

Making butter: Butter keeps nigh on forever frozen, for several months at fridge temperatures, and for a month packed into one of those butter keepers.  I won’t go into the details of how to make your own, since Crunchy Chicken has already done that.  If you are going to do it regularly (and note, you can’t do this with non-fat powdered milk), you’ll want some kind of butter churn, available at 

If you need to keep butter in hot weather, or for a very long time without refrigeration, the best strategy is to turn it into ghee, or clarified butter.  This is not quite the same in taste or texture (it is somewhere between a liquid and a solid at room temperature), but it adds a buttery flavor and will last many months at room temperature.  Instructions are here:  For those with abundant milk when the weather is warm, ghee is a way of having year round homeproduced fats.

Ok, on to cheesemaking.  This is not an area I’ve explored nearly as much as I’d like to - we’ve only made farmer’s cheese/chevre with our goat’s milk so far, and I’ve tried Barbara Kingsolver’s Mozzarella Recipe (which I won’t reprint here for reasons of fair use, but it is in _Animal Vegetable Miracle_).  So I’ll take you as far as I’ve gone, and then offer some resources.

1. Yogurt Cheese/Labneh - this is not a true cheese, but it is damned good stuff, and a much better choice for your bagel taste-wise than cream cheese.  All you do is take your yogurt and put it in some cheesecloth, and suspend it over a bowl.  Leave it overnight, and what’s left is yogurt cheese.  You can mix in herbs, put it in a jar and cover with a bit of olive oil, and it will last for a month or more in the fridge or at cool temps.  The liquid is good in fruit smoothies, or stirred into oatmeal.

2. Farmer’s Cheese/Chevre - with slight variations, these are the same - the latter is made with goat’s milk, the former with cows …usually.  Take 1 gallon of milk, 1 tsp salt and the juice of 1 large lemon (or 4 tablespoons of bottled).  Put milk and salt in a heavy bottomed pot and heat over medium heat until it boils, stirring regularly to prevent burning.  When bubbles form at the edges, turn off the heat, and stir in the lemon juice. The milk will begin to curdle - the when the process is complete (maybe 10 minutes)

You can also stir in pepper, garlic, jalapenos, whatever before you add the lemon juice.  Experimentation is good.

Line a fine colander with cheesecloth and pour the milk through it.   When it is through draining, pick up the cheese curds and squeeze to get rid of remaining liquid.  What’s in the cheesecloth is the cheese, the remainder is whey.  If you have a copy of Sally Fallon’s _Nourishing Traditions_ she has many, many suggestions for fun things to do with whey, or you can give it to the chickens or whatever.  Pack into a container and store in a cool place for a month.  This is *great* crumbled over a salad of greens and fresh tomatoes, or over winter greens, sliced apple and dried cranberries.  Yum!

More cheesemaking info:

Cultures, rennet, info:

Coming up next…kitchen equipment you need…and don’t.


Getting Other People Involved In Food Storage

Sharon January 6th, 2009

One of the issues I think all of us face is that our own personal food storage can only take us so far.  Ultimately, our own security in both a pragmatic and a moral sense depends on not having our neighbors go hungry either.  So we’re left with the oxygen mask issue - you know, the analogy of those oxygen masks that come down if something bad happens on a plane.  First, you start by taking care of yourself, but then, you turn around and see if anyone else needs help.

 Now this can be tricky. There are a host of larger community ways we might introduce the subject with all the trappings of “authority” (ie, classes, using existing infrastructure like CERT programs and local planning, etc…), but I want to start talking about the most basic ways we talk about food storage - by just talking about it to our family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. How do we get started?  How do we approach what is obviously a fraught subject?

I think one of the most important things we can do when we get started with these conversations is to seperate out acceptance of our personal vision of the future, from acceptance of the *actions* we’d like other people to take.  That is, we need to distinguish between how much we want people to agree with our point of view, and the actions we want them to take.  I want people to store a reserve of food - I’m not picky about whether they store it because of peak oil, climate change, zombies, economic crisis, volcano eruption, not liking to shop, to save money or the arrival of the rapture.  I think a lot of the time it is easy to mix the two up - to think that people only act from the motives that move us, but of course, that’s not true.  So generally speaking, I think it is more productive to talk to people, and figure out what does motivate them, and also to offer a range of reasons, rather than one or two.

So for me, a conversation about food storage might begin with a discussion of high food prices, and the savings that we might get if we bought in bulk together. Or perhaps if I know they are facing a possible job loss, about how food storage has helped us through periods when we were financiallyl insecure. 

Or it might not begin with food storage at all - instead, it might begin with common ground, for example, could we work together to save money, or to make the neighborhood more food secure.  The issue might be less about visions of the future and more about finding a way to be useful to one another. 

With some people, it might take a while.  If you get a negative response to something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person you are talking to hasn’t heard you or will never consider an idea - a lot of us reject things the first time we encounter them, simply because they seem alien or strange.  One of the tools I use is to make it routine - mentioning that something is on sale and it might be a good time to stock up, for example. 

Some of us have religious or cultural invocations we can use - for example, if your community or family has known hunger in the past, or has religious obligations to self-sufficiency, sometimes it is productive to speak in those terms.  It can be useful to talk about our history - I often ask people to think about their grandparents and great-grandparents, and ask whether most of them made it through 80 years or so without hunger, war, disruption of supplies.  Putting it in family terms helps people connect to an idea that seems foreign, but may not be.

Patriotism and pride are, I think, also important ways to come at this, although they should be used carefully. Many of us are not so very far removed from people who took a great deal of pride in their self-sufficiency.  While we don’t want to make those who need aid feel bad, there are good reasons to invoke the sense of pride someone gets when they manage to get through tough times independently.  This is important in a national sense as well - that is, it can and should be a matter of pride to be able to go forward and leave extra for those who are truly in need when the government steps in.  This pride needs to be balanced with real need - but people should feel proud of themselves for finding ways around difficult situations, and being able to help others or leave extra for those who weren’t as fortunate.

Most of all, I think that developing a family or community or neighborhood level of food security involves keeping at it, making it part of what normal people do.  You may be surprised at how people gradually evolve from “That’s weird, I don’t need to do that” to “Could you show me how to get started?”


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