Thursday, December 17, 2015

Stocking a Living Pantry

    Definition of a living pantry- a pantry of items you stock that you normally use throughout the year to make meals, cleaning products, medicinals and toiletries. NOT items that you never eat but store for the sole purpose of emergency situations. 

    Stocking a living pantry these days might not sound as important as 100 years ago but I am finding that the quality of our food is making it very important to us to do so. In my great grandparents day there was no need for organics or reading labels... researching a company to find out the purity of a product because we can't trust the forces in charge to protect us wasn't needed then. Really? Sadly yes, the laws allow way too much. After reading some of the laws um I think I will make my food supply a priority! I know it sounds like a lot of work but is't food one of the most important health giving or taking away parts of your whole life? When you read that 80% of olive oil here in US is adulterated with rancid vegetable oil and honey is adulterated with corn syrup.... so much for switching to healthy alternatives and paying more to boot. So for us it is a big part of this abundant life we are trying to live.
    You may ask how to switch to better products and get the real deal? Your best bet is to go local and go small. The smaller local companies have better control of how and what goes into their products. I love supporting my local farms. So we buy or barter for local maple syrup, honey, produce and meats we don't grow ourselves. We grow some of our own herbs, some vegetables, chickens, eggs, some fruit and some nuts. Over many years we switched to mostly homemade items like granola, dairy products, condiments, sauces, canned fruits, pantry mixes, pickles, ferments, and herb mixes. If you think you can't do this where you live I encourage you to read the book "The Urban Farmer Handbook" for inspiration. These things are learned over time not overnight, switch slowly. When we can't get local we try to buy from small companies in bulk from the source. Like olive oil in a gallon tin from Greece or California. Tip-they will print harvest date on can and not just an expiration date 
    So lets get down to business with this pantry stocking. First write down about 30 of the most common meals you make throughout the year. If they are from mostly processed foods then look into how to change the recipes to a homemade version to cut down on chemical preservatives and increase the quality of the meal. Tip- to make things more convenient many meals can be prepped ahead, frozen to be used on busy days or to be thrown in a crock pot. I have just made 25 meals in 5 hours this weekend that I threw in the freezer. For inspiration, recipes and grocery lists check here. As a family we will make up 6 jars each of convenient mixes like seasonings, pancake mix, cookies, cake, soup mix or trail mix. These are treats but it makes it simple to use one as a gift or have the teens make a dessert when company comes over. So after we have our meals written down we look at the list of ingredients needed. Write this up on a grocery list so you can see how much is needed of each item... like 10 onions, 5 lbs carrots, 10 lbs chicken, etc. Now you can easily see how much food your family eats in a year by multiplying this by 12! You may vary your meals with the seasons but I found that families gravitate towards similar base ingredients throughout the year. Example- our family uses jasmine rice, wild rice, rolled oats, buckwheat groats, navy beans, honey, maple syrup, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, sea salt, herbs, spices, apple cider vinegar and certain oils throughout the year. After I wrote this out for breakfast and lunches too I could start to see how many pounds of rice, oats, nuts, etc. I would use as the months rolled by. That made it easy to justify buying certain items that keep in bulk. After a year I could be pretty certain that I would use a 25 lb bag of rice and 50 lbs of oats(getting them cheaper by the pound).
    Here are the categories you may use to write up a master list for your family- whole grains(rice, oats, quinoa, groats, etc.), beans/legumes(lentils, beans or peas), nuts/seeds/dried fruits, fats/oils(coconut, palm, olive oil, avocado,etc), vinegars, sweeteners(honey, maple syrup raw sugar), condiments/canned goods(mustard, relish, hot sauce, tomato products, canned fish, pickles, jam, nut butters, etc.), dried goods(baking ingredients, seasonings, cacao powder, teas, coffee, diy mixes), dairy/dairy alternative productscold storage vegetables if you have the room or conditions(potatoes, apples, carrots, onions, garlic, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, etc.), freezer items(fruits picked in season, vegetables, meats, prepared meals, etc.), natural medicinal and cleaning product supplies(herbs, homeopathics, essential oils, butters, clays, beeswax, soaps, etc.) I make a master list that I can check or write prices on as I stock up. I shop every two weeks and try to buy one bulk items to replenish my stock. It varies as the seasons change. I buy maple syrup, olive oil and honey after it has been harvested that year.
    Now for storing all those items! I have a small kitchen that I stock two cabinets with bulk items in glass jars to use on a weekly basis. The jars range from gallon, half gallon and quarts depending on how often I use that item. Seasoning are in pint jars in a drawer. Other bulk items are kept in our basement in six 5 gallon buckets with Gamma lids. If I buy a 25 or 50 pound bag items I will often break that down to 5 or 10 pound increments in mylar bags that I seal with a iron. They get stacked in the 5 gallon bucket for storage. Most bulk items get used or rotated through in a year. Some items are kept longer if it is suitable to do so. Canned items are kept on a shelving unit in basement and next to that is two upright freezers stocked with meats and prepared meals. Once or twice a year I make up cleaning products and toiletries. Medicinal items are made in the season prior to the season they are needed in so they are fresh but ready to go. Example-elderberry syrup, vapor rub and cold kicker are made in September, sunscreen, deodorant and bug spray are made in May. 
    KEEP IT SIMPLE! Say your family doesn't often get sick then it may be silly for you to make 10 different items for cold season. Think about YOUR situation and what would be worth your time and money to invest in.
   Some of our favorite mixes-
Ranch dressing mix
Copy Cat Rice-a-Roni made with gluten free pasta
vegan meals in jars
jambalaya mix(except we add the broth later instead of using bouillon)
vanilla extract
LOADS of diy mixes
gluten free baking mix

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Canning through the seasons

    Canning season is slowly... slowly coming to an end. This year has been a crazy canning year from June till now. When a "blessing becomes a weight" should be the title of this years canning season.... yes I will feel differently this winter when I am enjoying it all. It is hard to say no to free food but it is hard to deal with when it all needs to be eaten or preserved in a short amount of time. Um, especially with a toddler helping! Freezing wasn't an option this year as our freezers are full of the extra chicken we raised. So now on the other side of the canning season I can look back to evaluate how things went and give you my tips and recipes.
    Anytime you are spending time preserving the harvest or preparing larger quantities of food it is best to make a plan. I write a list of supplies, make sure I have a meal in the crock pot and make sure my area/tools are all clean. It is also good to evaluate whether you have enough supplies like jars, lids or freezer bags/containers before you start. Once everything is ready we start the process of turning abundant produce into lovely little treats/meals to enjoy over the winter or to give as gifts.
    As a family that is trying to lessen our dependency on certain items like sugar and thickeners I tend to choose the simplest recipes. Sometimes though we will pick a tried and true recipe that contains a lot of sugar with the knowledge that we will only be eating small amounts of it. It is a balancing act. Example- we make homemade yogurt with no sweetener but then when we eat it we add a little of our fruit preserves to the top for flavor and sweetness. It is also good on unsweetened oatmeal. Trying to be completely sugar free is hard when you preserve items through canning. I found some things like tomato sauce and apple sauce do not need sugar so I never add it. I just make sure I have a mix of different kinds to get a balance of flavor. No matter what; I control what goes into all the things I make homemade so I also control the quality of the ingredients.

A seasonal calendar would be helpful.

Some recipes to inspire you:
Forsythia Dandelion Jelly!
Pickled asparagus
Honey sweetened strawberry limeade
Blueberry Maple Pecan Conserve... our favorite!
Pickled garlic scapes(tops of garlic plants)
Pickled green beans
Candied jalapenos aka cowboy candy
Easy grape juice canning
Banana Foster butter is to die for over yogurt or ice cream
Foraged Autumn Olive made into jam
A healthier apple pie filling
Applesauce blends with other fruits!
Using up those green tomatoes
We canned a lot more then this like tomato sauce, pepper relish, fruits, apple butter, salsas and more. We learned how to pressure can to add carrots, green beans, broths, dried beans and ready made meals.

Best canning shelf I have seen
One of the best canning dvds I have watched with both pressure canning and water bath canning

Next posts I will share stocking the pantry with jar mixes for easier home cooking and ferments through the seasons!