Like most all Americans, I'm trimming my budget as gas and food prices skyrocket. I am very blessed with a good job and health, something no one should ever take for granted if they have it, but I'm also aware, how quickly it can all be taken away. So I am learning to prepare. I am buying cheaper cuts of meat or using more game, marinated and cooked with care, cooking in bulk and freezing portions rather than eating out, and used bookstore, not new bookstore. I spend "vacation" time off, not at a resort or on a beach, but at my Dad's doing chores and repairs around his place with a sibling, cooking in quantity and making sure he's healthy and comfortable in his home.
I found I could make really tasty meals in bulk for him and put them in small containers for him for an extra freezer in the garage, to simply reheat at a fraction of the cost of the premade stuff he was buying. I include lots of veggies from his small garden which friends help him maintain, using little salt, as his doctor advised, just lots of herbs and natural ingredients to lend flavor.
The rest of family is also getting into the shopping in larger quantities. (Hey where's my big yogurt bucket?) It's not just for cost savings but if you are staring into the jaws of a storm such as Hurricane Sandy, do you really want to be standing in line in the cold for hours hoping you get the last can of Pringles, as that's all that is left?
I'm also spending more effort on storing up food supplies for the long term, buying at good prices, and storing in bulk. I'm by far not the only one. I've been seeing, at numerous places, people selling food-grade buckets (no off-gassing from the plastic), along with desiccant packets, heat-sealable mylar bags and gamma lids. For longer term storage of dry goods, such as rice and beans and such, it's a very good start. Plus they are stackable and the gamma lids have a nice watertight seal if you should ever have to crack into your stores. Just a note though, don't put a desiccant packet into sugar storage unless you want a giant sugar lick.
If you have a lot of freezer space, storing fresh and properly sealed food is easy. But what about if you don't have a huge or extra freezer? Sure there's peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but there's a lot of other more dubious cheap food products with a long shelf life.
There's canned food such as Spam or "Armour Potted Meat Food Product." What exactly is potted meat? According to the label it's: Beef Tripe, Beef Hearts, Cooked Fat Tissue Solids, and Partially Defatted Cooked Pork Fatty Tissue. . . mmmm, it's "America's favorite" the old label used to say - favorite what?.
I remember the first time I saw THAT on the shelf in the pantry and read the ingredients. "What's beef tripe" I asked my Mom. She said "it's in the middle of the cow". I got that same of vague answer when I asked how babies were made
The potted meat looked like something from Gross Anatomy 101 after running it through a wood chipper and closely resembled a can of "Mighty Dog". No thanks. In those days that pretty much just left the Spam and Beenie Weenies. But if you were snowbound with no food to eat for a month because you didn't think to store food properly, would you want your family only eating Beenie Weenies? In perhaps a small enclosed space? I think not. So you need to have some other food sources on hand. Fortunately there are a lot more choices
Freeze Dried Foods: Not just for backpacking in to the campsite any more. A favorite brand among friends is Mountain House. They are airtight NITROGEN PACKED #10 cans or pouches. Up to 98% of the residual oxygen has been removed, according to their website. They advertise a 30 year shelf life. I can't say any have been purchased with that intent, but for camping they were found to be very good and worth the little bit of extra $$, less per serving that any fast food you'd eat in town. There are other great brands as well, and I'm sure some on my sidebar will have their own recommendations.
Remember, though, with commercially prepared "survival meals". The "serving size" are sustenance only. You may need significantly more calories per day if you are working hard outdoors, wood chopping or making repairs for example and should double up your pre made meal storage amounts if you plan on doing anything beyond "Hunkering 101". You'd be amazed how much food one adult needing an average of 2200 calories a day can eat in a month or a year.
Home Dried Foods:
Jerky: Jerky is tasty, stores well, and can be flavored with other items for a little variety Just some basic rules here. Do not package until completely cool to the touch. Like all dried foods, store in small batches to minimize the change of contamination. Like dried vegetables, dried meat will keep up to six months; well dried and stored in a freezer, it can keep well for years. There's some jerky around here from an elk hunt LONG ago that's still good, kept in the freezer.
For vegetables dried in a dehydrator - see your unit's instructions for conditioning instructions prior to storage or refer to How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables with a Dehydrator. Use only air tight containers or freezer bags from which ALL air has been removed before closing it up.
Sulfured fruit - store in non-metal containers. Dried fruits will keep up to a year and longer in the freezer. Again - cool dry and dark, but they will keep well at temperatures up to 60 degrees, though slightly cooler than that is optimum. If you see condensation on the inside of any of the containers, you MUST re-dry it again.
Hickory Smoking: It does not matter if it is rain or shin,e Barkley will sit on the porch n a puddle of drool while this smokes away, refusing to come inside. Smoked products will keep a fair amount of time and unlike "mystery sausage" you know what went in this.
With the multiple racks within the smoker, 15 pounds were made in one batch. It still needs to be frozen if not eaten pretty soon, but sealed well, it will keep a LONG time.
Canned Foods: A basic rule - If it is high acid, can it. If it is low acid, freeze it. My friend Dann and his wife at God Gals Guns and Grub recommended to me The Ball Blue Book of Home Canning. It is the bible of canning, and really goes into safety considerations, especially important for low-acid or steam-canned things.
Root Cellar storage - Potatoes - Inspect all potatoes for soft spots, sprouts and mold. Only perfect potatoes are suitable for long-term storage, if you find soft spots. use them now. If yours are home grown, allow to dry thoroughly before storing. Do not wash potatoes first. Store in a cardboard box, or mesh bag to ensure enough ventilation. Store where it's cool, dry and dark (50-60 degrees is ideal) with some ventilation. Check on them regularly and remove any that go soft, sprout or shrivel. Place the potatoes in a cardboard box, paper bag or mesh bag to ensure good ventilation.
Apples - Dried apples are a favorite of the dried fruits, but whole apples will keep a long while if stored properly. You want to store in a cool basement, garage, fruit cellar or refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is 30-32°F with 90% humidity. If temp falls below 30 apples will be damaged and if it gets over 40 they will ripen too quickly.
Onions - Inspect like you do for potatoes. For this use a couple of clean and dried ladies stockings (yes, on the exceedingly rare occasions wherein I don a dress, I wear real stockings as I HATE, hate, hate, pantyhose). Or if you use pantyhose, cut off the legs. Drop an onion into the leg and tie a knot, continue adding and knotting until the leg is full. Store where cool, dry and between 40-45 degrees. When you need an onion, simply get out your handy little knife and carefully cut a slit in the side of one of the knotted off sections. This will allow you to reinsert an onion and reuse the stocking.
Corn - I'll be honest. I've never stored corn other than in the freezer so I'm not sure about other ways to store it. Any suggestions readers? Here is some of Frank James corn, which he so graciously shares, prepared as he recommends in his blog and prepped for the winter freezer with the "food saver". Yum! The food saver is invaluable to extending the freezer life of things. You can also use it to store medicines and diapers for your bug out kit if you have elders or juniors with you. After the air is sucked out the diapers use 1/2 the space as before.
But Brigid, I don't live out in the "burbs" or the country. I don't HAVE a root cellar, garage space or a basement?
Even in the burbs, a shelf an inch or two out from the wall (avoid condensation) right down near (but not on) the floor, will guarantee a pretty consistent and cool temperature in the mid to upper 50's as long as the adjacent wall is below ground level.
But if you have a bit of yard, and you have no other options, you can make your own in a pinch in many climates (though around some of these parts you'll just dig down and find rock). Still something useful to know. If you rent, it takes up little space and can easily be returned to it's previous state before you move out so not to annoy your landlord. Simply dig a hole in the soil to accommodate a large sized plastic container. Think kitchen storage bin with lid, new garbage can or an old cooler. Put your container in the hole, making sure you leave an inch or two sticking out of the ground to prevent rainwater from entering the "cellar". Even better, dig a little drainage ditch around it. Remember to cover with insulating straw and plastic as well (which will also further protect it from run off.
Place your food items in the container. Don't store apples with potatoes by the way. Pack it with straw or other insulation quality material and pop the top on securely. (This should keep out the local bugs and smaller critters). Remember though - if it's above the frost line IT WILL FREEZE, unless adequately insulated. Check the food periodically and remove any immediately that is looking soft or discolored. Apples will keep (approximately as found in my climate) up to six months, carrots 5 months, potatoes 5 months,squash 5 months, beets 4 months (like that's going to happen, I HATE beets). If you see condensation there may well be mold which is a real hazard for consumption.
Note: This is NOT an ideal solution, but there may be a time in your life when it's necessary.
When you buy in bulk, get the food prepped and stored right away. Bags are fine but the long term life is limited. I've got food like that pictured below packed in nitrogen now that will last 20+ years.
So go on and buy some bulk food and get started storing it properly. You won't ever regret doing it.
Though you might regret asking about the tripe.
Though you might regret asking about the tripe.