Sunday, November 18, 2012

Buying Local - A trip to the farmers markets

A day well spent - locally grown SC produce and products

The past several weeks of work have been unbelievably busy.  A client visit, audits, a job fair, catering for the client visit, our annual fund raiser wrap up, the company picnic - all in addition to my regular work load.  It's left me with less coherent thoughts than I'd like at the end of any given day, and many attempts at blog posts lately seem more like sleep deprived ramblings.  This weekend was the first weekend I had 2 days off in a row in what feels like forever.  

Much as the bed called to me sweetly and sang siren songs of snug little naps, Bear and I headed out to the farmer's market in Florence, SC.  Sweet potatoes are in season and there's nothing better than fresh sweet potatoes straight from the local farms...blame it on those adorable baskets they come in, but one basket sitting by its lonesome just seemed sad so we got two.  Which equals 20 very generous pounds of sweet potatoes - one guess as to what I'm canning as I type.  The Collard Greens looked glorious, big, leafy, just the right shade of green and we'd just gone through our first frost (which improves their taste, oddly enough) so I grabbed a bunch of those for Thanksgiving dinner.  Then the apples beckoned with their shiny colorful skins and you can't say no to fresh apples that look so beautiful.  Especially not when Bear and my Mama have both requested my Caramel Apple Pie for dessert.  They deserve farm fresh, just picked apples for their pie so that's what they got.  Pounds and pounds of them.  About 7 apples will end up in the actual pie, the rest will be turned into pie filling, canned, and stashed away in our food storage along with the many, many jars of sweet potatoes.  Currently we have 20 pint jars and 7 quart jars and there's still many more waiting to be canned.  I think I may have a produce problem.  Is there a support group for that?  How do you tell when someone is produce drunk and needs to be cut off?  We also ended up with a lovely ornamental cabbage plant with stunning shades of purple in it for only $2.00.  In hindsight, we should have gotten several more. 

After the farmers market we headed south and stopped off at Abbott Farms where they have some of the absolute best fruit ciders anywhere in the history of mankind.  The white peach cider is to die for, the blueberry is delightful, and then there's the apple pie cider.  We haven't tried it yet, but we needed it in our lives.  I also needed a small bottle of the strawberry cider because...well, just because.  In addition to their ciders, they carry homemade ice creams, sodas, breads, preserves, canned produce, sauces, salsas, handmade soaps - it's like one stop shopping for every foodie on your holiday gift list.  Plus, they have samples that change daily, so we got to sample two new ciders, blueberry preserves, peach salsa and I forget what else, but it was all really, really good. The peach soap they make smells just like a ripe peach and looked too pretty to leave sitting by the register so we got a bar of that too.  Looking back, it might not have been such a bad idea to get a few more bars...   

After loading our box of goodies from Abbott Farms we admired our haul nestled happily in the back of the SUV.  We rode contentedly back towards home, high from our food sampling and the promise of more good food to come until Bear, my voice of reason, piped up with, "Do we have enough mason jars to can all this food with?"  Off to the local restaurant supply we went, where we  scouted for prepper essentials and ended up with 4 cases of mason jars, and a few miscellaneous odds and ends we needed for our preps.  Now that I see how many sweet potatoes are left, all the apples, and the collard greens (the remainder of which will be canned) I'm thinking maybe we could have gotten another case or two of jars...

In upcoming posts I'll be sharing how I can sweet potatoes (slightly different from other methods) and my caramel apple pie and bacon-bacon bourbon pecan pie recipes, providing we can get a picture of them before they disappear.  I hope you were able to spend your weekend enjoying all the delights of this season and finding some new things to be thankful for.  As for me, I'm thankful for my (always hectic, often stressful) job that allows me to support local businesses and farms, and for my family, who always appreciates the fruits of my evidenced by how fast food disappears around here.  
Till next time, y'all!  Oh - and if you happen to go to a farmers market in the near future, could you pick me up just a few pounds of apples?  I forgot to grab some for making applesauce.  Just 10 pounds or so ought to do it.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prepping for Beginners Part II - Planning and starting your food storage

In my last post, I covered the basics of food storage items.  Now that you have a better idea of how to protect your food for long term storage, let’s talk about starting your food storage.  When we first started prepping, I got discouraged by how little we had stored.  It was very tempting to dip into our savings and order the freeze dried meals sold in plastic buckets just to feel like we had a more substantial start for our food stores.  I was ready to order a hand grinder and wheat berries so I’d be able to grind our own wheat to make bread with…Then I realized that they weren’t the right choices for our family.  We don’t eat a lot of whole grain bread because it upsets my stomach.  I don’t know the first thing about grinding wheat into flour.  The freeze dried meals didn’t seem to have a lot of protein in them, and they weren’t terribly budget friendly.  The smart preppers, the ones who’ve been doing this for a good long while, said this: Look at what you and your family eats currently and start building your food storage around that.  An emergency survival situation is not the time to suddenly discover you hate freeze dried beef teriyaki, or that sprouted wheat is just about the worst thing you’ve ever tasted.  Do NOT fool yourself into thinking, “Well, if we’re hungry enough, we’ll eat it.”  Yes, you may eat it because it’s all that’s available however the point of food storage isn’t just to have enough food to see you through an emergency or survival situation, but to have things that are nutritious, as well as familiar and comforting.  There will be enough upheaval in your life already without introducing new and unfamiliar foods into the mix.  There may be a time when you have to, but if you can keep some of the familiar foods you’re used to in your storage, it can make life that much easier.  This is especially true for families with young children, or picky eaters.  

It's only a good deal if you've already tried it and know you and your family will eat it.

The second daunting aspect of starting our food storage was realizing how much was needed for just one person, for a full year.  We’re not talking luxury items, but the bare bones: 400 pounds of grains, 120 pounds of legumes, 16 pounds of powdered milk, 10 quarts cooking oil, 60 pounds of sugar or honey and 8 pounds salt.  Now multiply that for a family of 4.  Breathe, deep breaths, don’t panic.  I know those calculations probably just made your head spin, they certainly made mine at first.  Here’s the thing: you don’t have to get everything all at once, and it doesn’t make sense to start storing large amounts of items that your family has never eaten before.  Get some of those buckets with freeze dried meals as a back up or to help supplement your food stores if you really want to, but shop for your storage the same way you’d shop to stock your kitchen pantry.  We keep a spreadsheet of what we have in our food stores, and it’s customized to what WE eat.  Bear likes canned ravioli, so if it’s coming up towards the “best by” date, we purchase more to replace the old, and he takes a can to lunch with him.  For example, under the “heat and eat” section, our spreadsheet might look something like this: 

Heat & Eat Canned Goods
Servings Per Container
Serving Size
# of Cans
Caloric Total
Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Beef Ravioli
1 Cup
Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Italian Sausage Ravioli
1 Cup
Chef Boyardee Chili Mac
1 Cup
Chef Boyardee Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs
1 Cup
Spaghetti & Meatballs (Aldi Brand)
1 Cup
Heat & Eat Total Calories


To calculate how long this would last, we factor our daily caloric intake at 1,500 calories a day.  Most recommendations state 2,000 calories a day, but we typically tend to eat less than that, so we’ve modified our calculations to reflect that.  We divide the total calories by 1,500.  Then we divide by the number of people in our household.  That resulting number would be how many days worth of food you have.  Keep in mind that this isn’t the end all, be all to our food storage, but an example of one way we started building ours with store bought canned goods that were on sale.  (prepper tip: write the expiration dates on the tops of your cans in permanent marker so you can easily see when you need to start rotating your canned goods out into your regular pantry.)  We have separate sections in our spreadsheet for legumes, grains, pantry essentials, meat, and other items that are in our normal, every day diets to include large cans of collard greens and sweet potatoes.  (Because we’re Southern preppers, after all!)  I even have a section for spices and bouillon.  If you were one person, and Hurricane Sandy were to hit tomorrow, you could hole up in your apartment and have enough food for 11 days with just the above section.  You might be sick of Chef Boyardee by the end of it, but it beats digging through a dumpster to find food.

I’ve learned how to pressure can meat, and feel so much better knowing we have tasty, fresh chicken (or beef, pork or venison) to enjoy.  I eat oatmeal at least 3 times a week, so it’s in my food storage.  I have regular all purpose flour stored in mylar bags inside my food grade buckets, because I’d rather work with what I know, than be faced with having to work with hand grinding wheat berries to make bread, tortillas and baked goods.  We included brown sugar in addition to regular sugar to our storage since we use it quite often.  Take advantage of the buy one, get one free sales at your local grocery store, and don’t forget the buy one, get one sales on vitamins and supplements to add into your food storage as well; price match at Walmart, coupon like a crazy person, and watch how your food stores start to add up.  Carve a little bit out of your budget to purchase items in bulk whenever possible – powdered milk, for example.  We got a great deal on a 14 pound bucket of powdered milk from Amazon and added 21,140 calories to our food storage.  That’s 2 weeks worth of life sustaining calories for 1 person if they were to live off the milk alone.   I buy generic or store brand items and with the savings I buy extra cans or bags of beans, rice, etc.  to put into our storage.  The point is, start storing what you already eat and know how to prepare.   

Another trick that saved my sanity was to set smaller, short term goals for food storage.  The ultimate goal is to have enough food to provide for our family for a full year if not more, but it’s so hard to feel like you’re making progress when you’re looking at a goal that large.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your food storage.  Set small goals: enough food for a week, enough food for 1 month, enough food for 3 months, enough food for 6 months, etc.  Each time we’ve hit one of our short term goals, it felt like a victory and we breathed a little easier knowing we at least had that much in our stores. For us, it's become a way of life - every trip to the grocery store includes buying items that will be added into or used to replenish what's in our food storage.  Now that it's become a habit, it's much easier to keep up with, and we're able to focus on filling in any gaps in our storage, or continuing to increase it with a tactical shopping plan, ie, we're good on canned tomatoes, but we could use more canned potatoes.  Then we know what to shop for, and in my case, what I'll need to can in bulk. 

Now that you have an idea of how much of the basics one person needs to survive for a year and some general ideas on things you can include in your own food storage to make the hard times a little easier, get on out there and start prepping! 

Till next time, y’all! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prepping for Beginners Part I – An intro into the basics of food preservation items

NYC's Lower East Side 96 hours after Hurricane Sandy - dumpster diving for food. 

There is an abundance of information and products out there for people who are into preparedness.  For a beginner, all the information and all those different products can become overwhelming.  After witnessing people digging through a dumpster of spoiled food just 96 hours after Hurricane Sandy hit, I’m glad I stuck to it and continued prepping.  But for the novice prepper, those who are just dipping their toes into these waters, it can sometimes almost seem like a different language is being spoken.  In today’s post, we’re going to cover some of the most common items I ran across when researching food storage and demystify them for the absolute novice, as well as covering where to find some of these items without overpaying.

Food grade buckets
You know what they are, plastic buckets that are rated safe to store food in.  I wasn’t mystified as to what they were so much as where to get them.  The prices online seemed incredibly high for a 5 or 6 gallon bucket.  On a whim, we went to Lowes where we discovered 5 gallon food grade buckets MUCH cheaper than anywhere on the internet.  We got the buckets and matching lids for under $4 each.  Check the local hardware or big box stores near you for these items – just make sure they’re food grade. 

A 5 Gallon Food Grade Bucket - Stackable and essential for protecting your investment

Mylar bags 
The only time I’d heard of mylar was for balloons.  Mylar bags come in different thicknesses and sizes; their purpose is to help protect your dry goods such as rice, grains, sugar, etc. from degrading due to exposure to pantry pests, light and oxygen.  Typically, you place your mylar bags of food inside of your food grade buckets for long term storage.  The recommended thickness is 5 mil, thinner than that can let light into the bag and shorten the shelf life of your food.  I tend to use the 1 gallon sized bags over the 5 gallon bags as we live in the South, and I don’t want to expose more of my food to the elements than necessary.  So we package everything into 1 gallon bags and use a bag at a time while ensuring that the rest of the rice or beans or whatever remains fresh. 
You seal them by using heat – there are specially made sealers or you can use the PracticalPrepper2000 – also known as a clothes iron set on the nylon setting.  Works just as well, and it’s a lot cheaper.  I’ve also heard that a flat iron works very well, but I’m not willing to experiment with my Chi flat iron!  Before you seal your mylar bags, you will need to add in…

Oxygen Absorbers 
These a magical thing to me, as I cannot scientifically explain their chemical make up or what makes them work.  All I can tell you is they suck out all the oxygen from your mylar bags and makes for an airtight seal.  No oxygen means no bugs, and your food stays fresher for longer.  They come in different cc’s – I use 300 ccs in my 1 gallon mylar bags; after 24 hours you’ll notice that the bags look like they’ve been shrink wrapped – this is great, it means the oxygen absorbers are doing their thing!

The best prices on mylar bags and oxygen absorbers that we’ve found has been on Amazon, and I take advantage of the free shipping whenever possible.  Some sellers sell the bags and the absorbers together, which is a great thing as you will want to use ALL your oxygen absorbers once you open the bag they’re in, or they loose potency.  We generally build up a supply of dry goods that need to go into the bags and then I fill the bags assembly line style, once all the bags are filled I open the pack of oxy absorbers and then quickly seal them with the clothes iron. 

Mason jars
You all know what they are, but did you know you could store DRY goods in them?  I use pint sized canning jars when I’m storing dry foods, add in an oxygen absorber, put the lid and ring on and get the delightful sound of my jar “pinging” – ensuring that I have an airtight seal until they’re opened for use.  I use pint sized jars for storing bouillon, many preppers use quart sized jars and layer freeze dried or dehydrated foods (like peppers, onions, celery, spices, beans and rice) all into one jar for a quick and easy meal ready to be reconstituted.  We have a local restaurant supply store that has the lowest price on mason jars, but even our local Lowes runs specials on them during canning season (usually in the fall where we live). 
Of course, you can also use your mason jars to pressure can, which is what I use mine most often for.  Speaking of pressure canning…

The Pressure Canner
Pressure canners are really far less intimidating than you think.  I was scared to get one, then scared to use it, because I’d heard horror stories of mishaps with them.  But they are an essential part of prepping in my opinion, and you’re able to can just about everything with them – veggies, sauces, fruits, even meat.  Especially meat!  I won’t knock dehydrated or freeze dried meats, because a protein source is critical for survival, but I would much rather have canned meat any day of the week.  There are guidelines to follow, and methods to canning meat, and they must be followed to the letter if you want to ensure it’ll be safe for consumption later on.  The Canning Granny is a wealth of information on all things canning, and a google search will also bring up the recommended process of canning your items at the correct time and pressure for your altitude.  Most canners come with an instruction book that will also provide you with this information.  For those of you with pets, you can also can your own pet food – remember that preparedness should also extend to our four legged family members, too!  My Mama sent me my Presto pressure canner (Megalodon) from Amazon, and I love it. 

There are a lot of things I’m deliberately not covering in this post, since the goal was to go over the bare bones of food preservation and explain the uses for the various things you will see on many prepper related sites without completely overwhelming you.  Remember – you can’t eat the whole cow in one sitting, but you can eat the whole cow if you have it preserved properly!

Till next time, y’all!