Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Basics of Stockpiling Food

If you are like the Captain you are always looking forward to see what kind of responsibilities, liabilities, costs, or expenses can be knocked out today to make tomorrow more secure.  Real estate, education, precious metals, etc.  However, once you get down the rabbit hole far enough the next step is prepping and preparing for an economic collapse or SHTF scenario.  This then brings up skills like pickling food, gardening, marksmanship, hunting, etc.  The most concerning of these to me is being able to make and store food for long periods of time, because without food the rest is moot.  

Thankfully, a fan who is an expert at pickling and storing food was kind enough to provide a tutorial in the basics.  

Stockpiling is one of those practices which is difficult to understand from the outside. When you don't stockpile, it can seem fruitless, too much effort, expensive, or even paranoid. But the reality is that a good stockpile can be of use to most of us. From minor geographical catastrophes, to having food home even after a weekend away, to surviving unexpected bills and loss of income, a wellstocked larder can make all the difference to most of our lives.

Starting your stockpile. Starting a stockpile means getting in all the basics you will need, not only those which you cannot supply for yourself, but also those which will allow you to keep your own stockpile going. The groundwork for your stockpile needs to be things which do not easily expire: • Dried legumes. • Dried grain products. • Tins. • Nuts and seeds. • Salts, sugars, spirits and vinegars. • Processed oils. All of these products last a very long time if not forever, are obvious when they expire, could be used to sustain yourself for extended periods if needed, and can be bought very cheaply.

Seeing as they do not easily expire and will not expire without giving off serious signs, these products can be kept long past their printed expiration date and are therefore perfect for bulk buys and warehouse clearances. Provided it's a product you are definitely going to use and that doesn't expire easily, there's nothing wrong in buying 6 years worth of an item. For instance we bought a 25kg sack of turtle beans and a few trays of emergency cans of Irish Stew over two years ago. They get used slowly, haven't gone off, and cost us less for buying in bulk. On the other hand, flour in paper bags, however cheap, is under constant threat from airborne moisture and will probably only last one to two years.

The benefits of a good basic stockpile are countless, and it is so simple and easy to establish that if it's the only step you take towards stockpiling, you'll be miles ahead of everyone else. Should you lose your job or get struck by disaster, an abundance of grains and beans will at least keep you alive, and a supply of goods for preserving other foods will allow you to make the most of whatever comes your way.

Invest a bit of time into comparing warehouse clearance and bulk buy websites before stocking up on enough dried goods for a few years.

Jamming and canning. The next easiest step to forming a stockpile is to take advantage of seasonal fruits to make and can jams and pie fillings. Due to the intense acidity of a jam, these don't go off easily at all. They won't breed serious diseases like C. Botulinum, E. Coli or Salmonella. And if they form a thin mould skin over the top, any seasoned jam maker will tell you it's safe to simply scoop off the mould and consume the rest.

To make a jam, take a supply of fresh fruits and fill a pot around two thirds full of them. Cook them down until they only fill half the pot and fill the remainder with sugar, stirring continually. Once the sugar is dissolved and boiling, put the jam into prepared cans, seal, and store.

To can goods you don't need an expensive canning bath or specialist equipment. All you need is undamaged pop-lid jars. Wash thoroughly and, before decanting the jam, fill with boiling water to raise the temperature of the jar. When the jar is hot, empty the water out, immediately fill with jam and firmly replace the lid. The canning is complete and sterile when the pop-lid sinks back down. If it does not, your jar was damaged and you need to use the jam within a month or two.
Once the jam has sealed, it should last 6 months in an average kitchen cupboard or 12 months in a fridge or very cold pantry. If your pantry has heating, assume only 6 months again.
You can use this technique for storing any highly sweetened mixes, at least 1/3 sugar, such as sweetened pumpkin purée, apple sauce, or even sweet chocolate spreads. They will last you until next harvest.

Savouries, botulism and not dying. Preserving anything savoury has a distinct risk with it. Essentially, there are two preservation methods which work long-term even when done by amateurs, and both involve creating an acidic environment: sugar preservation like jams, and vinegar preservation, as with pickles. Anything alkaline is risky, even moreso in the hands of amateurs.

Thus, if you want to preserve something savoury, then your best main bets are: pickling in vinegar, dry curing, dehydrating, and freezing.

Pickles. A pickle is the simplest way of preserving savoury foods, although the distinctive taste may put many people off. You can pickle all vegetables, all nonsweet fruits, all seafood and eggs.

All you need to do is prepare your savouries and cram them into a jar so they won't float. If you must, boil a flat rock until it's clean and use it to weigh down the pickles. Next, take a vinegar, maybe add a hint of salt and sugar to it, and cover the pickles. Seal the jar. You can sometimes use heat to vacuum seal the jar, but generally I've found it unnecessary.

Other vegetables can be pickled in their own juice. A simple home pickle involves taking cabbage and repeatedly salting and compressing it in a large container until the leaves begin to release liquid and ferment. Once the fermentation is complete you can pack them into a jar.

Drying and curing meats. Meats can be salted and pickled as well, but the best way to extend a meat's life is controlled rotting, more euphemistically known as curing. To cure a meat, we use a casing, vast quantities of salt, and a cold, dry room, to slowly draw the moisture out of it. No moisture means good bacteria thrive, effectively cooking the meat via bacterial digestion and driving out the bad bacteria, to make the meat last longer.

Curing meats can be done many different ways, and it is best to consult a specialist book before starting to cure your own meats.

Drying vegetables, legumes and grains. Vegetables and grains can also be preserved by drying them, only here we are dehydrating them fast enough so no bacteria can take hold. This can be done in an oven at 50-80C over the course of a day to three days. The closer to 50C the temperature is, the longer the dry takes, but the less spoilage from burning we get.

Prepare your vegetables by washing, peeling and cutting them. Prepare your legumes and grains by rubbing the husk off them and rinsing them. Spread your plants out over a baking tray and put them in the oven without preheating it. As it rises to temperature, the surface water will slowly evaporate, drying them off without cooking them. Check periodically. Vegetables are done when their colour is vibrant but they are firm and thin. A bendy vegetable will last maybe a year. A crispy one could last for several years. Grains and legumes are done when they are solid and rattle, with no burning smell and no give at all.

For many of us, dehydrating grains and legumes really isn't worth the effort, though, as they are cheaper and simpler to buy and store.

All pickled, cured and dehydrated savouries can be vacuum packed for longer, safer preservation.
Freezing for stopgap storage. Freezing goods isn't the very best long-term storage method. Freezer burn can cause damage anywhere from four to twelve months into storage, and an electrical problem could mean your store will spoil.

However, as a stopgap freezers are amazing. If you don't have the time for canning or drying or curing something, but it's harvest time or you found a good deal somewhere, you can use your freezer to temporarily preserve assorted goods. Meat and chopped vegetables are the big ones we focus on, with some space for fruit when we're building up to a season's worth of jam-making. Also, in the event of a power outage you have up to three days before your freezer goods begin to spoil, which is more than enough time to defrost them and jam, cure and pickle them.

You ought to be able to use most of your frozen goods right out the freezer, to maximize usefulness and avoid losing anything which is nearing its use-by date. So make sure everything you freeze has been prepared before freezing.

Caring for your stockpile. Finally: always take good care of your stockpile.

Keep dry goods dry. If they start to rehydrate, they will spoil. Consider vacuum sealing if damp is an inevitability in your home.

Monitor labels and dates. When it comes to home-preserved goods, write down the date you made them and their expected lifespan and keep an eye on it.

Clean everything and arrange by use and date. Be sure to keep cans and packages clean and dry and to keep the items with the earliest expiry dates at the front of your stockpile. Especially important if your stockpile grows very large.

Check once a month for spoilage. Look out for dried goods rehydrating, moulds and condensation, rusty and bulging tins, pop-lids that have expanded, or strange odours. Get rid of anything affected immediately and clean the area thoroughly. If the problem persists, look for any possible cause.
Monitor your freezer. Keep an eye on dates, do not allow your freezer to overfreeze, defrost it once or twice a year at least, repackage or get rid of items in bags that have burst.
Golden rules.

1. Don't drop a year's wages on a crate of ration packs to “get this stockpile over and done with”. Good, cheap stockpiles are built piece by piece.
2. Only buy or make items you can and will use, no matter how cheap.
3. Only buy or make up to a year's worth of anything that isn't one of your basics. Unless you plan on living off them, most other items will expire before you use them.
4. Expiry dates aren't everything and best before dates mean nothing at all.
5. Spending more in one go could mean savings in the long term.
6. Don't fall for the fallacy of sunk costs: get rid of stores that are not serving you.

Having a stockpile is a wonderful thing. And if you follow this advice you can quickly and inexpensively create, build, and maintain a stockpile to serve your needs.


Karl said...

Great post on an important topic!

For those not into canning, consider the $5/week practice of buying a few extra canned goods and layering those accumulated cans into false bottoms in rarely-used closets or under beds. (old advice from Mr. B. at

With all the cyber-hacking of late, it is only a matter of time before banks get hit, or Walmart's systems, or something else that causes a temporary crisis. Those will be good times to stay away from the stores and the unprepared public.

heresolong said...

I think you are better of processing yourcanned foods in a boiling water bath rather than just packing in hot jars. It forces more air out nd they will last longer. It still doesn't take anything more than a big pot.

Unknown said...

You left out another option--liquor. It has a very long shelf-life, and even if you dont drink, you can use it as $$ to trade for other goods and services during some emergency. Buy it by the case for best prices.

Swede said...

Some very good advice here. Salt and honey will last literally forever when compared to human life (and stored correctly). They have unearthed honey in Egyptian pyramids that was estimated at over 6000 years old, and it was just as good as new. Plus, honey is a very effective topical antibiotic due to its ph.

While I like cured meats, for really longevity, canning is the way to go for me. It's very easy to do, and will last for many (30+) years. Plus, it's just handy to have canned meat available when you are cooking and don't want to take the time to run to the store or cook it.

I highly recommend Wendy DeWitt's DVD on food preservation including canning. Those Mormons know what they are doing (no, I'm not Mormon). She breaks it down into very simple steps.

Sean Carnegie said...

The easier way to keep jars warm is to use the oven. Put it on warm and invert jars into a cookie sheet that has a small amount of water in it. Also, when pouring stuff into jars, pit a metal butter knife into it to absorb some of the mixture's heat and not snap the jar.

Lids go into a saucepan immersed in water for sterilization. Find the magnetized stick of plastic to pick up individually.

For vinegar pickles, you can also brine instead of pure vinegar. I go 3 cups each of vinegar and salt since I like more sour pickles. Use a coarse or pickling salt in the brine also. Recipes abound on thr google machine.

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