September 07, 2012

Stocking The Larder

It's one of the basic truths of growing your own food and living on what you produce - there will be times of feast and there will be times of famine. That's why it's very important to keep a well stocked larder, or pantry, or cellar, or kitchen cupboards. When those times of famine roll around it pays to have a good mixture of supplies on hand to meet all of your dietary needs.

You can store any excess from the garden in a variety of ways, such as bottling, drying or freezing (freezers are great until the power goes off for more than a few hours, then you can have a problem). Jam, sauces and pickles, dried herbs and fruits, all add flavour and variety to the diet. Dried beans are a good source of protein but it pays to combine beans with a cereal product to get the enzymes necessary to aid in the breakdown of the protein of the beans. That's probably why beans and rice is a staple meal in some places. Beans and rice might sound a bit boring on it's own but with some flavour additives, such as dried chillies and a tomato sauce, it can become an interesting meal. Nuts are a good source of protein and can be stored in the shells for extended periods. Corns and maizes can be dried on the cob for grinding into flour. Smoked meats and sausages (salamis/wursts) will store well in a cool, dark space with good air movement.

Some vegetables store better than others. Potatoes and pumpkins (and some squash) have excellent storage qualities if they are handled right. Potatoes need to be stored in a dark, cool, dry place with air movement. One traditional method of storing potatoes was to place them in a straw-lined box in layers, with a layer of straw in between and covering each layer. This can keep rot from spoiling the whole lot. On larger farms, this storage might be in an area of the barn that had a low wall to separate the storage bin from the barn floor. Pumpkins can be stored anywhere, as long as there is good air circulation. It used to be common to see pumpkins on the tank-stands in many backyards here in Australia. They would sit there through all weather and still be edible for many months. Brown onions store better than white or red varieties but all can be stored in a vegetable safe of pantry for months. I haven't tried it myself but it's possible to plat the leaves of onions together, with the onions still attached, to make a string of onions that can be hung from a hook in the kitchen or store room. Garlic can be done in the same method as well. Herbs that dry well (most of them) can be harvested on longer stems, tied in a bundle and hung from to dry as well. If you can do it in your kitchen then you will just be able to reach up and cut off what you need as you cook.

Another old method of storing crops, root vegetables in particular, was to dig a root cellar. This didn't have to be very big or deep, 2 metres (5-6 foot) is enough. A simple roof was made to keep the weather out but the walls were left bare earth and the root vegetables would be stored in the earth of the walls. In more temperate climates, root vegetables can be left in the soil in the garden for many months through winter but in colder climates the earth can freeze and this can damage the crop.

Shopping For The Larder

Being 100% self sufficient is hard work and may not be possible for most people but we can all learn to be more self reliant. So buying in food is still going to be a part of most gardeners lives but what we buy is important as well, especially when it comes to stocking up the larder for long-term storage.
Here's a list of bought foods I like to keep on hand for emergencies and general use.
Dried beans - as many varieties as possible.
Dried green and golden peas - great for hearty winter soups.
Dried chick peas - these have many uses, they deserve a whole page.
Rice - this is a basic staple, a source of carbohydrates and the basis of many fine meals.
Pearl barley - goes well in soups and stews, especially with lamb.
Sugar - it's a preservative as well as a sweetener
Salt - another preservative and flavouring agent but it's also a dietary requirement in small amounts.
Pepper - I prefer cracked black pepper and peppercorns can store for years without losing flavour.
Olive oil - can be used for cooking and salad dressings, or even just brushed onto fresh bread or toast as a butter substitute.
Vinegar - another preservative that can also be an ingredient in many recipes to balance flavours.
Dried herbs and spices - I buy the more exotic herbs and spices that I cannot grow, in small amounts for cooking. What would life be without a little spice?
Dried pasta - spaghetti, fettuccine, macaroni and shells all have a place in my larder.
Rolled oats - for breakfast or baking.
Flour - I tend to buy plain flour and add some baking powder when required.
Baking powder- this is a mixture of tartaric acid and baking soda.
Dried yeast - for baking breads and buns.
Curry powder - I like curries and the powder will store for many years.
Breakfast cereals - I keep some basic cereals in rotational storage, such as corn flakes or wheat biscuit types.
Canned baked beans - sometimes, a quick meal is a good meal and baked beans can fill the spot. (I have a homemade baked beans recipe but it's a slow-cook recipe, not exactly fast food.
Canned sardines - not everyone likes the taste but sardines are rich in omega oils and store well.
Canned tuna - stores well and has a variety of meal applications
Canned tomatoes - they are very cheap to buy and store well.
Canned pineapple - I can't grow pineapple where I live but the canned product is pretty good.
Canned fruit - peaches, pears and apricots in cans are all good, usually they are canned in a syrup made from pear juice or a sugar syrup. (there are many exotic fruits available in cans as well)
Canned soups - I prefer canned soups rather than canned stews as the taste and textures are usually better. I like to keep a few cans on hand, mostly in the winter.
Tea & coffee - these tend to lose flavour over time, especially coffee, so keep rotating from storage to use to maintain quality.
UHT milk - ultra heat treated milk has a shelf life of 3 years. I prefer fresh but keep some UHT milk on hand as well, for those times I run out and can't get to the shop.
Dry cracker biscuits - some varieties keep for years without going stale or soggy as long as the pack stays sealed.
Sprouting seeds - alfalfa is the best known sprout but there are many seeds that can be sprouted to provide fresh and nutritious greens for salads and sandwiches.
There's a lot of other things in my larder that reflect my personal tastes in food such as balsamic vinegar, bottled olives,  custard powder etc. It's up to each individual to make their own choices as there's no point buying and storing foods you will never eat. Of course I prefer to eat fresh foods whenever I can but a well stocked larder can enhance meals and help us cope with shortages.
* You might like to consider storing some candles, safety matches, batteries and bottled water as well for those serious emergencies when services are down and shops are cleared out.
* It's been estimated that the average supermarket has only three days worth of stock on hand and this can vanish in hours when an emergency situation arises. Be prepared!

Watch out for pests such as rats and mice and insect pests such as weevil's and ants. Make sure everything is in well sealed containers or packaging or kept out of reach of pests. Try and maintain a high level of cleanliness in your larder as well for food safety and maximum storage life. Light, heat and moisture are the enemies of food storage, good air circulation will be beneficial as it helps reduce the risk of mould or fungal growth.