Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Change in Garden Plans May 29, 2012

Filed under: gardening,homesteading — ourprairiehome @ 6:33 pm

Well, the garden didn’t get fully prepped as planned, so I am gearing up for plan B. In the City, about 80 miles from home, there is a very large Farmer’s Market. I am planning to save up for going there to buy the produce we need for canning. Not the best arrangement, but the best we can do at this point. It was a series of events that prevented the garden going in as planned. The biggest hurdle being the switch from very rainy to the temps being too hot for many of the garden plants. One thing that you learn quickly is to always have a back-up plan or two in the wings.

We do have a small garden planted now. Some tomatoes, melons, and squash. Our family loves popcorn, so are growing that also. Summer squash is very easy to plant anytime during the summer. Heat doesn’t seem to affect it as much. Winter squash does well as long as it is planted before the end of June. Our autumns are mild enough that we can be harvesting squash as late as Thanksgiving most years. The only crop that we missed out on were the leafy greens, lettuce, cabbage, green beans, and peas which need cooler temps to grow well. I still have plenty of time to plant root crops and the winter squash type of plants. I will do those as I am able.


Old-Time Pantry Building May 21, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,homesteading,old fashioned,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 7:15 pm

It seems that the topic of pantry building keeps coming up in one way or another in both personal and online conversations. It would seem that the rising costs are affecting many families. Sadly, many are so used to the idea of buying packaged, convenience foods that they are lost at the thought of having to cook from scratch. Unless you are willing to learn to cook, this blog post will likely be of little value to you.

I think back to stories I heard from people who had clear memories of the Depression years. For some reason, even as a child, I have always had a passion for learning what I could about that time. How did the families work through the hardships of that time? What did they do to get the things that they needed when money was scarce? Back then, rural families especially were large. How did they manage to feed a large family with little to now finances to spend at the grocery stores? As the title of this post implies, this post is about the pantry. It is based on the stories told to me through the years by those who lived through that time period known as the Depression Era. Due to our being a rural family, I am writing from that perspective. There are many aspects of what rural families did that you can easily implement even if you live in the city.

Families did not eat fancy. Their meals were simple foods that were very wholesome and nutritious. It was good ol’ basic farm cookin’. Simple meals prepared using the vegetables and fruits that were in season. Much of the produce was home grown. Some families would barter with a neighbor for produce that they needed. One example would be if a neighbor had a large crop of sweet corn and you had a surplus of green beans. These neighbors may get together and trade some of their surplus for the vegetable that they lack. Typically, however, a rural family would buy very little of their foods at a store. They learned to eat according to what they grew.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, a frugal family garden had very few varieties in it, but had larger amounts of what they did plant. Consider the vegetables that you eat the most often. In our home, it would be things like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, squash, green beans, carrots, beets, onions, and corn. Added to that would be a couple of summer vegetables that are not able to be canned. These are summer squash (zucchini & yellow squash), leafy greens, radishes, and eggplant. These round out the typical garden that we would have growing. This list varies depending on your family’s tastes. Now, should I find that it is cheaper to buy a bushel of the green beans, in example, at a Farmer’s Market than it is to grown them, I will buy them instead. I can then bring them home and put them up in the canning jars. The same goes for any of the other vegetables. If you are a member of a Sam’s Club or similar warehouse store, you can buy in the #10 cans things like ketchup, diced tomatoes, and various other foods for far cheaper than to grow them. The garden list is only a reference tool for what to stock. It is up to you to decide which are cheaper to grow in your area.

In the earlier generations, the bulk of their food purchases were those items that they did not have the ability to grow. Basic pantry staples such as flour, sugar, honey, molasses, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, culinary herbs & spices, cornmeal, oatmeal, maple syrup, and yeast are such items. Buying milk, eggs, cheese, and meat were the only perishables that they might purchase. Can you imagine only buying those items at a store? Likely, many people wouldn’t be buying all of those. In some households, they used molasses in place of maple syrup on pancakes or waffles as well as using it to sweeten or add flavoring to their cooking.

Have you noticed that in the lists of foods that would be in the pantry, there is no mention of frozen dinners, boxed foods, or any of the convenience foods so common today? They didn’t use them! Some foods that most would not consider a convenience item that are not mentioned in the above lists are: noodles, breads, snacks, and desserts. They made their own. Pasta is a very easy recipe to make. It is simply eggs, flour, and a little bit of water to make the most simple recipes. If you want to get fancy you add a bit of pureed beets, spinach, or carrots to the recipe to make your red, green, and orange vegetable pasta. The point is, these were simple foods that were made at home as they were needed.

The pantry items listed are ones that require that you know how to cook or be willing to learn. As with anything, the more work you are willing to do, the lower your costs will be in the end. A large loaf of bread costs about $1.29 for the cheapest brand at the local store. To make it at home, I am able to make 2 loaves for just under that cost. Pasta from the store is a rip-off. My dear husband was surprised when I made homemade pasta for the first time. He got himself a large helping of spaghetti. He served himself the same amount he would have done if the pasta were the store bought variety. He was caught off guard by the fact that he couldn’t eat it all. The homemade was far more satisfying than the boxed stuff from the store. He ate far less, but was full. It stuck with him longer also. He wasn’t feeling the need to snack later in the evening. When using homemade pasta, I can cook half the quantity and feed the family well. Using this method of pantry stocking, we are able to feed a family of 4 for under $450 per month. The more we grow ourselves, the lower that cost is. That cost is based on what it is if we did not have a garden.

So, where do you begin? You start with a menu as I mentioned in the previous post. Choose meals that your family enjoys, yet does not take a lot of fancy ingredients. You can do an occasional fancy meal, but most are farm cooking style. Plan well the meals and what is needed to make them. Wherever you can, find recipes for the ingredients. Pasta is a good example. Instead of buying it, make it yourself at home. Each time you make the pasta, you are saving money. Breads are another money saving option. I use one basic recipe for my breads. Shaped into loaves, it is our basic bread. Rolled out 3/4 inch thick and cut out with a 3″ diameter cutter (a clean large tuna can with both top & bottom removed works great) and you have burger buns. If you cut the rolled out bread dough into 2″x 6″ long strips, you have hot dog buns.

Like the toaster pastries? Try making a pie crust dough. Roll it out and cut into an 8″x 6″ rectangle. Spread a favorite flavor of jam thinly on one half of the dough. Fold over to make a 4″x 6″ rectangle and press the edges closed. Bake in your oven at 350*F until lightly golden. Voila’! You have homemade toaster pastries! Similarly, you can cut the pie crust into 5″ square pieces. Add a spoon of pie filling and fold into a triangle to make a turnover or fruit pie. These little pies were popular as they could be tucked into lunches easily.

If you are willing to do the work of cooking from scratch, you can feed your family very well for far less than you pay now.



No Refrigeraton – Now What??? May 20, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,off grid,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 8:31 pm

 This is a blog post I wrote previously on an older blog I write.  I hope that it will be of interest here also.

It is surprising how often I hear people readily admit that they are a slave to technology.  Our family is still in the process of slowly learning to adapt to using only the technology that is truly a necessity.  Just when you believe that you have done all that you can, there is something else that you find yourself making adjustments with.  Refrigeration is one of these areas.
The thought that brought me to considering refrigeration is how dependent we are on it as a society.  Think about what would happen is the power went out due to a storm.  How much food would you lose?  Let’s say that you go to your refrigerator right now and open it up only to find that the condensor went out and it was no longer keeping the food cold.  How would that affect your family?  I have seen many times a refrigerator that is stocked to the gills with containers of food.  So much food that much of it ends up being tossed out due to becoming spoiled before it was used.  Such a waste!
Now, think about exactly what you keep in the refrigerator.  Are there items that you don’t use often, such as condiments, that you could utilize in a better way?  The goal for me it to limit the refrigerator use to only the extreme essentials.
Condiments, like ketchup, I am able to repackage into much smaller amounts.  If you buy the #10 size cans of ketchup, you are able to home can it into the smaller 1/2 pint size canning jars.  The smaller size is plenty to use, but not so much that I contantly have a bottle of it in the refrigerator.  I try to purchase condiments that need refrigeration only when needed for a specific recipe or meal.  Buying the actual size needed will save refrigeration usages also.  Try making some things fresh, like mayonnaise.
When cooking, try to eliminate leftovers by keeping portions at the right level when preparing the food.  Not only will you save money in the ingredients, but you won’t be tossing out leftovers later on.   If making foods that can be home canned for the pantry, take it into consideration during the meal preparation.  One example is when I make a pot roast with vegetables.  I make a large roast but only enough vegetables are added for that one meal.  Once the meal is done, I divide the leftover roast into jars.  I then add the raw veggies to the jars.  Add the liquid from the roast with just enough water to fill the jars properly.  Processing the roast this way will allow you to have all the wonderful flavors of the roast, yet the veggies will not be over-cooked.
In summer, my refrigerator contents drops down to minimal.  I have a lot of bottled water filling the bottom shelf.  Another shelf contains cold salads, such as macaroni salad or a onion & cucumber salad.  Sweet tea is always present, along with fruit flavored drinks for the kids.  The only milk is a quart container (a day’s supply) of almond milk.  Eggs and cheese round out the contents.  With the exception of eggs & cheese, I only store enough perisables in the refrigertor for that day’s use.  This is the biggest savings fo us.  Should the refrigerator stop working, we only lose a day’s supply of food.  It is nothing that we cannot easily replace.
I took a serious look at what I truly needed a refrigerator for and found that our family could easily use only a small office sized refrigerator for our needs.  That was a huge discovey!  I am so glad that I learned to home can.  That alone has done much to reduce the need for refrigeration.

Grocery Budget Tip – Monthly Shopping

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 8:11 pm

I hate grocery shopping. I don’t like the “sticker shock” that I get each time I am at a store and notice how much prices are going up. Sometimes, it seems as though they change the prices every week. I almost never use coupons. How clever of the food industry to never make coupon for the foods that we actually use! (please insert the necessary amount of sarcasm here) I have never found a coupon for the pantry basics. If you don’t buy the packaged or the more pricey foods, then you are out of luck when it comes to utilizing coupons as a way to cut costs. It is only on the rare occasion that I find a coupon that is for something that I actually do need.

With that in mind, I go to the store with a well planned list of what I need for the month. Yep, you heard me right. I do a month’s worth of shopping at a time. The only exception being perishables that I am unable to home can. Luckily, those items are very few. It takes a lot of planning to shop this way. At first, you may only want to do 2-week’s worth of grocery shopping at a time. This would be in consideration of the expense of monthly supply runs. You can, however, prepare as though shopping for a month’s supplies.

I started by making a list of our family’s favorite meals for evening dinner. I started out with a couple of sheets of paper sectioned into columns. Each column was a different category of meal. Some categories are: casseroles, soups & stews, various ethnic foods, and any other category that you can come up with. Under each heading, I started making the lists of meals that we like. Some are ones that we have eaten a lot, while others are meals that we enjoy less often. You may even have seasonal favorites!

From these lists, I started planning weekly menus. In the warm months, I have menus that take advantage of the gardening season when produce prices are lower or when a family garden is producing. In cold months, I have much more of the casseroles, soups & stews on the menu. I also take advantage of late autumn produce. I write up as many combinations of meals as I can think of without using the same meal more than 3 times. If you eat a lot of meat, try to avoid having too many different types of meat in a week.

Once I have the weekly menu planned, I write a grocery list for that menu on the back of the menu. I don’t list each and every ingredient as much as making sure I have noted the main ingredients that are not a regular item in my pantry. I make note of the amount of each item listed to make the week’s meals. This helps me later on in planning the shopping trip.

Once I had a good selection of weekly menus to work with, I chose out 4 of them. These would become my monthly menu. I place then in the order that I want to use them. Next, I start writing up the shopping list. Using the ingredient lists on the back of the menus, I make a list of everything that I need for that month’s meals. For items that are repeated, I add the amounts together so that I am able to purchase enough for the entire month.

By making the monthly shopping list, I am able to save money. I can buy larger quantities which are broken down into the amounts needed for the individual meals after I get home. Being that I home can, I may buy 2-3
bags of frozen chicken breasts. I roast them in a roasting pan with a bit of water. Once they are nearly done, I cut or shred the meat and process it in canning jars with it’s broth added. This gives me a ready supply of fully cooked chicken that is ready to add to a meal. The night that I am doing this, we like end up having roasted chicken breasts for dinner. Sometimes, I will shred the meat and add BBQ sauce to it before processing in the canner. The shredded BBQ chicken makes great sandwiches or as a topping over a large baked potato!

When I began planning and doing my shopping in this way, I dropped our monthly grocery expenses 1/3 from what we had been spending. I was shocked at just how much the savings added up. We have been able to feed our family on far less than what we used to spend. It takes planning and discipline on my part. Once I shop for the month, I have to stick to the plan and not keep changing my mind on what to make. This doesn’t mean that it is not flexible. It only means that I have to be certain to not incur extra grocery expenses that month. It works great for our family. If you don’t do home canning but have a nice sized freezer, you can still do this method. Instead of canning the extra meat, simply put it into containers and freeze them.



Laundry Day, the Low-Tech Way May 11, 2012

Filed under: green living,homesteading,off grid,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:36 pm

I love laundry days.  I feel blessed to be able to wash the laundry while enjoying the early morning breeze and sunshine.   I have 2 wash tubs.  They are the large plastic type that have rope handles.  They are set up on a little trailer that we use with a lawn tractor.  Eventually, I will find or build a bench that is the right height.  For now, the trailer works well.  I set it up near the clothesline.  On the trailer, I attach the hand-cranked wringer that I had bought from Lehman’s.

I use fels-naptha laundry bars to make my own laundry soap.  You can easily find the recipe through a google search.  It is basically 3 ingredients: grated bar of fels-naptha laundry soap, washing soda, and borax.  All are found in the laundry isle of the store.

I add a bit of the soap to the wash water and start with the least soiled laundry first.  This prevents having to change out the water as often.  The last to be washed is always the most soiled laundry.  If the kids have been having way too much fun playing in mud after a rain, I will presoak their laundry overnight before hand washing.  This helps to make the washing much easier.  If I do it right away, I often can avoid having to use the scrub board as much.

Often I hear people talk about how hard it is to wash by hand.  In my experience, I have found that I can hand wash a load of laundry faster than doing it by machine.  If you wash things in order of how soiled it is and presoak when needed, the job goes rather quickly.

The other complaint that I hear is how stiff clothing is if dried on a clothesline.  This is true, but can be lessened.  The higher the cotton content in the clothing fibers, the more stiff the clothing will be.  Part of the reason is because the 100% cotton fabric is truly dried by the sun.  You do not have the humidity of the clothes dryer keeping a small amount of moisture in the fabric.  The clothes dryer also softens the cotton fibers by the tumbling action of the rotating drum.  You can achieve a measure of that same effect by choosing a windy day to do your laundry.  The action of the wind blowing the laundry will help to prevent the stiffening that occurs on a day without wind.