Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Pantry Shortcut July 15, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:31 am

Today, I found a great deal on store bought spaghetti sauce. It was in a large jar size that was much larger than we use in a single meal. I went ahead and bought it anyways. After taking out enough for the evening meal, I started pouring the remaining amount in the jar into smaller canning jars. I filled 6 of the half-pint size and one pint jar. In all, the 127 kg (2 lbs 13 oz) size jar yielded 5 pints total of sauce! I had purchased 4 jars of the sauce, so ended up with a very well stocked supply of spaghetti sauce to use. To process the jars, I pressure canned them as I would if I had made the sauce homemade. I chose this method over water bath because these have small amounts of meat in them.

I am pretty excited. I have been planning to make a trip to the store when I am able to purchase more #10 cans of items that I can safely break down into usable portions for home canning. Tomato sauces, ketchup, and fruits are a great candidate for this! Pickles, bbq sauce, and many other items can be repackaged as long as you follow the same basic rules as if you were canning from scratch.

While I was at it, I went ahead and made up a batch of homemade tomato soup for canning up in pint jars. This is a favorite of my husband. He loves to take it out on the truck with him. Having the home canned meals sure helps with costs as well as being healthier than eating in truck stops all the time.

To save on costs, I plan to store the #10 cans of food as they are. It makes no sense to open them all and repackage them before they are needed. The costs for jars, lids, etc., just doesn’t make it worth the work. Instead, I will wait until I need one of the cans opened. At that time I will jar up the extra that is left over after preparing our meal.

Doing this, I am feeling better about our lack of garden this season. I am seeing that this method will really help to build a pantry quickly, yet at a lower cost. It isn’t a perfect solution. I would rather grow my own for canning. It does make a viable solution in years where a garden fails or for those who are unable to garden.

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Canning Leftovers July 10, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:40 pm

Having a trucker in the family, I am always trying to think of ways to allow my husband to eat healthier and at less cost than what the truck stops provide. One of the best solutions that we have found was for me to home can meals for him. I began doing this about 5 years ago. We were given a large pressure canner that someone had purchased by mistake thinking it was a pressure cooker. Instead of returning it to the store, they used it a few times, then gave it to us. What a blessing!

I have found the easiest method for canning meals is to simply cook a large batch of any given meal that I plan to put up in jars. For example, tonight I made a cabbage dish containing rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce. Now, typically, it is not recommended to home can rice. This is due to the amount of water it requires as the rice cooks and soaks the liquids up. The way I get around this is to jar up the meals as leftovers. I fully cook the meal, then after dinner I put the left overs into the jars and add the lids & rings. I process them just as you normally would for anything containing meat. The meal came out just fine and the rice did not become too soft. We use the meals within 2 months on average. For some reason, I never seem to be able to keep them on the shelf longer than that. We use them too quickly. ūüôā

A benefit to canning meals is that I can take advantage of meat sales. If I see a large package of stew meat on sale, I go ahead and buy extra carrots, celery, & potatoes while I am at it. I get out my largest roasting pan and make a roaster filled with beef stew. Once cooked, I have enough for a meal and a canner full of pint jars of meals for the pantry. In that one canning session, I have saved money in not having to buy smaller packages of meat for a single meal. For under $30 (includes meat & all veggies) I am able to make enough beef stew for 8 meals for a family of 4 or about 18 meals for my husband to take on the truck. The only thing needing to be added to the meal are the fresh baked biscuits that I bake as I am heating up a casserole dish of the stew.

A favorite in our home is when I make homemade soups. Here is a quick tip for these that I have learned. Cut up the vegetables for the soups into bite size pieces or no larger than 1″ square. When making a vegetable soup, you can chop all of your vegetables and mix them together in a large bowl. Fill your jars about 2/3 full of the vegetables. Add enough precooked meat to have the jar 3/4 full. Pour your seasoned broth into the jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Process the jars as you normally would with any recipe containing meat using a pressure canner. Once processed, the vegetables will be fully cooked and tender. Soups that contain pasta, rice, or dairy products can be processed without those ingredients. Just label the jar with the ingredients that you need to add when ready to use the soup. My theory is this, if you can raw pack the vegetables to home can them separately, then why not do the same when making a vegetable soup? So far, I have had good results when doing this. Most of the soups are used within 6 months.

The main focus here is to think about the meals that you make that may be able to be home canned. Look through canning recipe books to get ideas if you are needing them. You may be surprised at the wide array of meals that can be put up in jars. It is a way to turn meals into convenience foods for your pantry. You may consider making the filling for tamale pies and canning it up into pint or quart jars. When ready to use, pour the filling into a casserole dish or individual serving size baking dishes. Top with the cornbread mixture and bake.

 

Canning of the Day June 25, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,homesteading,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 12:13 am

My dear husband was home this weekend. I sure love his new trucking assignment of working on one of the company’s accounts. He does the warehouse deliveries for a retail store chain and is home each weekend. It has been a long time since we saw him so often. Normally, he has to be out 3-6 weeks at a time.

I did up a bit of canning on Saturday. I cooked up 2 pounds of dried navy beans and when nearly done, I drained them and placed the beans into 9 pint jars. I then browned a pound of ground chuck with a bit of minced onion. Once cooked, I drained the meat and divided it between the jars of beans. In a small kettle, I placed some water, brown sugar, molasses and a bit of dried mustard. I heated it until the sugar was melted. I poured the mixture over the meat & beans to fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch of headspace below the rim. The rims were wiped off to make sure they were still clean, then the lid & ring were placed on the jars. I pressure canned the pint jars for 65 minutes. Yeah, I know that since everything was cooked I may have over-processed them, but they still turn out great.

For dinner, I made a couple of appetizers and a main dish. I had a bag of small green bell peppers that were discounted at the store. These were cut into bite-size chunks and placed in a baking pan with the outside of the pepper facing downward. I sprinkled feta cheese over the peppers, drizzled on a bit of olive oil, and sprinkled with basil. These are baked at 350*F for about 20 minutes. YUM!

The second appetizer was a cold salad made from Quinoa. The recipe is super easy. I cooked up 1.5 cups of quinoa in 3 cups of water. If you have never used quinoa, it is cooked exactly like you would prepare rice. Quinoa is a grain that is a complete protein and has a slightly nutty flavor. When mixed with other flavors, it takes on the other flavors very well. Once cooked, I placed the quinoa into a bowl. I added a can of pineapple with it’s juice, a finely diced bell pepper, a small bit of minced onion, and mixed it together very well. Refrigerate until chilled. This makes an awesome cold salad! My kids also like to use it as a dip for their flour tortilla chips.

The main dish was a pan of stuffed bell peppers. I browned the ground chuck with some minced onion. Added some cooked rice and mixed together well. The mixture is used to fill up the bell peppers. After filling, the peppers were placed in a baking dish and a tomato sauce mixed with bell peppers and onion was poured over the peppers. These are baked until the peppers are beginning to get softened.

After stuffing the bell peppers, I had filling left over. I mixed the remaining sauce into the meat & rice mixture. There was enough to nearly fill 3 pint canning jars. I added more water to each jar to allow for the rice’s tendency to absorb liquids. The filling was processed in the pressure canner for about 65 minutes. When done, the jars were very full looking. Adding the extra water was a good idea. The water made a slightly thinner sauce, but the rice did absorb some of it.

All in all, my husband has 12 more jars of meals to take onto the truck with him. He loves it! Seeing how easily the stuffed pepper’s filling is to jar up, I am planning to do more to add to the pantry. It sure makes for an easy and fast meal preparation later on. I have been slowly adding to my stash of canning jars. I use primarily the pint size for my husband’s meals for when he is on the truck. The quart size work best for meals prepared at home.

A small rural grocery store 18 miles from home has really good meat in their butcher shop. I plan to go there and buy bulk amounts as often as possible so that I can jar up more meals. I have already run out of the jars of meatballs that I had canned during the winter. That is one of the planned canning projects. Some meatballs are canned in spaghetti sauce and the rest are done without sauce. In our pantry, I am setting up shelving to allow me to have a shelf or two just for my husband’s meals. Then, he can “shop” in the pantry for the meals he wants for the truck each week.

 

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.

Blessings!

 

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.
 

What Happened to Home Pantry Building? March 26, 2012

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:42 pm

When I was growing up, each summer was spent growing a garden. We had a rather large one that would produce enough vegetables to home can into quart jars enough food for winter. We would eat fresh vegetables from that garden, but the rest was jarred up. I remember canning many jars each year to fill the pantry shelves in our basement. Several boxes of home canned vegetables also were given to my Grandmother and to an Aunt who were unable to garden & can for themselves. Grandma had the space for a garden but was unable to do so. Aunt Sarah lived in a city and had no space for gardening. So, each season, several boxes of our canned up garden vegetables would be taken to them.

My parents had 7 acres on the property. The house sat on a 1 acre sized portion while the rest was a nice alfalfa pasture. We raised a small flock of ducks & chickens to provide eggs. In the lower half of the pasture, we kept a steer to raise for butchering. We didn’t have the steer ever year, but did when we needed the meat. Dad hunted deer in autumn. Us kids would pick the blackberries that grew in a large wild thicket along our pasture fence line. Across pasture, dividing it into 2 portions, was a small row of apple trees and a cherry tree. The fruit from these, as well as the pear tree in our back yard and the strawberry patch in our garden, would provide jams and fruit for the freezer & canning. Grandma had several large peach trees that we would can the fruit from also.

By season’s end, the pantry shelves in our home as well as Grandma’s would be filled with home canned foods for winter and into the next growing season. In our basement, one large freezer was filled with various meats, mostly beef, pork, and venison. The pork was a barter that we would do some years. A farmer would bale the alfalfa in the upper portion of our pasture for their animals and in exchange give us a side of pork when they butchered that fall. A second smaller freezer would be filled with various berries, fruits, and some of the vegetables that we didn’t jar up. It was our way of life. We grew nearly all of our own food and would store it away each season.

Sadly, today most families have no clue how to stock a their pantry from their own garden. Few families have more than a couple of kitchen cabinets and a small freezer for their pantry. It has become a lost way of life to most people. Often I hear people say that it is too much work or it takes too much time. Children today are not being taught how to cook very much beyond what can be heated up in a microwave.

In today’s economy with food and other goods rising in costs, there is a trend beginning in our country. Families are beginning to return to the days of growing their own gardens. Some garden only for fresh produce to use in summer months. Others are learning to freeze or home can the harvest for use in the winter. The sad part however is that now, instead of it being considered a frugal and wise practice, families who grow and store their own foods are being called “preppers” or are accused of hoarding food. Growing up, prepping was a way of life. We were preparing our pantries for winter or for hard times when illness or job loss may affect when family income. Back then, the food stamp program was extremely restrictive on what could be purchased with food vouchers. It wasn’t like today when food stamp recipients could buy nearly anything they want, excluding hot deli/prepared foods and alcoholic beverages. Being on food stamps was embarrassing. Today, people think nothing of it. There is an attitude of entitlement, not considering that they add to the financial burdens of our nation. Those families who choose to store away home grown, home canned foods for their families are looked upon as radicals by many.

Prepping has been given a bad name. People tend to think that anyone who stores food away in their pantries are radicals who are against the government. Have these folds never stopped to think that those who grow, store away, and take care of their own family’s food needs are actually helping the government by NOT being a food stamp recipient? Have they not considered that a family is simply trying to live within or below their financial means by cutting their food costs are simply being financially smart? Society in general has become so comfortable with the idea of families being in debt, using government assistance to supplement their incomes, as a common practice. If you are debt-free and living within your limited financial means without need of government assistance, you are considered odd and vilified.

It is a sad time when simply taking care of your own family’s needs and living debt-free is considered to be an oddity in society. It wasn’t that many years ago when this was simply a way of life that was expected. What is going to happen when government assistance breaks the government’s financial back? Look at what is happening in Europe? Do you really think that it can’t happen here? Families are so dependent on government entitlements that when Greece tried to cut back in order to prevent the country from going bankrupt, the people rioted. Everyone is generally in agreement that the government needs to limit the spending. Are you still saying that if the limits come in the form of loss of part of your government entitlements? If what happened in Greece should come to our nation’s shores, would YOU know how to get through the hard financial times? Can you grow a garden to feed your family? Are you knowledgeable in how to build up your pantry enough to at the very least get you by until the next harvest season? Just because you may not be able to garden doesn’t mean that you can’t freeze or home can produce from a farmer’s market or stock up on store bought non-perishable foods. There is no excuse.

 

Pantry Building for the Holidays November 24, 2011

I had an idea just prior to making the holiday dinner preparations. ¬†Instead of just making what we would need for the meal, why not start early and cook double or triple the amount? ¬†It isn’t as silly as it may seem.

I make fresh whole cranberry sauce each year.  I buy the cranberries at a good price so that I can buy extra.  This year, I made the sauce and then canned it up in jars for the pantry.  I have enough for the holiday meals with a bit extra for later.

Sweet potatoes were on sale a month ago.  I purchased 9 pounds of them.  They were peeled, diced, then processed in canning jars.  I ended up with a dozen jars.

An extra turkey was roasted, then deboned.  I removed any skin and placed the meat into canning jars with broth mixed with a bit of water.  Once processed, this gave me jars of cooked turkey to use in recipes this winter.

I home can many of the foods in pint or half-pint jars so that my husband can take them in his truck. ¬†This makes healthier meals than eating truck stop food every day. ¬†It is also much easier on the monthly budget. ¬†Knowing he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, I had an early holiday meal last time he was home. ¬†When he went back on the road, he had all of the fixings for the holiday meal in canning jars to take with him. ¬†In his lunch box cooker, which plugs into a 12 volt outlet in the truck, he is able to fully cook any of the meals. ¬†I sent along some stuffing mix to add to the turkey & broth so that he will have turkey & dressing. ¬†Half pint jars of turkey gravy, some sweet potatoes, and home canned pumpkin round out his meal. ¬†Needless to say, he thinks he is spoiled. ¬†I love spoiling him. ¬†It is my small way to be able to still provide meals for him, even when away from home.

Now that I have seen for myself just how stress-free the canning made my holiday meal preparations, I will be doing this again.  I may take advantage of the season and buy more of the cranberries and other holiday foods while they are on sale.  It is a great way to stock the pantry.