Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

How to Thrive Without Refrigeration October 20, 2014

Picture in your mind the following scenario. You awaken in the morning and start your day as usual. When you go in to the kitchen to start breakfast preparations, you make the discovery that your refrigerator stopped working during the night. Your financially not in a position to be able replace have the refrigerator repaired. What do you do? Depending on the time of year, you have several options.

The fast solution could be grabbing up a cooler and placing ice or dry ice into it along with your perishables. But what if you were forced to go without a refrigerator for a period of time. How would you manage?  Let’s face it.  In modern society, people have become spoiled with the modern conveniences.  So much so that when a storm takes our their electrical power, they have no clue how to manage without it.  One such case is refrigeration.  How often do you hear people talk about food loss after a storm knocked the electricity out for a few days?  Each winter season, I can only shake my head at the way people complain of food loss after a winter storm.  Yet, if they would have put the food into plastic totes and placed the totes in a safe outdoor location, they would not have lost their food supplies.  Because of this, I decided to write a post about how to thrive without refrigeration.  The ideas shared here are ones that we have used to reduce our need of a refrigerator and freezer.  I hope that as you read through these ideas, you will find some that would benefit you should the power go out.  Some of these ideas take advance preparation and some can be done without advance preps.  Whichever the case may be, you will have some ideas to consider in how to thrive without refrigeration.

One option is a Zeer Pot. This clever design is an evaporative cooler which works as a non-electric refrigerator. In rural Africa and the Middle East, this is one way that people have to keep produce fresh. Easy to make, these pots are 2 large terra cotta pots sized so that one fits into the other with a 2” space between the walls of the pots. You place sand in the bottom of the larger pot and center the second pot inside. Again, you will want about 2” gap between the two pots. Fill in that gap with wet sand. For best results, keep the Zeer Pot in a location where it will always have shade. The wet sand and terra cotta pot helps to keep the inside of the smaller pot cool. The Zeer pot is covered with a wet piece of fabric to use as a lid. You keep the sand wet and dampen the cloth as needed. The only drawback to the Zeer pot is that it does not work well in a humid climate. So, being as our state can get humid, I will be trying the Zeer pot on a small scale next summer before making a large one.

The cooler of ice is always an option, but I can tell you from experience that it can also be a pain in the keester. We went that route for a long period of time but it truly was a pain and very inconvenient. If we lived in an area which still sold blocks of ice, it may have been better. The cubed ice sold at stores or the self-service dispenser machines simply tend to melt too quickly. If using the cooler as your refrigeration method, I strongly recommend that you get a Yeti brand as they are one of the most efficient on the market.

Our lifestyle and diet is one that really fits in well with the minimal refrigeration. Actually, refrigeration was once considered to be a luxury to earlier generations. Like many such conveniences, as they became more common in society, they began to be seen as critical needs. People depended on them. If you use alternative means to preserve your food, you could easily live without any form of refrigeration. We don’t go completely without refrigeration, but we have significantly reduced our need for it. Here is how I manage to do this.

First, I home can everything possible. If I buy meat, I get large packages of it to process in canning jars and store in the pantry. In the jars is enough meat for one meal. This eliminates the problem of leftovers that would need refrigeration.

I cook proper amounts for the number of people eating the meal. I try to have as few leftovers as possible. If the meal is something that can be processed in canning jars for a later meal, then I may make extra. Usually though, I try to just limit the quantity to what we actually need.

I don’t use eggs in my recipes. I bought a quart of ground flax seed meal and keep it for my egg substitute. For each egg in a recipe, you mix together 1 Tbsp of ground flax seed meal and 3 Tbsp of water. Let it set for a couple of minutes to allow the flax meal to absorb the liquid and become thick. Just as eggs work as a binder in recipes, this flax seed meal mixture will do the same while adding additional nutrients that eggs lack.

I never buy milk that requires refrigeration. Instead, I do one of two things, We either use the cartons of almond milk that can be stored on a pantry shelf, or we mix up powdered milk as we need it. The almond milk comes in 1 quart containers. Once I open a carton, I pour any leftover milk into a glass jar and place into the cooler. We generally will use it all up within 24 hours.

We buy lunch meat only when we will be using it immediately. It is a rare thing for us to buy lunch meat, but when we do, we only get enough to last two days. This is also stored in a cooler, just as you would if your were going camping.

Sometimes, we want the fresh eggs to cook up for breakfast. In those situations, the eggs can be safely stored in the cooler. We never have a carton of eggs for very long, which is why it is safe to store them this way.

If you have a Zeer Pot, you can place all your produce into it for storage. The pot is cool enough to prevent the produce from spoiling too quickly. One idea that I am considering is to set up a Zeer pot to use in place of a root cellar for over winter storage. In this case, no water would be needed to cool the pot. It is cold enough here in winter that the insulation of the sand between the pot may be enough to help prevent freezing of the vegetables and fruit. Instead of using a cloth to cover the produce in cold months, I would use a piece of cut plywood or possibly invert a clay saucer (like those you use under a flower pot) to be used as a lid. This heavier material would also help to prevent frost damage to your stored produce. Of course, if using these as a root cellar, I would still only store items like potatoes, winter squash, apples, and other root cellar friendly produce.

In winter months, we use a cold room for our refrigeration. A storage room is left without heat and allowed to become very cold. In the coldest months, it is like walking into an unheated garage. This is perfect for storing perishables! If the temps are cool enough, we have been able to store eggs, cheese, and a small container of milk on a shelf and it will be kept very cold. Sometimes, we have actually had milk freeze in the storage room. If the temp is just a little too warm, then the food can be placed into a cooler with water in it and the lid propped open. The cold temps will chill the water and this becomes your refrigeration. It works very much like an Amish spring house. In the Amish spring house, there was a trough of water that jars of milk, butter, and other perishables were placed into. The water was cold enough, even in summer, to keep the food the proper temperature. I would not use the water method in our area in summer however. The summer temps just get too hot for this to be a safe option. In winter though, it is a very effective option.

If you really want off-grid refrigeration though, you have a couple of easy options. The more expensive is to simply buy a propane refrigerator. These are expensive however. Another option is to buy a small chest type deep freezer. The thermostat control can be changed out with one that will essentially turn the chest freezer into a refrigerator. We have considering trying this with a propane freezer. Only downside is that you are still having to provide a fuel source. Also, if there is a motor or condenser involved, there is always a risk of mechanical failures. On the upside, unlike a refrigerator that losing cold air each time you open the door, a chest freezer conversion would not do so. Still haven’t decided on that yet.

As I mentioned, with the way I preserve foods and am careful with meal preparations, we have been able to have very limited refrigeration needs. I actually enjoy this because it makes the size of refrigerator we would actually require to be the size of a small office/dorm type. Primarily being a source for keeping drinks cold in summer. There again, we have a way to eliminate most refrigeration need. We purchased one of the large water coolers like you see on job sites. We fill it with ice, then add water to completely fill the cooler. This gives us 5 gallons of cold drinking water. If the kids are wanting a powdered fruit drink, I pour the sugarless mix into a container and add sugar according to the directions on the packet. After mixing this well to blend the drink powder with sugar, we use it just like the pre-made drink mixes from the store. Just like with mixing powdered milk as we need it, the kids’ fruit drink mixes are made one glass at a time.

What alternative methods do you have for emergency refrigeration should there be a need? Do you have a backup plan in case your first option doesn’t work out?

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Home Canning: Vegetable Soup August 13, 2014

One of the easiest soups to home can is a basic vegetable soup.  It is also a great opportunity to cover one of the important truths of home canning.  Even though a soup or sauce may contain tomatoes, the amount of citric acid in the tomatoes is not enough to allow you to safely process the soups through a waterbath method.  Put simply, if you ever add any other ingredient to the tomatoes, such as vegetables or meat, then it MUST be processed by pressure canning.

Right now, gardens are in full swing.  In some areas, the gardens might be nearing the end of the harvest season.  It is a great time to use up the odds and ends of your harvest to make a hearty soup to stock in your pantry.   For me, there is no real recipe for the vegetable soup.  It is  made using whatever vegetables that I happen to have on hand.  Common vegetables that I put in are carrots, green beans, peas, onion, and zucchini or yellow squash.  I have also added things like leeks, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.    Typically, the tomatoes that I use are the pear shaped ones since they are meatier and less juicy.  These tomatoes just seem to hold up and stay in nice sized chunks much better than the large slicing tomatoes.  This is a personal preference however.  You can use any type of tomato that you have on hand.

As with most of my canning recipes, I really don’t measure very much.  This vegetable soup is no exception.  I start by rinsing off the fresh vegetables and then cutting them into bite size pieces if necessary.  I mix all the vegetables being used in a large bowl or stock pot until they are well blended.  Cover with water if needed to prevent anything from browning before use.

If I am adding meat to the soup, I will brown some bite size chunks of stew meat.  I have a natural aversion to putting raw meat into a canning jar.  I know that some have no problem with this, but I feel that the extra time taken to brown the meat ahead of time is worth the safety of the finished product.  I am able to process the jars without worrying that the meat might not be fully cooked by the time the processing is completed.  As I brown the meat, I add any seasonings such as chopped onions and bell peppers.  I like these to be at least halfway cooked before processing as it really enhances the flavors.  I never add salt to the meat while it is cooking.  Instead, I add salt to the jars before sealing.  A basic amount that I always follow is 1/2 tsp of canning salt in each pint or 1 tsp of canning salt in each quart jar.  This is an amount we always have used.

When I am ready to fill the jars, I place about a 1/2 cup of the meat into each quart jar.  Next, I add enough vegetables to fill the jar to a 1/2 inch below the rim.   Lastly, I add enough tomato juice or broth to fill the jar to 1/2″ below the rim.  Wipe off the jar rim, and add the lid and ring.  I process the jars in a pressure canner for the time required for the meat.   In processing anything, whether by pressure canning or waterbath method, always check to see what the processing time is for the various ingredients.  In this case the vegetables vs the meat.  ALWAYS use the processing time for the ingredient that takes the longest.  In this recipe, the meat processing time is longer than what you would use for the vegetables alone. For those wanting a recipe, here is one of my favorites.

Vegetable Soup

12 large tomatoes, cored and diced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
12 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups of whole kernel corn
4 cups of green peas
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 medium zucchini, sliced
2 cups of green lima beans
6 stalks of celery sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 quarts of tomato juice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, mix all ingredients together.  Cook over a medium heat until heated through.  Season to taste.  Ladle the soup into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace below the jar rim.  Add additional tomato juice or water if needed.

***According to the Ball Blue Book of canning (2009 edition), this type of meatless soup should be processed by pressure canner.  55 minutes for pint jars and 1 hour, 25 minutes for quart jars.  Please check your canning book or resources for the proper pressure level to use for your elevation. This recipe will make about 9 quarts or 18 pints of soup.

When I make a soup like this, I will often fill the canner (7 quarts) and continue cooking on the stove the remainder for our evening meal.  This is especially a favorite in the winter when I can make the soup for canning in the morning.  While the canner is processing on the propane stove, I can let the remainder of the soup simmer on the wood stove all day.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you can customize it using vegetables that your family enjoys.  Many times, I will make a vegetable soup without meat so that on days when we want a meatless meal, we have this available.  I home can meat separately so that I can add it to any recipe later on.  If you choose to add meat to this recipe, the processing times will have to be lengthened to the proper amount for meats.   Again, according to the Ball Blue Book, 2009 edition, the processing times for diced chicken and beef that has been precooked are  1 hr 5 minutes for pints or 1 hr 30 minutes for quarts.

 

Home Canning: Tomato Soup

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:32 am
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When my husband was truck driving for long haul companies, we found out quickly that home canning meals for him to take on the truck was a huge savings to our monthly budget. It was also far more healthy for him than the fast foods found at truck stops. One of his favorite soups is a Tomato Soup that I make.

This recipe is very easy to follow. The only ingredient in the soup which you may not regularly stock in your pantry is the tomato juice. The jars of soup are processed by waterbath, though you can do it in a pressure canner if desired. The resulting soup is slightly thick like the cans of condensed tomato soup you buy at the market. Depending on your personal preference, you can eat the soup as it is or thin it a bit with water or milk.

Before starting the recipe, prepare your jars. Make sure they are clean and ready to go. Always inspect the jar rims before each canning session to make sure there are no flaws that could prevent a good seal. It is also a good time to take your flat lids and set them to simmer in hot water. This will help to insure a good seal when the jars are processed.

Tomato Soup for canning
*Makes about 11 pints of soup

1 cup butter (I don’t recommend substituting with margarine)
8 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp, finely minced fresh onion
4 bottles of tomato juice
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and heat until dissolved. Add flour, making a rue, by stirring until blended into a smooth consistency. If necessary, add a bit of the tomato juice to aid in making the rue. Once the flour mixture is smooth, start stirring in the remaining tomato juice. Add the salt, pepper, and onion. Mix well. Cook one minute, stirring constantly to blend the seasonings into the mixture.

Carefully ladle the soup into clean, sterile jars. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth to remove any soup that may be on the rim. Add the flat lids and attach the rings to hold the lids in place while processing.

I process the jars by waterbath method. To do this, you place the jars in your waterbath canner, using the rack that came with your canner, and cover the jars completely with water so they are fully submerged. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, start timing the processing. I process pint jars for 1 hour and quart jars for 1 ½ hours.

Please note: Whenever you are canning, always try to match the temperature of the water in your canner to the temperature of the jars going into it. If you add hot jars to cold water, or vise versa, the jar can break. Learned this myself when I got into a hurry one day. The bottle of the jar broke cleanly off the jars and I lost all the food in that jar. What a waste!

I have used a pressure canner to process this soup. In those situations, I process pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes under the pressure level for our elevation.

 

Canning for Convenience July 29, 2014

I have been being asked if I would be posting more about home canning.  It has been on my mind to do so, but life happens and I haven’t made any new entries on canning.  I am wanting to change that.  It is as much of a help to me to have my recipes on here as it (hopefully) is to those who try them out.

Before I get started, I want to state that this will likely become a series of entries.  Sort of like the ones you see on other blogs, such as the “Throw Back Thursday” type posts.  In this case, it will be all about canning.  There are a few things that I want to state about home canning.  First, ALWAYS check the instructions for your own canner before trying any of these recipes.  I will purposely be leaving the exact canning instructions out of the recipes.  To state that I process a canner load at 10 lbs of pressure may be accurate for those living at the same elevation as I do.  For those who live at an elevation that needs 5 lbs or 15 lbs of pressure, it would be a problem if you used my pressure levels.  To give the time amounts would also be wrong for me to do.  One of the best and most current resources that I have used is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which teaches in detail how to home can, dry, freeze, and pickle just about anything.  It also has great information for those new to home food preservation, including basic information on how to use home canners.  I strongly recommend that you print the pressure and time charts for each type of food or recipe that you will be home canning.  This will make a quick reference for you to follow later on.

In starting from the basics, you will need a few items to do home canning.  The first is your canner.  For fruits and tomatoes, you will need a waterbath canner.  This is a very large kettle with a wire rack inside.  It is deep enough to allow you to fully submerge quart size jars under water.  In this canner, jars are processed through boiling them for the amount of time listed in the instructions from the above website.    Foods processed in a waterbath canner are high acid foods.  Tomatoes and some fruits contain citric acid naturally.  Others require that you add citric acid to prevent browning.  This acid level is enough to allow you to safely process the foods by boiling the jars.  These are the ONLY foods that are processed by waterbath method.

pressure canner is required for low acid foods such as vegetables and meat.  These foods must reach a very high internal temperature in order to kill off any natural bacteria that can become harmful during storage.  A pressure canner is a large, deep kettle with a locking lid.  Some have a gauge to help you regulate the pressure, others have a weighted gauge.  I use a weighted gauge style and find it far easier to work with.  Modern pressure canners have a venting system that helps to prevent accidents.  On mine, there is a vent that pops up once the pressure is above 10 lbs.  which is the amount needed for our elevation.  As a safety measure, there is also a small rubber plug in the lid that will completely pop out should the pressure become dangerously high.  I have never had that one pop out.  I find that once my canner has reached just enough pressure to make the vent lift up, I turn down the heat just enough to keep that vent slightly open.  This allows me to be certain that the pressure in the canner is high enough without worry that it will over pressurize.

The next thing you need are your canning jars.  I have to admit that I am a jar snob.  I only buy Ball or Kerr brands.  Ball was one of the oldest canning jar manufacturers and have been around for ages.  Kerr eventually bought the Ball company and now makes both brands.  I have tried lesser known brands and every time have had a percentage of the jars break in the pressure canner.  That jar breakage causes not only the loss of the money used for buying the jars, but the food as well.

I am developing a routine with the jars that I use.  Food items, such as when I can up homemade stews, meat, or other chunky and large items always are done up in wide mouth jars.  This is for two reasons.  First, the food is easier to remove later on than it is with the regular mouth size jars.  Secondly, in the case of canning meats, if there is any grease from the meat, the wide mouth are much easier to clean thoroughly.

Regular mouth size jars are used for liquid items, such as tomato soup, juices, and small vegetables.  Cut up green beans, shelled peas, and baby carrots are some examples of the small vegetables I use the regular mouth jars for.  I use this method for all the foods that I home can.  Gradually, I will be using only the wide mouth jars in all my canning.  This will make it easier all around.

Some tools that are extremely useful and that I highly recommend are the following.  A jar lifter is used for lifting the hot jars out of the canner.  They look like a large pair of tongs that have a rubber coating on the portion that grips the jar neck.  Of all the tools, this in one of two that I couldn’t do without.  The second tool is a canning jar funnel.  This funnel has a large bowl with the funnel portion being just small enough to fit inside the regular mouth jars.  Using this, you are able to fill the jars with messy food items without getting food residue on the jar rims.  It makes filling the jars faster and easier as well.  The third item that I use each time I home can would be my kitchen timer.  With kids in the home, I cannot trust myself to use a clock to track the processing times.  I get interrupted or distracted way too often.  It is just good practice to have a timer for canning anyways.  The last items are ones that many use on a consistent basis, but I don’t personally use.  One is the magnetic flat lid wand which is used to lift the flat lids from a pan of hot water,  The other is a similar product, a little rack that you stand the flat lids in while they are being heated in a pan of water.  This process is important in that it helps to insure a good seal on the jars.  I just use a pair of metal tongs to lift the lids.  It is what I grew up seeing done and seems to work just fine for me.

When you buy a case of new canning jars, they always come with the rings and flat lids.  I always keep at least 4-6 boxes of replacement flat lids on hand in the pantry.  There are times when a new lid will fail during processing and you will need a replacement lid before you can re-process the jar.  Reusing the flat lids are a good way to risk the jars not sealing properly.  The last thing you want to risk is a jar lid popping open while on the pantry shelf and food spoiling.

Before you start canning, you need to take a hard look at how your family eats.  While there are a lot of yummy recipes out there to tempt you, the mainstay of your canning should reflect your family’s typical diet.  For example, in the cold months our family eats a lot of homemade soups and stews.  These are eaten on nearly a daily basis in the coldest months especially.  So, when I do the home canning, I will be sure to stock our shelves with a good supply of these types of meals.  I began by looking at what our favorite stews and soups were.  Then, whenever I made them, I would make a double or triple size batch.  As we sat eating dinner, the canner would be processing the extras for stocking the pantry.

Another great use for the canner was when my husband was a truck driver and away from home for up to 8 weeks at a time.  I would home can meals in pint size jars for him to take on the truck with him.  Using a cooker powered by the 12 volt plug in the truck, he was able to cook the food for his meals.  One pint size jar gave him a good sized serving.  Doing this saved us a fortune in food expenses on the road.  When we first began doing this, he was spending $600 a month on his meals and drinks on the road.  When he took a month’s supply of meals on the truck with him, he only spent $150 a month on drinks and snacks.  That was an instant $450 savings each month!  Not to mention that he ate far more healthy meals that way.

One of my favorite meals to home can is beef stew.  It is SO easy to do that it doesn’t take long to have a nice supply of it on hand in your pantry.  I like making this when I find a good sale on stew meat.  I buy a large package of the meat then cut it into bite sized pieces.  In a large roasting pan, I place enough vegetables for one meal and all of the meat.  I oven roast the stew as I normally would in preparing a meal.  About a half hour before the stew is done roasting, I start preparing my jars but filling them 2/3 full of the same mixture of vegetables as I am cooking with the meat.  These vegetables are placed into the canning jars while they are raw to prevent them from being over cooked once the jars are processed.  Potatoes, for example, would completely turn to mush if they were roasted before canning.  If I get the jars ready too soon, I fill them with water to prevent the vegetables from browning if necessary.  Once the stew is done, I remove the cooked vegetables and just enough meat for that night’s meal.  The remaining meat is divided up between the prepared jars. (NOTE: if you out water in any of the jars, the should be drained off before adding the meat.)  I then divide up the broth from the roasting process between the jars as well.  If necessary, I will add some beef broth to top off the jars.  The jars should be filled to 1/2″ from the rim.  Wipe off the rims to make sure there is no juice or drippings from the meat on the rims.  Any residue can prevent the lid from getting a proper seal.  Next, add the ring to the jar to hold the lid in place during processing.  Load up your pressure canner and then process the jars while enjoying your dinner.  By the time you are done eating and dinner dishes are being cleared away, the canner will be done processing in most cases.

I don’t have a specific recipe for making this.  My beef stew is different each time I make it, depending on what vegetables I have on hand at the moment.  Use you own favorite recipe.  If you have a recipe that your family enjoys that comes from a favorite cookbook, use it.  Just double the recipe for a canner of pint jars or triple the recipe if using quart jars.

In future posts, I will be sharing some recipes that our family enjoys.  I hope that this series will be one that will bless you in your efforts in building your pantry with healthy wholesome meals for your family.

 

Planning Ahead for Next Canning Season December 12, 2013

It seems as though we just finished harvest and canning seasons.  Most families who utilize home canning and pantry building are now able to set back and able to take a breather….for a little while anyways.

Soon the garden seed catalogs will be arriving in the mail.  It will be time to start planning next spring’s garden.  While doing so, it is also a good time to take stock of your pantry.

I have been realizing over the past few years just how much preplanning the home canning allows me to become more efficient.  I found a printable Home Canning Inventory form on a blog called “My Pantry Shelf.”  If you scroll down the page you will find both a .docx file or a PDF option of the inventory sheet.  She also gives great ideas on things to consider when planning what to home can.

Each family has favorite home canned foods.  In our home, some of the favorites are Tomato Soup, Beef Stew, Meatballs, and a Vegetable Soup.  When I have these items home canned, we always seem to go through them quickly.  Taking time to record the canning inventory will aid me in better utilizing what I have stored.  I will be able to gauge what adjustments I need to make in the amount canned next time.  Did I can too little and run out too soon?  Did I can up too much and have a lot of jars left over at the end of a year?

I am working on customizing my household binder…again.  A master sheet of the pantry inventory will be kept in the binder.  On this, I am going to have the amounts of each item that I want to keep in the pantry will be listed on this form. I designed a set of forms that I am using for my binder.  You can find the forms in my Organization folder on Google Drive.

I have the pantry inventory forms in both .doc and PDF formats.  There is a Pantry Inventory sheet which has room for the items to be sorted by category, items, amount to store, and more. I based the general layout upon the Canning Inventory sheet.  There is also a pantry sheet that can be made up as a master pantry list of the items only.  In the column beside each item listed there is a space to tally the amounts used.  When it is time to write up your grocery shopping list, you have a quick reference of what needs to be replenished.  I would suggest either tucking the pages into sheet protectors or laminating the pages.  This will allow you to use a Vis-a-Vis marker.  You could use dry erase but they wipe off too easily.  For my shopping list, I am going to be putting together a page for each item category.  This will allow plenty of room to add new items over time.

When making up your list, don’t forget the non-food items such as canning jars & lids, paper supplies, First aid items, cleaning supplies (or ingredients to make your own), and emergency items such as batteries, matches, and lamp oil or lantern fuel.

 

 

Pantry Building October 20, 2013

Filed under: cooking,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 1:22 am
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This week, I have made serious dent in my pantry building efforts.   I gave myself budget of $70  to spend on the pantry. Here is the results.

First stop was to a store called Warehouse Market. I love buying canned veggies there because they always have the lowest prices.  I loaded up the cart with 6 flats of vegetables.  These included 2 flays each of whole kernel corn, green beans, and green peas.  A single flat holds 12 cans.  In other words, I bought 72 cans of vegetables at 58 cents each, totaling $41.76 for the veggies.  Next, I went to the produce area and bought a 50# sack of russet potatoes for $11.99.  The temperature is cold enough now in our unheated pantry that the potatoes will last the winter without sprouting or going bad.  Total cost at Warehouse Market was $53.75.

On the way home, I had an idea. Since I was under budget, I stopped at the Dollar General store and bought 8 bottles of tomato juice for a total cost of $14.80. 

Once I got home, I used the bottles of juice to make a doubled size batch of my homemade tomato soup.  Once put into jars for canning, I had 8 pints for my husband to take on the truck for meals on the road and 8 quarts for the pantry.

After all the food was purchased, the ending total was $68.55.  I was $1.45 under budget. Just the vegetable purchases alone gives me several months of meals for my family of four. The point that I am trying to make is that anyone, even those on a meager budget, can afford to stock their pantry.  Add to this a supply of pasta, rice, dried lentils and beans to really expands your pantry storage.

There is only one downside to having this type of pantry…..you have to be willing to actually cook and not simply heat up convenience foods. 

 

Too Much Work? February 23, 2013

It seems strange to me to hear the opinions of others concerning our lifestyle. As early as in the book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve were instructed that their lives would require hard work. It was after they were taken out of the Garden of Eden. The Lord made it known to them that it would be by the sweat of their brow that their crops would grow. How often do we read in scripture about the hard work the people had to do in order to provide for their families? The stories of the women having to glean in the fields for grain to make their bread or the men who worked in the fields or fish with nets are abundant. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model to you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

In today’s society, we have drawn away from that attitude more and more. While there are many who are physically unable to do hard work, there is always something that can be done. Unfortunately, it is in our human nature to be lazy and complacent. It is much easier to be taken care of than to work. We all have those moments in our lives. In some areas it is far easier to take advantage of modern technology. The danger in this is that here we are today with a generation of young adults who haven’t a clue how to live without modern conveniences. Is it any wonder that when a storm knocks the power out, many families freak out? It was a shock to find out a couple of years ago that some people actually believe it is not legal to be off-grid. People are so accustomed to having electricity and all the modern conveniences that they find it too strange to think some would choose to live without it.

Suddenly, we find ourselves where we are today, a nation with serious economic issues. People are unemployed or under-employed. Record numbers of people are receiving government aid through food stamps of other means. The problem lies in the fact that there are many receiving these “entitlements” that feel it is their right to receive them. My question is this; what will happen when the nation runs out of tax money to pay for it? It has happened in other nations? What makes people believe it cannot happen here?

I have said it many times in the past, but I say it again. My husband and I do not feel that ALL people should live as off-grid as we choose to do. It really isn’t for everyone. If readers are honest however, they will admit that there are things that they can implement in their own homes to make their lives just a bit easier. Whether it be to plant a small garden in their yard or in containers on their balcony, work towards becoming debt-free, or simply being more cautious in their spending.

We often are asked how we manage on as little as we do financially. The answer is simple. We make it work. It doesn’t matter how much or little the pay is, we find a way to make the money stretch as far as possible. Being in the truck driving industry, the pay is dependent upon how many miles my husband drives. Some weeks the pay is much better than others. We have literally had a week when the truck broke down and our paycheck was in the negative due to the deductions being more than his pay that week. Then we have a paycheck come along that is very good. We learned to stock up when pay is good in preparation for the times when pay is low. It is a life of feast or famine. We are blessed in that my husband works for a company and not an owner/operator leasing to a company for his loads. A truck payment for the semi and all the permits, etc., would be hard financially devastating if we also had to make repairs to the truck as well as pay for fuel. As a company driver, the company takes care of all of those expenses.

The easy answer to how we make our income work is this. We have to work to save money. If I want to save money on the cost of doing laundry, I have to wash it by hand. This alone saves us $20 per week when compared to doing laundry at a Laundromat in town. In winter months, we use a Laundromat but in the warmer months, the laundry is done at home on a scrub board. I actually enjoy those times. I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

If we want to cut our food costs, we have to grow our own food. If unable to grow your own, you can cut costs by being less fancy in your cooking and using less processed foods. Using the raw or basic ingredients can save you a bundle in expenses. A loaf of bread that costs $2 at the store would only cost about 68 cents to make at home. On average, not including meat, you can cut your grocery expense down to about ¼ of your monthly bill if you stop buying the store versions of your favorite packaged foods. In spite of rising food costs, I am still managing to spend under $200 per month to feed our family of 4. We eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet most of the time, with a few meat meals scattered throughout the month.

For cutting costs in utilities, I am very frugal even with our water usage. Not only is this great for our environment, but it helps keep our monthly bills down. We live in a drought area. Last year, the gardens did very poorly due to the heat and drought. So, this year, I am planning a “drought garden” instead of a traditional one. A drought garden is one in which you plant vegetables and herbs that are drought resistant. Root crops are great for this! They require less water than things like green beans or tomatoes. There are varieties of fruit that are drought and heat resistant also. Many are heirloom varieties that are open pollinated (not GMO) and survive well in our region. I am planning 2 plantings of leafy greens. The first will be in early spring and the second will take place in late summer or early autumn. This will give us a nice supply of salads during the cooler months. Instead of growing celery, I am planting leaf celery. This herb tastes like celery but is far easier to grow and the leaves can be dried for winter use.

Canning may seem pricey when a person first starts, but when you remember that the jars are reusable, canning is far less expensive than buying the tins of vegetables & fruit at the store. Often, I find old canning jars at yard sales or secondhand shops. After the initial investment into buying jars, you only have to replace the flat lids that are used to seal the jars. There is a company called “Tattler” that makes the old fashioned resealable lids. These cost more than the single use lids, but are a onetime purchase. The time spent growing (or purchasing from a farmer’s market) and home canning your harvest can save your family $1,000s of dollars over a year’s time. It all depends on the amount of food you grow and preserve.

As with any other aspect of our lifestyle, the amount of work we are willing to do has a great influence in the amount of expense we have each month. The amount of work we choose to do allows us to live comfortably without the use of financial assistance or food stamps. It can be done. The question is whether others are willing to put forth the effort needed to do it. Whether it is just a little change here and a little change there, you can make a difference in your family’s spending. It is not something beyond anyone’s ability. The question comes down to how serious people are about wanting to change their spending habits and have the ability to live on less. It is only a nice idea that they would like to consider or is it something that they truly want to work towards?