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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Ready for Winter??? October 14, 2014

Filed under: pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 7:31 am
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A couple of weeks ago, we were having warm days and even warm nights.   Suddenly, the temperatures have begun to drop, especially at night.  Leaves are beginning to turn colors and drop from the trees.  Last weekend, we picked all the apples from the tree so they could be home canned for the pantry.  Winter blankets are coming out of storage to be added to the beds.  The kids’ clothing is being sorted to remove nearly all the summer shorts and tops to make room for warmer clothing.

Last Saturday, we went to town to get supplies.   One stop that we made was to the Dollar Tree store.  I love going there!  Before leaving, I checked their over-the-counter medicine isle.  I probably ended up spending another $10 there, but it was worth it.  Packages of Airborne tea, cold & cough meds for the kids, and pain reliever were added to the basket.  I learned long ago that it is always best to stock up on these early in the season.   Once people start getting sick each autumn, these products become harder to find at Dollar Tree.

I did a thorough cleaning of our pantry recently.  Now, I am restocking items that we need to build up the supplies of.  One area needing a good restocking is the various dried beans and rice.  Each week, as I buy the foods needed for the week, I am adding about 5 packages of staple items to build up the pantry.  It is amazing how far down the supplies can go when you go through a period of job change.  Now that things are getting on an even level again, I can work at rebuilding what we had used.  Thankfully, we never ran out.  We always had enough provisions.  With winter fast approaching, having the pantry restocked of the staples will be a blessing if the weather gets really bad and we can’t get to a store.

 

 

Ready for the Cold Season? September 6, 2014

Filed under: home remedy,homesteading — ourprairiehome @ 10:46 pm
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With summer break over, it is time to start thinking about the upcoming cold season. Not just the temperatures, but the illnesses as well. Have you started preparing? If your family is like ours, there are certain remedies that you like to have on hand during the cold weather. Simple items like soothing cough drops, teas, and even basic over the counter cold remedies.

In looking ahead, I have been taking stock of what we have in our supply shelves. In the pantry room, I have one set of shelving that is strictly for non-food items. I am reorganizing it this next week, so this is the perfect time to check the inventory. Are there any cold remedies still left from last year? If they are opened, I toss them out. If they are unopened, I check the expiration date. It is so easy to overlook this. The reason that I toss the opened bottles is due to the fact that some medications can begin to lose their potency after they have been opened. Just to be safe, I never keep an opened bottle from one cold season to use the following year. I write an inventory list of what we have so that I know what is still needed.

This year, I am doing things a little differently from previous years. We have been wanting to go the more natural route for quite some time. Over the years, I have used home remedies if the store bought over the counter types had run out. We had good results with the home remedies. With that fact in mind, we will be going the natural route more fully this season. There are certain herbal teas which we find more effective than over the counter products. One of the things that I like about home remedies is that they have been around for generation. Unfortunately, our society has become so accustomed to the pharmaceutical options that the old ways seem odd to many. Yet, these remedies are often better for you. Let me give you a simple example. It is very common to try and use a cough suppressant when you get a cold. That cough, in most cases, is actually benefiting you. It clears mucus and such from your throat and lungs. The problem is that coughing irritates the throat, which is why people grab up the cough suppressants. Instead of grabbing up the cough suppressant, why not simply treat the throat irritation? Another classic example is the sheer lack of options for cough only. Most over the counter cough meds contain ingredients to treat symptoms that you may not have, such as fever or congestion. We don’t like taking meds that have the extra ingredients. We want only what is actually needed. By using home remedies, we can take only what is needed.

Now, before I go further, let me state the obvious. We DO go to a doctor when the situation warrants it. Having home remedies is simply a way to treat the things that do not require a doctor, such as a common cold. We watch for fevers or other indicators that may suggest a necessity for a doctor, especially with the kids. We have been looking for a local homeopath or doctor who believes in the use of herbal remedies before writing a prescription whenever possible. Thankfully, we may ave found one within a half hour drive from the homestead.

As like most families, there are specific things that we keep on hand. The following list is very basic, but effective for us.

1. an herbal rub (similar to the menthol vapor rubs)
2. lemon juice & honey for a throat soothing remedy (hubby & kids favorite)
3. peppermint tea for stomach ailments
4. chamomile tea (to aid in sleeping)
5. homemade cold remedy (recipe for the Amish Cough Remedy at The Milkman’s Wife blog)
6. cayenne pepper (a pinch added to a favorite herb tea is a natural pain reliever)

There are other simple things that I am adding as the season progresses. One of the main things is that I will make sure to have on hand the ingredients to make any remedies that we may need. Essential oils, herbs for the teas, and tinctures.

In planning out the remedies, I am taking note of the most used herbs and essential oils so that I can plan to add them to my herb garden in the spring. Making my own essential oils has been on my list of tings to do for quite some time now. I keep researching and have been collecting old recipes to add to my notebook.

As you find and try home remedies, keep track in a journal how they work out for you. Buy a blank book or journal just for recording the recipes that your family finds to be the most beneficial. You never know when you will be needing that recipe again. My home remedies journal is becoming one of my most treasured books. I wish that I had my great-grandmother’s recipes. She was a very knowledgeable woman in that area. My father talked to me often about having to go out and find various plants for her. Some plants required that he dig up the roots, while others required the leaves or flowers. I still remember as a kid digging up what he called a blood root plant from the woods, cutting open the bulb on the root to wipe the cut end onto a scrape. It worked really well to prevent infection. There were so many remedies that he knew his grandma made, but unfortunately he didn’t know how she made all of them. This is why my book is so important to me. The remedies that we find effective are recipes that I can hand down to my children. If you are new to home remedies, play it safe and try ones that are well known to someone you know. Another option is to use the herbal remedies found at health food stores or online stores. Best option, if you have no experience with herbal remedies is to go through a homeopath or other doctor who prefers taking a natural treatment method over sending you to a pharmacy for prescription meds.

Whatever you choice, now is the time to start preparing your supplies for the upcoming season. You don’t want to have to make a special trip to the store when you are sick. Nor do you want to go to several stores to get a single medication because other stores ran out. For some reason, THAT is a popular scenario with children’s medications. Been there, done that way too many times over the years especially with children’s cold medicine.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Recycled Containers in the Pantry April 18, 2013

I wanted to share a simple and frugal idea. I saw a great idea on TV while spending a few days with a dear friend a couple of months ago. They showed a family who used 2-liter soda bottles for storing rice. That got me thinking.

With many grains or items like powdered milk, you have to watch out for pantry pests such as weevils. Those little buggers will eat their way through paper packaging to get to the dry goods. Many times I have opened a brand new package of saltine crackers and found that weevils had gotten to them. Same thing has happened with various grains, including rice, flour, and powdered milk. If you store these in bulk amounts, such as a large 4-gallon bucket, you can lose the entire bucket of food if weevils happen to have been in the smaller package purchased at the store. What happens is that the weevil can get into the food at the store or warehouse. When you empty it into a larger bulk container at home, yoou have just contaminated the entire supply. This is where creative storage comes in handy.

I don’t use much soda, but we do use a lot of juice. The juice bottles that we get are flat enough that when laying on their side, you can easily stack them. I am using these for rice, oatmeal, granulated sugar, and any other item small enough to easily pour from the bottle. Things like brown sugar are stored in wide mouth containers such as peanut butter jars. I love the fact that if something gets in one container, it won’t cross-contaminate into the entire supply. Case in point, I had a peanut butter container of grits. Weevils got into it and I was able to toss out that one container instead of all the supply. I purposely will buy the amount of an item needed to fill new containers. Unless it is something like sea salt, I typically won’t add new supply to the previously purchased supply. I am able to better rotate my stock this way as well as lessen the chance of contamination should I get a bad batch from the store. With the amount of juice that we drink, I easily have the ready supply of juice bottles ready to be used.

One new idea that I am going to start doing is to buy a pint container of dried herbs at a time. I have certain dried herbs that I use very often. By buying a pint container worth of the herbs at a time, I can fill a peanut butter jar with the herbs. I purchase my herbs in bulk from a health food store for far less than what a grocery store charges. Once I am able to get the herb garden fully established, I will dry my own herbs instead of buying them. Until then, this is my most economical way of getting the culinary herbs that I need.

What inventive ways do you have for storing your pantry supplies?

 

Emergency Ready?

Filed under: family,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 12:29 am
Tags: , ,

Here in our region, the spring tornado season has arrived. It is an annual occurance that we take into stride. I am always surprised by the number of people however who never consider preparing for emergencies until it is upon them and too late. Whether it is a winter storm, tornado, or other situation, the best time to prepare is before the emergency happens.

How often have you had the power go out during a storm only to find that you don’t have extra flashlight batteries? Do you have a sufficient water supply? What about a basic first aid kit?

Many years ago, I was a member of a church that promoted emergency preparedness to it’s members. We were encouraged to stock our pantries, garden, learn first aid, have a well-stocked 1st aid kit, and other items that would be helpful during a natural disaster or other event. I grew up with that attitude even before my years in that church. It was a way of life. In my lifetime, I have seen those food stores in the pantry sustain our family during finacially hard times. Living so far from a good hospital, the first aid training and supplies are a blessing. It isn’t wasted expense or knowledge.

When I lived in Montana years ago, I saw first hand the value of having a grab-n-go bag. I often carried a small duffle bag in the back of my Geo Tracker that contained a change of clothes, granola bars, dried fruit, first aid kit, flashlight & batteries, emergency blanket, and bottled water. I have to admit that since moving to here, I have been a bit lacking in carrying a car emergency bag. I have emergency supplies at home, but what good are they if we are away from home when the emergency happens? I had grown complacent in the fact that I am a home-body at heart. I love being home more than going out. Now that the kids are getting older, I have been taking them out a lot more. Trips to the zoo and other outings take us a minimum of 45 miles from home. Trips to the zoo are about 85 miles from home. What if something takes place while we are that far from home or somewhere in between?

So, I am now putting together a basic bug-out style bag. Here are some of the items that I am including.

a change of clothing for each person
emergency blankets for each of us
dried fruits, veggie chips, and granola bars
bottled water
first aid kit
flash lights & batteries
glow sticks for the kids
a new package of disposible training pants for our son

An extra item that I am planning to order are dog tag ID necklaces for each of us with emergency contact info in case of an accident. My darling husband gave me this idea. He wears a dog tag style ID in case he gets into an accident while on the truck. It has my contact information so that emergency personnel can reach me if he were unable to do so. Our son already has one that identifies him as being autistic & non-verbal with my contact information on it in case he should wander off. It is a common thing with autistic kids to do, so we take that precaution even though I always keep close watch on him. Having an ID for our daughter and myself would be a good idea also. I am considering having 2 tags for the kids, one with my information and the other with their Daddy’s phone number. This way, the information for both parents is available. The ID dog tags unfortunately do not have room for both my husband’s and my information to be on 1 dog tag. The cost for the tags are really low if I order online. The peace of mind will be great if our kids are with a relative or at a church youth activity that has them away from us.

What do you carry in your emergency kit in your family vehicle?