Stocking up for Winter the Homestead Way
September is preparedness month and your Facebook feed is probably being bombarded by well meaning pages encouraging you to “get your preps on” and get your food storage in place for future “undefined” emergencies. It seems that every September-October brings crises that prompt the advice to stock your Bug-out-bag and get your preps on. While, as a homesteader, I believe preparation for any eventuality is a good thing, I would like you to consider another way of looking at the issue of preparedness.
For the homesteader, preparedness is a way of life. Living rural means that you live too far away from the convenience of daily shopping. It isn’t easy to pop over to the store for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. Instead one stocks up their pantry and root cellar for the long term, every fall – getting ready for winter. And when you need something for dinner – you “shop” your own pantry for the essential ingredients. But your pantry isn’t stocked for emergencies – it’s stocked for living every day. And trips to the store are managed to re-stock the pantry, not to get groceries for a week of cooking. Do you catch the difference?
Write this down: Shop for what you need to stock up on, NOT what you need to get through the week. Then “shop” for what you need for each day from the “stores” in your pantry.
We’ll define “pantry” as your food storage, your kitchen cupboards, your cold storage or root cellar, your freezers, and your fridge. If you have an established homestead it might include your chickens, dairy goats, sheep, or cattle, too, as well as your seed packets that are stored for future gardens. Your food storage is an investment in your future as much as your retirement savings is. In fact, several people in our last Scratch Cooking course reported living from their food storage during a temporary job loss – and living very comfortably.
If you are currently on a tight budget and working to get out of debt, you can still manage to organize a food storage system within your budget and I’ll share how at the end of this lesson. First let’s look at how you will decide what your family actually needs to stock up on for scratch cooking in the long term. There is a worksheet for you to make it easy for you to calculate the amounts that you need for your own customized food storage plan. The file is also posted in the Facebook group.
We’ll use the prepper calculator as a base line value. There’s some math in the next part of this lesson, but don’t let it intimidate you. It’s just another way of looking at what you need in your own pantry. Again, this next exercise is just a base value – a start for your personal pantry plan – so don’t run out and buy a year’s worth of grain on Friday. Let’s go right through to the end of the calculations before you take action.
First let’s look at the standard prepper recommendation. Here’s a calculator that you can use to determine the recommended needs for your size family. We are looking at the number of people that you actually feed every day, not who might show up if the world ended tomorrow. We’ll save that for after you’ve mastered cooking from scratch every day for the family that you have.
Type in the number of adults and children and your family and let’s use the moderate work load of 2,000 calories a day. Since this is designed for emergency preparedness they don’t add in extra calories for fruit and vegetables, nor do they allow for meat or nuts, except for a scant amount of peanut butter. So this is not a wholesome balanced diet. It’s just a baseline for survival. Of course we are planning on a pantry that we can thrive with, not just survive.
Here’s what comes up when I put in the 3 adults in my house, with a moderate 2,000 calories per day, and 6 months of food storage – the length of time between the first and last snowfall where I live.
Remember this is a survival diet and doesn’t include any fruits or vegetables so you would need to add the fruits and vegetables in your calculations. Hopefully you’ve been canning, freezing, and dehydrating fruits and vegetables this summer to expand your pantry. If not, this is the best time of year to stock up. More about that in the next lesson.
I want you to look over the list that came up for you. The “print this” button doesn’t work, but you can take a screen shot of it using the Insert “screen shot” option in your Word program, like I did here.
Let’s start by just looking at the total amounts that my family “needs” for 6 months if this was the only food we had to live on. We’ll discuss how I tailor this to my own family’s likes, as an example of how you can tailor a plan for your own family.
Beans and Legumes
Beans – 90 lbs. Or 5 lbs. per person per month. That allows for 1/2 cup of dried beans per person 4 times per week. ½ cup of dried beans works out to 1 cup of cooked beans. While it sounds like a lot it isn’t really very much. If your family is vegetarian now, you would most likely eat more beans than this now. You would adjust the amount according to your own family’s diet. If you rarely eat beans now, you might want to try adding them in one day a week (2 cups of cooked lentils is a great way to stretch ground meat) and just see how the family tolerates them, before investing in a 25 lb. bag. I don’t recommend soy beans because of the cancer risk of GMOs in the soy crop in North America, and also because soy contains gut-damaging isoflavones and estrogens. (See the Whole Soy Story by XXX, for more information on the dangers of soy.)
My own family limits their bean-likes to garbanzo beans/chick peas; red kidney beans, green lentils, and adzuki beans for sprouting. Occasionally I buy mixed beans for soup. The least expensive way to buy beans is dried in a full 25 lb. or 50 lb. bag. If this is too much for your own family to go through in 2 years, consider going in with another family. Many bulk food stores will repackage the larger bags into 5lb. bags and pass on some discount to you over buying by the scoop from the bulk bins.
Storing food once you get it home:
I store beans in a bucket with a tight sealing lid. I’ve never had trouble with bugs or rodents getting in to my sealed buckets. Consider your own situation before storing large quantities of food. High humidity areas may need a different storage method since plastic buckets and metal cans draw humidity from the air. You may need to seal smaller quantities in Mylar bags, with oxygen absorbers, and then store the vacuum packed bags in the plastic buckets for safe keeping.
Dried beans will last indefinitely if kept dry, and cool. They take longer to soak as they get older but they do not go bad.
Grains are the mainstay of the modern diet. Whether good or bad, most ethnic cooking focuses on grains as the staple portion of the meal. The recommendation for my family of 3 is 450 lbs of grains for 6 months. Before you protest that this is way too much grain for 3 people – about 25 lbs per adult per month – this represents about 1 ½ cups of flour, rice, oatmeal, pasta, or bread per day or just ½ cup per meal, 3 times per day. ½ cup of dried oatmeal is 1 serving of 1 cup of cooked oatmeal. ½ cup of flour is about 2 slices of bread, and ½ cup of dried rice is about 1 cup of cooked rice – 1 serving. So you see it’s not really a huge amount of grain, unless you are on a low carb diet. If you were storing 450 lbs of grain for 6 months what would that look like?
My family’s actual grain usage looks like this: for a total of 40 lbs for a month or 240 lbs in 6 months .
4 lbs of quinoa
10 lbs of rice
4 lbs of steel cut oats
5 lbs. of old fashioned oats
5 lbs. of coconut flour
10 lbs of whole wheat berries
2 lbs. of whole rye
The whole rye and whole wheat berries are sometimes ground for flour, sometimes cracked for bulgur and sometimes sprouted. Mr. Joybilee likes his bread every evening and he takes a bag lunch to work, with sandwiches about half the time. Sarah and I have been cutting back on carbs, somewhat. I would base my food storage on the way we actually eat, not on what the emergency preparedness experts suggest. These quantities go into my pantry storage, whether we actually eat them each month or not. Some months we use more, and some months less, depending on what other fresh food is available on our farm. From October to March we have potatoes from our garden, as well as local squash, and will serve potatoes or squash instead of rice, or bread and many meals.
How much grain is your family eating per month now, including bread, crackers, popcorn, corn chips, cakes, cookies, breakfast cereal, pasta, and rice? Are you comfortable with this amount of grain? Keep in mind that gluten-free diets abstain from barley, rye, wheat, and oatmeal that is processed in the same facilities as wheat. Gluten-free flour may be substituted for wheat in specially formulated recipes but contains high amounts of starch, which your body processes like sugar. Most celiacs gain weight when moving from a wheat based diet to a gluten-free diet while eating the same amount of starch.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams can be used in the place of pasta, rice, and quinoa in your diet. They can be pressure-canned when freshly harvested. They can also be stored in a root cellar or an unheated area of your home, provided that they are kept from freezing. Don’t store them on an apartment balcony that may get frost. (Yes, I know this from experience. Don’t ask.) Potatoes kept in cold storage will begin to sprout in March or April, so plan to use them up before March 1st. Winter squash can also be used as a starch side on your menu and will keep in cold storage from Fall till March without going bad.
Tip: To increase the keeping power of winter squash, ensure that the squash is properly hardened in the field before harvest. Wipe the outside of the squash with citrus-vinegar cleaner or vinegar-hydrogen peroxide and air dry before storing in your cold cellar or cold room. If you live in an area that is warm year-round you will want to preserve these by freezing, drying, or pressure canning.
Sugars include honey, maple syrup, icing sugar, brown sugar, molasses, white sugar. One complication in sugar storage is that much of the North American sugar production is now coming from GMO sugar beets. I recommend that you avoid GM sugar as much as possible. This would also implicate molasses, brown sugar, and icing sugar in the GM sugar category. This leaves organic sugar, which must be made from organically grown sugar cane, local honey (avoid honey from questionable provenance), and maple syrup. Corn syrup is also likely to contain GMOs, but in recipes calling for corn syrup, honey is a ready substitute.
Food storage weight recommendations for sugars are the same as for beans. I find this startling, actually. My family goes through in a full year:
30 lbs. of local honey
44 lbs of organic sugar
4 quarts of maple syrup (8 lbs.)
This works out to approx. 82 lbs of sugars for a year (41 lbs. for 6 months), including sugar for canning, making jam, baking, candy making, kombucha making, and having guests for coffee. This does not include the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit and dried fruit. This is less than half the amount of sugar recommended for food storage. We do not use powered drinks, or powdered flavoured gelatins.
Calculate the amount of sugar, honey, syrup that your family actually uses on average in a month. Find the address and phone number of your local honey producer. If you live in an area that grows GM crops within 5 miles of the honey producer, consider sourcing local honey from another region.
A word about Certified Organic Sugar: Organic sugar is roughly double the price of conventional sugar when bought in the large 44 – 50 lb bag. It is GMO free, and made from sugar cane rather than genetically modified sugar beets, heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. If you think you can’t afford to buy organic sugar, consider cutting the sugar you are currently using in half and you will be able to afford organic. This is one of the few areas that I recommend certified organic over conventional.
Fats are the part of your diet that makes you feel full and satisfied. Unlike sugar and carbohydrates, fats and oils do not spike your blood sugar or induce food cravings. Dr. Mary Enig, in “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” explains how healthy fats, like coconut oil, actually increase your metabolic rate and support the proper function of your thyroid so that they help you lose weight. The recommended fat intake is 4 tbsp. of coconut oil per day for weight loss – that’s about ¼ cup of coconut oil per person. Our family doesn’t eat nearly that much coconut oil.
On the other hand, liquid oils like soy oil, canola oil, corn oil, and cotton seed oil, are usually highly refined, rancid oils that cause heart disease, by increasing inflammation in your body. They are also all made from genetically modified seeds. These are also the oils most likely to be found in commercial margarine, and salad dressings.
When cooking never use liquid oil, as liquid oils that are cooked reach temperatures that cause the oils to change their chemical composition. The exception is sesame oil, which doesn’t not become injured when used at the high temperatures used for frying.
Liquid oils that I use regularly include toasted sesame oil and a good quality virgin olive oil. I use both for salad dressings, and sesame oil when I want the flavour added to stir fries. For most of my frying and sautéing I use coconut oil.
A tip for using coconut oil: There are several different kinds of coconut oil. If you want an oil for frying and don’t particularly want the coconut taste, use expeller expressed coconut oil. It offers the health benefits of the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil but has no flavour of its own. It’s also less expensive than Tropical Traditions Gold label certified Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, which is an artisan product. For soap making I use the expeller expressed coconut oil. Coconut oil does not form free radicals when heated and is stable when used for frying. The shelf life of coconut oil is at least 2 years, so buying it in large pails is a good way to save money.
Tip: Tropical Traditions carries a quality organic coconut oil. Once a month they have a free shipping sale for their US customers and this is always a good time to pick up coconut oil for your food storage. In the US and Canada Costco started carrying Virgin Coconut oil. The price is comparable to the sale price at Tropical Traditions. Costco’s Virgin Coconut oil is comparable to Tropical Traditions Organic Coconut Oil – not their gold label product, which is an artisan coconut oil made by hand in small batches, using the traditional method.
How much oil/fat is enough?
This is what we actually use in a month:
2 lbs butter
4 lbs. coconut oil
1/2 lb. sesame oil
2 lbs whole flax seed
4 lbs of peanut butter
4 lbs. of whole, shelled almonds
2 lbs of whole cashews
2 lbs. of shelled sunflower seeds
2 lbs of coconut flakes
1.5 lbs of virgin olive oil (1 750ml bottle)
Plus a scant amount of poppy seeds, tahini (sesame butter), Total of 25 lbs. of oil/nuts/seeds per month or 150 lbs per 6 months.
How much oil/nuts/seeds are you currently using? What does that look like?
Tip: Seeds and nuts still in their shell have a shelf life of at least a year. If the nuts have been shelled you will want to store them in the freezer or refrigerator to keep them from going rancid. If you want to stock up on shelled nuts be sure that you have the freezer space to keep them fresh. If you have a cold winter, you can keep them packaged in mylar bags in a sealed plastic bucket in a cold place. But buy only enough to have them finished by March. Use your storage calculations to help you decide how much to buy at a time. Note that if your bulk food store doesn’t have a fast turn over, shelled nuts bought in March may be rancid already in the store. The new crop comes in October – November, so this is the best time to purchase some for your pantry.
The recommended amount of Dairy for our family for 6 months is 145 lbs for 3 adults. We have our own dairy goats and don’t store dairy products per say. However, I do make cheese as we have surplus milk, and I freeze or dehydrate it for future use. I leave this out of my food storage calculations however, falling back on homemade coconut milk should we run out of milk.
I also do not store eggs for winter. We have our own hens. Should my hens completely stop laying during the winter, I would make-do with using an egg substitute, such as flax jelly and apple sauce for my baking and skip the store bought eggs. I wouldn’t buy an egg substitute or dehydrated eggs for this.
I buy a 20 kg. bag of baking soda, and 4 — 5 litre containers of white vinegar for cleaning, homemade toothpaste, and baking, for 6 months. Two bags of baking soda lasts me for 6 months. 1 kg. of baking yeast lasts me 3 to 6 months, depending on how much bread my family wants. I keep the yeast in the fridge and I’ve noticed that even refrigerated the yeast loses its potency after 6 months, so don’t buy yeast more than 6 months ahead. If you don’t use it much, buy it in smaller envelopes. Stale yeast will affect your bread’s rising. Baking powder also has a short shelf life and loses its potency with long storage. Don’t store more than you can use in 3 to 6 months. Baking soda and an acid such as buttermilk or whey can substitute for baking powder in baking.
I use a litre/quart of raw cider vinegar each month for salad dressings and drinks. I also use a litre/quart of balsamic vinegar for dressings and marinades. So I’d add 2 litres/quarts of vinegar to my pantry per month or 6 bottles each of cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar.
How much baking soda, baking powder, vinegar, and yeast do you go through in a month?
Salts and Spices
While not mentioned in the emergency preparedness calculator, it’s essential that you plan for the other staples that aren’t listed that your family finds an important part of their daily cuisine. These are things like cocoa, coffee and tea, chocolate chips, Himalayan salt or celtic salt, spices (turmeric, curry spice, chili powder, garlic, onions, oregano, basil, dry mustard and mustard seeds, coriander, parsley, sage, rosemary, etc.) Don’t forget the ingredients to make your condiments.These are foods that you use in small quantities that give your food flavour and interest. You may not need to multiply these per person as much as by averaging out the actual amount that your family uses in a month. For instance, my own family consumes 1 coconut curry meal per week. For this I need 1 tbsp of Marsala spice – 15 grams. I go through 360 grams in 6 months. In this case I buy a `1 lb. (454 gms) bag of this in bulk each fall and keep it in my freezer, just taking out the portion that I need. I also need a jar of coconut cream to make the coconut cream/milk for the curry sauce. One jar will last me 3 months, so I will use 2 jars for my 6 months of food storage or 4 jars in a year. I could also make coconut milk with the shredded coconut in my storage, for this meal.
The most important take away in this lesson is to start thinking about your pantry and food storage as your “stores” of food, which you will draw on for your meal planning and menu preparation. Your shopping trip should be focused on replenishing your basic supplies rather than grabbing what you need for the next 5 days of meal preparation. Once you grasp that, you will be free to shop when you feel at the top of your game, knowing what you need to replenish, and you will no longer be a slave to “what’s on sale” . It is hard to break an old habit and change your way of thinking about shopping. But once you do you will find it very freeing. You’ll also save money!
Now most of us don’t have the cash to buy 6 month’s worth of groceries in a single trip. Nor do you have the storage space and the energy to deal with that much food all at once. Instead, your 6 month’s of food storage is a long term goal. Your first goal is to stock up for 1 month in each of these categories, while you continue to put-by fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish for the season.
Print out the worksheet or download it and add it to your binder for this course. Once you’ve done it let’s talk about it in the Facebook group. Your observations might help someone else. Don’t get overwhelmed. This is just the first step to a plan for long term scratch cooking for your family. You’ll need a calculator and you’ll need to have a serious look at your current pantry system and your current shopping habits. If you already have some food storage in your pantry you may be more than half way to your goal. You are aiming at a 6 month food pantry of foods that your family actually eats and that you can actually cook from.
A strategy to budget for stocking up your pantry
As I promised here’s a brief strategy for stocking up your pantry using the money you are currently spending on weekly groceries.
On your next grocery shopping trip, consider which foods you are currently buying as processed foods and buy the staple item on your list instead, as a one month supply. For example, instead of 7 individual boxes of pasta and rice-a-roni (one week’s supply – $22), purchase one 5 kg. bag of good quality rice (One month’s supply – $11) or instead of 10 boxes of ready to eat cereal, your purchased a 10kg/25 lb. bag of old fashioned oats, honey, and slivered almonds to make granola and cooked oatmeal at home. You will save money buying it that way. Then put the savings aside in an envelope for your next shopping trip. Do this every shopping trip. Begin with the food that your family eats the most. If you shop every week, by the end of the first month you’ll have enough saved for your first month of pantry storage, and be started on your goal of a 3 month pantry. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you didn’t have to go grocery shopping in December?
Let’s talk in the group about how this works out in real life. See you there.