Think fast: What food items always seem to be on the short list when you head to the grocery store? Chances are, foods with the shortest shelf life will be on that list, e.g. milk, bread, eggs, produce. Foods that will spoil or rot within a couple of weeks are also ones that we depend on for variety and a well-rounded diet, and your food storage is incomplete without it. As your food storage pantry begins to fill, you’ll want to consider how you can keep these fresh foods in storage, long-term.
Milk can be stored long-term in the form of dry milk and canned. If you live near a dairy plant, it’s possible to purchase dried milk in large quantities at very reasonable prices. For the best long-term results, re-package the dried milk in PETE containers, along with an oxygen absorber or two. If you live in a humid climate, the shelf life of dried milk will be shorter. Companies such as The Ready Store sell instant milk in both #10 cans and 6-gallon buckets for an even longer shelf life. Canned milk can come in handy when you need a small amount of milk for a recipe. In addition, I keep several gallons of milk in the freezer.
For short-term storage, say a month or so, commercially baked bread can stay in the freezer and taste just fine when your kids are clamoring for PB&J. However, for long-term, there really is no substitute to baking your own. Flour can be stored for a year or so in air-tight containers. To avoid insect problems, freeze bags of flour overnight to insure that anything remotely resembling an insect egg is quite, quite dead.
To make sure your family has bread in the truly long run, there’s just no way to get around storing wheat and grinding your own flour. Check out Chrystalyn’s article, Wheat for Dummies, for ideas of where to begin. You might as well start learning how to bake your own bread, crackers, and tortillas now and avoid the learning curve if you’re ever under pressure to produce a loaf of bread for sandwiches now! By the way, watch for wheat grinders on Craigslist, eBay and even in thrift stores. One sharp-eyed friend of mine found not one but two wheat grinders at Goodwill stores.
How do you feel about adding a few chickens to the family? A coop in your backyard is probably the best way to insure a supply of fresh eggs. Occasionally, the least popular chicken in the roost can become Most Likely to Succeed by providing a satisfying meal of roasted poultry.
If you aren’t up for that, eggs can be frozen or canned quite easily, and Walton Feed has the best selection of dried egg products, by far. If you’re interested in the quickest possible way to cook up a batch of scrambled eggs for breakfast, The Ready Store sells freeze-dried eggs and ham that only require boiling water for preparation.
Fruits and vegetables can be canned, frozen, freeze-dried, dehydrated or grown right at home. I’ve persuaded a number of my readers to give Square Foot Gardening a try, and we are putting that method to the test ourselves. I’ve discussed how easy it is to dehydrate food here and here.
Home canning insures the freshest and least adulterated produce for your family, although commercially canned varieties are often too inexpensive to pass up. If you’re interested in preserving produce in a variety of forms, Karen Brees over at The Practical Preserver has written an outstanding manual, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Preserving Food.
Freeze-dried produce is a great addition to the home pantry by providing light-weight fruits and veggies that are packaged to last 20-30 years. The first veggies I dehydrated and purchased freeze-dried are the ones I usually include in soups and stews: carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes.
Is life without cheese even worth living? I’m not so sure, but I’m also not thrilled with my options when it comes to long-term storage. I think I’d be lost if I couldn’t whip up a quick quesadilla for my kids’ lunches and powdered cheese just won’t cut it. No pun intended.
Freezing softer cheese, such as cheddar and mozzarella, effectively stores it for a few months, if properly wrapped, but the texture, once thawed, isn’t the same as fresh. Parmesan, Romano, and other hard cheeses fare better in the freezer. Powdered Parmesan in the famous green can will probably last right through Armageddon, but it’s not my favorite form of the cheese, although it would do in a pinch.
Angela shows how to wax cheese, step by step, on her blog, Adventures in Self-Reliance. (Her new blog is Food Storage and Survival.) I’ve waxed my legs and eyebrows, but waxing cheese is something I haven’t tried yet. In my own storage, I do have canned, frozen, and powdered cheese. Both Walton Feed and The Ready Store, among others, carry a variety of freeze dried and powdered cheeses.
It’s been years and years since I’ve used margarine. I have about thirty pounds of real butter out in my freezer, and that’s the way I like it. Frozen butter stores very well for months, and when I find it at $1.99 a pound or less, I stock up. Butter can be home canned, and although I’ve read mixed reviews of the results, I’m willing to give it a try and sacrifice some of my stored, frozen butter in the effort. Again, Walton Feed is a good source of powdered butter that can be reconstituted with a bit of water, giving it the consistency of whipped butter but with a milkier flavor. It’s a versatile form of butter and, when stored properly, has a long shelf life.
Be sure to compare prices, package sizes, and storage containers before you make a larger purchase. Take your time and see if there are local suppliers to avoid shipping costs. Finally, try out the smallest possible amount to see if it’s something you even want to include in your food storage.
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