Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wisely Creating a SPAM-Free Pantry (Pt. 3)

So, let's recap. On Monday I posted about why I have a well-stocked pantry, and yesterday I posted about how I figure out what to put in the pantry.  This post is to tell you how I took the list from yesterday and began the process of breaking it down into affordable portions to buy and store.  Before you ever get to the store, there is a little more assessment that needs to be done, so even though I thought I would be done with this series today, I am seeing that there will be one more post tomorrow with the final suggestions.

The next thing you probably need to do is figure out how much money you can set aside from each paycheck towards food storage.  For example, my DH gets paid twice a month.  We usually set aside any extras from our zero-based budget for debt pre-payment and/or savings.  Since we were trying to get out of debt, I did not want to stop our extra payments completely. So, I decided to take a little bit out of the extra payment and a little out of the food/grocery budget so that I had about $100/paycheck towards food supplies. Now $200/month may sound like a lot to those of you down south, but up here, $100 will not buy too much at all-especially if it includes shipping on cases of canned goods.

Now the next part is deciding what kind of goods you want to store.  In our case, we are active duty military who generally move quite frequently. (I say that hesitantly because we actually just found out that we're staying here for 4-5 more years!  Our average time at a station before was 1.5 years, but we will have stayed in this town for 8-9 if we finish out this next full billet. That is a true gift!) Because of the likelihood of having to move our food at some point, we decided the best plan for us is buying cases of canned goods that are specially preserved for extra-long shelf lives; usually 20-30 years! As long as the cans are un-opened, the movers will move them, versus miscellaneous coffee cans and bakery buckets of rice and beans.  Plus, as long as the cans are kept dry, I don't have to worry about critters, bugs, and rust.
Since shipping is such a huge factor up here (many of the emergency suppliers won't even ship to us at all), we bought what we could through the LDS Distribution Center store online. This was mainly rice, pinto beans, quick oats, and wheat berries.  Then the local LDS church also does an annual co-op order through Walton Feed to get other supplies barged up here.  They were kind enough to let us tag onto that the past two years.  If you live in a place with UPS and Fedex ground services, you will have many more options.  Two other popular suppliers are Emergency Essentials and MRE Depot.  Please note that I have not ordered through Emergency Essentials, but my friends have without any problems. I have ordered through MRE Depot, but now they are pickier about what they will ship to AK. Apparently sending 4 cases of canned sugar to me made them review their shipping policies. Drat! However, the one experience I had was fine and I would recommend them to anyone else.

Other storage methods besides canned goods are 5 gallon food grade buckets with/without oxygen absorbers and gamma lids, mylar pouches (watch for rodents with these!), vacuum sealing bags and jars (i.e. Foodsavers), and the afore mentioned coffee cans and bakery buckets (although those are only good for short-term storage).  I do have a couple of sealed 5 gallon buckets of wheat berries, old fashioned oats, and honey that I ordered through our last Walton's order, but mostly what I have are cases of cans that I stack in the crawlspace under our stairs.  That was another benefit of standard-sized, stackable cases; easier storage. Some people use the spaces under beds for this storage, or designate a side of a child's closet to stack them.
Our long-term storage items

For the most part, these cases have been a great solution for us, but there are still irregularly shaped goods that I purchase from traditional stores. Most do not have such a long shelf-life. Plus, I am also stocking my own home-canned items. How do I store all of those?

For bulk items that I want to divide and use within a year (20# bags of flour, sugar, rice, etc) I do use those bakery buckets, clean coffee cans, and even some really large wine jugs that I got at the thrift store (great for rice!).  I buy bay leaves in the bulk spice section of Safeway or Fred Meyers (pennies for a large baggie full verses what you pay for the little bottle on the shelf in the spice aisle!) and layer one in every few inches as I'm pouring.  These help to keep the food tasting fresh as well them being a repellent to most bugs.  For the large cans of tomato sauce, coffee, jugs of powdered creamer, shortening, cooking oils, etc. I keep those in upright cabinets with doors, down in our garage.  (Note: If you live down south, you need to be mindful of overly hot and/or humid garages. For those up north, try to keep it in the 40's to avoid freezing.)  I write the expiration dates on the cans with a sharpie marker in big numbers to make it easier to rotate the goods. I have begun using Wendy Dewitt's method of taking stock of these goods at the beginning of each year and just pulling out the ones that expire during that calendar year. I bring them upstairs to my cupboard for regular use and just make a list of what needs to be replenished for the downstairs cache. That way I'm not having to worry about a month by month rotation.  When I buy these goods, I do look through several cans to see if I can find the one with the furthest sell-by date.  Often I can find ones that are a full year out from their shelf-mates!

The cabinet on the right was a cast-off from an office building. I loved using it as a pantry; so much so that I bought the plastic version at the store for about $80. While not as sturdy or big, the two together make a great storage solution for a pantry-less house.  (The empty shelves are a result of us eating through a lot of canned goods in preparation for our transfer this summer. Now that we're not moving, we need to replenish!)

The blue tote on the top left has cans of coffee that all have the same expiration date 2 years from now. I just wrote the date on the tote label. The pink containers on the top left contain hard-to-stack items like ramen noodles, spaghetti, bags of dried beans, etc.
These tubs run about $4 a piece, but are great for stacking loose bags! Plus, stacking them on top of the cabinet frees up shelf space for jars and cans.
Yes, there is a use for all those old glass jugs and coffee cans-Rice!

See how I wrote the expiration dates with a sharpie? MUCH easier to see at a glance!
If you have the space, many people like to use the Self Reliance shelving units with the sloping slots for canned goods.  Personally, I wanted something more discreet. Besides, most canned goods last better in darker storage, and I had issues with the thought of my mason jars rolling and smacking into each other.

With all of my food products, I have tried to keep it as shelf-stable as possible, meaning that I am trying to get all my food in forms that do not need refrigeration or freezing.  For example, we have learned how to can butter and yummy cheese sauce (scroll down on the link for the cheese sauce).  We tried canning the hard cheese as listed on the same site, but didn't like the result. It's okay for grating but had a gritty texture. One of our future homestead experiments we're getting ready for is waxing cheese, so stay tuned!

As for meat products, we currently have cans of freeze-dried, flavored TVP crumbles, tuna, and canned salmon. However, I am gearing up to start canning ground beef and chicken that I stocked up on during a recent sale. Currently it's all in the meat freezer, but it's getting ready to go on the empty shelves in my pantry; another homestead experiment to check back on. :)

As for paper products, I have those stashed all over.  We were fortunate enough to receive some large shelving units from an old museum, and now they run along the back wall of our garage. I have toilet paper and paper towels stored on a section of that.  Our goal is to have the overhead shelves in our garage cleaned off in the next few weeks. At that point, I will probably move the paper products up there in some sort of plastic bag or tub.  Don't overlook the possibility of overhead storage in wasted space, and you don't need to buy the expensive shelving kits (although we have in the past, and they are convenient.) As you can see, cheap primitive storage with 1/4" pressboard and plumber's strap is very  effective for storing seldom-used items!  This is shelving that has been left for us by our landlord, but we are planning to expand it to wrap around other walls in the garage.

The packages of paper products that we are currently working out of is divided up between the bathroom cabinets and the remainders stashed in that crawl space under the stairs for easier access.  Detergent ingredients and 'Health and Beauty' items (shampoos, deodorants, bars of soap, feminine hygiene, toothpaste) are stored in the bathroom cabinet and the overhead cabinet in my laundry room/bathroom.  I also scored a great deal on garbage bags recently on the clearance aisle of the home-improvement store. I have just stacked those on top of my buckets in the crawl space, but will probably work them into the overhead garage shelving later.
Stashing cleaning liquids behind the towels!

 So, I feel that this is a good place to stop this entry.  Your homework?

*Take stock of what space you have for storage, and what kind of food storage will best fit your lifestyle.

*Look at your budget and pre-determine an amount that you can use towards this endeavor. Do not overlook the cost of jars, lids, and shipping if applicable. Go on-line and search for shipping prices at various vendors, and maybe even take a trip to your local Sam's or Costco to see what they have to offer.

*Peruse great sites like Becky's Farm Life and the Homestead-Acres Youtube channel. Whew-that's a lot of homework, but hopefully you will find it kind of fun and exciting.

Next I will write about converting your ingredients list into an actual shopping list. 

Until then, blessings to you and your homestead,
Hillary At Home

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