Thursday, August 5, 2010

Better Than Barter, Tastier than Cash

Occasionally, I regret having wasted my youth by not learning how to do the kinds of self-sufficiency tasks I'm learning these days. It's not so much that I regret having wasted all of that precious time, but more the fact that I had the perfect teacher. My grandmother could have taught me all sorts of low-energy canning techniques. She could have taught me how to harvest my chickens so that I could save $4 per bird (in fact, she's probably watching me now from that place beyond and shaking her head in dismay that I don't do it myself). But more, if I had learned it back then, when I was young, immortal and fearless, then it wouldn't be so daunting now.

Of course, the fact that something is difficult does not, in the least, deter me, and I love summer canning season, and I love marathon canning sessions.

This evening, we canned the sauerkraut that has been fermenting on the counter for the past week (about three days longer than it should have, actually ;). In addition, we canned about three-quarters of the 14 lbs of peaches I brought home from the farm stand ... the girls ate (or have saved for tomorrow) the rest ;).

We ended up with six pints of purple sauerkraut and the equivalent of four quarts of peaches.

Then, since we were cutting up peaches (and making a big mess of the kitchen floor with dripping peach juice and poorly aimed peach peels and pits that didn't quite make it to the bucket ... after I just scrubbed it this afternoon, no less), we decided to process most of the melons I brought home, too (at $2 to $4 each, I had to buy several more). We ended up with six quarts of melon puree in the freezer with one cantaloupe and one musk melon still waiting to be eaten fresh.

This is an amazing time of year and just looking around at all of the bounty - in my garden, at the farm stand, at the Farmer's Market, I feel full. It's an amazing time of year.

There is so much food! It's incredible, and I love watching my freezer fill up and the pantry shelves where I keep my home canned food getting full.

Unfortunately, I still do not have a very good handle on what would be enough food to do us for the whole winter. I know when I don't have enough (like four quart jars of applesauce ... definitely *not* enough!), but trying to figure out, exactly how much would see us through the winter is a little more difficult ... and as for testing ourselves and eating only from our pantry just to get an idea of what we eat ...? The idea of depleting our food stores just to test ourselves, when we never know if this trip to the grocery store will be our last and that we will be forced to depend on what's in our pantry is just terrifying.

Still, in a lower energy world, we would not have the grocery store as a back-up - at least not like we have it, today. At some point we really need to figure out exactly what we use, and then plan accordingly, because it would be a pretty horrible thing to suddenly have to depend on our stored food only to realize that we severely underestimated our usage.

Hmm? I wonder, in a lower energy world, can I give my daughters ration cards? Can I steal their chocolate rations?


  1. I don't know if this helps, but I do it like this:

    For something we really like, corn for example, I'll make it at least twice a week for meals, so that means I'll need at least 104 pints to make it to the next corn season. We go through a quart of apple sauce a week, so 52 quarts to be put away. Tomatoes are tricky-- we use them in so many ways, so a safe bet would be at least 2-3 quarts per week times 52 weeks. Our tomatoes are looking good so far, knock on wood, so I'm hoping for at least 100 quarts.

    Instead of eating out of the pantry to see what you would need, just keep a menu of what you eat daily for a month then multiply it by 12. That should give you a little guide on how much to put away.

  2. Pretty impressive! And I'll bet your pantry shelves are filled with pretty colors :)

    What sauerkraut recipe are you using? I'm ready to start on fermenting.

  3. Two thoughts. The book Root Cellaring has guidelines for how much of each vegetable is recommended for storage to allow a family to go without buying produce. I think they have rough graduations, i.e. a family of 2, family of 4, of 6, etc. Not exactly what you want if you plan to eat *entirely* from your own stores. The Bubels don't address grains or other foodstuffs; just produce. But it would probably be worth looking at.

    Secondly, you could to a short test run of eating solely from your stores and then extrapolate. Say, eat for two weeks from your stores alone, and see what happens, evaluate how much of your stores are gone. It would probably teach you things no one would anticipate. Yes, there's the risk of running an experiment just at a critical moment of doom. But weigh that risk against the certainty of having hard information about what will/would/does happen if you rely only on what you've stored. That would be an undeniable benefit to you.

    Beyond that, I can't see any way to address it other than tedious record keeping of what you've got in storage going into winter, and then what you've got as your first crops start coming in the following year. Can't say I've done it myself, but you point out the obvious value of such information.

  4. as to how much you'll need, you take a wild guess, on the high side usually. That is how we've maintained self-sufficiency on jam for forever now -- look at how much the family is eating (which changes), look at how much we have, and make however much more (plus some) we think we'll need.

    Of course, as you know, with a whole lot of things it isn't "how much we'll need" but "how much do we happen to have, did we happen to get put by" and then you make do with it.

    Not that I've ever tried to live entirely by our own stores mind you. I understand it means less variety and frankly (tragedy of the commons) I'm not willing to let the rest of the world eat all the fish out of the sea and not have any myself.

  5. Wow! Thanks for all of the great advice.

    CG - Very good point! I'm lucky to live near the ocean, where lobster is $3.99/lb during the summer and shrimp is .99/lb during the winter. At those prices, I can afford to make them part of my storage ;). That said, I don't live where olives, sugar, tea or coffee are grown, and I have, yet, to prove a willingness to give up any of those ;).

    Kate - I have a copy of Root Cellaring *grin*. Guess I should look at it a little more closely ... I wonder what the recommendation for hubbard squash is ;).

    Farmgal - I use a recipe that a friend gave me. It's wicked easy, but since it's processed, it doesn't give the "live food" benefits that makes fermenting such a healthy choice. The canning process kills the bacteria ... although, from what I understand, the flavor is still there. I still have to wait another couple of weeks before I can try it, but I did take a bite or two while we were canning it, and it's actually very good ;).

    The recipe is:
    Thinly slice cabbage and stuff into a quart jar leaving a 1/2" head space. Add 1 tsp each of sugar and salt to each jar (as Deus Ex Machina pointed out, it's the sugar - in this recipe - that creates the fermenting action. I've used other recipes that only use salt). Cover with boiling water. Loosely cover (to keep out the bugs) and leave on the counter for a day or so. Top with boiling water, tightly cover, and put jars in a warm place, preferrably a sunny window, if you have it (I actually put mine outside *in* the sun ;) for three days. After three days, process in a boiling water bath - 15 minutes for quarts and 10 minutes for pints. Wait three weeks before tasting. I fermented mine in quart-sized jars, and then transferred to pint jars for canning, making sure to evenly distribute the liquid between the jars, but you can ferment it in pint jars - just halve the amount of salt and sugar per jar.

    Jenny - Great plan! I do need to pay more attention to what we're eating. I think I have an intuitive sense, but then, we'll run out of something, and I'll realize that I'm not as in tune as I think :).

  6. I know what you mean about the canning euphoria! We've been working on making lots of pickles from our cucumbers, the string beans are ready for making canned dilly beans, and the tomatoes are just starting to ripen. I, too, wonder about how much food is necessary for a family to make it through a Maine winter.


    PS - I'm the Steve who posted on P.O. Hausfrau's blog a little while back, the "prepper" a few miles north of you here in Maine. I've been a quiet reader on your blog for quite a while. :)

  7. Hi, Steve! I'm glad you finally found something to comment on :).

    Love dilly beans! Unfortunately, no one else in my family will eat them, and so it's not something I will can. Oh, well! I guess I should just be happy that they indulge me in my insistence on making them eat cajun-style red beans ;).

    My tomatoes aren't ripening, yet, but there are a lot of lovely green ones out there on the plants I started from seed right out in the garden. Every year, my tomatoes are later than everyone else's, because I insist on direct-sowing everything, but ultimately, it's worth the wait ;).