Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Best Survival Food ... ?

At the moment, we have five does and one buck. He's getting a bit long in the tooth, and so we're thinking, we might find a new buck in the spring and let EJ retire - the grand old father of many, many litters. Of our does, one is also retired. She had five or six litters (I forget) and was a good mama.

Overall, we've had a lot of luck with our rabbits. We just harvested our spring kits (we were a little later than we should have been), but the bonus of having waited was that they had much thicker hides, which makes tanning a little easier, and they were preparing for winter and had a really good store of fat. If we hadn't decided to jerky most of the meat, we could have made broth, as described in this blog post, and it would have been good with just refrigeration (or back in that unfinished room that is turning into our cold storage) for the entire winter.

There's a lot of talk these days about preserving and storing food. The prepper/survivalist groups have lots of advice about what to store. In the survival class I'm teaching at our homeschool co-op, there was a lesson about storing food. The recommendation is that there should be X pounds of food per person in each of several categories. There are also more abbreviated lists, like this one that lists the TEN BEST SURVIVAL FOODS.

I like reading the lists to see how well my family stocks up, and to be honest, sometimes I'm quite embarrassed to note that, if those figures are right, in a worst case scenario, my family would be in trouble.

Except that, we have never intended to be fully dependent on stored foods. Our goal is to have enough food to do us until the next growing season - so essentially, we need enough to get us through the winter. Every summer, we raise enough chicken for the year. Forty chickens at three meals per chicken for my family, will feed us for the entire winter, even if we only ate chicken, but that's not all we'd have.

A few years ago, we were gifted with several volunteer squash plants. I didn't know what they were, and so I just let the vines grow. By the end of the season, we had 180 lbs of Hubbard squash (which are a long storage winter squash with a texture and taste like very sweet pumpkin). Between the chicken and the Hubbard squash, if that's all we had, we would not have starved that winter.

Which is, pretty much, how we approach the whole storage thing. We try to store up enough stuff in season to get us through until the next season, and then, we supplement with treats from the grocery store.

The ten items to have is a good list, but when I see those lists, I always think, " ... and then, what?" What if those things are never available again, and once the items have been used up, they're gone? Then, what? If one has become dependent on that food item, and one can not replace it, then, what will one do?

My answer is to find replacements - things that I can use to replace the items that I may no longer be able to find in the grocery store.

Using the list provided, here are my 10 items to be able to grow or find in the wild:

1. Canned meat. The list recommends canned salmon, but since I don't live in Alaska, I would not have that as a staple on my list. Instead, we raise rabbits and chickens in the backyard. Instead of stockpiling cans of meat, I might be better served by stockpiling rabbit feed and hay so that I can feed my herd over the winter, and worst case scenario, I could put them out to pasture in the spring/summer and harvest winter feed for them while they're enjoying grazing. If I bred all five does in the spring, by fall, I could have - at least - twenty-five rabbits to harvest, which would be around 30 quarts of canned meat and, at least, twenty-five quarts of broth.

Instead: I don't recommend stockpiling foods that one can not readily replace without buying it. So, for me, stockpiling home-canned rabbit meat is a better option. That may not be the option other people take. My recommendation would be for you to look at what's in your area, and what you can, personally, procure in a worst case scenario. In addition to rabbit, living near the ocean means that we have access to a myriad of ocean creatures (including clams, which we learned to *correctly* harvest this year - and we have a great story in our book about the wrong way to harvest them :)). Use what you have.

2. Dried beans. Beans are cheap in the grocery store. Did you know that sometimes you can take those beans you get for $1/lb and plant them and make more beans? Try it. Take a bean from the package and put it in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel. If it's a viable seed, it should sprout. I do, actually, recommend beans, but better than stockpiling ones from the grocery store, is growing them. Black turtle beans are a bush variety, which means that they don't grow up a pole or need a trellis ... which means that even people who live in an apartment can grow them in a sunny window. One bean can yield as many as twenty pods of three to five beans each.

Instead: Don't just stockpile them. Grow them. Next to lettuce, beans are probably the easiest thing in the world to grow.

3. Brown Rice. I wouldn't stockpile rice, for a lot of reason. In particular, brown rice is not a long storage item, as it can go rancid. If one is planning to stockpile rice, white rice is a better option. Unfortunately, white rice has very little nutritional value, but it is good for bulking out a meal and it's incredibly versatile. I'm not saying don't have rice, but unless one lives where it can be grown (and there are, actually, some people who grow rice in Vermont, and so, "where it can be grown" could actually be amended to read "where people are actually growing it").

Instead: There are some grain options other than rice, and when determining what to stockpile, again, keep in mind your personal situation. Instead of rice, we stockpile (and grow) corn - not the sweet, corn-on-the-cob corn, but rather field corn or popcorn. This is the corn that's ground into Masa Harina and made into tortillas, or popped for eating with butter and salt.

4. Bulk nuts. I don't know how many times I have to say it. Here's the rub. I love almonds, especially roasted and salted. I also love pistachios, and pistachio is my favorite ice cream flavor. Unfortunately, neither of those nuts are particularly hardy where I live, and so, I don't stockpile them. They're good to have - for a while - but then, what?

Instead: I made a discovery, quite by accident, last fall. I discovered that black walnuts can grow and thrive in my climate. I discovered this, because the animal shelter, where my daughter volunteers as a dog walker had this tree I couldn't identify that was dropping these odd looking pods. As I am always on the lookout for wild foods, I took a bunch of pictures of the tree's leaves and picked up several of the fallen pods. As I walked around the tree, I found a few of the pods that had been broken open, and I realized it was black walnut! Very cool! We also have hazelnuts, and roasted hazelnuts, we discovered during our Starving Sundays ... er, Foraging Sundays ... last summer, are D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S.! Roasted hazelnuts turned out to be one of my favorite foods last summer, which is good, because we have a plethora of wild hazelnut bushes around our suburb, and we planted two in our yard.

5. Peanut Butter. Oh, what a messy can-of-worms! My daughter's favorite food is peanut butter. I love peanut butter, too, and it's a good food. Unfortunately, peanuts don't grow where I live, and so, we could buy dozens and dozens of jars of peanut butter, but ... well, you know.

Instead: There are some really great options for nut/seed butters. Two really excellent options are sunflower butter and pumpkin seed butter. Not only are both packed with vitamins and minerals, but they are also easy to grow in small spaces. Instead of stockpiling peanut butter, I'll grow a few Hubbard squash, and after I've saved a few of the seeds (from the biggest squash), I'll take the rest of them and either roast the seeds as a snack, or grind them up for a delicious alternative to peanut butter.

Oh, and pumpkins, while not native (exactly) to my area, grow well here and have a very, very long history as a food by the indigenous people of the northeast.

6. Trail mix. Actually, this one feels redundant to me. Most trail mixes I've seen are about 60% nuts and 40% dried fruit or other (chocolate candies are popular). If I'm already stockpiling bulk nuts, it doesn't make sense to stockpile trail mix, too.

Instead: While I wouldn't stockpile commercial trail mix, I would make my own, which means I would want dried fruit, but instead of buying a lot of dried fruit, I would dry it myself. Here in Maine, we have a huge wild blueberry crop, cranberries are native, and wild apples are just about everywhere we look. We can gather and dehydrate all of those for use later. Apples are also a long storage crop and depending on the variety can be kept fairly fresh for months. Other fruits can be pureed and dehydrated into fruit leathers or made into jams - like blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

7. Energy Bars and Chocolate Bars. I have no argument against storing chocolate except to say that chocolate bars are not really a long storage item. I know it's crazy, but I've actually had chocolate that is old in my house. Crazy, right? Who keeps chocolate bars around long enough for them to be considered old? It's still edible, but since aesthetics is a good percentage of our appetite, it's just not as good once the chocolate bar starts to bloom.

Instead: I like chocolate as much as the next person ... well, maybe. I like it, but I also recognize that it is a real luxury, and also that real cacao is nothing like that sweet confection we call "chocolate." In fact, historically chocolate was not a sweet, but a savory. Unfortunately, milk chocolate is a stable in the American diet, and it is one of those feel-good foods. Some people even claim to crave chocolate. Of course, food experts will tell us that a food craving usually doesn't mean we need that food, but rather that we are deficient in some vitamin or mineral. Chocolate cravings indicate a magnesium deficiency. Luckily, the "cure" for chocolate cravings will already be in your stores if you follow the other six items above, because you'll have: dried fruits, seeds and beans. So, while we might like to think we need chocolate in our stores, the reality is the "then, what?", because in most of the world, chocolate is not a native plant species, and we'd just be teasing ourselves having it around.

8. Beef jerky. Again, no argument, but I will take umbrage with the idea of buying commercially made jerky.

Instead: Buy a cow share or buy a large, reasonably priced roast and cut it into thin strips. Marinate it and then dehydrate it yourself. It's cheaper and infinitely healthier than buying commercial jerky. My favorite marinade is the Taj Mahal flavor from this site. As a side note, one can also safely jerk other meats, including rabbit.

9. Coffee/Instant Coffee. Um, yeah. If the world turns upside down and Dunkin' Donuts goes the way of the DoDo, Big Little Sister is going to be in a bad way. Me, too, actually. I like my coffee (not necessarily Dunkin's, but, you know, my French press coffee in the morning). Unfortunately ... yeah. Are you asking, what in the hell will grow in Maine?

Instead: You know what grows in Maine? Dandelions. Lots of dandelions, and not only does dandelion root tea really and truly taste like coffee (I wouldn't lie to you), it's actually much better for you. In fact, the whole dandelion plant can be used. The original article talks about coffee as a barter item, and I won't disagree, except that if I have coffee, I'm not trading it. I will suggest, however, that dandelion wine would also make a very good barter item, and I have also made dandelion Kahlua. Just sayin', coffee = good, but not as a long-term TEOTWAWKI storage item. Stick with what you can replenish.

10. Sea vegetables/Powdered Super Greens. I think most people wouldn't even know what to do with these if they did have them stored, but I will suggest that they be considered as a potential storage item with the caveat - DON'T GO OUT AND BUY THEM. Good grief! I could just gnash my teeth at all of the suggestions of things we need to buy for our food stores. The incredible bounty that is all around us ... often FREE for the taking ... is just astounding.

Instead: See, I'm not going to argue that dehydrated greens really are a super food, because gathering and storing greens is actually a regular part of our routine. We gather and dehydrate a lot of wild greens, but we also grow (or buy from local farmers) kale and chard and other greens that we dehydrate and then store in a jar. This is added to soups over the long winter. I'm not going to say don't have stored greens, but I am going to suggest not paying health food store prices for something one can easily produce in one's kitchen from harvesting dandelion greens, nettles, and kale right outside the door.

I highly recommend storing food. In fact, everyone should always have a minimum of three weeks of food - six months is better - not because the zombie apocalypse might happen tomorrow. Not even because we live in Maine and a snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow (although the 3" to 6" of snow won't even keep us housebound - not like the basketball-player height snowstorm in Buffalo recently). One should always have some stored food, because anything can happen, and does. There might be a snowstorm. There might be a riot. There might be a pandemic with mandatory quarantine. We might just find ourselves unemployed for a few months and unable to spend much at the grocery store. Or, we might just want to eat local food and the best way to keep our diet more interesting and most healthful is to learn to preserve and store food when it's in season.

The last one is the motivation I have for storing food, and it's always why I seldom recommend the buy-canned-food-by-the-case method of food storage. First, since my family doesn't eat canned foods, it doesn't make sense for us to store large quantities of it; and second, in a worst case scenario, once I use up all of those cans of Campbell's chicken soup, if I haven't figured out how to make my own (and an emergency is not a good time to start learning those skills. Just sayin'), things might get dicey.

When it comes to storing food my recommendations are:

1. Eat what you store and store ONLY what you ALREADY eat.
2. Store only what you can replace without having to depend on the grocery store.

It's that simple.

Now, excuse me while I go hide those chocolate bars ... just kidding. Maybe.

1 comment:

  1. Finally found someone who loves pistachio ice cream as much as I do!
    I bought some dried beans several years ago - and yes they are still at the back of my cupboard. I think I tried making a couple of soups with them, but it was effort and the family didn't enjoy them. So you are 100% right with your advice to store what you eat :-)
    Meat is a problem though as we don't eat tinned meat. My husband is still resisting us having hens for eggs, let alone livestock for meat. My cousin moved to rural France and have recently obtained their first rabbits http://charenter.tumblr.com/ . It seems like a good life, and they get lots of support as the rural communities are stronger in France.