Friday, July 31, 2015

Packing Grain and Beans for Food Storage (The way I do it)

As part of my prepping plan I practice what I wrote about in my book "Poverty Prepping: How to Stock up for Tomorrow When You Can't Afford to Eat Today" (Click here to see the book).  I buy one or two 'extra' of something every month, even if it's just a one dollar bottle of a spice. 
In times when I have a little more money to spend I buy things like a big bag of rice, beans, flour, or sugar.  This month we were able to buy a 50-lb. bag of wheat and a 50-lb. bag of oatmeal (rolled oats).
Our wonderful acquisitions!
(I don't know why both bags are upside down)
We've been lucky in being able to get buckets with tight-fitting lids from a grocery store bakery where one of our adult children works.  Most of them are about 2 1/2 gallons, which is a good size for me.  I have a hard time carrying full five-gallon buckets, so these smaller buckets are great.  We do have a few five-gallon buckets but I need the wheel barrow to move them from the shed to the house.
Scooping oatmeal into a bucket.
These buckets have been used over and over.  When I empty them I wash them and stack them in the shed until I have something to put in them again. I keep a bag nearby for lids but somehow I always seem to have more buckets than lids. 
I set the bucket on a stool and then I sat on a chair and scooped oatmeal with a 6-cup plastic measuring cup until the bucket was full.  But wait.... was the bucket really full?

Holding a plate on top of the oatmeal in a bucket.
Some foods compress better than others, but no matter what grain or bean I'm packing into buckets, I tap on the sides to help it "settle".  If you've ever bought things like cold cereal or potato chips at a grocery store you'll see that the bags or boxes appear to be half empty when you open them.  This is because the food settles in shipping.  When you first put foods like oatmeal or flour into a bucket there is a lot of air in with them.  By tapping on the side of the bucket you can jiggle it enough that the food settles and there will be more room at the top.  Then you can add more of whatever you're putting in the bucket.
I like to place a plate on top and hold it down while I tap the sides of the bucket.  This helps keep the oatmeal, or whatever food, from shaking out of the bucket, but more importantly, it helps push the food down as you tap on the sides.
There are two reasons I like to get as much air out and pack as much into the bucket as I can.  One reason is that the more I can fit into the buckets, the fewer I need and therefore I have more buckets available when I have food to put in them.
The second reason is that air oxidizes food and reduces it's storage life.  Some people buy oxygen absorbers or Co2 packets to put in the buckets when they pack them.  I figure the best I can do is to get out as much air as I can by packing the food as tightly as I can into the bucket.  This works especially good with foods like flour and oatmeal.  If I'm patient I can pack an amazing amount of flour into a bucket by tapping and by tamping it down with a plate.  Hard grains like wheat are harder to compress this way, but you can still tap on them to jiggle them as snugly together as possible, and reduce the amount of air in the buckets.
Being smaller it's easy for us to use the food in the buckets quickly and keep them rotated.  If you're packing five-gallon buckets for long-term storage you might want to buy oxygen absorbers to place inside the buckets.  Here's some available on amazon so you can see what they look like and get an idea of price: Oxygen absorbers .  This pack is $9.99 for 100 ct.

Six buckets of oatmeal, ready to be moved out to the shed.
The buckets have wonderful things on the labels, like donut glaze and pink icing and cream cheese frosting!  But inside they have oatmeal.  We also have wheat, whole corn, barley, rice, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans in similar buckets.

I date the buckets so I can keep them rotated.

This is the wheat being scooped into a bucket.
Recently I also put rice in buckets.
I have some of these buckets stored in the house in various places where they're not in the way, but most of them are in our sheds.  I try to put them near the ground on the north side of the shed, and cover them with old blankets to make sure they stay dark.  I don't like to set them right on the floor so I put a pallet in the shed and I set the buckets on that.  The air can then circulate under the buckets and help keep frost or condensation off of them.  I've never had moisture get inside one of these buckets, but it's still unnerving to go out on a winter morning and see frost on the outsides of the buckets. 
The storage life of all foods is lengthened by being kept cool and dark, in addition to removing or reducing the oxygen.  Wide swings in temperature are hard on foods, including grains and beans.  Daily swings are harder than seasonal swings, but to some extent we can't do anything about that.  I cover mine with several old blankets and then stack other things on or around the buckets.
It helps to have a master sheet of what you packed into buckets and when you did so.  It's constantly changing in our case, since we actively eat out of our buckets, so I keep my master list on the computer where changes and updates are easy to make.  But if my computer goes down I will lose my list, so I am planning to start printing it up a few times a year so I at least have a somewhat-recent copy of what we have stored in buckets.
Many stores with bakeries will give away or sell the buckets that frosting and other food comes in.  Check with stores near you.  Wal-Mart and other stores sell food-grade buckets, usually in bigger sizes such as 5-gallon. 
In addition to oxygen absorbers some people line their buckets with mylar bags to further extend the storage life. They usually come with oxygen absorbers as well.  These inside a bucket with a good seal can give you many years of storage life, often in excess of ten years.
Please leave comments or questions below or email them to:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Another notch on my writing belt!

I have had the honor of being asked to be a regular writer on the Mother Earth News website, for their section on food preservation. Here is my first post, and new ones coming every-other week:

I'll still be making posts here on this blog as well, on subjects not only relating to food preservation but all aspects of food storage and prepping, as well as gardening and homesteading.  My aim is still toward the more frugal aspect of these things, since many of us are at least somewhat financially-challenged! 

Sometimes there will be links back and forth, such as a link to the "Chicken Enchiladas from food storage" post from the upcoming post for Mother Earth News on canning chicken.  And I will go back and insert a link to the "Canning Chicken" post on Mother Earth News from the Chicken Enchilada post. 

Thank you, and please keep enjoying this site!  Please leave comments or questions below, or email them to:


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Food Storage Chicken Enchiladas


Last summer we raised and butchered 75 chickens.  We live off-grid with solar power, which is limited.  We had no refrigerator at all until a few years ago, and now we have a small 'dorm/college' fridge, which has a freezer about big enough for a pair of shoes (sorry.... that's what came to mind!).  So I canned the chickens.  We butchered them in batches of fifteen so that I could get each batch processed before the next were butchered.

It's somewhat daunting to look at more than 70 jars of canned chicken and figure out a variety of ways to use them.  Some of our favorites are chicken & dumplings, chicken pot pie, and chicken chunk gravy over homemade bread and mashed potatoes.  Those get boring after a while, so I have started asking friends for ideas.

One day on the phone with my friend, Rusty, I mentioned this to him.  He rattled off a few ideas.  One of them was enchiladas, and I realized that I could make them entirely from what I had on hand in my food storage. 

Some of the ingredients for my food storage enchiladas
Left to right:
Home-canned cheese
Home-canned cream cheese
Store-bought tomato sauce
Flour in the container in the rear.
Home-canned salsa
Store-bought sea salt
Home-canned chicken
Not in the picture is the coconut oil and (aluminum-free) baking powder I used in the tortillas and the taco seasoning I buy in large jars.  Also not pictured is the home-dried onions I reconstituted and sprinkled on the top with the cheese.
The first job in this project was to make the tortillas.  I mixed 1 3/4 cups of flour, half a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of baking powder, then mashed a quarter cup of coconut oil into it with a fork.  A pastry blender works too.  Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature and looks much like shortening.
I added half a cup of warm water and used the fork to mix it until a sticky ball formed, then added a little flour at a time, working the dough with my hands.  When it was no longer sticky I divided it into eight equal-sized balls, first by dividing it in half, then half again, then half one more time.  I rolled them into balls and flattened them with my hands, then used my rolling pin to roll them out as thin as I could.  Do this on a floured surface so you can get them up off of the rolling surface. 
They should be thin enough to almost be transparent, but the worst that will happen if you don't get them super-thin is that they'll be about the thickness of the crust of "Hot Pockets" that you buy in the freezer section of the grocery store. 

Next each tortilla needs to be briefly fried.  Put them one by one in an ungreased skillet and cook them for a minute or two on each side.  Then set them aside.
Grab a bowl and make the filling.  I used a jar of chicken meat in these enchiladas but you can use ground beef or any other meat, or just make them with beans and no meat.  I mixed the chicken meat with a jar of cream cheese in place of the sour cream I would have dabbed on top of the enchiladas if I had fresh sour cream.  The cream cheese gives the filling (even just beans) a nice tangy flavor.  I also stirred in half a jar of shredded home-canned cheddar cheese.
For information on canning cheese see this post:

Then I stirred in the jar of homemade salsa.  One by one I laid a tortilla in my (greased) cake pan and spooned filling into them, then rolled them up, placing them side by side as I filled the pan.  I've gotten pretty good at guessing how much filling to put in each one, but if you're not sure and you want to make them equal, you can lay the tortillas out all over the counter or table.  Then spoon the filling onto them until each one has about the same amount of filling.  At that point you can roll them up and place them in a baking pan, side by side. 
In another bowl I mix the tomato sauce and a couple tablespoons of taco seasoning.  You can add more or less seasoning according to how spicy you want it to be.  I buy salt-free tomato sauce and add a little sea salt when I cook.  In our climate it's a luxury to get enough tomatoes out of the garden to make our own tomato sauce, but I would sure love to be able to.
Pour or spoon the sauce over the tortillas.  I sprinkled rehydrated chopped onions over the sauce.  You can sprinkle the cheese on now, or you can hold off on the cheese and go ahead and bake it for half an hour at 350 degrees, then add the cheese for 10 or 15 minutes.  If you put the cheese on right away you should cover the pan with foil so the cheese won't turn dark brown and crispy.  Remove the foil for the last ten or fifteen minutes.  Total baking time is about 40 to 45 minutes at 350.  Ovens vary so check them a few times when they're almost done.
Allow to cool for five minutes, then serve!  It's a delicious meal that you can make from your food storage.  If you have questions about techniques or recipes for canning or dehydrating the ingredients for this recipe please ask.
Please leave comments or questions below or email them to me at:
I would also welcome more ideas for what to make with all this canned chicken!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Electronic books vs. print books, for information storage.

As preppers we have a lot of information we want to save and have handy at our fingertips when we need it.  In the last few years we've moved more and more to electronic forms of storing that information.  We buy kindle books, or save pages to our computers, hoping that we will be able to access it no matter what.
In our case, we have a solar electric power system for our house, and we were smug that we would be able to access books and information stored on our computers and other devices long after any possible "SHTF" situation.  Even if the batteries would no longer hold a charge, we could power the devices directly off our solar panels. 
Oh, sure, sometimes we'd fork out the money for an actual print book, but right now on my kindle I have over 500 books stored.  So does my husband.  Not all of them are things that will be essential to survival if the world collapses.  The books containing 30 excellent muffin recipes and 15 hacks for a better work-out can probably dissolve into cyber never-land and I could continue on.  But the books about edible wild foods and how to set a snare for small game are a little more likely to be useful.
We know that electronics have to be replaced from time to time.  They get viruses or become outdated, or they have other problems.  Yet it didn't really occur to me how much information could be lost if this happened at a time when we can't easily retrieve the information on them.  When I bought a tablet I was able to add my kindle account to it.  I left all the previous books on my old black and white kindle and just started downloading any new purchases to my tablet.  
When the handwriting was on the wall that my computer was giving out two year ago, I emailed all my document files to myself so I could download them to my new computer, and then backed up all my files and pictures. 
However, we have had two things happen recently that have undermined my confidence in being able to access our books and information.  The first one was that my tablet would not turn on.  My grandson had been playing games on it and I figured he had just drained the battery totally into darkness, so I charged it.  And charged it and charged it.  It still would not turn on.  I was about to grudgingly take it in to see if it was fixable and I had resigned myself to losing the pictures on it. 
Then someone suggested I try a different charger cord.  My tablet has a weird connection for the charger cord and nothing else we owned used that same one.  So I bought a new cord and that took care of the problem.  Big relief, right?  No.  I realized that even if my tablet continued to work after a "SHTF" event, if I didn't have a working charger cord the tablet would be useless. 
The suggestion here might be that we buy and put away a few charger cords for our electronic devices that we expect to need if something were to happen and we could not buy a new cord.  That's something you'll have to each decide for yourself.
The other thing that happened is that my husband's old black & white kindle won't turn on.  He plugged it in and charged it, and the light obediently turned to green when it felt like the battery was charged.  The advertising picture that sits on the screen when the kindle is turned off is there on the screen like it should be.  But the kindle doesn't come on when he pushes the button.  We've tried over and over.  Short pushes, long pushes, nothing makes it come to life.  We still have not solved that one, but at least he can retrieve all the books and move them to another device such as his tablet.
If the "SHTF" he could not have that information transferred since it takes the internet to do so, by going through amazon's "manage my kindle" feature.  All those books would be lost.
We can have a store room full of spare computers, tablets, kindles, etc., and still risk losing all our information.  The answer would be to have "hard copies", such as print books, or by printing information off the computer.  Some information is harder to save and print than other information.  I've recently had a few people ask how they could print up some of my blog posts.  Unfortunately I am not very "techy" and I don't know how it can be done.  If something doesn't have a "printer ready" place to click on the page, I just assume it's beyond the scope of my technical knowledge.
I've recently learned how to do a "screen shot" (okay, young people, stop laughing!  I know it was easy for you!  lol) and save it to my computer like a photo image.  From there I could theoretically print it like a picture, after enlarging it enough to read it.  That might be one option for technically-challenged people like myself.
The copyright laws that cover information published on the internet have a lot of gray areas.  But generally if you're printing something for your own use, it's "okay".  If you present it to others as your own writing, that's bad.  If you re-publish it in your own name, that's plagarizing and it's bad.  If you sell the information to others, even with the original author's name on it, that's bad.  If you quote parts of it in your own writing AND GIVE CREDIT TO THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR, that's okay. 
The exception is "free downloads" from pirate or bootleg websites that illegally offer kindle and other electronic books.  Please make sure you are getting your books from a legitimate site and not a 'stolen' book offered on these book download sites.  If you get any of the kindle books that I have published from anyone except, you are getting an illegal download. 
You should probably do your own searching regarding legal issues, but I'm giving you permission here on this post to print up anything you can off of my blog IF IT IS FOR YOUR OWN INFORMATION and you are not going to try and sell it to others.  You can even make another copy for a friend or relative, since this information is here on a blog that I have given the public access to, and your friend or relative could print it up themselves for free, too, if they wanted.  But instead you have graciously used your printer ink to provide them with a copy of information that I hope is helpful for people both before and after a SHTF event. 
But back to the original subject.... if you're relying on electronic devices to store your potentially life-saving information, consider having back ups and extra power cords and anything else you deem necessary to sustain this form in information.
Please leave comments or questions below or at:
Thank you!