In the Pantry

When I think of my grandmothers, I see a pantry like this one.

I was fortunate growing up to have several mama's mama, my biological father's mom, and my adopted father's mom and his grandmother.  Some of my grandmothers lived in town and some lived in the country, but the thing they all had in common was a garden.  Even my city-dwelling grandmothers had a huge portion of their backyard devoted to growing food for the even managed to raise a flock of chickens...probably by keeping the neighbors quiet with fresh eggs.

"Putting up" food is a skill that goes back thousands of years and I don't doubt that if any of our many-great, great grandmothers could spend a day visiting us, she would be flabbergasted at the paltry amount of food we keep in our cupboards, especially since we have so many ways to make food preservation easy now...including buying it already canned (she'd probably faint at the prices we pay for food though).

If you're making the switch from just-in-time buying to building a home food supply, go easy on yourself and don't expect to do it all at once.  Use the "Need One Buy Two" method and it will grow over time. 

The first thing to consider is where you are going to put your pantry.  If you live in an old farmhouse, you probably have a huge pantry ready to go, but if you live in any built after the turn of the last century, you're probably going to have to get creative. 

The word "pantry" infers that it's one place.  The reality for most of us may be that our "pantry" will be made up of little spaces throughout our house where ever we can tuck a few things.

Some Considerations About Storage Areas

Your precious food storage has a few mortal enemies:
  • Heat
  • Light
  • Pests
  • Moisture 
  • Spoilage
The heat factor makes areas like an attic or garage poor choices for food storage.  Even some areas of your house like the small cupboards over the stove or refrigerator may get too warm to store food.  Use these spaces for more durable things or paper goods. 

It may come as a surprise, but light can damage your stored food as well.  I use an unheated, north-facing bedroom for my food storage with a heavy, light-blocking curtain on the window.  It's both cool and dark all year long.

Pests usually take the form of mice which are real Houdinis when it comes to getting into things you think they couldn't.  I've tried blocking small holes (like service holes for plumbing) with things like steel wool and expanding foam and they still manage to get in. I've had some success with hardware cloth which is really not a cloth at all, but a metal screen.  The most success I've had is storing as much as I can in glass and metal.  A determined mouse can (eventually) chew through just about anything else. I had one chew a hole clean through a dictionary one time (a giant Merriam-Webster one).  I have no idea why.

Aside from external pests, some of your food items are vulnerable to pests that come from weevils. I don't store flour or items containing flour like cake or bisquit mixes. I buy these as convenience items and keep them in the freezer.  For my long-term storage, I have wheat berries that can be ground into flour as I need it. We'll talk more about grnders in the Kitchen section, but basically, there are two types, electric grinders which are easy to use and grind a lot of wheat very quickly and hand-crank grinders which will give you a good workout but if there's no electricity, you'll be glad to have it.  

Moisture can be sneaky and can show up in places you wouldn't expect.  The cupboard under the bathroom sink tends to be moist due to condensation (put a bucket of dessicant here).  Don't store things like bandaids, gauze or toilet paper here for the long term unless they are in plastic containers. I store non-toxic things in plastic bottles, like my vinegar cleaners and homemade shampoos here.
Also be careful what you store in an area that could get wet if the washer floods or a sink or toilet runs over.  I lost a year's supply of  powdered laundry detergent thanks to a leaky water heater.

Spoilage can be a problem in a long-term storage that isn't rotated.  My first rule of food storage is "Store what you eat and eat what you store".  Even preserved food has a shelf life.  The standard used to be a max of five years, recently, experts have extended that to ten years but if you are practicing the rule of "first in, first out" most of the food you put up should get eaten and replaced within a year.  
When I was a kid, my folks bought great big cans of dehydrated food that would keep for decades. It sounded great in theory, but the problem was, it wasn't food we normally ate.  The soup mix had my arch-nemesis, lima beans, and contained bits of something called Textured Vegetable Protein which was supposed to be like meat.  The TVP smelled like dog food and tasted like I thought dog food would taste so I wouldn't touch it and neither would my siblings.  My parents weren't too concerned because they had bought the stuff as a type of "disaster insurance" to have on hand in case the world ended.  The world kept turning and it sat in the basement until we sold the house years later.  For all I know, it's still there and the money spent on it was completely wasted.

While we're on the subject of spoilage, don't be fooled by the date stamped on things at the store, unless it's on something perishable like milk.  I was shocked to find out that these dates are put there by the manufacturer so you'll go buy more at that time. They ensure profits, not freshness.

There are types of staple items that every well-stocked pantry needs.  Each month we'll feature one of those types and talk about what it is, why you need it, how to use it, where to get it and how to store it.  That would be a good time for you to add it (or some more of it) to your pantry. 

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