Stocking Up for a Winter Lockdown
I keep seeing people come back to the issue of stocking up… that is stocking up on food and goods for the coming winter in which it looks like it could be a covid lockdown winter. This is frightening for a lot of people because the spring 2020 lockdown is fresh in people’s minds and it caused a lot of hardship for many. The thought of doing it in mid-winter is even more frightening. I live in a very rural area far away from large cities, and often with severe weather, power outages, spring floods and summer wild fires. There are many reasons why you might end up needing to be entirely self sufficient for a period of time so having supplies is essential. The interesting thing is that in my area, nearly everyone is well stocked, understand the challenges of rural living and community co-operation. Here is a brief outline of what to stock up on. It may not apply to everyone but there may be some tips in here that everyone can use. Of course the best time to have started this is years ago, the second best time is right now.
The most important thing to think about is shelf stable dry and canned foods. Most of these products, if stored properly, have a very long shelf life and will be safe during power outages.
First: what do you really eat? Do not start stocking up on things that you don’t eat on a regular basis. It is a waste of time, space and money.
I bake bread every week and have since I was 16. So, for me, stocking up on grains is my number one item. I have a grain grinder (both electric and hand powered) so I can buy whole grains and store them in jars nearly indefinitely. Freshly ground grain retains much more nutrition than previously ground, stored, shipped and stored again. When grains are ground and exposed to air, the nutrition depletes. I do buy white flour, from an organic mill in my province, as making soft bread that keeps well does require a bit of white flour. Making white flour is not something done easily at home as it requires different grinds, sifting, then grinding again with more specialized equipment than I have. It is far easier to grind whole grains and incorporate them into a healthy bread recipe. Also, white flour is shelf stable whereas wholegrain flours are not, go rancid quickly and must be air tight or frozen to stay fresh. Therefore, I grind only what I need each time I bake. I have on hand a variety of different wheat such as hard winter, faro, red fife, soft winter, einkorn if I can get it and also rye for a wonderful homemade rye bread.
Oats are another whole grain I press and flake as needed for oatmeal and baking. The whole oat groats are very shelf stable. White rice can be on the shelf, brown rice needs to be kept in the fridge for short term and in the freezer long term or it will go rancid.
Beans are long lasting although they do dry out eventually and require a long soak before cooking. Beans combined with any grain make a good protein combination that is life sustaining. Find which beans and recipes you use and only stock those ones. I make black bean burgers, beans and rice, and use them in some soups. I make hummus from chick peas. Only very rarely I make a baked bean dish with red beans, so store a small amount of those. I don’t really bother with other beans as I won’t use them.
I do occasionally make a yellow or red lentil sauce for pasta that is very nutritious so have those on hand. I rarely use other lentils. I buy seeds, seed mixes, and some nuts transferred to glass jars immediately, they will last a while on the shelf but for very long storage, must be refrigerated or frozen.
In both summer and winter we eat a lot of pasta, so I keep a good selection of dry pasta. I can get a locally made sourdough pasta that is exceptional, also I like to keep a selection of gluten-free and it is available at a local organic outlet. I make pasta with my own chicken eggs, and while I can freeze or dry it, I usually only make it to use fresh the same day.
It is important to have on hand baking supplies such as local honey, sugar, bread yeast, baking powder and soda, bulk salt, dried milk powder, cocoa, dry coconut, and lots of different herbs and spices. I can grow or forage many herbs for both teas, culinary and medicinal use and dry them to store, but of course have to buy my spices. The best is to buy what you can in whole form, such as nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, cloves, anise, etc. as they keep much longer. The most economical place to buy spices of this kind are ethnic sections of your grocery store. The Indian section in my local store has a wonderful selection of bulk spices that are very fresh and reasonably priced. For the others, if you buy a quantity, transfer them to tightly capped glass jars for long storage. They do best in the dark but I find I need them close to where I am working in the kitchen or they tend to go unused. Again, only purchase what you use regularly in big quantities. I like to keep a big jar of popcorn as well.
Home dried goods are best stored in tightly covered glass jars. I have dried tomatoes, blueberries, apple and pear slices, garlic powder, fruit leather, and powdered veggies such as beets, onions and zuchinni for soups etc.
Canned fruit if you grow it is nearly essential. When the fresh fruit season is over, it is important to have lots of preserved fruit, I can apple pie filling, currents, cherries when I had the trees, pears, peaches, and of course lots of jams and jellies, pickles, relishes and sauces. I forage for things like blackberries, mahonia berries, elderberries, and huckleberries. These can all be canned or frozen or made into preserves. One nice old fashioned thing to try is submerging fruit as it comes ripe into a crock of brandy. By Yule, you will have a boozy fruit sauce for ice cream, cakes, or whatever. Very festive. I can fruit juices as well, like rhubarb, pear, apple and berry. Lots of times, a relative or neighbour will give me some of their extra fruit and if I have enough canned or frozen, I will make juice from the rest. I also use this juice in my water kefir second ferment. I have recently acquired a pressure canner to can meats, vegetables and low acid foods. I wish I had been doing this years ago. It’s easy and very satisfying. The most important thing is to follow the directions that came with your canner to the letter. Do not deviate. Then, you can be sure that your canned food is safe to eat.
I have a lot of frozen goods, and as my veggies come from the garden, I freeze them spread out on baking sheets, then pack into large bags after they are frozen to save space and keep the quantities versatile. This works really well for shelled peas, broad or fava beans, cooked and peeled beets, green beans, and all berries.
Some herbs also work well frozen such as whole dill weed, parsley, cilantro, garlic, ginger root, and basil made into pesto.
When I can get locally and humanely raised meat and chicken, I freeze that in a separate freezer. I have three freezers, divided into fruit, veggies and meat. In the meat freezer I also keep leaf fat for rendering into lard for frying and baking. I also freeze stocks for soup making when I have some bones leftover. I buy local organic cheese and milk in larger quantities and freeze in smaller blocks and ¾ filled mason jars. Jars can be frozen if you don’t fill them too full and be VERY careful to not clink them together when they are frozen. I like doing this better than freezing in plastic although it is hard to get away from plastic completely, so I wash and re-use as much as I can.
I have a gas generator for power outages, but this is not sustainable in the long term if there were an infrastructure collapse. In this case, unless in the deep of winter where a temporary outdoor storage could be set up, the frozen food would have to be cooked, used, distributed or dried where possible. It’s good to plan ahead for scenarios such as this.
One item that we had a shortage of in stores this fall that surprised me was canning lids and jars. I usually have enough jars as I’ve been collecting them for decades but lids are essential. I did have enough on hand for what I canned this year but will make sure to stock up on lids in the off season for next year. I am hoping they show up in stores again in late winter and early spring.
I have a root cellar on the property and use it for carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbages, and extra space for homemade wine, canned food and crocks of fermented vegetables. Foods such as fresh garlic and winter squash do better kept in a cool spot in the house as the winter root cellar is too cold to keep these well.
As you can see, most of the food I store I either grow myself, forage or buy locally. Some items I have to buy in the grocery store such as baking supplies, coffee, salt, etc. but stock up on these things slowly throughout the year and buy when there is a surplus in season. Do not raid store shelves in a crisis and leave nothing for shoppers behind you. Keeping the “stocking up” mind frame front and centre all year long will ensure you have enough whatever the emergency might be and that there is enough to go around for your community. The way to do this is to buy a few items between the times you need it, and place in storage.
That leads me to the last thing: non-food products. Toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, detergent, shampoo, floor cleaner, lightbulbs, batteries, matches, candles, medical items, pet food, cat litter, camp stove fuel in the case of power outages – all of these items should be slowly stocked up and kept in rotation in your pantry and storage areas. Have a bit of gasoline stored in an outbuilding for a generator or for your vehicle if you get caught short. Don’t keep more than about 6 months worth as gas does eventually go bad. Having at least a 3 month supply of everything at all times ensures that you can handle an extended stay at home and not be a burden on your community by needing non-emergency help during a crisis. Leave the people that truly have no options or have serious emergency needs to be the ones that community and emergency services are helping, and take yourself out of that equation.