Thursday, February 26, 2009

Some Things That Make It Easier

Here is a list of a few of the things that I found necessary in my efforts to feed my family more responsibly. You don’t need any of them to get started, but if you’re a list maker, you might like to see the list, if not, skip it. You can certainly get started with what you have and add these (or not) later.

While it’s not absolutely necessary, a large stand alone freezer will save you lots of money and time in the end. If you are committed to eating more locally, it’s becomes more necessary, or your options become very limited. There are lots of items that can be purchased in bulk, but without some way of storing them, they will go to waste. Most fruits and vegetables are only in season one time a year in any given place and being able to store them to eat all year long truly expands your menu.

Don’t feel you must go out and buy a brand new freezer. Although the newer versions most likely are better energy-wise, there are lots of cheap and even free freezers out there. We got our commercial freezer at no cost (other than hauling it and removing the stink that had accumulated after a year of no use) from a friend who was downsizing. People discard freezers for lots of reasons and unless you’ve ever tried to get rid of one, you can’t appreciate how difficult it is. You can’t put your unwanted freezer out for the trash and hauling one to the dump is a sizable task. Ask around – you may be surprised to find one right under your nose.

Other good places to find freezers are and You might have a local community paper that places ads for free – check them or add your own.

Canning Supplies
If you don’t have a freezer (and even if you do), canning is another great way to store local produce long term. I’ve eaten things from jars that were lost for over a year during a move and discovered the food inside still delicious. I know everyone thinks of canning as something your grandmother used to do, but lots of people still can today. Many hardware stores (especially the smaller mom and pop type), Walmart, and even the grocery stores sell canning supplies. You don’t necessarily need a canner, but it does make it easier and they aren’t expensive. I don’t use a pressure canner, but if you want to can meat or broth, you’ll need one. I use a regular bath canner. It’s just a big flat bottom pot with a lid and a metal ring inside that keeps the jars upright and away from each other. I’ll write lots about canning when the canning season begins! (although you can can all year round – I canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving)

Jars can be used again and again, so be sure to save the box they come in to store your empties as you use them. Lids and lid rings are also necessary. I re-use lid rings, but not the lids. Different people feel differently about that. Lots of people re-use them, but I don’t. I worry that they won’t seal properly the second time around. I like my canned goods too much to take that chance. The other two tools that help a lot in canning are a lifter and a jar funnel. The lifter is like special made rubber tongs for taking hot jars out and the metal (also found in plastic – but I’m opposed to putting hot food through a plastic funner) funnel is very helpful when filling your jars. You can operate without these tools, but they do make it easier.

Glass storage containers

The verdict is still out on plastic storage containers, but there is enough controversy surrounding them that I stick to glass. It’s been around forever and so far, no bad press. I think glass keeps food fresher and I know it looks better. Plus, they can be thrown in the dishwasher without breaking down or discoloring. Glass storage containers last longer too. They come in all sizes and shapes. The ones I like I got at Target and have a metal lid that screws on. I made neat little labels for their tops and get a strange thrill when I see them all lined up in my drawer. It makes me feel very Martha Stewartish. I store flours (I never knew there were so many kinds!), dried fruit, sugars, nuts, baking powder, corn meal, salt, spices, pasta, and pretty much anything I buy in bulk in glass containers.

Plastic freezer bags
If you are using a freezer, you’ll need lots of these, plus a sharpie marker to label everything. It’s critical that you put dates on everything you freeze. You think you’ll remember what they are and when you froze them – but you won’t. And believe me strawberry sauce and spaghetti sauce look awful alike after they’ve been frozen a few months (so does applesauce and chicken broth). That wasn’t a pleasant lesson to learn the hard way – so take it from me.

Whatever you put in your bags – here’s a few more hints that will help:
Be sure the fruit/vegetable is as air dry as it can be. You can use a salad spinner to help with this.
Always remove all the extra air. This will do a lot for fighting freezer burn.
Freeze flat. After you have filled your bag, push the ingredients around until they are as flat as can be and freeze the bag in this position. Then after it is completely frozen, you can stack your bags up like bricks in the freezer and they take up less room (and look incredibly organized).

Plastic containers (large yogurt containers, small ones, old medicine bottles)
Ok, I’m admitting right up front that I have a container fetish. Ask my husband or check out my basement. Even though you can now recycle almost anything, I still hang on to all useful containers. This has come in very handy for me, not only saving us money, but making my life simpler. Small medicine bottles are great for storing the wealth of dried herbs we grow and large yogurt containers are perfect for freezing applesauce and chicken broth after they have cooled. Having various containers on hand has been a lifesaver when packing for a picnic, taking food to a friend in need, or sending food to school or church for an event. Small yogurt containers also make the perfect pot for starting seeds inside.

Find a place and a way to store plastic containers and you will be helping yourself and the planet. I wish I had a handy tip for storing miscellaneous plastic containers. I put like-size containers together in boxes and bins and shelve them and use the drawers of an old desk for the little containers, but there’s not an easy answer.

I’ve already extolled the wonders of the breadmaker, but like freezers these are also something that people discard. Check yardsales and goodwill and the basements of relatives and friends. I got mine for $15 at goodwill – brand new still with the directions! This appliance will save you lots of money!

Yogurt maker

These are less expensive than a good toaster oven and are just about the easiest appliance to use in my whole kitchen. You can also make yogurt using your own oven – but I’m fairly sure the money you save will be spent leaving your oven on for 12 hours.

Sorry about the long post. But if you’re still reading this, you must have needed all this information!

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