Household Basics in TEOTWAWKI- Part 1, by Sarah Latimer

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So, in between my homestead responsibilities, writing for SurvivalBlog, and caring for friends, family, and all of life’s responsibilities and pleasures, I’m still working on that cookbook Hugh and I have mentioned. I have several hundred recipes input into the database, but I am just not satisfied and am still working on additions and improvements. I have our family’s favorites included, but there are many ways that I make each recipe. Most of the time, I cook recipes from scratch with fresh, homegrown ingredients, when they’re in season and I have the time to cook, because that’s the healthiest and most economical way to cook. However, sometimes I also cook from store-bought fresh ingredients, canned items, and processed and packaged ingredients when I’m in need of quick short cuts that save time and have acceptable results. Other times, especially when we’re camping or traveling, I cook from homemade freeze-dried or dehydrated meals that are lightweight and quick and easy to prepare. I also use freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients in many of my “fresh” homemade recipes, too. So, as you can imagine, it’s a challenge to put all of this together, especially when the same recipe can be prepared in all three of these manners (or more). I’ll figure it out and hopefully get it to you before the end of 2017. If not, well, it’s been a good learning experience for me, and I’m sharing some recipes here and there along the way through some of my weekly articles.

As I am writing down the things I do and thinking that some recipes are best for while we are still able to go to the grocery store and can buy canned goods, like soup concentrates and bouillon, oils, and exotic spices and herbs (as I very much appreciate having a repertoire of spices and international flavors for variety in food), I am also thinking about self sufficiency when there are no stores, or at least not stores with access to international markets and items dependent upon the grid for manufacture. My mind has been wondering lately to how I am to provide or produce some of the basics that I use regularly and might need to eventually acquire when my well-stocked pantry runs out at some point. Let’s face it; no one can put aside enough food to last the rest of their lives, unless their lives are short.

I began thinking through some of ingredients that I use on a daily basis or almost daily basis. Beyond meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables, there are quite a few basic items that we will need to be able to eventually produce on our homestead, find an acceptable substitutes for, or establish a local/regional source where I can purchase or trade to obtain them. My mind tends to go back to wonder how my great grandmother and grandmother, born in the early and mid-19th century, obtained these ingredients. My great grandfather owned a general store during the time of and after the Civil War, and my grandfather worked in it as a boy and then in another as a man after he went to bible college and studied with Dwight L. Moody to became a bi-vocational minister. How did they go about obtaining the supplies for their stores and, thus, for their small farming communities? How were these produced without electricity? It was the industrial age, using team and coal manufacturing techniques, but they did not have electricity, computers, or robotics. In the early days they had postal service and the telegraph for placing orders. I may be biting off more than I can chew in trying to answer some of my questions, and I may not answer many of them. However, I am going to investigate some of these items. I need to know what is realistic for me to produce and obtain and what is not. Maybe you and I will learn a few things along the way. I’d welcome any knowledge you have on the matter as well. Learning is so much fun!

I have begun to research some of these ingredients. My objectives:

  • Research the ingredients production/manufacturing processing history to discover whether it is practical for me to produce it.
  • Identify substitutes for it, and determine if any of these are reasonably effective; if so, then I want to know if I can I produce them and/or store them for the long term.
  • Can it be obtained through local/regional manufacturers who might be able to produce it without electricity?
  • Can I store it in quantity long term, and if so then how is it best stored for maximum effectiveness?

I’m a glutton for punishment it seems, as the first item I decided to tackle has been baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate. I’m not a chemist, so it has been a bit overwhelming to research this. I’ve read chemical company reports and corporate IPOs, countless articles on its history, scientific reports that were way over my head even though I hold a degree in science simply because I have not utilized chemistry much outside of the kitchen in quite some time, and I’ve even read about new production developments that are in the works, which are actually a bit intriguing but probably not practical enough to directly affect me or many households for quite some time.

Baking Soda- Sodium Bicarbonate

Baking soda is one item that I think most people take for granted. It is classified as an acid salt, formed by combining an acid and a base, and it reacts with other chemicals as a mild alkali. At temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit, baking soda decomposes into sodium carbonate, water, and carbon dioxide. It’s used as a leavening ingredient in biscuits, pancakes, and other breads. When combined with an acid, such as lemon juice, carbon dioxide gas is released. As the gas expands during baking, the cell walls expand also, resulting in a leavened biscuit, pancake, or other bread. This is how I use it most, but I also use it all around the house, in the kitchen sink, in the refrigerator, all over the bathroom, in the laundry room and washing machine, and even at my dressing table in deodorant.

Baking soda has many other uses in the home, in addition to its use as a leavening agent. I use it in cleaning, deodorant, toothpaste, laundry, medicine, and neutralizing water pH. I’ve even used it to put out a small kitchen fire, as it is a fire retardant. It’s pretty useful stuff!

It’s crystalline structure makes it a good abrasive for cleaning those hard surfaces gently without scratching them. For this same reason it is used as an ingredient in toothpaste or even used as a tooth abrasion alone with just water. I find that the combination of baking soda and vinegar left to foam and sit for ten minutes on the grime and mineral deposits on my porcelain sinks and tubs before I lightly scrub with a brush and rinse works beautifully without damaging our septic system. Remember that in TEOTWAWKI, we won’t have septic pump service so it will be more important than ever to keep our delicate septic systems working. We’ll need that bacteria alive and breaking down its contents to keep the septic draining without filling up. It is my belief that we should practice now, as much as it is practical to do so, what we will need to do then so it won’t be foreign and add to the stress.

Baking soda’s odor absorbing qualities make it good as an ingredient in deodorant, for keeping a refrigerator and carpet smelling fresh, and as a laundry additive. Plus, its mild alkalinity helps break down fatty acids contained in dirt and grease into a form of soap that can be dissolved in warm water and then easily rinsed away.

So, what I’m telling you is that I use baking soda to bake with but also as an ingredient in many of the items that I make for our family that would otherwise be purchased and in a TEOTWAWKI situation unavailable. I also use baking soda to make healthier versions of household items than what is available at the big box stores, and this is important to me right now, even though I have other options available, because our family’s health is of precious value!

Those of us living in the west and certainly in the Redoubt are fortunate that the raw material used to produce baking soda is found nearby– in Colorado and Wyoming. However, it does require processing. Baking soda is not something that you are going to find lying around in the woods, be able to dig out of your back yard, or collect from a plant or animal, even though Egyptians did find natron, which contains some sodium bicarbonate, in saline lake beds that they used for cleaning, antiseptic, soap making, and even mummification. We’re just not going to find the baking soda we are used to using lying around. Sodium bicarbonate must be extracted from mineral compounds, which are usually found deep within the earth.

Production

Today, most of the baking soda that is produced comes from soda ash processed out of a mined mineral called trona. Trona is a relatively rare sodium-rich mineral, but it is Wyoming’s main export. Wyoming is a major producer of trona, which is mined and then processed into soda ash. Soda ash is a significant economic commodity because of its use in manufacturing glass, chemicals, paper, detergents, textiles, paper, food, and in conditioning water. Soda ash is an ingredient in both baking soda and in detergents. Not only did the Egyptians use natron, but they used soda ash to make glass containers. The early Romans used soda ash as an ingredient in medicines and also in bread.

Mining in Wyoming occurs at depths ranging from 800 feet to 1600 feet below the surface in trona beds that are 8 to 14 feet thick. The trona ore is recovered utilizing dry or wet methods and then processed into soda ash.

I’m not fond of this organization, but the Bureau of Land Management has quite a lot of information about the mining of trona. According to their website, “Dry mining is similar to underground coal mining; the mine workings are developed using room-and-pillar and longwall mining techniques. The mining cycle includes shearing the trona from the face with either a longwall shearer or continuous miners and then loading it onto conveyor belts. The conveyor belts move the trona to ore skips that carry it to the surface through vertical shafts. The recovered trona ore is stockpiled on the surface to be used as feed for the processing plant. Wet mining (solution mining) is done by injecting a solution from the surface into the trona deposit using a series of bore holes as injection wells. This is done in either previously unmined ground or in the mined-out areas of active operations. In both cases, the injected solution dissolves the trona ore which saturates and enriches it. Subsequently, the saturated solution is pumped to the surface through recovery wells for further processing into soda ash. Some mine operators use dry recovery methods for primary ore extraction and then wet mining methods for secondary recovery. This technique results in maximum recovery of the trona reserve, some of which was previously considered unminable.”

The above described mining process of extracting trona and processing it just gets us to the production of soda ash, which is sodium carbonate, and that’s not the sodium bicarbonate that we are using as baking soda in our households today. From soda ash, it still needs to be dissolved in water and treated with carbon dioxide in order to precipitate solid sodium bicarbonate. This is known as the Slovay process. So, baking soda is really a natural bi-product of trona, or other minerals.

Substitutions?

Historically, there have been other leavenings used in similar manner as baking soda. Hartshorn, which produces a carcinogenic ammonia during baking when combined with nuts, seeds, and whole grains, was used in the 17th and 18th centuries in parts of Europe but not likely in the U.S. as it comes from the dry distillation of oil produced from red deer bones and antlers, and these deer are not native to North America. Pearl ash, which is a more refined version of potash, was used in the making of glass, soap, and quick breads until the late 18th century, when baking soda became popular. At that time, most baking soda was produced with a process that utilized dangerous chemicals, including hydroclauric acid. The Slovay process used today is less expensive and safer to use. However, there have been some recent announcements of new ways to produce baking soda. I’ve read that the Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals plant in Indian plans to convert some 60,000 tons of its own CO2 emissions into baking soda by capturing their carbon dioxide exhaust,which improves the local air quality in the process. There’s no comment on the cost efficiency of this project. I’ve also read that some researchers are looking into converting sea water into baking soda. Still, Wyoming produces about 30% of the world’s baking soda supply.

It is my conclusion that it is beyond what is currently practical for me to produce the natural ingredients and chemicals required to precipitate the bi-product sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. I intend to do a bit more research on pearl ash, which is produced in a kiln, but I am doubtful. I would have to do some consultation with Hugh on how to go about it. He is a far superior scientist, but it may not be practical. I do know that baking soda stores well under dry conditions. Moisture is the enemy of baking soda. So, for now, it is my conclusion that I will purchase significant quantities of baking soda and vacuum seal them inside mason jars to keep air and moisture away.

It is unknown whether the trona mines can operate without electricity and begin producing soda ash in the near term after a TEOTWAWKI situation. However, with it being Wyoming’s major export and a large employer, there is incentive for people to find alternative means to continue producing it, whether with the use of solar energy or animals or a combination of alternative powers. So, it is my hope that after a TEOTWAWKI situation that those in Wyoming would find a way to continue to mine and produce soda ash, and that those with the equipment, chemical supplies, and knowledge would manufacture baking soda in bulk and make it available to the region, if not the whole continent once again. Otherwise, we will be baking with yeast and sourdough starter and give up the idea of quick breads.

Without baking soda, cleaning and deodorizing will be another matter altogether. We’ll look at other abrasives, such as borax or salt, for scouring sinks and tubs. For deodorizing, we’ll probably use vinegar, borax, and essential oils. For toothpaste, instead of baking soda, we could use bentonite clay, eggshell powder, turmeric powder, coconut oil, neem, and/or even black activated charcoal (coincidentally, to whiten teeth). Without baking soda, vinegar and corn starch will likely become our new deodorants. These substitutions may be made well before our supply of baking soda is gone, too, just so we can extend it to still have biscuits, pancakes, and other quick breads available. I can’t quite imagine the world without Mom’s banana nut bread, but there may be a day when I run out of bananas, even freeze-dried ones.

We can only plan so far and do so much! The LORD is in control. Beyond all of this planning, stocking, researching, and preparations, I will trust in Him and adjust accordingly. I trust that He will care for us. I’m just doing my part and letting Him guide. My mind has wondered and enjoyed the journey into researching the history of baking soda, its production, uses, and alternatives. Next week, we’ll take a look at another household basic. May you be guided by God’s Word and comforted with His peace!

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