I’m continuing my journey to consider some of the pantry basics (beyond meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables) that I will want to have available in the event of TEOTWAWKI. I am resolved that I will ideally be able to make or grow these items myself, but in researching them I know I may find it necessary to either store them indefinitely in large quantity and have some alternatives available, and/or have a local/regional source for obtaining in barter.
Quite honestly, this journey has caused me to dig deeper in some areas than I’d expected to go. Additionally, I am very happy that a few of you in our SurvivalBlog community have written to share your depth of experience and personal perspective on these items. I’m definitely intrigued with the idea of continuously maintaining and exclusively using starter dough instead of dry yeast. I have not converted many recipes yet and think this will be an undertaking. However, it sounds like not only a practical idea in the event of TEOTWAWKI, but a healthful solution for current times.
So in addition to last week’s Household Basics Part 4 on yeast, in Part 1, I’ve dug deep into the use, science, history, manufacturing, and storage of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and concluded that I will need to store it until the mines for soda ash are activated and some basic manufacturing and distribution of baking soda begun again. I also learned that there are a few alternatives to baking soda, though they’re far from ideal. Pearlash (potassium carbonate) is one of those. The website of King Arthur Bread provides some history of pearlash as well as baking powder. In Part 2 of this series, I shared some of the health benefits and methods for making vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar.
In my research I’ve come across the writings of many adventurers who are making exotic vinegars or unusual homegrown yeast breads. I’m inspired and quite hopeful that should we find ourselves in a situation where our local store shelves are bare that my family will be supplied with vinegar and yeast breads, as long as I can grow or obtain adequate fruits and grains, obtain water, and have the necessary tools and temperatures, including a high-temperature oven of some kind. That oven may be a campfire oven, but I own one of those, and I know how to use it. Do you remember my apple pie I baked in the camp oven last fall and wrote about? It was delicious! Breads are no problem in it either.
So, now I’m continuing to think about the basics that go beyond what we normally think of as “food”. This week my son and I were trying some new exotic recipes, as we enjoy food from all over the world. This European recipe that he had found called simply for “seasoning” in the list of ingredients, without any measurement indicated. For a second, we paused, before realizing that the recipe’s creator was referring to the very basic seasonings of salt and pepper.
Salt is so much more than a seasoning though. Salt is useful in curing meat and in pickling as well as other uses. All over the house, it is useful in cleaning as a scouring compound. Kosher salt or another coarsely ground salt is the best way to clean your seasoned cast iron skillet without removing the seasoning. If you get a rust stain on a cloth or clothing or even on your sink or tub, pour some lemon juice on it and then some salt to make a paste and let it sit for awhile before scrubbing. This combination gets rid of it or certainly lightens it considerably.
In looking at salt, I’m shocked to discover that there are so many different kinds within the various categories of salt. In addition to the more common iodized, table, Kosher, and sea salts, there are the pickling salts, course salts, and rock salts. However, there are also sour salts, with many purposes but also to add more “sour” flavor to sour dough bread, and colored salts, like the popular Himalayan pink with its trace minerals, as well as the expensive Celtic salts, such as Fleur de Sel of France, which is considered to be the finest of all salts and sells for about $26 per pound or more. There are other salts, too.
In modern times, there are two main methods for obtaining salt in mass production– evaporation from sea water and mining it. The majority of salts are obtained through mining, and the process most commonly used is hydraulic mining. Hydraulic mining involves pumping water, usually with pressure, deep into the Earth and using the water to dissolve salt deposits. As the salt dissolves into the water, a salt brine is created, and this brine is then pumped to the surface and evaporated to leave the salt. Sometimes, there is a treatment performed on the brine prior to evaporation that reduces mineral content and produce a very clean salt.
In some areas of the world, salt water accumulates during wet seasons and dries during the hot time of year, leaving salt in the dry lake bed. Also, there are some areas that were in salt water in ancient history but not now, leaving salt deposits far from the ocean shore. Apparently, the French Fleur de Sel, which means “flower of salt”, is produced in the salt marshes along the coast of France. Some of these marshes only produce a few pounds per day, and these salts must be collected by hand, as they are formed in a delicate crust. According to InfoGalactic, Portugal is participating in this production also.
Before the invention of salt mining, Portugal’s sea salt production helped to solidify its place as a world power. However, when mechanical salt mining made salt inexpensive, demand for Portugal’s sea salt dropped due to its expense. For centuries flor de sal was scraped away and either discarded or given to workers, as its presence disturbed the evaporation that was creating the sea salt underneath. The process of harvesting flor de sal for sale was reintroduced in 1997 by Necton, with a grant to develop ways to capitalize Portugal’s natural resources. Necton’s flor de sal is whiter than the fleur de sel from Guérande, and is said to have the more robust flavor of the Atlantic as opposed to Guérande’s milder North Sea flavor. Due to Portugal’s laws regarding the grading of salt, Necton’s flor de sal is exported to France and marketed by companies who also market fleur de sel.
If kept clean and dry, salt stores forever. So, since I do not live along sea water, where I would otherwise be able to draw water and evaporate it to collect salt, nor do I live along a dry salt bed, I am choosing to stock pile salt in large quantities and in various types. I keep Kosher salt for drawing blood out of and seasoning some meats as well as a course salt for cleaning. I keep a fine grind sea salt for baking (and for the chlorine generator) because it does not contain iodine, which inhibits yeast growth and activity in bread. I keep Himalayan pink course salt for seasoning because of the value of trace minerals. I, of course, keep the basic staple iodized table salt, and I keep seasoned salt because it enables me to have good flavor on meat without too much sodium, as we are watching our cholesterol in this family as a preventative due to ancestral health history. I also have sour salt/citric acid for preservation and cooking, too. It is important to buy these by the pound and have many pounds, in the event that our stores are closed permanently and we cannot get more. Just be sure to put them inside an airtight container for long-term storage.
Salt is necessary for good textured breads, and iodine is necessary for good health. Many of our sources of iodine other than iodized salt are based on access to salt water foods, such as sea weed, shrimp, tuna, and so forth, though yogurt, milk, and eggs have a significant amount, too. Still, I plan on having a large supply of iodized salt available as well as other salts to last for years.
The other seasoning, pepper, is simply a seasoning. I don’t know of any other use for it. However, we laugh around here that it goes on everything except for dessert, cereal, and most beverages. Someone, marveling at how much black pepper Hugh used and that he seemed to use it on everything, asked him if he used pepper in milk products. His answer was, “Yes; I use it on cottage cheese all of the time, and that’s milk isn’t it?” We chuckled. He did admit that he doesn’t put black pepper on his ice cream or really any dessert for that matter. But it got me to thinking about the need to have black pepper in supply. I can stock pile it, as it basically last forever, too, if stored in a vacuum. However, I’ve investigated and am pleased to learn that I can grow black peppercorns. I’m planning on doing just that!
I’ve learned that I can grow them indoors in pots. They grow as vines in shade and moist soil and require warm temperatures year around. I can provide that with a large pot and a good solid climbing trellis. I’m going to continue to keep my stock pile, but I’ll augment it with homegrown peppercorns, as I’m able. I suspect it will take a few years though before I see a harvest. Still, I will be patient and know that I’m working toward a goal. It will be worth it to have one more self sustaining basic under my belt! Maybe you will want to consider this, too. There are black pepper seeds available from a variety of suppliers, and in the warmer months there are sometimes plants for sale. You might want to keep an eye out for a plant in June or July, when it will be safe to ship a tropical plant without fear of cold damage.
So, we’ve got the ole salt and pepper dealt with. There are many herbs and spices that can be grown and stock piled. I encourage you to look at your own pantry and see what you use all of the time and figure out how you can grow these. If you cannot, then you need to build a large supply. If you can grow them, then you should consider doing so now and practicing to learn what is required. It just isn’t as easy as I first thought, and there are so many factors to consider– garden planning, soil preparation, water, seed, weather, insects, invaders (birds, animals, two-legged), weeding, fertilizing, harvesting, processing, seed collection, mulching. Use SurvivalBlog’s improved search using the phrase “growing herbs”, and you’ll find a wealth of information from former contributing writers of the SurvivalBlog community on the subject.
I wish you well, until we meet again on SurvivalBlog!