Letter Re: Storing Foods to Eat for Pleasure

Dear JWR:
You’ve probably heard of the “Mormon Four,” a starting place for beginning preppers wanting to attain a one-year food supply. The Mormon Four prescribes amounts of red hard winter wheat, powdered milk, sugar or honey, and salt to sustain life for one year. That’s a lot of bread making, preserving, and sprouting over and over! Yes, these foods are nutritious, have a long shelf life, and can keep you alive. However, my opinion is that the boredom factor in this diet is huge, even if you love bread.

Here’s an idea: Everyone, and I mean everyone, from around the age of 12 and up, both male and female, develop their own specialty to serve. That is, a delicious dish to prepare that is a crowd pleaser. Your special dish should be based on foods that you can easily access frequently from your garden, orchard, pantry, or stores. In Jim’s book Patriots, one character masters making popcorn over a fire. His particular skill is appreciated at the retreat as a treat and a break in routine.

Your food doesn’t have to be fancy, just special. You will want to know how to make a recipe based on either something you are growing or abundantly have on hand. You’ve got a lot of wheat? Okay, you be the sourdough bread person baking on a stone without using the electrical breadmaker. Or bake pie, cake, or pizza. You live in an apartment? Wonderful salad greens and herbs can easily be grown in pots. People write this idea all the time in their articles, but I really do it. Yes, I have a nice herb garden in a strip long my driveway, but I also have pots of growing herbs. And due to limited space, our lettuce always is grown in pots. Come up with your own signature salad dressing to accompany. Seasonings, oil, and vinegar are keepers. If you don’t have chickens, deviled eggs probably shouldn’t be your special food. Your dish can be simple or involved, a hearty soup or a casserole or a sauce or a food preserved from your garden by fermentation, such as cabbage or cucumbers. Once we lived up north and had glorious cherry and apple trees. For five years I made candied cherries (killer in salads) and tons of apple sauce. Down south you might have citrus trees like we currently do. Preserved candied citrus peel is a yummy sweet I first started making years ago when I was a teenager. The cook just needs to be practical in terms of availability.

Think about a few foods you and your family or friends love and enjoy. Then, see how you can acquire a constant ingredient supply, research and try out various recipes, perfect your substitutions, and eventually declare yourself an expert on a certain dish.

Here are a couple of easy food ideas:

If you grow corn, you probably already know many ways to cook corn, but here’s how we do it:

1. Roasted or Baked Ears: Take whole ears still with silk and husks intact. Trim silk off top that is sticking out of top, about 1″ so it won’t smell burned in the oven. Scrub outside of ears to remove any dirt. Place in a 350* oven for around 45 minutes. Take out of oven, using a kitchen towel and tongs, remove silk and husks. Cover with butter, salt, and pepper, and realize life is good.

2. Grilled Ears: This is how my Girl Scout troop used to eat corn when we camped. Soak and completely submerge ears in a large container for at least one hour. Over hot coals, grill ears, turning frequently until all sides are sufficiently blackened, about 10-15 minutes. Take corn off grill, carefully peel back husk and silk because it’s hot. Use the husks you’ve folded back as a holder. Butter, salt and pepper, eat and enjoy. Then wonder when you are grilling again because your corn tastes fabulous and you are aware that butter dripping down your chin isn’t a bad thing.

3. Grandmother’s Sweet Corn: Cut the raw kernels from each ear. Pan fry in a little butter (like 3 tablespoons), salt, and pepper. When cooked through, add milk to cover (cream is even better) and gently cook the milk down. Add a tablespoon of sugar or 1 Equal or Splenda packet. Adjust seasonings. Listen to the rave reviews.

4. Salted Ears and More: There is a variation on Grilled Ears made with salty ocean water. Another recipe calls for boiling whole shucked ears in 1 stick of butter, milk, and seasonings in a Dutch oven. However, I don’t much care for this recipe as it sounds like a waste of ingredients to me, but I did want to mention it.

100 years ago, many people made their own pickles out of a variety of garden produce. Dill tomatoes taste like dill pickles with a different texture. Pickled green beans and pickled okra please many people. Pickled peaches were a staple at my house when I was growing up. Tasty sour pickles are fermented with salt and time in a crock. My father-in-law was a popular preacher and always would serve a large smorgasbord of home-canned pickles when guests came to eat. These were presents from little grannies from across small Texas towns. The best ones ever were called “Sun Pickles” and were amazingly hot yet amazingly sour, fermented outside over a period of days. I have yet to find a recipe that even comes close.

Fire and Ice Pickles:

dill pickles
2 garlic cloves
2 chile pepper packets, like from pizza delivery or about 2 teaspoons pepper flakes
lots and lots of sugar

There are quite a few similar recipes out there, but here’s my easy recipe. Get a jar or big bucket (if you love pickles) of whole dill pickles, either commercial or your own home-canned. You may NOT ever substitute kosher dill pickles. They must be dill pickles. Drain off juice, but save it for potato or tuna salad. I use and reuse a 1 quart glass jar or spaghetti sauce jars. This is not a bread-and-butter pickle recipe. It’s even better.

Slice pickles into 1/2″ coins. Do not use a mandolin slicer — the slices would be too thin.
Layer 1/2 the pickles, add the garlic and pepper seeds. Add rest of the pickles. Now, start to pour sugar into the jar. Cover the pickles with as much sugar as you can get in the jar. Put lid on tightly and shake to distribute sugar. Set out overnight on counter.

Next day you’ll see that the sugar is pulling out the water and going into the pickles. The pickles will have settled some so you have room to add more sugar. Cover again with additional sugar, but the liquid should not be so saturated that it cannot dissolve all the sugar. Cover and set out again overnight.

The next morning rinse the jar off in case the outside is sticky, give the pickle jar a good final shake or roll on your breadboard, and refrigerate. I have no idea how long they last because they get eaten up so quickly. My guess is a long time. These pickles make phenomenal potato salad. Be sure to save the juice to use in potato or tuna or chicken salad. Now you have sweet, crispy, tasty pickles.

So, grow your garden, store your foods, and own your special recipe that makes your people happy. You’ll give folks something to look forward to. Smile and say “thank you” when they rave. – Elizabeth B.

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