As a wife, mother, cook, and gardener, I find that articles on long term food storage, are basic and practical. But when I study the recommended lists for storage items, I wince at the lack of thought that goes into flavor, texture and variety. This article is dedicated to those nurturing souls who know that in a TEOTWAWKI situation, a delicious meal will be one of the most simple of earthly comforts that we can provide to keep others healthy and happy.
Although basic food may keep you alive, food fatigue can be a real problem. Variety is the spice of life, and in a SHTF scenario, one of the key factors in your survival is your psychological outlook. What you eat, and how much you enjoy it can be a huge factor in bolstering or hindering that positive mental state. With some basic additional food storage planning, it is possible to make even basic grains, legumes, beans and rice much more enjoyable and healthy while taking up very little storage space.
Most preppers stock the basics: Italian seasoning, garlic, chili powder, salt, pepper, cinnamon and vanilla.
If you want to validate just how important variety is, try living off of only your long-term food storage for a month. You will quickly find the prospect of eating your chili powder-beans and your Italian seasoning-rice for months on end quite disheartening. There is a reason why Marco Polo traveled the world to bring back and propagate exotic spices, some of which were considered more valuable than gold. Having a stock of unique and versatile spices will provide a valuable barter item and psychological comfort in any survival situation. Additionally, many spices and herbs have wonderful healthy side benefits and medicinal uses. I will discuss some of these below as well as some deep larder essentials that are often overlooked.
The key to exploring new flavors you may not have thought of is to look past the normal American “meat and potato” diet and look to cultures who have cooked with these spices and basic storage foods for centuries; some of the cultures we will explore include Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines.
Another benefit of learning to cook food from other cultures is that they have mastered making delicious dishes using small amounts of meat and dairy (or none at all). In the future this could be a necessity as meat and animal products will likely be scarce. Besides the ones listed here, feel free to explore other cultures that may expand your options such as Brazilian, Creole, Cuban, Ethiopian, German, Mediterranean, and Moroccan as many of the spices and herbs we will discuss are multifunctional and overlap a myriad of different cultures and dishes.
Spices, herbs and extract flavorings .
Most dried spices and herbs will store well in a dark cool places for many years, but flavor will fade somewhat as the years go by. Typically this can be countered by using more dried herb to get the same flavor. Buying spices in their whole form, such as cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, star anise and mustard seed, and grinding later will give you the longest shelf life and best flavor. Pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life, but other extracts or imitation flavorings such as almond, coconut, lemon, maple, peppermint and rum will likely only store a few years at best, and may break down or the alcohol will evaporate over time, so plan to regularly rotate these items.
With herbs, always try to grow them fresh when possible to ensure that flavor and nutrition are at it’s highest. Set aside non-hybrid seed packets for herbs that will grow in your area; you can always check with your local nursery for advice on growing in your particular climate. Mediterranean herbs are easy to grow in zones 3-9, are not fussy about soil, and drought resistant. Look for perennial herbs will come back every year once established. Good examples include: chives, fennel, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme. Common annual herbs that you would need to reseed yearly include basil, cilantro, dill, mustard and parsley. By growing your herbs in pots that you bring inside and keep in a sunny window for the winter you can extend how long these fresh herbs are available. Finally you can dry extra herbs at harvest by simply hanging small bunches upside down to air dry for storage and later use or trade.
There are sub-tropical plants that will provide wonderful flavor options that will only grow outside in zone 8 or higher, the good news is that they can also be grown in pots that are brought inside during the winter in colder climates. Examples include bay trees, ginger, lemongrass, and dwarf citrus trees such as Bearass Lime, Calamondin Orange and Meyer’s Lemon. All but ginger will require a southern window with at least 5 hours of sun a day to thrive. Check the web for more detailed growing information.
Asian/Thai/Vietnamese cooking : these are some of my favorite common herbs, spices and flavorings. These produce light, fresh, exotic, tangy, sweet and savory dishes. Besides stews, soups and curries, you can also make wonderful sweet treats like rice pudding and Chai tea with these flavors.
Shop for these spices at an Asian/Indian grocer; they will be authentic and very affordable. Using these spices may take getting used to, so experiment!
• Cardamom pods – the queen of spices, very aromatic! Green pods add a flowery taste to savory and sweet dishes alike, Black pods are more for Vietnamese meat stews and Pho soup. A tonic for the heart and can relieve toothaches.
• Coriander – the seeds of cilantro, sweet, mild lemony flavor
• Fennel Seeds – a slight licorice taste. Also used in Italian and German cooking. Good fiber, antioxidant and helps fight colon cancer.
• Ginger – a unique spicy, hot rhizome that also aids in digestive woes and its odor helps fights depression.
• Turmeric – provides the yellow color and warm, peppery, earthy flavor in most curries; it supports the liver, as well as being a mild pain reliever and natural anti-inflammatory. It has even been used to settle anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients.
• Star anise – has a mild licorice taste, often used in Pho soup. Interchangeable with fennel seeds.
• Five spice powder – a nice basic blend of Asian spices if you want to keep it simple.
• Lemon grass – a mild lemony taste that is essential in many Asian dishes.
• Coconut milk – a must for the creamy sweet undertones in Asian and Indian cooking! Because of the fat it should only be stored for 2-5 years. In a pinch, use cream and coconut flavoring. You can use powdered for longer storage, but it is non-fat and lacking compared to the real thing.
• Fish sauce – similar to soy sauce, made from fermented anchovies. Adds a mild richness to dishes without tasting fishy and has a long shelf life.
• Rice vinegar – will keep long term and adds the perfect, mild sourness to dishes.
• Sesame oil – only a few drops will add that authentic Asian taste.
• Wasabi powder – this spicy, green, Japanese horseradish powder (used as wasabi with sushi) can be used any way that you would use horseradish for a real taste kick! You can find it in a tiny can in your Asian isle at the supermarket. It’s even good in salad dressings and mashed potatoes.
• Other fresh veggies/herbs – these are healthy and create a ‘party in your mouth’. As discussed, it can even be gown inside in a sunny window. Mint, basil, cilantro, lime, garlic, chilies, and bean sprouts are fantastic options in these dishes. The “Basket of Fire” plant is an ornamental chili pepper plant that produces very hot, edible, peppers that may be used to add heat to a dish but removed before consuming.
Indian cooking: Indian spices are wonderful for making rich, flavorful sauces that enliven even the humblest lentil or vegetarian dish. The overlapping spices from above include: anise, cardamom, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, turmeric and coconut milk. In addition try:
• Bay Leaves – used in many cuisines, and they also keep bugs out of food storage!
• Cinnamon – used in main dishes as well as desserts a unique staple in Indian cooking.
• Cloves – add a unique spicy taste to savory and sweet dishes.
• Mustard seeds – one of the most used ancient herbs in cooking, pickling, as a condiment, and in sausage making. Medicinal properties include helps to relieve congestion from colds, helps regulate cholesterol and blood sugar, and increases circulation helping with muscular and skeletal pain. It is easy to grow, but it prefers cooler weather. The greens are also edible and delicious.
• Nutmeg – often used with cinnamon and cloves, it has many uses in sweet and salty foods and drinks.
• Tamarind – has a uniquely sweet and sour taste described as apricots, dates and lemons. It comes from a seedpod and adds wonderful flavor to sauces, chutneys, and main dishes. The jarred products have and indefinite shelf life and don’t require refrigeration.
• Blends: Curry Powder and Garam Masala – these common blends will give you that Indian flavor (without having to stock all of the individual spices).
Mexican/Southwest cooking: You will use some of the same repeated flavors from above such as cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, and of course garlic and onion. Add to this a few more spices, (in plastic bags but transfer to glass for longer storage), from the Hispanic section of your grocery store such as:
• Chili Powder – a mix of many common spices; smoky, spicy and essential. If you don’t already have it, its a must have.
• Red pepper flakes – great for additional heat.
• Mexican Oregano – rich, earthy flavor that goes well with beans, salsa, and rice dishes.
• Fresh Chilies and Peppers – if you can grow peppers in your area, set aside some seeds. They are indispensable.
If you are unfamiliar with cooking these types of foods, I recommend looking for marked down recipe books for the culture or cuisine that you are interested in. Bookstores or garage sales are great resources for this. If you have a favorite ethnic dish, try looking up a recipe online to print and keep in a binder. Vegan or vegetarians cookbooks can be a great resource for expanding your list of tasty meals using unique spices along with grains, rice and beans. Check out gluten-free web sites for ideas of how to use alternates to wheat flour. You may be able to use many of your stored grains in this way to make flat breads, wraps and crackers such as rice, chickpea and legume flour. There are also several books on cooking with food storage. Don’t be afraid to substitute items either, you may be surprised how easy it is to create your own meals with what you have on hand.
Top 6 Deep Larder Must Haves (that you may not have already)
In addition to the ethnic-specific and basic long-term storage foods, I would like to recommend some essentials that may not be on your list. I find that the most flexible and economic way to store food is to keep the majority of your storage to individual food items such as grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and meat products. Compared to “just add water” entrees, you’ll discover greatly increased savings and diversity options. Once again as much variety as you can manage will serve you well, both in flavor, texture and nutrition.
1 – Tomato Powder
Buy this now, you will thank me later. A #10 can weighs about 4 pounds (64 oz), and costs around $23 online, and on average has the equivalent of 80 pounds of fresh tomatoes! When compared to the equivalent of other tomato products, whether fresh canned or dried, this is a bargain! Many chefs use tomato powder because of its flavor (as tomatoes dry, the flavor becomes richer), convenience and versatility. Try it in your pantry now and save space storing so many tomato products. Nutritious and high in vitamin C, here are just a few items you can make with:
• Tomato juice/sauce/paste/soup
• Spaghetti/pizza/Marinara sauce
• BBQ Sauce
• Steak sauce
• Enchilada Sauce
• Add tomato powder to mashed potatoes, dips, cream cheese, bread dough, salad dressings, hummus, deviled eggs, and even popcorn.
Here is a helpful site on how to use Tomato Powder:
2 – Dried Whole Egg Powder
Unless you have continual eggs from chickens, this is a great product to have on hand. It offers an important source of protein and can be used in baking, cooking, or simply as scrambled eggs.
3 – Dried Peanut Butter Powder
This can be used as a flavoring in Asian cooking, used for baking, or simply add oil, salt, and a touch of sugar for the best peanut butter you’ve ever had. Another great source of protein and the kids love it.
4 – Popcorn
Popcorn is a great comfort food and crunchy snack. You can buy 50 lb bags and seal them in a Mylar bag/bucket for very little money. Popcorn is naturally non-GMO, which is increasingly being shown to cause major health problems. The kernels can even be ground and used like regular corn meal.
5 – Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
Chocolate is the most craved foods in the world. It is a special treat used to celebrate holidays and special occasions. It has been rationed in war times and traded as a valuable commodity in peace times; what makes it so desirable? Unlike most foods, it releases endorphins that stimulate the opiate receptors in the brain making you feel more happy and relaxed, especially in times of stress. The good news is that dark chocolate is an antioxidant and is good for you. The average American consumes about 12lbs per person per year, so don’t forget to stock this important ingredient.
6 – Seeds for Eating and Sprouting
Sprouting seeds are a critical source of nutrition in numerous, beneficial ways; it naturally increases/develops vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids and photo chemicals. Sprouts can even reduce gas production because of easier digestion. They can be a great way to add fresh “live food” to your diet all year long; easy to grow, you can easily sprout seeds in something as simple as a sterile jar covered with cheesecloth. Take care to rinse and drain them often to avoid harmful bacterial growth (never eat any that smell bad or look slimy or moldy). Although almost any seed can be sprouted, research before you try new seeds, as some should only be eaten cooked (like lentils and seeds in the tomato, potato and eggplant family). Here is a list of some that you may want to try that can all be eaten raw or lightly cooked by adding at the end of a stir-fry: alfalfa, almonds, Adzuki beans, beets, chickpeas, clover, cress, fenugreek, lentils, mung, mustard, peas, pumpkin, radish and sunflower.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like other survival skills, practicing storing and using these ingredients is essential to your success. Be sure to cook with some of your stored food now; making something new a few times a month is fun, educational, and provides invaluable practical experience. This allows you to make adjustments to food and supplies now while everything is readily available. Try some of the new spices listed above and store up what you like. Practice alternate ways of cooking such as over an open fire, on or in your wood stove or a solar oven. Make sure you have cast iron skillets, and a Dutch oven on hand. You will learn a lot, and your experiences will differ from your expectations; it is important to iron out the wrinkles in there here an now instead of trying to figure things out in a time limited, stressful situation.
If you are not familiar with hunting and butchering, start small with cutting up a whole chicken from the store or a whole hog from the butcher. YouTube has lots of videos on how to hunt and skin small game like squirrels or rabbits. There are also resources that can teach you how to smoke and cure the meat if you want to increase your learning curve. A book I highly recommend is Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Metten Jr., DVM.
A Few Final Notes
If you haven’t already taken inventory of what you have, be sure to take the time. There are lots of helpful, on-line guides for this and most long-term food storage sites have free tools to help you. Make sure you calculate enough calories for each member of your group or family as serving sizes vary widely between products.
Gaining knowledge about foraging for edible wild plants is a skill worth developing and may help you if you have to bug out and can’t carry much with you. May you eat well because of you thoughtful planning!