27 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Food storage

I believe today's topic is one of the most important practical things we learn about in our homes - food storage.  I hope you join with me to share what you do because I am always open improving what I do and looking for new methods.  So let's get down to it, why is it so important and what should we be doing?

Buying food is usually a never-ending expense in the household budget. If you can save money on your food bills, you'll generally save big money over the course of your life.  So it makes sense that not only should you look for bargains, buy local and get the freshest food available, you should also store your food so it doesn't deteriorate before you eat it.

I've written before now on the differences in how the northern hemisphere, particularly north America, preserves food in jars.  Canning meat, fish, beans, soup and other high protein foods is quite common there but not in Australia.  Here we tend to preserve relish, chutney, jams, tomato sauce, tomatoes and fruits that do well in a sterilsed jar with lemon juice added.  I think we follow the UK tradition, but I may be wrong.  Here we tend to commonly freeze our meat and fish if it's to be kept for a long period.  I am not going to write about freezing or preserving/canning here, I've done it in the past and it's a subject of its own, but here is a link to one of my preserving/canning posts and to a post on freezing.

Like most things in this simple life, we will all do things the way it best suits our way of living.  Hanno and I grow a lot of our own food so our methods may differ from those of you who buy everything you need.  Basically, we freeze our meat which we buy in bulk, we also freeze small amounts of fish when we buy it at the co-op.  Excesses of vegetables are frozen after blanching and stored in the freezer for up to three months.  Always bag your frozen food well., freezer burn will ruin your food if it's not wrapped correctly.  Don't think that freezing will preserve your food indefinitely.  Freezing stops the fast growth of bacteria, but the sooner you can eat the food, the better.  Long term freezing is not good for any food.  Generally three months is a good rule to work by, and that is the length of a season, so if you're freezing to see you through winter, the three month rule should work well.  Also be guided by your freezer manual though and always take into account the number of times you have power outages.  If they're frequent and long in your neck of the woods, freezing large amount of food might not turn out to be so frugal after all.

I have a food stockpile and a pantry.  The stockpile is in a separate cupboard and it contains all the unopened packets, tins and jars of food that will see us through an emergency and help us save money.  The pantry is in the kitchen and that contains food we are currently using.   As soon as a bag or container of food is taken from the stockpile and opened, it is decanted into a container and stored in the pantry.

We store a lot of grains, flour, nuts, seeds and dried goods.  Everything goes into the freezer for a period when it first comes home from the shop.  This will kill any bugs or larvae lurking within.  I try to use glass containers for these things but for the larger amounts I use food grade plastic.  I got some food grade plastic buckets for storing flour from my local baker.  These are really handy, but recently I found some Decor square buckets capable of holding 10 kgs (22 lbs).  If you can get square buckets, they'll fit in the cupboard and use the space you have more efficiently than round buckets.  Beans, chick peas, lentils, dried fruit, salt, rice, sugar, coconut, polenta etc are all purchased in bulk, if possible, and stored in large mason jars in the pantry.

We buy olive oil and rice bran oil in large tins when it's on sale and that is used for cooking and making soap.  Always check the 'use by' or 'best before' dates when you buy something you know will be stored for a while.  Look through the items to see if any have later dates, if they do, choose those.  When you bring new food home, make sure the older food is eaten first and place new food at the back, bringing the older food to the front of your cupboard or fridge.

We use the fridge for short term food storage.  Fruit and vegetables, either bought or grown in the backyard, we usually stored in the fridge.  Lettuce, capsicums (peppers), eggplant, beans, cucumbers all are stored in the vegetable crisper.  Celery is washed, the top removed, and wrapped in foil.  It will stay crisp like this for two months.  Nuts are placed in small jars and kept in the fridge.  Herbs are picked as we need them.  Food such as tomatoes, avocados, peaches, bananas, passionfruit do not benefit from refrigeration, and give off gasses that accelerate ripening in other fruit and vegetables, so I store them on the kitchen bench.  None of them last long and they're fine for their short life in a bowl on the bench.  Leaving them on the bench for a week will also allow them to develop their full flavour.  Potatoes and onions are stored in baskets at the bottom of the pantry in the dark.  If you buy potatoes or onions in plastic bags, take them out when you come home because the plastic will make them sweat and they'll rot. They both need air circulation in a cool dark space.

We buy milk when it's needed and store that in the fridge.  But you can easily freeze milk.  We always have powdered milk in the cupboard as well and I usually cook with powdered milk, not fresh.  Bread is usually baked daily, with the leftovers fed to the chickens and dog.

Learn how to use what you keep in the pantry in a variety of ways.  Experiment with your stored food and keep learning.
This is an important subject because food needs to be healthy and safe to eat every time you eat it.   One of your jobs as a homemaker is to learn about how to safely store food in the way most suited to your climate and way of living.  If you get this right, you'll save money because you'll rarely have to throw food out and your family will eat only safe food.

I could go on forever about food storage but it's time now to wait for your comments and see what's happening in your kitchen. I'm looking forward to reading them.
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