The simple art of stockpiling

4 June 2018
There is no doubt you'll save money if you keep a clean and well organised stockpile and you don't waste the food you grow or buy.  If I were out working for a living now, I'd make sure I had a full stockpile and a working pantry. Not only would it save me money to do that but it would also mean that if I didn't have the time to buy what I needed for the evening meal, I'd have enough good quality food in my kitchen to see me through quite a few meals. I learnt the benefits of an organised kitchen long ago when my kids were young and we lived three hours from the shops.  Hanno, the kids and I would do a "big shop" every four to six weeks, and we manage on that until we went back for the next "big shop." That taught me valuable lessons.

We emptied the stockpile cupboard yesterday then cleaned and repacked the cupboard.

In June our Simple Home book task is the preserving and storage of food. Whether you’re living in a warm climate or a cold one, you’ll be changing the type of food you cook now. You’ll either be moving from summer salads and lighter foods to hearty soups, roasts and stews, or you’ll be going in the other direction. What better time to preserve the fresh fruit and vegetables available now to enjoy in the coming seasons? This month, we’ll also do some stockpile and pantry maintenance, clean out cupboards, and reorganise provisions. With this, plus a small tidy-up in December, you’ll be fully prepared for many new seasons of cooking. Of course, if you don’t know how to put up jars of preserves, and if you haven’t yet set up a stockpile or pantry, now is the ideal time to learn and create.

Food storage is one of those home chores that may not seem exciting, but as you get into it and think about how your pantry and stockpile support your cooking choices, you’ll discover they are a significant and vital part of a productive kitchen. Having those supplies in place can save your sanity on busy days, as well as time and money in the longer term.

The Importance of Food Storage
Our great-grandparents knew how to cook wholesome food and also how to manage their time and provisions. They took full advantage of inexpensive but nutrient-dense dried and canned foods, and when there were abundant harvests or cheap local fruit and vegetables, they preserved as much as they could, again saving time and money while keeping that all-important stockpile full.

Cooking, grocery shopping and food storage still have a big impact on how we live. Kitchen management needs to be taught and practised by each generation. Just one break in the chain means that the following generation will not have the skills to pass on. Then those skills are at risk of being lost.

Many of us understand the good sense behind cooking our own meals from scratch. This has been part of the food revolution, and it has reduced our dependence on meat and encouraged us to rediscover old ways of cooking with legumes, pulses, flour, eggs, nuts, vegetables, fruit and preserves. But our lives are so busy that we need to find a way to cook and shop that cuts down on the stress of keeping everyone fed, rather than add to it. In many homes, food is just parked in the fridge for a day or two between the supermarket and the plate. There may be a packet of coffee, a few tins of soup or beans, salt and pepper, cereal, dry pasta and tomato sauce in the cupboard. 

That is only a fraction of what could be there. We can build on our grandparents’ example, transforming our stockpiles from a back-up food cupboard to a delicatessen by adding our own homemade goodies such as flavoured oils and vinegars, jams and marmalades, preserved fruits, dried fruits, spiced nuts and dried home-grown herbs, sauces, chutneys and relish. Fresh, seasonal food, supplemented by the ingredients we have in our cupboards, gives us the makings of dinners through the week, memorable weekend feasts and long lazy lunches. And all with very few trips to the supermarket.

Never waste food
You have to take the time to store food properly so that it will still be nutritious and delicious when you eat it, no matter when that is. When the shopping is done and you’re home again, take the time to pack everything away properly. Some food will go into the fridge and freezer, some in the pantry and some in the stockpile. Often the fridge and freezer food has to be divided up and repackaged in freezer bags, zip-lock bags or foil, so start with the cold and frozen foods, and when they’re safely stored, move on to the non-perishables.

Having a stockpile and pantry is like having your own private supermarket, open 24/7, with the cheapest prices in your own home. Some of the other advantages of stockpiling include:
  • You save all the time you currently spend grocery shopping. When your stockpile is fully operational, you’ll have two types of shopping. You’ll buy fresh foods such as milk, meat, fruit and vegetables every week and do a bigger shop to top up your stockpile when it’s needed.
  • You save money because you can stock up on the specials. 
  • You give yourself more cooking options because you have a much wider range of ingredients at your fingertips.
  • If there’s an unusual situation – if you or your partner are sick or out of work, your children need more of your time for school projects or sports, or friends ask if they can stay with you for a few days – you’ll know you can still feed everyone with what’s already in your home, sitting in the stockpile cupboard.
  • If there’s a national emergency – floods, cyclones, terrorist attacks, bushfires – you won’t need to leave the safety of your home, because you’ll have all your provisions safely stored at home.
  • How to start a stockpile
I started my stockpile by putting aside a certain amount of money each week to buy whatever we used that was on sale. It took three or four months to have my stockpile cupboard at the stage I keep it at now. We have enough non-perishable food, groceries and toiletries to last us about three months. 

To start your own stockpile, write out a list of the meals and snacks you usually eat and the ingredients you need to make them. Mark with a highlighter any items that don’t need to be stored in the fridge and freezer. This is the start of your stockpile: everything that can be stored for a period of time in a cupboard without deteriorating. 

Include only what you know you’ll eat and will use. There is absolutely no point in buying a great bargain for stockpiling if you don’t eat it. If you bake your own bread, include bread flour, seeds and yeast; if you bake your own cakes and biscuits, include sultanas, dates, brown sugar, cocoa, choc chips, nuts and so on. But also make room for tinned salmon, sardines and tuna, olive oil, a variety of vinegars, spices and seasonings, pulses, grains and legumes, dried pasta, milk powder, sugar, flour, cornflour, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, honey and peanut butter.

In addition to food, look for soap, toilet paper, tissues, toothpaste, toothbrushes and cleaning products – or the ingredients for these if you make your own (bicarb soda, white vinegar, borax, washing soda and laundry soap).

Don't forget to recycle your glass jars and bottles.

Usually stockpile goods are bought on special or produced at home. However, if you shop at Aldi, where the prices are consistently lower than the other supermarkets, you may be able to add to your stockpile whenever you see something you need. If you shop at one of the other supermarkets, monitor the grocery flyers and read your supermarket webpages for specials and stock up on the items you need when they’re on sale.

Celery that has been washed and completely wrapped in foil will remain crisp in the fridge for at least a month.

You’ll find that most supermarkets have a large number of groceries and food they put on special regularly over a period of about three months. (Be aware that some things, such as vanilla extract, nuts and baking goods, are rarely reduced in price.) When you see a good price for something you need, buy enough to carry you through until it comes on special again, or as much as you can afford. Check the use-by or best-before dates and make sure the packaging isn’t damaged – the items will need to last a while. Don’t buy dented canned goods or jars with rust on the lid, but it’s okay to buy something in a ripped paper, cellophane or plastic bag – it’s easy enough to transfer it to a new bag for storage.

Don’t forget that you can add homemade food to your stockpile as well, such as relish, chutneys, sauces, jams, pickles and sweet fruit preserves. If you add home-preserved food, make sure you use proven preserving recipes because the acid and sugar ratios will be correct and the produce will therefore last for as long as the recipe indicates.All your jars must be labeled and dated too.

Freezer stockpiling
I encourage you to buy a deep freezer if you can afford one. Look around for a good price, or save up for the mid-year or end-of-year sales. I think chest freezers are excellent, but if you have a bad back or don’t have time to keep it organised, an upright freezer may be the way to go for you. Freezing doesn’t require special equipment apart from the freezer itself. If well wrapped and added to the freezer when it’s fresh, food usually retains its nutrition, texture and colour. Most freezers have a guide to how long certain foods can be kept frozen. However, freezers do cost money to operate; you also run the risk of losing food to spoilage if your power is cut for a length of time.

A freezer is great for the long-term storage of meat, fish and the fruit you produce in your backyard or buy cheaply from the market. They are bags of home-grown rosellas in the photo below.
A freezer, particularly a chest freezer, can be a difficult space to manage. A record of what goes in, with the date, and what comes out, will give you an accurate inventory at any time without you having to unpack the freezer to see what’s at the bottom.

Where to store food
You can store non-perishable food anywhere: in a cupboard, under the bed, in the garage, or any sheltered place that suits you. I have mine in a few places. My main stockpile cupboard holds unopened food that is not needed yet. When I need it, I take it from the stockpile near the kitchen, transfer it into a sealed container and then store it in the pantry, which is in my kitchen. I also use two freezers: one attached to the fridge in the kitchen for vegetables, homemade cakes, bread and ice cream, and a chest freezer, located in the second bathroom, that holds my stores of meat, fish and homemade fruit juice. I also use that freezer to kill any bugs in the flour and dried foods I buy, such as rice, oats and grains. After placing them in the freezer for a couple of days, I can store all those things confidently in the stockpile, knowing I won’t have weevils in the oats or a cupboard full of pantry moths ready to fly out into the kitchen.

We have a toiletries stockpile in a cupboard in the second bathroom and a cleaning ingredients stockpile in the laundry. So as you can see, a stockpile can go anywhere you have space – but try to keep the items as close as possible to where you’ll eventually use them.

Keeping the cupboard clean and orderly
Group products that are the same or similar in one place. For instance, if you have tins of tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato puree, keep them together. This will help you when you’re searching for something or checking your supplies before shopping. Always rotate your stock by adding new products to the back and taking from the front, and make sure you check your supplies every so often: 
  • Look at the home-preserved food to make sure there are no bubbles that indicate fermenting. 
  • If a container leaks, clean it up straight away and replace the container. 
  • Check use-by dates and use any items that are close to expiring. 
  • If you see a split or ripped packet, take it out and place it in a zip-lock bag or a storage container.

Glass or plastic containers?
As soon as you open a packet, store its contents in a sealed container. If you’re buying containers you hope to use for many years, I’d encourage you towards glass – it won’t deteriorate over time or change colour. If you’re careful not to drop them, glass containers will outlast you. I prefer glass containers for food, and most of my containers in the pantry are preserving jars with metal lids. I do use plastic bins for bread flour and rolled oats because I can’t get glass containers large enough.

Make sure you use plastic or pyrex if you're storing food in the freezer.

What are your stockpiling and pantry tips?