Store Food Medium Term (6-12 months)
Having long to medium-term food reserves can be a tricky subject for those of us who grew up relying on a refrigerator and mom going grocery shopping every week, or Dominos *cough* Pizza. There is a simple and easy way to store months worth of food at home without purchasing expensive freeze-dried pre-packaged pseudo-food. All it takes is a brake bleeder vacuum pump, some jars, and tattler lids. Say what?
Let me start off by saying that we're only talking about dried foods here. If you want to save sauces and jams and the like, that's heat / pressure canning and that's a whole other subject.
We are defining medium-term food storage here as 6 to 12 months. Longer than 12 months we would call long-term, and requires a little more effort and materials. We will discuss that in another article, but if you want to read more about it, we recommend the book Making the Best of Basics by James T. Stevens. It's only $2 used in many places.
We have been using this system for years, so it's been tested and refined. It's how we do our day-to-day groceries and ensure that we always have several months of food on hands that is easy to cook and varied enough as to not be miserable or vitamin deficient. Some of the beans and seeds can be sprouted for greens too.
The basic system consists of buying bulk dried foods and storing them in canning jars. We take all the oxygen out of them with reusable Tattler lids and a Brake Bleeder Vacuum Pump Kit. The reason that is important is because in some foods - mostly the grains - small insects have laid eggs which will hatch within a few weeks, and that holds true no matter where you get them from...pre-packaged or bulk. We describe the process below.
And although they are an added source of protein, let's face it, most of us would probably prefer not to eat the bug-infested winter oats, right?
By reducing the amount of oxygen in the jars we keep the eggs from hatching, which increases the time we can keep dried foods stored by 3-5x in our case. We've had lentils stored this way that we're great over a year later.
Keep the jars in a cool, dry place. An indoor pantry or basement is ideal. Garage could work if you live in the northern climes and it stays below 75 degrees in there.
What foods to store
Here's the list of things we get from our local market that we store with this system:
- Beans: Mung, Black, Adzuki, Navy, Baby Lima
- Lentils: French, Green, Red, Black
- Rice: Brown, White, Jasmine, Arborio, Forbidden
- Wheat: Soft Winter, Couscous
- Seed: Hemp, Chia, Sesame, Flax
- Peas: Chick, Green Split
- Flour: White, Wheat, Whole Wheat
- Corn KernelsOatmeal & Grits
- Goji-Berries, Raisins, Dried Fruits, Assorted Nuts
What You'll need
We bring our jars to the grocery store and fill them up in the bulk section directly. This saves us from having to mess around with plastic bags or making lists of what's needed. Each jar is labeled, so when it's empty it goes in the grocery box and we know it's time to get more. It also keeps us from having to fill out the product code each time for each item too.
If you want to try this, float the idea past your grocery store manager first. They should be cool with it. Don't ask a clerk. They always say no for some reason. Go to the manager. You will need to weigh or tare the jars empty at the customer service counter first, so the weight of the jars can be subtracted from the weight of the food inside at checkout. Write that weight on a piece of tape on the jars.
How we label the jars. Painters tape can be hand-washed without getting ruined.
You will also need to bring along a canning funnel, painters tape, and a permanent marker, along with a box to put everything in.When we go to the store, we use the lids that came with the jars as they can easily be screwed on and off. Once we get home we change the lids to the ones we will use with the vacuum system.We use the plastic Tattler Reusable Lids because they are sturdy. You can use the metal ones that come with canning jars as long as they are two separate pieces: the lid and the band type, but they shouldn't be used for heat canning later on if you go that route.
We use the regular and wide-mouth sized lids since we have a variety of jar sizes. The next most important thing to get is the FoodSaver Jar Sealers, also in regular and wide-mouth sizes. They are $10 each. You place these on top of the jars once you've put the Tattler lids on. This is the device which creates the seal around the lid and allows air to escape from inside the jar past the lid but not get back inside.
Now you need a way to get the air out. The FoodSaver lids are meant to be used with their electronic FoodSaver System, which is what we use day-to-day. For backup if the power goes out we have a Brake Bleeder Vacuum Pump. Only $25 and it gives you a workout to boot.
How to do it
Step 1: Place the Tattler rubber seal and lid to the jar.
Step 2: Put the end of the pump attachment into the hole at the top of the FoodSaver
Step 3: Pump like crazy until the arrow on the meter gets to 20. If it's not moving, make sure you have a good seal with the FoodSaver. If you are using the electric system it just turns itself off when complete.
Step 4: Remove the Foodsaver and check the seal on the Tattler lids. They should be stuck on there. When it's time to open them up, pull slowly with your fingertips or the edge of a spoon to slowly pry the lid from the jar.
Pro tip: The fuller the jar is with food, the less air you have to pull out of it. It might make sense to keep longer-term storage jars on their own, and when you finally open them up, empty them into smaller jars so you don't have to reseal the big ones each time. There is some physical effort involved here, so it can be a little tiring at first. You probably won't want to do more that 1 or 2 jars a day.
That's really all there is to it. If you want to get fancy you could put oxygen absorbers inside the jars (just under the lid before sealing) but that's probably an extra expense you really don't need since that leans more towards long-term storage. For long-term look at freeze dried foods that last 5-10 years from Honeyville.