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  • Writer's pictureMeg Grimm

Stocking the Pantry

Updated: Dec 24, 2018

The Peasant Pantry Experiment:

Six months without the grocery store - surviving the winter peasant-style.

Series Post 2

I shuffled my nephews passed the chatting moms in the church hallway as they discussed cough syrup and honey.

“You’re not allowed to get sick,” I told the boys under my breath. “Because you’ll get me sick.”

I was only half-joking. Last winter, I was sick for over a month. And now, it was November. Everyone around us was showing sickness in some way.

My daughter has had a cough for weeks! I’ve tried everything!

My son has the flu. He woke up crying again last night. It’s the afternoon and he’s still asleep!

The winter had come. It had followed Thanksgiving like there really was a mischief-making sprite proud to announce his arrival with swift “nipping” of noses.

I was ready for ol’ Jack this time. In addition to my groceries, I had also bought extra warm socks and fleece-lined leggings. Just those additions made going outside more tolerable than I could remember.

But the best change this year was already the pantry, and not just because I was able to stay inside rather than go out into dark frost for last-minute grocery trips. Going out in the cold doesn’t make you sick, they say, germs do.

No, it was what was in my pantry that was making the difference.

Elisabeth Luard in European Peasant Cookery states that old peasant kitchen habits of frugality included “making stock out of bones, pickling and salting in times of glut, stocking the pantry” and “making good food out of few and simple ingredients.” And with this, “using diet to care for the sick and the elderly.”

So if diet was medicine for the sick, diet could also be preventative medicine.

The revelation had dawned on me slowly. We all knew eating well was good for health. I also had a few friends who were not keen on taking vitamin and mineral supplements but preferred to get their vitamins from diet alone. But a popular idea in recent times was that our food was now so depleted of vitamins that this was impossible. We needed supplements. Was that just a gimmick to sell vitamins? Who could know? All I knew was that I had now started to view food in a new light. It was not for pleasure, to be drenched in all sorts of sugars and fats, nor merely sustenance, whereby eating as cheaply as possible was frugal and wise. No. Food, I realized, was medicine.

Many people were sick around us. But not my family. Not yet. And all we had done differently from last year was try our hands at vegetable gardening over the summer. That was food for thought if I’d ever heard some.

In early October, I meticulously made my grocery lists. I then embarked on some weary weeks of shopping and prepping, but the Peasant Pantry Experiment was now underway.

Prior to epic shopping trips, my shelves and freezer had contained a plethora of garden tomatoes, diced and frozen, some other garden produce, 5 whole chickens, 4 lbs. of ground beef, vinegars and oils, Asian sauces, canned olives, a bag of all-purpose flour, two bags of white rice, several packages of beef soup bones, some cheese varieties, 3 lb. of butter from the farmer, 1 box of saltine crackers, and a small sampling of canned tomato product, beans and creamed soups. This was all leftover from the first three-month attempt of avoiding the grocery store – a mini experiment I had done on a whim in June.

My new grocery lists (4 typed pages) were based on our eating habits and my cooking tendencies. While thinking of food as medicine, I was sure to include vitamin-enriched vegetables, such as beets, cabbage and spinach. I added lots of varieties of beans, both canned and dried, which would be a hearty protein source. I tried to remember how often I had made certain meals in the last few months. I included much rice. And flour and yeast packets so I could bake bread. I purchased sour cream and cream cheese, which could also be frozen, knowing many recipes called for these additives. I purchased a cart-full of frozen vegetables, which are a quick, easy and nutritious side dish. I also brought home bottled water, soda, juices and sparkling drinks to have something else to offer when the family came for dinner.

I decided to break up the shopping so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself, purchasing the perishable items last because they required immediate, tedious work.

The extravaganza went like this…

Friday, 10/5

Big Lots: Macaroni & Cheese Boxes for Kids, Popcorn, Bottled Water)


Aldi: Freezer and Paper Products


Sunday, 10/7

Aldi: Dry Ingredients, Snacks, Baking & Bananas


Wednesday, 10/10

Aldi: Cans & Bottles


Wednesday, 10/17

Aldi: Perishables


Shop n Save: Whatever Aldi did not have


Total: $712.90

I still intended to order 20 lb. of Beef Round Roast from the farmer for $139.80 + shipping once I was done dealing with my perishables.

The fruits and vegetables piled upon the kitchen table looked like a cornucopia exploded. I moved them around for air circulation and made an ordered list of what needed done. What would last the longest? What could I multi-task? There was a mix of daunting and less-daunting tasks that ended up taking longer than I felt they should, but after a few weeks, it all finally came to an end.

I had used quart-sized freezer bags for packaging. I filled them with 1-2 cup portions of cut, blanched vegetables. The cabbage heads were in quarters. I switched up the cuts, so celery and carrots were in both sticks for snacks or chopped for soups, for instance. (FYI: The difference between par-cooking and blanching is supposedly not the ice bath, but whether the food can be eaten without additional cooking. If so, that’s blanching.)

I flash froze peppers and onions before bagging.

I cleaned and portioned strawberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes and grapes for freezing.

I sliced beef steak tomatoes and separated them with wax paper for sandwiches.

I bottled the dry milk, sugars and rice in recycled glass bottles from spaghetti sauces and the like. The flour was in large, plastic ice cream buckets for easy scooping. All these in either the refrigerator or freezer.

I chopped the garlic cloves and portioned them using ice cube trays.

As I worked, I prepared stocks with the vegetable scraps, and our meals using some of the fresh produce. I made enough food to freeze extra for rough days when I didn’t have time for cooking.

I baked banana nut bread, banana nut muffins, banana and oatmeal cookies, and monster cookies with banana added. I packaged these two at a time in sandwich baggies. They were meant to be healthy, filling breakfast cookies for on the go. The banana nut bread loaves could be pulled out for a dessert if family was coming over.

I stuffed the refrigerator freezer with frozen French fries and chicken nuggets, the only food my nephews will eat when they’re visiting.

I packed the chest freezer neatly with labeled boxes.

In the end, there was not one bit of kitchen storage space left. I even gave away some beef soup bones to make room in the freezers. I would not be ordering the beef round roasts from the farmer anytime soon.

Although some of the veggies had started to look a bit wimpy, there was really only one casualty. I had to waste a crock pot of beef stock because I accidentally let it sit out all night (not cooking).

So, I did learn for next time not to purchase all perishables at once. It might save sanity, and sleep.

And when I looked at the numbers, I also learned that if this food did last me six months, I would have spent less than I if I had maintained my $191 monthly spending average doing things the old way.

But could I do this? Arabella Forge writes in Frugavore: How to Grow Organic, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well, “Knowing how to cook from scratch with what is locally available is just as important as storing food for an emergency.”

That would be the natural next step in the journey. I had left myself with no cheater, ready-made meals. The food was wholesome and good for us, ready for peasant-style cooking. It could do its part. But could I do mine?

To be continued...

#storage #pantry #preservation #blanching #freezing

*Note: Some fruit can be frozen without doing anything fancy. But vegetables need to be par-cooked (partially boiled) or blanched (cooked through) before freezing because otherwise, the vegetables continue to decompose even while frozen causing dangerous bacteria. The steps are the same, but since each vegetable is different, the cooking times will be different. Thicker cuts need more time. All vegetable pieces should be cut to the same size, so they are cooked evenly. Submerging vegetables in an ice bath after boiling stops the cooking process. It’s better to dry vegetables before freezing if freezing together into a clump is a problem. Most frozen vegetables and fruits are best by 3-6 months.

Meg Grimm is a writer and folklorist who loves Jesus, hot tea, history and fairy tales. In the real world, she works in a castle - at least some people think so. She is married to Max, and they have a cat-dog named Bill. One day, you'll find her living in a cottage deep in the woods writing your next favorite book.

Experiment Recap

Is it possible to be peasant-enough to stop going to the mainstream grocery store?

Objective: Stock the pantry, maintaining standards for nutrient-dense foods from local sources when possible, and cease mainstream grocery shopping.

Timeline: 6 months

Protocol: Preserve food using short and long term storage methods; limit all recipes to using only ingredients on hand.

Deviation from Protocol: Milk, eggs and bread will be purchased as needed at Aldi, Stroehmann’s, or a local farm

Hypothesis: With storing food as a peasant, I will spend less money and eat better. As bonuses, I will learn more about peasant-style cookery (cooking from scratch), and my overall health will improve.

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