Winter Is Coming
Updated: Dec 5, 2018
The Peasant Pantry Experiment:
Six months without the grocery store - surviving the winter peasant-style.
Series Post 1
There it was. Confirmation that yet again, another dream of mine had become mainstream. Was it really me who wanted these things? Or were my plans just products of my generation?
I shook it off and kept reading. Perhaps I was just jumping on another bandwagon, but did it matter? Not many had the guts for the long-hauls, but I did. I did! In the end, I would be one of the few who defied the norms. I was up for the challenge. Or maybe that’s what everyone says…
Long and short term food storage had become mainstream right along with gardening and eating organic. Nevertheless, I wasn’t charging into these new worlds to be unique. I cared about my health, and my husband’s health, and just as high on my list on priorities was freeing up my time so I could write. What would it be like to not have to worry about dinner every night?
My goals had naturally led me to this next part of the path. The slightly rocky terrain I had become accustomed to when I’d learned to garden was changing. Jagged cliffs were ahead, I was sure of it.
But if peasants were able to keep their food supply stored through the winter without electricity and machines that suck air out of bags, by golly, so could I. Although I was a slave to my body’s need for food, I didn’t have to be a slave to the grocery store, right?
The current fad-status of food storage was making research easier at least, such as the book I was now reading called “The Year Without the Grocery Store,” where Karen Morris confirmed that my new adventure had already been re-pioneering by many others.
I scanned her chapters mentally checking off her lists. Yes, I’m already there. Nope, not gonna do that part yet…
I wanted to be sure there wasn’t something I had missed before I embarked on my own journey. My grocery lists were made. Other plans were in the works. A lot of prep was done, as well as the research.
Gosh, I was so tired of research. But it had been an enlightening summer. The harvest from my first little garden was preserved, and the remaining plants were still coughing up little fruits here and there before they sputtered out. I could now do many things quickly that I hadn’t even known how to do at all five months ago. Blanching, par-cooking, freezing…
Karen had said that practice was necessary before diving in to food storage. That way, you will have dealt with all the unexpected snags and wouldn’t find yourself stuck in a power outage, for instance, without having planned for a way to cook the food you preserved. I didn’t have anything non-electric at my disposal to produce heat for cooking, except a camp stove. She had a point.
I had tested the waters of food storage a little during the summer by attempting to shop for a three-month stint. A lot of that food was still on my shelves and in my freezer. It almost felt like the more food we had available, the less we ate!
I had also learned more about my cooking habits during that time by noticing which ingredients disappeared the fastest. I learned more about cooking, too, having to always cook from scratch. It was annoying at times, to be honest, especially when I would forget to thaw something out. There were plenty of evenings that we picked up a pizza because I just couldn’t bring myself to slave in the kitchen again. But it was a way to force myself to give my husband and myself the best nutrition possible, and for me to practice my kitchen skills. The winter would be lots of easy crock pot soups, I hoped, but cooking from scratch did bring a feeling of accomplishment.
Game face. I was ready for the pantry.
For peasants, it all came down to the pantry. Do it right, or die. Because winter was coming.
Being solar-powered myself, my energy vanished with the sun. It was early October now. Very soon, our days would be noticeably shorter. The air crisper. We were on the brink of the long, soup season. The only truly warm time for Southwestern Pa was the summer. It was all flannel from there.
But the worst part of the winter for me was that my husband Max would begin to go to bed earlier, even before the sun had set, as time crept closer to the holidays. Being employed at UPS does that to a person. So, I would be alone in the quiet house avoiding the cheerless windows that let in only darkness and chill. In those days, I would need to prepare our suppers quickly after work so I was not stuck cleaning up dishes late and lonely. I wanted fast, hot meals to warm our bones. The kind that meant plopping already-portioned garden goodness from the freezer into boiling water. Steaming bowls of soup that I could take upstairs with me, leaving the downstairs to its dark, empty melancholy. And while my husband snoozed in the bedroom and perhaps snowflakes tinked at the window panes, I would shut my office door and turn on bright lights and pretend that winter would be over soon, even though it wouldn’t be.
Winter was coming.
When I first got married, I kept careful track of my grocery expenses in an attempt to show my husband that I was not frivolous. Max had been a bachelor surviving off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He suffered near panic-attacks from the amount of groceries entering the house with his new wife. Over a year later, he still wasn’t thrilled with food bills, so my keeping the receipts had done nothing for him, but they came in handy for this project.
I found out that for my small family of two shopping at Aldi to feed us every two weeks, I had been spending an average of $191 per month. I only bought exactly what I needed and when the last meal of my plan was gone, I was like Old Mother Hubbard - it was time for a shopping trip.
Bring in the farmer. After a few months, I wanted to start purchasing organic produce and meat from a local farm. I did just that and was pleased as a peach. Max was all the more horrified, of course. The new food prices were even higher than the last, and he was convinced our meals were going to prevent him from retiring one day.
But when comparing our new spending with previous, it turned out that we were actually saving money by buying in bulk from the farmer. At Aldi, I used to only buy bags of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, for example. When the farmer provided me with 8-10 medium whole chickens, I now had access to all the cuts plus a carcass for making lots of stock. We were eating the same price-worth of chicken meat in a four-month time period (about $40), but with the whole chickens, I also gained plenty of nutritional chicken stock.
The same was true for beef. The farmer sold their 1 lb. package of grass-fed beef for $1.50 more than Aldi. To me, it was worth the $1.50 to buy 20 lbs. of freezer-packaged beef at once from the farmer and be done with it, and I also knew exactly where the meat was coming from.
Furthermore, I began using less meat in our meals because it was much less hassle to get protein from beans or eggs rather than cut up another chicken. I had wanted to cut down on our meat intake anyway, especially red meat. To me, everything was working out how I had hoped. Now my hopes were even higher for the peasant pantry project.
You see, it wasn’t just about stocking up. I wanted to also find out if I could maintain my new standards for healthful eating. Would I still save money? Would it be worth the preparation efforts? All that blanching and packaging fresh, organic vegetables for freezing was way more time-consuming and expensive than buying canned veggies, but if it helped keep sickness at bay through the winter, was it worth it? These were questions I was very curious to know the answers.
Also, if I prepared now, I could be potentially stocked up from November through April. April might still be chilly, but Spring would be starting to poke its head through the snow by then, hopefully.
There were several variables that would affect my experiment. Firstly, unfortunately, I did not have a cool, dry, root cellar-type location on my property. My basement, if it could be so-called, was very moist, and like the Swamp of Sadness, it destroyed and consumed anything that spent any time down there. My garage would be the next possibility, but the changing temperatures made it less than ideal for cured vegetables, and there was the fear of animal pests smelling the food. So, I was just going to freeze all my produce and keep my dry ingredients on the shelves in my house. (The house stayed cool with Max in charge of the thermostat anyway.)
I knew the freezer thing was risky, especially if there was a power outage. However, if there was snow, I could transfer the food outside, and if not, I would just relocate it to a family member’s house. At least, that’s the farthest my contingency plan went.
Next, milk and eggs would be the only exception. Although I wanted to cut the grocery store out completely, it couldn’t be at the risk of nutrition. Besides, peasants may have had access to these things, too. I would still buy eggs and organic milk at Aldi or order them from the farmer. I had tried freezing milk in the past. Since the milk I bought was raw, it was too chunky after thawing for my liking. I still shuddered at the thought. I also planned to have powdered milk on hand for my “in a pinch” cooking needs. And eggs? Well, I had watched a video on colonial hacks for preserving eggs, and yeah, I was definitely not there yet.
I had my expectations for how things would go. I did think I would continue to be annoyed at having to prepare meals from scratch, but I would probably be grateful for all the pre-measured freezer foods. And yes, I believed I would save money. Everyone else who did this said they did. I was at least happy to jump on that bandwagon!
Winter was coming. So was pay day. So were the last real grocery store trips for six months!
To be continued…
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.