Friday, 18 August 2017

08:56 – It was 69.9F (21C) when I took Colin out at 0630, mostly cloudy and muggy. Barbara is heading for the gym and supermarket this morning, after which she’ll be working in the garden and perhaps doing some work on science kits.

I asked Barbara to pick me up a couple of bags of frozen French fries because I want to do some dehydration experiments on them. She’s going to get me a bag of the thicker, crinkle-cut fries and another of the thin, shoestring fries so that I can compare the dehydration properties of each. My guess is that the shoestring fries will dehydrate better, simply because they have a larger surface area to volume ratio, but we’ll see. I will, of course, weigh the specimens before dehydrating them and then after different drying periods to calculate the percentage moisture and moisture loss of each.

We were just discussing this morning that we’re both very glad that Sparta is outside the path of totality for the eclipse. It’s going to be a real mess in that path across rural and small-town America. These areas simply aren’t capable of dealing with a massive influx of people. Gas stations will run out of fuel, supermarkets and restaurants will run out of food, Roach Motels will be charging $1,000 per night, emergency and medical services will be swamped, and so on. Even the roads aren’t designed to support the volume they may see. Dealing with even minor breakdowns and flat tires will be frustrating and time-consuming. EMS in many areas will be slow to respond because they’ll be in such high demand. Rural emergency rooms will be packed. Tempers will fray. Fist fights and worse will be frequent. We’re well out of it.

I write often about long-term food storage, but I got an interesting email yesterday that makes it clear I need to mention short-term food storage. This woman is in her late 30’s and is preparing only for herself and her daughter, age 15. She has several months’ worth of LTS food. Everything except meats, which presents a problem for her.

They’d like to buy a supply of Keystone Meats 28-ounce cans and put them on the shelf. They’ve already ordered small numbers of the various Keystone Meats, and like all of them. The problem is, she’s looking at the possibility of a long-term emergency where refrigeration is not available, and a 28-ounce can is too much for the two of them to eat at one sitting.

So their LTS pantry currently has maybe a 3-month supply of 12.5-ounce cans of Costco chicken, and not much other meat. Freeze-dried meats are out of the question cost-wise. Neither of them particularly likes canned tuna or salmon, and both of them despise Spam. They both like chicken, but not every day. She’d like to store a lot more variety in her canned meats. So what are the alternatives?

First, she can actively search out smaller cans of different meats. Keystone does sell all of their meats in smaller (14.5-ounce) cans, but the cost per ounce is much higher, and those smaller cans can be difficult to find. Costco used to carry 12-ounce cans of Harvest Creek Pulled Pork, but no longer does so. (We just moved the last cans of that pulled pork from the deep pantry up to the kitchen. They have a best-by date of 6/27/17.) Costco does offer 12-ounce cans of roast beast for about $3.50 per can. It’s not Barbara’s favorite, but she will eat it. She’s not a big beef eater anyway. I think it’s pretty good, about equivalent to Keystone beef chunks. There are also alternatives like DAK canned hams that might be worth taste-testing.

Second, she can pressure-can meats herself, as several of the Prepper Girls do. After the upfront cost of a decent pressure canner and related supplies, it’ll cost her about $0.75 to put up a one-pint (one pound) jar of whatever meats she wants to store. And, of course, the cost of the meat itself, but she can buy that in bulk when it’s on sale. It’s a lot of time, work, and fuel, but depending on what meats she decides to pressure-can, it’ll probably be about break-even cost-wise compared to buying commercially-canned meats. And it’s perfectly safe if she follows USDA recommendations.

I’ll call home pressure-canning MTS, medium-term storage, if only because some vendors of canning jars and lids have made some disturbing statements about how long their products will maintain a safe seal. At one point, some vendors were saying only one year, but I believe they’ve upped that to 18 months now. Still, in the past we all assumed that pressure-canned foods would remain safe for many year or even decades, so these new recommendations are disturbing. I’m not sure what’s changed to cause the dramatic reduction in rated shelf life. Perhaps the shift away from BPA?

Third, just because you don’t have refrigeration doesn’t mean you can’t preserve meats from day to day. For thousands of years, people have used pottage to do just that, particularly during the winter months. A pot of a meat dish kept on low heat remains good for a long, long time. Back the middle ages, people kept pottage going for literally months on end, adding things to the pot every day–from a scoop of grain or beans to some chunks of rabbit or squirrel or quail or whatever meat they could get–and eating their meals from it.

We could do exactly that here if it ever became necessary. Our propane supply is large enough to keep the smallest burner on our cooktop running 24/7 on low for many years. If we were heating with our wood stove in a long-term emergency, we could also use that. Or, in the winter, of course, we’d have outdoors refrigeration.

But summer or winter, there’s an easier solution based on modern technology: the vacuum bottle. We keep two or three of these wide-mouth vacuum bottles on hand, and they’re capable of keep hot foods hot overnight. So, for example, we might make up a pot of beef with barley soup or beef stew or whatever. After the meal, we’d transfer the leftovers, still hot, into one or more of these Thermos bottles, where they’d still be perfectly safe to eat 24 hours later. Or we could simply transfer the hot Dutch oven to one of our large coolers, which would keep the food hot enough to prevent microorganisms from growing in it.

She also ended her message by commenting on a question I’ve raised more than once: why do people listen to me? Her answer was, “Because you obviously know what you’re talking about. You don’t pretend to know about things you don’t know, you admit it when you’re wrong and you’re not trying to sell me anything. This is the only prepping web site I’ve seen like that.”

While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m still in the same boat as everyone else: I don’t know what I don’t know. And even more worrying is the things I think I know that I turn out to be wrong about. Still, I just realized that as of this year I’ve been a prepper for 55 years, ever since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, so I’ve had time to figure a lot of stuff out by actual experience.