A great past time for me has always been learning how to make new and different types of food. Partially due to the fact that the food when I was growing up was very basic and bland even if it was well balanced and filling.
I do want to thank my mother for not knowing how to cook as that gave me an incentive to learn along with her. My mother was born in a Kibbutz in Israel where everything was communal and so for meals you could just go to the communal kitchen to eat, or take the food home.
Most people did not do much cooking in their tiny home kitchens except for special occasions, like my grandmother did with her cakes. I actually don’t think my grandmother started cooking regular home meals until she was in her 70s. By setting up this type of system the Kibbutz felt people could be more efficient in their work habits. This type of mentality has spread across all modern society that cooking is a waste of time.
I as a teenager, and even now, can and love to spend hours “wasting” time in the kitchen in the search of a certain level of goodness in my food. And I get to eat all of my less than perfect “mistakes”!
I like to set aside Sunday mornings as no technology mornings and focus on cleaning the house and cooking food for the week. I tend to cook up big pots of basic things without putting much flavor in them like rice or beans or chicken so it is available during the week for me to whip up add-ons like stirfry or just heat up and season a serving size.
I also have been part of a freezer group where you find 7 or 8 people who cook food you can eat and you cook enough for all of them. Typically freeze a 4-serving bag or container or individual servings dependent on what it is and whether the people in your group families or individuals.
Then comes the fun part: you trade. You get to go home with 7 or 8 different new things while you only had to cook the one meal. Fun, simple, new food, and economical! But only works if you have a deep freeze.
As I wrote in a past article food sustains us physically but food is also medicine for the mind and spirit. This is what people call comfort food. Another way to have food comfort us is to have it be real food and have a history behind it. I love partnering with local farmers for my food as I get to learn about the love and hardship involved in growing the food. I get to interact with who makes my food and therefore it fulfills me beyond just the physical.
Let me break down some of the ways I get good quality food for a great price:
1. For local goodness shop in season. I can get bushels of tomatoes for next to nothing.
2. Partner up with local grocery stores that you will take all of their throwaways. These are usually veggies with one spot, packages of food that they can’t sell past the sell by date (a sell by date is arbitrarily made up and is not an eat by date), day old bread, overstock, or a change in inventory.
I once got 20+ new tubs of sour cream as the store was no longer going to sell that brand. If the store has a policy about giving it to you, ask them if you could get it for your chickens. I have had stores keep bushels of veggies in the cooler for me to pick up twice a week. I have worked out deals with store managers that their companies had a no-giveaway policy as they were afraid of lawsuits, but they would have their employees bring it out to the “dumpster” when I was there to load my truck. People hate that they are throwing away 40% of the food in America.
3. Work/volunteer at a farm or a farm store or a co-op grocery in exchange for food. This way you can learn more about the food, help the people who need the labor, and get fed.
4. Although you can dumpster dive, taking food that is still sealed in the package directly out of the dumpster is becoming harder and harder to do with companies being afraid of lawsuits. Companies are now using trash compactors, employees are being required to rip open all packages and even to pour chemicals over the food to keep people from taking it. That is why I recommend the way I do it in #2.
5. Scrounging/wildcrafting. This is an important skill to acquire as we are completely surrounded by a literal smörgåsbord of wild food. How many people work diligently to try to kill off the dandelion in their lawn? Dandelion is good for so many things: tea (flower and root) and greens (salad or cooked). I never remember my mother coming back from the garden with just greens she grew. There would be dandelion, violets, dock, poke weed, sour cress, mint and sometimes even wild carrot.
6. Of course, the best way to have a good high-quality food source is to grow it yourself. Our family almost always had goats for milk, cheese and yogurt, and chickens for eggs.
I rarely, unless I am baking, am willing to buy a non-local egg. The taste and the color is so much different than factory raised “eggs."
Herbs are very expensive so keep pots of them growing in your kitchen. I will cover how to make soup stock using scraps (and how to can it) in my next article.
7. Buy in bulk. I have written a little about this already but it is very important to only buy lots of what you will actually eat. Don’t buy for the end of the world or for emergencies but rather what you will actually eat that year.
My dad tended to work outdoor jobs like construction or landscaping or horse trainer and that meant he didn’t have much work in the winter. We would stockpile food while it was in season and while he was working to make it through the winter. I knew it was going to be a good winter when he brought home a 5-gallon bucket of almond butter instead of the usual 5 gallon bucket of honey and peanut butter he usually brought home.
A regular winter snack was mom’s freshly baked bread (had to be fresh as we had no fridge) with either oil and roasted garlic powder (sometimes nutritional yeast, which has a cheesy, nutty flavor) on it or honey and nut butter on it. Note no butter or cheese as that is more expensive and requires refrigeration.
In the spring/early summer when we had plenty of milk from the goats we had fresh farmer’s cheese with the bread and later in the summer fresh tomatoes.
Farmer’s cheese (fancily called chevre blanq or queso blanco) is very easy to make with any leftover milk. In the spring/early summer we always have lots of extra milk. If you have milk that you are thinking of throwing away instead make this cheese. We have even made it usually powdered milk. I don’t remember if skim milk will work as the wholer the milk is the more curds you can get. 1 gallon of milk makes just under a pound of cheese.
1. Heat milk to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Candy thermometer works perfect hanging on the side of the pot.
2. Add something acidic to curdle the milk. Typically we use vinegar or lemon juice. Pour this in very slowly while stirring. Don’t put too much in as then the cheese (as well as the whey) will be sour. The milk will all of a sudden curdle and separate from the whey.
3. Strain the curd out but save the whey. Put a cheesecloth inside a colander to strain.
4. While the cheese is hot, this is the time to add your flavors. My favorite is cinnamon with raisins but you can put any herbs and spices into the cheese and the flavors with get baked it.
5. The longer the cheese drips, the more solid it will get. If you want a soft, spreadable cheese, just put in a container and serve. If you want a harder cheese, either hang up the cheese-cloth above the sink for half an hour or put colander in the fridge on top of a bowl to let drip for as long as you want.
This cheese can be frozen for later usage.
Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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