Recipes For Disaster

58 thoughts on “Recipes For Disaster”

  1. Where did you get your grain mill? I like the manual option rather than the kitchenaide since I don’t have one of those. Plus the manual one will work without electricity.

  2. Hey, where’d you get those glass fermenting weights and lids? That looks like a great, modular setup.

  3. Thanks Johnny — several years of great reading have nudged me gently towards a more resilient situation. The wildfires raised my eyebrows last year. Using your many posts and links, I improved my outdoor cooking ability, water storage, and 3 buckets/backpacks of emergency gear (family of 5). It was nice this week to hand a healthcare-employed neighbor 3 N95 masks as we had extra on hand. Our food storage situation is meh, but we’ll inch that forward next.

    1. I always have an abundance of toilet paper, paper towels, and Kleenex on hand. There are a few giant Coscto mega packs I have yet to touch – and that’s normal for me. But as an extra special just-in-case backup plan I have a “lota” which is an Arabic or Indian style wash pot. It’s basically a small watering can like the kind used for flower pots – but for ablutions.

  4. Thanks for this post. In your experience, is buying bulk grains and such cheapest from a local store or farmer or elsewhere? Thanks so much.

    1. Bulk grains (25 or 50 pound sacks) are heavily subsidized commodities. Almost no small scale local farmer is going to grow and sell wheat, rice, oats, or corn at the retail level (except for fresh sweet corn in summer – which is a different thing entirely.) I sometimes arrange for bulk purchases of dry goods from people like this Do I save money? Shrug. I just like the local shop. But for most people you may as well go with the big box store or an online distributor. I’m fine with Costco or a company like this

  5. Johnny:
    How would you rank the importance of the following kitchen appliances for someone just starting out on the path of storing food: pressure canner; vacuum sealer (for jars); food dehydrator; steam juicer? Which of them would you definitely recommend one buy/obtain/borrow? And are there any other can’t-live-without appliances you would suggest? Michael W

    1. It depends on your diet and lifestyle.

      Here’s my personal ranking of the machines you listed:

      1) Pressure canner
      2) Food dehydrator
      3) Vacuum sealer
      4) Steam juicer

      I have never used a steam juicer so I can’t comment on its usefulness. I would substitute a thermal cooker instead. But that’s just me given my situation.

      The devil is in the details. A pressure canner itself isn’t useful if you don’t also have a large supply of glass jars, metal lids, rings, and shelves for storing, etc. In other words, just having a device sitting in the garage all by itself isn’t likely to help you in a crisis if you haven’t already been using it all along before problems emerge.

      Storage containers – filled with food you already enjoy and cook on a regular basis – would be my first choice.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Johnny. We’ll start gradually, with containers and foods we like, and then maybe invest in some appliances down the road.

      2. On your thermal cooker post someone asked how it compares to an Instant Pot. Obviously the IP is more flexible but depends entirely on reliable electricity. Have you tried the IP (or other electric pressure cookers) and if so what did you think?

        We switched from a stovetop pressure cooker on a gas range to an Instant Pot for our beans and steel cut oatmeal, because the delayed start and Keep Warm functions make it a hands off process – but in a pinch we could use the old pressure cooker on the wood stove (or the gas range) if electricity were unavailable.

        1. I’ve never used an Instant Pot. If I had one I’m sure I would find a use for it. But the thermal cooker fits my desire for simplicity. There’s a spectrum from fast and easy (but brittle) to slow and requiring forethought (and highly resilient.) I know where I want to be.

  6. With social distancing in effect, are you able to access your shared fridges and freezers?

    What do you make with canned meat? Do you work your way through it in normal times, or is that ore of a rainy day option?

    1. There’s no immediate need to access multiple freezers at this time. The point of distributed storage across multiple households is to preserve access in an earthquake situation when some homes survive while others fail. That’s not the problem today.

      Canned meat works for soups, stews, taco and burrito filling, chicken for sandwiches (similar to tuna,) ground beef for pasta Bolognese, meat pies…

  7. Great post!

    Regarding the bulk grains: I’ve read about people using Mylar bags as liners with oxygen absorbers or placing dry ice into their buckets before putting the grains in. Are those not necessary? On a related note, how long do you have to eat the whole bucket after you crack one open?

    1. I have used large mylar bags inside some if my five gallon buckets for things I don’t plan on using for a really long time. Mostly wheat and rice. No harm at all in providing a little extra protection.

  8. Question:
    Is this just you or are there more in the area doing this?
    My grandfather in Holland was born in 1900, left school at 12 and had to raise a family in the crisis years from a workman’s wage. Then came the German occupation.
    So growing food and saving reserves was a matter of life and death.
    However, often things were done more collectively then the usual US “preppers”.
    Someone had chickens, someone else fruit trees, food was exchanged for milk with a dairy farmer; several families together bought a young piglet in spring, fed it with their collective kitchen waste and divided the meat in october.
    Not a city thing but something like this could work in your “country residence” if the right community was there, no?

    P.S I love your site for the city planning and development, ‘got here from Strongtowns

    1. I reach out to everyone in my life all the time and attempt to incorporate emergency plans with them. Mostly no one is interested. The best I can do is install earthquake water and dry/canned goods in the homes of other people if they let me. Honestly, most people just don’t see the point even if they appreciate that I do it.

      The irony is that even in a semi-crisis like the one we’re currently experiencing people point to the fact that there’s still plenty of food on the grocery store shelves so what’s the big fuss? They’re correct for the moment. I think it’s possible the economic problems might be more pressing for many folks in the future so the availability of supermarket food may might be the biggest concern. But we’ll see.

  9. Dried, shelf stable pulses and grains like Johnny mentions are the foundation of Indian recipes. Most Indian recipes of this sort are not necessarily what you find at Indian restaurants, but are what many people of Indian ancestry grew up eating day to day.

    These recipes are in part a result of having to prepare and survive through the near certainty of upcoming famines and pandemics in pre-industrial India. As a bonus, many of them increase the nutritional value of the dried ingredients through fermentation or sprouting.

    If you have some time and suitable dry ingredients on hand, it’s a great time to learn this cuisine.

    A few examples:
    Sprouted Moong Daal salad:

  10. Good job Johnny. I’m in full agreement with your reasoning and actions toward being prepared for any emergency. It was still considered normal to put food by and keep a full pantry in the 70s. By the 80s and the leap into crass consumerism not so much. Would be a good thing if this virus event galvanized folks to reconsider veg gardening, supporting local farmers, learn practical skills and become more self reliant. Hard to say.

    1. There’s been a run on vegetable seeds and seedlings here in Brisbane, Australia so you might be right. Even with my garden which keeps us in greens and eggs, I’m working out what else I can put in to round out our food supply. With enough dried legumes and creativity, protein really isn’t a problem; it’s carbohydrates and vitamins that are the puzzle. (I made a lentil-based moussaka when lamb mince hit $40 / kg around here; it was pretty damn tasty. Enough herbs and spices will make anything taste good.)

      1. Yes, garden seeds are suddenly unavailable in my part of California – including the usual web vendors. Fortunately I already have a substantial stash of diversified heirloom seeds that I’ve been using and saving from past crops. The best carbohydrates for a small garden are potatoes, squash, beets, and leeks.

  11. Very impressive and I’ve gotta ask. How do you combat insect infestation, in the dried goods? This past year I stored oatmeal too long, and ended up with cigarette beetles (ugh). In treatment process, I learned insect eggs, etc are common in our dried goods (too small to be strained out). So, important to store dry items in glass/plastic or freeze/refrigerate. In the pics I see you do this. And I’d like to know how you handle when bags are too big, or there’s not enough cold storage. Adrianne

    1. I haven’t had problems with insects in the dry goods. Partly I think it’s the relatively dry climate here in California. Partly I’m good with keeping things clean and sealed up. One option is to use dry ice to suck all the oxygen out of a container. Another is to place dry goods in the oven and heat things enough to kill bugs. Good luck.

  12. This crisis has made me question just how fragile the large-scale, industrialized food production and delivery systems are. Somewhat counterintuitively, I’ve come to the conclusion that these systems are actually incredibly robust. There are tons of redundancies built into these systems and failures seem to be pretty easily and quickly solved by market forces. A large scale crop failure in the American Midwest, for example, is easily solved by importing more crops from Brazil or Australia. A failure at a single shipping port means crops are diverted to the next closest port and delivered via rail or truck. The fact that I can still have groceries delivered to my door two hours after placing the order despite the fact that there’s a pandemic is really a pretty remarkable thing. If, on the other hand, I were dependent on a garden or local farm to meet my needs, that’s an incredibly vulnerable situation. A hard freeze in my location leads to crop failure, leads to hunger. Before modern food production people regularly starved as a result of localized weather abnormalities. Likewise, being dependent on a pantry makes me vulnerable to everything from theft to home fire to fungus.

    1. You and I are in broad agreement, as is stated in this post. The supermarket shelves are mostly full at the moment. But I attach an asterisk next to my position. Our individual globalized systems are hyper efficient and have some logistical redundancies. True. But these just-in-time supply chains are susceptible to other disruptions that haven’t yet emerged. Finance is the most pressing in the short term. Geopolitical disorder is a potential threat. Time will tell how things play out over time.

  13. Do you have a recipe for the saltwater brine for the pickled veggies? Also I prefer making Cashew creamer and milk. Thanks esp for addressing those of us who need our coffee – never thought of getting the raw beans for storage like that. But some are starting to roast their own beans on their outdoor grill, and apparently it makes the beans even more delicious.

  14. For the milk – vegan blogs also have a lot of recipes for oat milk, and the general process is pretty simple: put oats and water in a blender, blend, strain (to get a perfectly liquid result). There’s a lot of ways you can improve on the basic idea, of course; and the other milk-like products you keep are probably far superior to it. But I thought you might like to know about it if you didn’t already. As a last result it may taste better than the dreaded powdered milk!

      1. Oat flakes + water. Add some pressure to the mixture to release the vitamins into the water and make it into some hazy water. Drink the water, eat or swallow the residual as it pleases. Mix itup with other ingredients to make it palatable according to personal taste. Have had it much during my high school years and in those years made mostly out of boredom (we had a large suppy of oats in the pantry in our family for several reasons btw).

    1. This also happens to be the first step in making oat horchata. After that step, add sweetened condensed milk, Mexican cinnamon or powdered cinnamon, and vanilla and blend.

  15. Nice setup, Johnny. Have you considered the sideline creation of a recipe book for the essentials? I’m not saying it’d be a huge seller (tons of cookbooks out there) but it would be nice. Very few cookbooks focus on essentials (and banana bread, which should be considered an essential if it’s not); most are full of recipes that are pretty complex (at least to me), to be kind.

    1. No generator, but I discovered I don’t need one. Last fall we had massive forest fires and the utility company cut the power for five days. It’s not particularly hot here in San Francisco. The freezers are all in cool dark places like garages. The freezer doors were kept closed. And they were packed with solidly frozen stuff that retained a steady temperature until the power came back on. Plus, I have 500+ jars of home pressure canned food – most of it meat – as a backup. And I can ramp up the cooking and canning with propane in a crisis that lasts longer than a week. There are no perfect systems, but mine is better than most…

      1. There are some hidden benefits to being in the otherwise dysfunctional state of California. Lack of temperature extremes is a big one. No need for heat nor AC. Can cook outside and garden most of the year. And in SF, land of no summer, apparently meat stays frozen for five days.

        In addition, the ocean is right there. My next venture is crabbing off a pier. Just drop a pot and get dinner! Sure beats stalking a deer in the Idaho wilderness with a crossbow. Well, that’s actually pretty cool, but I’m a city slicker who can barely drive stick much less skin a deer. I can, however, drop a crab into boiling water or steam mussels I plucked off the rocks.

      2. I’ve read that one should freeze a container of water, then set a quarter on top of the ice, in each freezer. Then after an outage when the freezer is operating again and can be safely opened, there’s an indicator of whether the inside temp went over 32, and some idea of how long it went by the position of the quarter in the ice.

  16. Well done, sir! I’ve practiced most of the same activities (except for grinding our own flour and coffee). One quibble: it may not be a lack of “cash” that limits our access to food purchasing, but a failure of electronic money transfers. During a pandemic, some people are starting to question the safety of handling currency. You can’t order deliveries without paying in advance, and you can’t use cash/currency for that. You must have credit.

  17. Thank you for posting this. For me it underlines the fact that competent pantry management and knowing how to cook are tandem skills, and there is a learning curve to climb. But it’s doable, and well worth doing.

    As for honey, yes indeed, it can keep for 1,000 years, never mind the expiration date on the bottle, so that’s a great item for the pantry.

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