By Nancy Farris – When planning your emergency food pantry, you should first ask yourself two questions: If an emergency occurs, what are the things I will most likely lack; and, what cooking facilities will I have in an emergency?
The answer to the first question is probably power and water. The answer to the second depends on your situation. Most plans I have seen for emergency essentials when it comes to food supplies include huge quantities of meat, rice, dried beans, and canned tuna.
Emergency Essentials: What Food do I Need to Store?
- Dried beans
- Dried fruit
- Meat (cans or jars)
- Soup mixes
- Dried milk
- Peanut butter
- Garden (summer – eggplant, okra, crowder peas, fresh greens)
- Garden (winter – collards, cabbage, turnips)
For an emergency which involves finances, or the inability to get to a supermarket, dried foods are great. I keep a good array of dried beans, rice, pasta and some dried fruit. I also keep bags of flour and cornmeal in my freezer. When I take out my reserve bag to use it, I immediately make a note on my grocery list to replace the emergency essentials.
If I have water and power, I can soak a pot of pinto beans overnight and, the next morning, cook enough beans for two or three meals. To reduce the enzymes which cause gas and bloating, I drain off the soak water, boil the beans for half an hour, and drain off that water. I then add coriander and other seasonings to the pot and simmer it for a couple of hours until the beans are done.
However, if a summer thunderstorm or a hurricane knocks out the main power plant in my area, dried foods would be impractical because I would not have water to reconstitute them nor power for the long cooking time. In a power outage, I need food that I can prepare quickly. If a prolonged power outage occurs, as in some of the 2004 hurricanes, the refrigerator won’t work, my freezer will start defrosting, I may need to conserve camp stove fuel, and the water pump won’t do its job. It’s a good idea to have a backup off-grid water system for emergency situations.
Water would become a major consideration in a power outage. I keep two covered buckets filled with water and a few plastic jugs for washing and flushing purposes. For drinking, I have several glass jugs. Periodically, I use that water for potted plants and fill the jugs with fresh water. However, if the power goes out, I would need to ration the water.
If I lose power during a winter blizzard, I can cook on my wood-burning cook stove or heater; but in summer, with temperature and humidity at high levels, I would hesitate to fire up that wood burner. If the power is out all over my area, I may be unable to purchase more fuel for my camp stove, so I need to ration the fuel also.
Another question to consider as you plan for the emergency essentials in your pantry: What are my family’s comfort foods? In an emergency, people feel anxious and may suffer from cabin fever. They need comfort foods, not a menu of unfamiliar foods they don’t enjoy. If you never serve dried beans and you pull them out as an emergency essential during a crisis, your family may suffer stomach upset at a time when you least want it.
Stocking your emergency pantry with foods your family eats regularly also simplifies the matter of rotating the food. If your family does not enjoy pinto beans, you may still have the 50 pounds of pintos that you purchased before the Y2K disaster that didn’t materialize. On the other hand, if you often make chili with pinto beans, you have already replaced the beans you bought last year.
The best emergency pantry for summer: a garden full of fresh foods, many of which can be eaten straight from the plant. We try to have something growing most of the year, though it is a challenge. In winter we’re growing cabbage, collards and turnips, all of which withstand freezing temperatures. In the hot, dry days of July and August, we have eggplant, okra and crowder peas.
Food put up in jars is another good emergency essential for your pantry. The food is already cooked, and the liquid in the jars is adequate for the brief heating required.
Not only do I have a good variety of canned vegetables in my pantry, but I also can some meat. My husband hunts, so I have a few jars of venison on my shelves. Last year he harvested a wild boar, so I canned some pork. When we butchered the extra roosters in our chicken yard, I canned a few jars of chicken.
To can meat, I cut it up, add enough liquid to cover, bring the pot to a boil, and cook until done. I then pack meat and liquid into jars. I process it in a pressure canner for an hour and a half at 10 pounds pressure. When I open the jar, I stir in a bit of flour or cornstarch to thicken the gravy as it heats.
As you read this, think about what type of emergency may arise in the next few weeks. Probably you have a wood-burning device, so start your emergency essentials with a five-pound bag of rice, 10 pounds each of pinto and navy beans, a sackful of cornmeal, and an extra jar of peanut butter. Find some gallon-sized glass jugs and fill them with water. Buy an extra jar of mayonnaise, and a jar of honey (preferably locally produced). If your family likes tuna, salmon or other canned fish, stock some extras.
Those things will form the skeleton of an emergency pantry. As you deplete supplies, purchase replacements.
Right now is also the time to plan next year’s garden. Make space for vegetables that could go from plant to mouth without processing. Salad vegetables are obviously good choices. Dried fruits make a good addition to the emergency pantry. If you have water and power, you can reconstitute dried fruit, serve it as dessert, or use it for pies. In an emergency, dried fruit makes a good snack, and needs no preparation. We take dried fruit as snacks when we go hiking.
I also can soup mixtures. Okra soup, a Southern favorite, consists of tomatoes, cut up okra, corn and beans. I also can a soup mixture of potatoes, carrots, beans and corn. When I can mixtures, I look up the time required for each ingredient, then process for the longest time-corn needs an hour, so for pints of soup containing corn, I process for an hour at 10 pounds.
Sometimes the emergency is nothing more than returning home from a hiking trip to find that I have no time to cook supper. I can mix a batch of cornbread, open a can of soup, and voila! Supper is on the table in less than half an hour.
Whatever kind of emergency you might face, you can prepare now so that you have meals are the least of your difficulties!
Originally published in Countryside July / August 2005 and regularly vetted for accuracy.