Back to Prepping

A major part of food security is being able to store what you grow or buy for the future. It’s fine while you can pop down to the shops if you run short of something, but what if you can’t? It’s easy enough to disrupt the remarkable supply chain that ensures food is on the supermarket shelf when you walk in – floods or heavy snow blocking roads and preventing deliveries can happen any time, and more serious problems might ensue from crop failures, fuel crises, war, disease and other geopolitical and climatic events.

One of my criteria for “ideal” storage foods is that you shouldn’t have to do anything to preserve them – they shouldn’t need freezing or chilling. They should just sit in a dark cupboard or a box and not change. If I need to use them in an emergency, the less cooking they need, the better – I might not have the means to cook them, or might not want to advertise “get your grub here!!” with the smell of hot food, if others in the area are likely to be hungry. Tinned foods are one of the “traditional” prepper foods, either shop-bought or home-canned (bottled, in the UK, usually), but dried foods are also good.

The other day, we decided we had a backlog of eggs. There’s only the two of us in the house and despite it being winter, the chickens are still laying quietly away to themselves, although somewhat less determinedly than during the summer! All the same, 20 eggs a week does get a bit beyond us from time to time, so the other day I scrambled a dozen eggs in a very little butter, then put them in the dehydrator. The following day, I ground them to a coarse powder and vacuum-packed six portions of dried egg, which just need a dob of hot water and a stir to reconstitute as scrambled eggs again – or could be eaten as they are, or mixed with cold water. Sealed up as it is and stored in a cool, dry, dark place, it should have a shelf-life of 5 years or so.

Today I’ve started on a new batch of pemmican, which involved boning and mincing 1kg of rabbit meat (from our own bunnies, of course!) and putting that in the dehydrator. Once it’s dried thoroughly, probably tomorrow night, I’ll grind it to a powder and mix with an equal weight of melted beef dripping (doesn’t matter what sort of fat you use, but I like beef dripping) and then seal it up in 300g portions. Each 300g of pemmican will be within a whisker of 2,000 calories, shelf-stable in storage for years, doesn’t need refrigeration and contains everything a human needs to power a very active lifestyle. Pemmican’s not to everyone’s taste but it’s probably the oldest method of preserving meat known. It was the mainstay of the diet of the voyageurs, the canoe-paddling fur-traders of Canada, who burned through 5,000 calories a day (1.5lbs of pemmican) on their journeys. I don’t usually add anything to my pemmican but you can add dried fruit, chopped nuts or honey for variety, or marinade the meat before drying to change the flavour of that ingredient.

So, that’s two good sources of home-grown shelf-stable long-term stored foods for the future.

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Yet Another Boring Catch-up Post….

One of the things that does amuse me about being a survivalist is that you spend your time thinking about and mitigating risks that would make life exciting, as a result of which life largely just ticks quietly along. Nothing earthshattering has occurred, mutant zombies have failed to overrun the country, Ebola hasn’t quite managed to make it out of Africa (yet) and the economy is largely staggering from quiet crisis to quieter whimpering crisis in the usual manner. We have winter tyres on the cars so there isn’t even the minor excitement of a bit of wheel-spin on a frosty road to give us an adrenalin rush.

If I was feeling tin-foily, I might try to connect some dots with the revelations that the US infrastructure’s computing systems has been infiltrated by some nasty malware of suspected Russian origin, a comment made last year (I think) about the US regarding an attack on their computing systems as an act of war, the simmering civil war (with alleged Russian stirring) in the Ukraine, the price of oil, the fact that the US mid-term elections have left them with a Democrat president and a solidly Republican Houses of Congress and the odd snippet I once heard somewhere that the US president has almost no power except during times of war, when he gets a lot of powers handed to him.

If I’m going to go down that line of speculation, however, I shall end up with a spade in my hand marking out the spot to put in a bomb shelter in the garden, so instead I’ve spent the day, rather more usefully, mucking out the bunnies, sexing Jezebel’s 9 youngsters and splitting them up into boys and girls in different cages, weaning Delilah’s 6 fat fluffy kits, making sure Trudy has everything she needs for her litter (due tonight) and putting Jezebel back in with Samson to ensure we get another litter along in due course.

We’re still quietly pulling produce off the allotment and stashing it in the freezer; this week we’ve lifted most of the leeks and frozen them in batches ready to use, as we have with several more pounds of carrots and parsnips. There’s lots more carrots and parsnips to come yet, though I may declare a war on slugs soon if I find many more neatly hollowed-out swedes. The jerusalem artichokes, for reasons they haven’t chosen to share with the world, have decided to flower just as they’re dying back for the winter. Something to do with the unusually mild, warm weather, perhaps? Who knows. Once they’ve finished, I’ll dig ’em up and store them, anyway.

The allotment committee have decided that they’re going to put the rents up for the plots next year, so adding another increment to our incentive to bring vegetable production back home and out of anyone else’s control or (hopefully!) reach.

28 rabbits and counting!

I woke up this morning with Jezebel’s little bunnies on my mind. The cage I moved them into yesterday wasn’t really big enough, though it was the only one free. So, this morning I’ve tidied the 9 NZWs from Delilah’s last litter into the freezer. They varied between 4 and 6 lbs liveweight, and we’ve frozen 17lbs of jointed meat, there’s a gallon and a half of stock, 2lbs of liver (pate-making tomorrow!), 1lb of kidneys and hearts (we plan a fry-up extravaganza tomorrow as well) and the dogs feasted on all the lungs along with their normal mince tonight. Jezebel’s bunch are now gallivanting around in a big cage happily and I can sleep easy again. The skins are in the freezer until I buy more alum to tan them with.

Tomorrow will also be our first venture into canning – we’re going to can some of the stock and freeze the rest. The canner was in use today purely as a pressure cooker (and only just fits on the biggest ring of the cooker!) and tomorrow will be a learning experience as well as a culinary pleasure.

So, today there’s only 28 rabbits in the shed. Hopefully that’ll come down to 24 before Trudy produces her next litter and bumps it up again!

Holidays…. The Aftermath

Taking a week off to go relax in the Orkneys was a great idea. The weather was fantastic (teeshirt weather! Hardly any wind! Glorious blue skies! It ain’t always so nice up there…) and we all had a lovely time, explored new places, marvelled at the ingenious and industrious lives our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors must have led to leave such monuments behind (the Rings of Brodgar and Stenness, Skara Brae, the Broch of Gurness, Maes Howe, the Tombs of the Eagles and of the Otters) and, incidentally, took good note of the very wide range of natural resources available.

I may have an unusual family, I’ll admit, but we’d hardly been there ten minutes before my mother was exclaiming at the various wild plants that could be foraged from the roadsides. My sister and brother-in-law had had a couple of days up there ahead of our arrival and had pinned down what times the local seal checked out the salmon tanks just off ‘our’ beach, and we all put our heads together identifying wild plants we hadn’t met before.

Anyway, the holiday was great, we all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, breathed lots of fresh sea air, admired craftwork, bought souvenirs and went beach-combing together.

When we got back, however, my first stop was out in the rabbit shed to check out the babies. The lights didn’t work.

In itself, not a problem. I walked over to the boiler shed at the end of the line of four sheds (rabbits in no.3) and flipped the circuit breaker back to ‘on’ again. Hey presto, lights.

Unfortunately, the lights and power in the shed are all controlled by that one circuit breaker so the freezers had been off, too. I lifted the lid, poked a flabby, soft package of venison and confirmed that it was a home disaster.

Two freezers, all defrosted. All my lovely home-slaughtered bunny meat, the dog food, the skins waiting for tanning, all the veg from the allotment we’d frozen, meat, eggs….. we had to throw the whole lot out. Sunday, the day after we’d come home, we spent mostly binning stuff, or throwing it on the compost and, with the skins, hurriedly mixing up an alum-and-salt solution and submerging them in the hope of salvaging something.

It’s just as well we have one freezer on the house electrical circuits and also dry and pickle produce, or it could have been even worse! It’s a blow, yes, but it’s not a major calamity.

Some sleuthing, texts to my daughter (she’d gone down to London on the Friday morning) and chatting to neighbours established that the village had had a brown-out on Tuesday morning. That’s enough to flip the trip in the shed – for some reason it seems unusually sensitive to power fluctuations, even though the house circuits just shrug them off. Michelle, being young and lacking life-experience, noted the lights were off but didn’t think about the freezers or go check the trip switch (or even email/text me and say anything about it!) Oh well – now she has the life-experience for the next time it happens….

We also had to pick up the dogs from kennels, the other car from the park-and-ride where Michelle had left it when she flew to London, Michelle herself coming back from London, muck out the bunnies and the chickens, work through the collected mail…. Sunday was a loooong day.

Monday we did a walk-round in the garden, I went and looked after someone’s dogs (they’ve gone on holiday) and the secretary of the gun club phoned to tell me my application to join had been approved and please could I send my subs to him! This is great news as I’d started to wonder what had happened – do I have a secret police record I know nothing of? Had they lost my application? Had my referees told them I was unfit to be trusted with a firecracker? Anyway, this is a big step forward in the quest towards gaining a firearms certificate, as I can now attend the club and my sponsor will provide some instruction and intros to others. In about 6 months time I will, hopefully, be applying for my FAC and can then buy a rifle of my own to practice with instead of being reliant on good-natured people at the range loaning me theirs for a few shots here and there!

[For those outside the UK – when I say ‘secret police record’ I don’t mean a record with the secret police, I mean a secret record with the ordinary police. As far as I know, we haven’t fallen so far as secret police – and the way British civil servants leave data and computers all over commuter trains, I don’t think they could keep secret records if they tried!]

Tuesday we managed to get back to the allotment and started fighting the weeds off again. We did bring home 3.75kg of courgettes (some big enough to call marrows!), a pound of carrots, a day’s food for the rabbits, some strawberries, a meal’s worth of calebrese (the last of this year’s crop) and nearly 5kg of cabbages. So, when we got home, we made 4lbs of beet relish (the beetroot in the garden have turned into cannonballs instead of golfballs!), I’ve started a saurkraut culture, we brined 3lbs of marrows and some of the cabbage for more chutney and pickled cabbage, and feasted on home-grown produce again. I boiled up the carrots and mashed them, they’re the first item back in the freezer, the first step back to re-establishing our food stocks.

In the evening I also pulled the rabbit skins out of the tanning mixture and peeled the inner membrane off the skins, then refreshed the pickle and dumped them back in again. There may be a little fur-slip but on the whole I’m cautiously encouraged I might be able to salvage something of them.

Today has been another allotment and cooking day, with about 6lbs of marrow chutney cooling on the side at the moment and another couple of pounds of mashed carrots chilling in the fridge ready to freeze. We’ve pulled up the last of the peas and composted them, pulled up the calabrese plants and fed them to the chickens, and the rabbits are all comatose in their cages surrounded by weeds and greens. We almost feel caught-up again!

I’m going to put another page up in the next few days with all the recipes on it for future reference.

Courgette Relish

I’ve been wanting to try out a recipe a friend passed on to me on a self-sufficiency/self-reliance forum a while back and today we had enough courgettes and other ingredients to do it.

Put 500g courgettes, thinly sliced, and three small onions, also thinly sliced, in a bowl of cold water with 3 tablespoons of cooking salt (the non-iodised sort) as a brine mix. Leave for 1 hour.

While that’s sitting, put 500ml of cider vinegar in a pan with 140g caster sugar, 1 small tin sweetcorn (ours was with added peppers), 1 teaspoon of mustard powder, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and 3 thinly-sliced garlic cloves. Bring the mix gently to the boil and allow to simmer for 3 minutes, ensuring all the sugar and spices are dissolved, then set aside to cool.

After an hour, drain the courgettes and onions, pat dry gently with kitchen paper to avoid diluting the pickling liquid, then add to the pan and stir until everything’s thoroughly mixed and coated in the fluid. Bottle and leave to cool completely before putting in the fridge; it should keep at least 3 weeks.

Courgette Relish

Courgette Relish

Yesterday my vacuum packer/sealer finally arrived – a sordid saga of couriers losing parcels in transit – so to familiarise myself with the controls I vacuum packed some dog-biscuits, ready for when the whippets go into kennels in a few weeks (we’re away on holiday for a week, so the dogs get to go stay in a pet hotel and be adored by fresh humans).

It’

The vacuum sealer.

The vacuum sealer.

It’s not the biggest and most sophisticated gadget in the world, but it does a very satisfactory job of turning a handful of dog kibble into this:-

Vacuum-packed dog biscuits.

Vacuum-packed dog biscuits.

Having tried it out with dog food, I then packed some hiking meals (dried eggs, dried mushrooms, dried onion, dried potato – just add water and stir for instant food on the trail!), some hot chocolate powder (one-portion servings for hiking drinks) and tried out the bag-seal-only function on the latest 500g of peas going into the freezer.

It all works.

And Back to Real Life…

We’re now into pea-picking with an abundance of fresh peas every few days – we’re bringing home about 1.5kg – 2.5kg every couple of days. Admittedly, there’s a fair bit of that weight that’s pods, not peas but, even allowing for that, we’ve put over 3kg of peas into the freezer in the past week.

Calabrese is just starting to head up nicely on the allotment, taking over from the summer purple sprouting broccoli as that goes over in the garden. The chickens and rabbits are loving the uprooted brassica plants! Cauliflower in the garden are also now over (and we’ve frozen a couple of kg): on the allotment they’re looking healthy but not yet forming heads.

The red onions are now all lifted and drying, the whites are starting to come home.

We’ve been eating our own courgettes this week and the plants are flowering well, so the supply should keep up for a while yet. Tomatoes are still coming in steadily from the plants in the conservatory, though the harvest this year isn’t a patch on the super crop last year. Last year we were growing grafted plants and next year we’ll go back to them – hopefully that’ll bring back our bumper harvests!

Beetroot are coming in nicely from the garden and looking good for later on the allotment, too. At the moment we’re just eating them as they come but hopefully we’ll start freezing and pickling soon.

We singled the swedes today and it looks very promising – we should have enough swedes to be self-sufficient for the year. The bunnies and chooks pounced on the thinnings, too!

The buckwheat has been a major disappointment; it never really got past the white clover and though some of it flowered, the rest just didn’t do anything. I’m clearing it all in sections for rabbit food, so it’s not wasted, and I’ll try again next year without the clover. Perhaps I need a less vigorous cover-crop! We’re also having trouble finding the main carrot, parsnip and root parsley sowings through their clover cover, though once ferreted out the plants look healthy, and we’re putting a heck of a lot of clover top-growth into the compost bins so the compost should be good! I will be on the lookout for a less thorough cover-crop for next year’s sowings, anyway.

I’m awaiting delivery of a vacuum packer/sealer that will assist in our long-term storage plans, and I’m also about to order a canning pressure cooker from the States (why do we have to import them from the States? Why aren’t they available here??) which will also widen our preservation horizons. Further updates as and when these tools arrive!

Our new freezer is installed in the shed and purring quietly away to itself, so we’re in the process of clearing the freezers in the house and defrosting them, then one will be put up for sale, one will stay in the kitchen for stuff we want kept handy indoors, and the third small one is now outside ready to be dedicated to dog-food and (once I start slaughtering young bunnies) ferret food.

The bunnies are doing well; Jezebel’s bunch have just opened their eyes so it won’t be long before their poor mum has to fight her way into the food dish at breakfast time! It does look as if she has nine, though the little devils are still being a bit elusive in the nest and lurking under the surface. Delilah is due next week and Trudy a few day after that, so this weekend will be nest-box-building time again!

My application to join the local gun club is ticking along through the process and I’m hoping that soon I’ll be learning new skills and, eventually, will have the ability and the opportunity to add some larger game to the menu; geese and deer spring to mind. That will be a good way down the road, though – I need about 6 months with the gun club as a member before I can apply for my FAC (Firearms Certificate) and then a while longer proving my safety and reliability (not to mention building accuracy and skill) at the gun club, punching holes in paper targets, before I can apply to have my licence ‘opened’ and be allowed to shoot anywhere but on the firing range.

I would like any politicians reading this to realise that it’s the proposed air-rifle licensing legislation that’s pushed me into applying for an FAC! If I have to spend the money getting a secure cabinet, doing the paperwork and jumping through the official hoops to get an air-rifle licence, I might as well expand my shooting interests from the (previously) cheap option of an air-rifle into the (hitherto) more expensive realms of rifle and shotgun ownership. If they hadn’t started mithering about the air-rifle requirements, I might never have got round to the paperwork for the FAC and SGC, though I have previously shot both rifle and shotgun (on private land, under instruction from the fully licensed owner!) and enjoyed them both.

So there, politicos!

 

Minted Eggs in Waterglass….

I should say for starters, we didn’t intend to have mint-scented (or flavoured?) eggs in waterglass!

I ordered a litre of waterglass (sodium silicate solution) which arrived yesterday, so I diluted it out to 1 in 10 and we cheerfully lowered 3 and a half dozen eggs into the stuff. Now waterglass is an old egg-preservative – my grandmother used it through the Second World War to keep eggs from her flock through the winter – and my mother remembers using it when she was a small child, so we were (and are) pretty confident about it.

At least, we were until my daughter called me in from the garden to ask if (a) I could guarantee that sodium silicate solution wasn’t toxic (which I wasn’t prepared to say – I mean, it’s fine on the outside of an eggshell but I certainly plan on washing the eggs before we use them and I wouldn’t drink the stuff!) and (b) if I could tell her what might happen if she happened to have dropped lumps of sugar into it. (I had, and still have, no idea – but it hasn’t frothed, changed colour or exploded yet, anyway….!)

It turned out she’d opened the cupboard above the crock of eggs and accidentally tipped the contents of a packet of Kendal mint cake into the crock. It dissolved quite quickly – I caught a glimpse of greyish mush at the bottom of the crock when I looked in, but it was gone within a couple more minutes. Apart from a strong smell of mint, the whole thing looks unchanged.

In due course I will find out if the smell of mint has penetrated into the stored eggs, though hopefully the couple of hours of un-minty soaking that they’d had before the accident would have given the solution a good chance of sealing up the pores in the eggshells (which is how waterglass preserves things – by preventing any oxygen getting in through the shell) and by the time we get to eating the eggs, the smell will have dissipated.

Oh well. The crock has a plate sitting on top of it now and I’m in the process of making a new lid for it. Nothing like shutting the door after the horse has bolted!

On the rabbit side, one of my old pet bunnies, Biscuit, died yesterday. As a neutered and elderly male rabbit, he wasn’t part of the prepping side of things, just an old friend and ex-houserabbit, but it does mean his cagemate and pal of the past seven years is all by herself. She’s also neutered and very friendly, so I’ve given her the run of the shed by day so she doesn’t get lonely. She’s mostly been snuggling up against Tigger’s cage, though apparently she’s taken against Delilah and doesn’t think much either way of the babies within sight. Today she passed the time by chewing through the string that held up Tigger’s and Delilah’s water bottles so she’s back in her cage and I’ll fix up wire bottle holders for them both in the morning.

Jezebel’s litter is still growing well and she’s ravenous every time I look at her. I did count nine in the nest yesterday and there were still a few possible wriggles in the fur out of sight, so she’s good reason to be hungry! I’ve stepped up her concentrates and she gets as much greenery and hay as she can eat – she’s doing a grand job of covering the nest up every night and uncovering it every morning in this hot weather we’re having at the moment, and eating for nearly a dozen can’t be much fun but I’m very impressed with her mothering ability raising that many so well!

I had a bit of a windfall tax rebate earlier this week so I’ve decided to invest in a vacuum sealer. We’ve also ordered a new, much bigger chest freezer so this next week should be very satisfying in terms of new and improved food storage abilities!