For $2999 I can get an entire year’s worth of freeze-dried “desserts,” powdered drinks, and… things I’d never eat because I’m not an astronaut. None of the marketing mentions taste–it’s all about “price per calorie.”
There are 30-year tubs that’ll last longer than Velveeta on a mousetrap, #10 (cafeteria-lady sized) cans of everything–bomb-shelter approved, and sealed five-gallon containers of grape breakfast drink, powdered milk, and food with chef-sounding names (“Veggie alfredo,” “Rotini a la Marinara”) that’s really dehydrated pasta with colored powder on it. Stoned college students wouldn’t eat this stuff.
This is hard-core prepper stuff. I respect being prepared–especially now that the Great Toilet Paper Shortage is fresh in our memory. But, I can do better by stocking up naturally, over time, in season.
A good pantry is a game changer.
It saves money and time. I hate shopping and I hate staring at cabinets wondering what’s for dinner. Keeping my pantry in check saves me from these things which in turn saves me time and money–because no one ever goes shopping for “just one thing.”
Over the years, I’ve designed a foolproof system to keep up my pantry and to avoid the grocery stores. I love my pantry. It’s a foodie paradise. It saves me time, stress, and I eat like a chef with the least possible effort.
Defeating “There’s nothing to eat”
“You need to go to the store,” Declan said. “We don’t have anything to eat.” That’s a lie. There’s plenty to eat because the pantry is stocked. Canning in season means I have real food, in season or on sale, ready. Having grains, flours, beans, and spices on hand means I can Iron Chef up dinner when I get an idea. Having spices at the ready means I can change my mind at the last minute. So no, there may not be Double-stuffed Oreos at the moment but all the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies are right there, kid, staring you in the face.
More recently, though, the crisis wasn’t Oreos and Goldfish crackers. It was flour and toilet paper. If the Covid took your grocery list by surprise, pantry building is for you. Learning to take inventory and keep a deep pantry will keep you from worrying during the next storm, crisis, or “I don’t want to shop” month. Your pantry will reward you.
The secrets to the pantry: seasonality, discipline, and inventory.
The whole point of the Poser Homestead is doing as much from scratch as I can. This takes a little planning, some discipline, and the ability to maintain a bit of a seasonal inventory–or these days post-Covid, the ability to have workarounds if I run out or store shelves have gone bare.
Eating and Preserving in Season
Eating what’s in season gives me the best quality food, hands down. There is nothing like the experience of being able to walk outside and ask the garden what’s for dinner. That takes bit of retraining, away from the “What do I feel like?” then running to the store.
Right now, it’s the peak of garden season, which is also egg season. I have tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, eggs, zucchini, and fruits to eat. I will start with the ingredients I have on hand, then plan around that instead of the other way around.
Look around. What’s Mother Nature giving you tonight? Eat that. Then, look for ways to preserve the extras in season. learn to can, freeze, dehydrate, pickle, and powder anything you can grow or source in your area.
During tomato season, I preserve a year’s worth of quartered tomatoes, make and water bath can sauce, dehydrate “sun-dried” tomatoes, and sometimes even freeze ziplock bags of plum tomatoes. The goal: to preserve a year’s worth of tomatoes while they’re threatening to overrun my land. Then, I eat them all year. This saves about forty tins from the landfill, and tastes way better than aluminum-flavored veggies and sauce.
I grow what I can, but if I’m not growing enough, I source what I need from local farms, buy B-grades, forage, or put out the word that I’m looking for certain items.
In this past year, I was gifted three bushels of apples, a ton of potatoes, four boxes of “you have to can these today” tomatoes, a large box of green beans, and wild grapes for preserves and jellies. I bought B-grade (smaller or misshapen) peaches at one local farm, and went to another to pick a year’s worth of blueberries.
The better your inventory skills, the better your pantry will be. Keep enough of what you use until the next shopping growing season.
“Can you make something different with these apples?” my husband asked. We had four years of apple sauce and apple butter we weren’t eating. That shouldn’t happen. At most, I want to have an extra six months or year of any item, otherwise the food quality will begin to break down. One year, a frost killed 90% of the peaches in the region, but, I overcanned enough jam and peach salsa the year before so I almost made it to the next peach season. Technically, that’s overkill, but worked out in the end. It was within the range of “reasonable” without going into “overkill.”
Keep a list or clipboard so you know what you buy, use, and are running out of.
The right way to stock up
The pantry should be full of things you use, not things that were on sale or “just in case” things. You want it to keep you happy and out of the stores until the next regularly scheduled canning session, shopping trip, or bulk buy. You don’t want bomb-shelter food from the 1950s–you want the things your family eats and uses.
How do I know I’ve got it right?
Here’s a little quiz. See if you can answer “yes” to all these questions.
- If someone sends me a link to a great recipe, I usually have all the basics on hand to make it, or I can substitute something that works.
- I have enough of the things I use to get me to my next scheduled shopping trip, and a little extra in case I want to procrastinate on the shopping.
- Nothing is getting buried on my shelves or in my freezer.
- All items are stored so I can see them, use them, and rotate them.
- I don’t have “mystery bags” of ice-crystal foods going bad in my freezer or “what was that again?” in the back of the fridge.
- I have enough paper products, health and beauty products, and long-term shelf-stable foods to get me through any reasonable storm or emergency, but I use all those products in my day-to-day so they won’t expire and be wasted.
- If a group of family or friends crashed my house, I’d be able to make a couple day’s meals without leaving, or have surprise guests and we’d all eat, drink, and be merry–with whatever I have on hand.
If you are a gardener, canner, or food preservation person, add these questions:
- I preserve enough in season to eat and gift until the next season.
- I preserve and save things I eat.
- I preserve things correctly, so they don’t spoil, and they are always safe to eat.
- I can skip canning if I have too much or notice I don’t really like something.
Only get the shelf-stable foods you actually like, use, and eat. Be honest. take a walk through your kitchen, freezer, fridge, and any other pantry shelves to see if your pantry is helping you or getting out of control.
How to stock up like a pro–without waste
If you answered no to any of the questions above, it’s time to start thinking about inventory. You want enough of the right things:
- Pre-made meals that you love.
- Foods that are stored correctly, and don’t get buried in the freezer or back of shelves.
- Ingredients. If you cook from scratch, you should have extra ingredients–extra flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, yeast–anything you use on a regular or occasional basis.
- Spices and extracts. I have my spices in half-pint mason jars in my cabinet. I fill and check them, so I know when the extras are gone. I keep the extras in the downstairs pantry.
- Coffee and tea. We drink a ton. I keep a few bags ahead on coffee. I order in bulk and freeze it. I also get tea by the pound and fill a few large tea tins.
- Dry goods: Flours, sugars, beans, pastas can all last until the cows come home, if you store them right. If you don’t, they’ll spoil.
- Perishables: When I buy extra and it’s too much, I use it up. Bananas become banana bread, apples get dehydrated, Peppers get roasted… I used to waste a lot. I pay more attention now.
- Paper goods. Make sure you have enough of the paper goods you use, but, don’t go crazy. I try to avoid paper products, but I have an emergency “dog roll” of paper towels, toilet paper, and a flu season of tissues.
- First aid items. Check your kits regularly. Some first aid items expire or spoil. I used to keep a first-aid kit in the car but the band aids froze in the winter and melted in the summer. So, now, I have a travel bag for these things I can grab.
- During COVID, many first aid disinfectants were gone for months. It’s easy to forget health, beauty, and personal items (female items) in the big inventory. Keep track of these things, too.
Organizing the overflow
If you don’t organize, you’ll lose track of stuff.
True story: I still have pre-covid toilet paper. I forgot whether I needed it or whether I had it, and bought the bulk pack again. That, like the peaches, turned out to be a good thing, but truth be told, was a little bit unnecessary for someone who really isn’t preparing for the end of the world.
I’ve had to toss tons of freezer stuff because I couldn’t find what I thought I had, bought more, and pushed the would’ve-been-good stuff to the back and bottom until it was ruined. Now, I have baskets–and the inventory sheet. Stuff doesn’t just go in the freezer–it goes, properly wrapped or in FoodSaver bags, dated and labeled, in the right basket. When I put in new stuff, I put it in the back so the inventory rotates itself.
I do the same when shopping and canning–new stuff to the back, everything in visible rows or shelves, labeled. That cuts down on accidental duplicates and waste a lot.
After you’ve got your inventory flow down, discipline is the important part. Some pantry tasks are seasonal and if I miss the window, I can’t get that produce fresh for another year. Some is opportunity based. I got a box of green beans–I’ve got a couple day window to can or freeze that or it’s garbage. If I discipline myself, I’ve checked a food category off my pantry list for six months or a year. If I don’t–I waste.
I also have to trust myself to stop doing the hard work if I’ve got enough of something. In the same way as I carve out time to do the work when it’s canning season, I have to learn better to skip a year if I’m overstocked.
“Can’t you do this another day,” my family asked. “It’s hot!” No dice. Food grows when it grows. Winter is not harvest season. Putting up with the heat, investing the time, and dropping everything to get the job done is part of the dea.
Eat what you have
Poser Homestead v1.0 was in an urban area. There were plenty of stores and takeout if I was in the mood for something or coming home late. But, having a good pantry means there’s always something great to eat. Using it well means you have to eat the stuff in it–even the days you feel lazy.
Years ago, when I started this, it was because I was a broke teacher and really cheap. In the process, I learned that poser homesteading isn’t always cheaper, but it is better–better food, a better pace for me, simplicity… and during Covid, nearly everyone who gave me a weird look called me up to ask a question or two.
Eating through your pantry is about power, controling the ingredients in my food, and learning to be just as good a cook as any takeout I can get. I still go out, but now, I know I can cook my global favorites any time I want. That’s really something I value.
So, during Covid when restaurants were closed and I didn’t want to have to go to the store–it was no problem. Even without stocking up, I had options–amazing ones. That’s something I never planned for when I started this project, but my pantry came through for me in spades.
Learn practical substitutions
Supply chains still aren’t back to normal. Learning a few cooking methods and substitutions will stretch your pantry farther. Right now, I have about four types of rice on hand because I’m a food snob. I use arborio rice for risotto, basmati as my go-to and for Indian, “arroz” (regular white rice) for common meals, brown long-grain rice for some casseroles and my favorite veggie pea burgers, sushi rice for sushi, and sticky rice for desserts. During Covid, I ran out of arborio. You know what? Sushi rice works well for that, too.
My friend Lisa could only find semolina flour. So, she used that. Half of America shared sour dough starters when yeast wasn’t around. I use heavy cream when culturing yogurts to sub as sour cream. I can make tabouleh salad with just about any grain–think outside the box with your pantry items.
Deconstruct your favorites
I love food, snooty coffee drinks, teas, and chefs. Years ago, in my cheap days, I began to deconstruct these things. Learning to make things myself means I have an unlimited supply, can choose my ingredients, and can alter the foods as I like. Things that are expensive or require a half-hour car ride for me to find–I can make at home.
Some things I’ve deconstructed and make myself: kombucha, ferments, bubble tea, cappuccino and coffee drinks, beer, many of my takeout favorites (some I still can’t recreate yet). I love the feeling of discovering a new food and knowing I can make as much as I want, better.
Things I keep on hand at all times:
- Dairy: milk, cream, eggs (eggs come from my chickens)
- Fresh produce (whatever’s in season–if winter, I often use canned and frozen, too).
- Yogurts and yogurt culture (I buy the milk but make yogurts and kefir)
- Beans, dried peas, dal. I like to have garbanzo beans, lentils, and black beans at all times, but others are nice, too.
- Rice(s). (Basmati, sushi, brown, sweet, plain white, arborio)
- Pastas (various shapes and sizes but I can also make this fresh, from scratch).
- Cereals (quick oats, steel cut oats, grits, etc… or “Cheerios and Rice Krispies for the kid”)
- Flours (almond, bread, all-purpose, chick pea, corn)
- Leaveners: baking powder, baking soda, cream of tarter, yeast.
- Salts (regular, kosher, sea, pickling, whatever…)
- Oils (olive, canola, coconut, peanut, avocado, grape seed)
- Cocoa (regular Hershey’s and some overpriced chef level dutch cocoa)
- A million spices.
Frozen & Preserved Foods
- Jams, jellies, fruits, meals, meats, broths, chili.
- Fruits picked and frozen in season.
- Coffees, teas
- brewing stuff (kombucha and beer here)
- Apple or orange juice for the boy.
Cleaning and non food items
- Paper items: toilet paper, tissues, paper towels if you use them (I have the emergency “dog roll” hidden but use and wash cloths)
- laundry soap
- personal hygiene items
- wraps (I try to use as little as possible, but I still keep a roll of parchment paper, aluminum, and saran wrap on hand, as well as some Foodsaver bag rolls).
I don’t shop often. I keep my inventory list organized by “best places to buy” so when I go out, restock on the way somewhere. I shop at two local farms, a sugar house, Amazon, small local stores, the warehouse store, global markets and a couple discount groceries. I have two Asian markets, a Middle Eastern deli, an Indian store and a Mexican grocer on my loop, too.
Pro tip: Buy spices in bulk at the global markets in your area. Ask, “Who uses this ingredient?” then buy it there. This works for global dairy items, produce, meats, and coffee/tea, too. Trust me–when you see the price and quality difference, you’ll hunt down your sumac at the Middle Eastern store. But the real difference is quality–you’ll get global ingredients from the places that specialize in them.
If I forget something or run out and it’s not shopping time, I cook something else–end of subject. I’ve created or remembered a lot of recipes that way.
My methods aren’t without their critics, “Mom, we’re out of food!” and “Can you bring home KFC?”
Let me be clear. We are never out of food. We’re just out of kid junk, or people aren’t feeling the urge to cook and they’re asking for takeout. Nope! Go to–the pantry. Make a diabetes-load of chocolate chip cookies. Fry up some chicken. Gorge like a Roman. It’s all there. Trust me.
We still go out and buy junk. But we do intentionally. It’s a nice feeling. It was an even nicer feeling knowing I was all set during Covid–without any advanced planning, and I was well-positioned enough on the Poser Homestead to help others. I was starting to feel a little less like a poser every day.
Take a quick look at your pantry and see if you can put yourself in a position to eat like a chef, king, and queen, and save yourself some time and grief, too.