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Thursday, June 24, 2021

One of the Chores of Keeping an Emergency Pantry

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If there was a job description for my role in our household, the number one item would be "food supply". It's my job to make sure that there is always enough food for us. I grow it, can it, buy it, and manage it.

Just as we all clean out our refrigerators periodically to ensure we're not letting any foods go to waste, if you keep a back-up pantry or home-can a lot of produce, we need to periodically go through all that we have in store, take an inventory. I do this about 3 times per year. It helps keep me organized, makes better use of my space, and prevents loss of foods from exceeding the sell-by date.

Wednesday afternoon, I had an appointment with my back-up pantry. I pulled everything off the shelves, checked sell-by dates, sorted what I had into logical groups, set aside those items that were open and partially used, then put it all back into place. I made note of what I overbought last year as well as what I was lacking.

The packages that were partially used -- these are products such as boxes of crackers where there are several wrapped stacks of crackers in one box or the same situation with a super bonus sized package of spaghetti pasta, or baggies of foods from the bulk bins, or partially-consumed bags of baking items that I don't want snacked-up (chocolate chips and nuts). These items had been scattered amongst the shelves. In my cleaning on Wednesday, I put them together in a shallow, open box, so at least now I'll know where to look for these foods before opening a fresh package. Why I didn't think to corral these items together before escapes me.

I began building this emergency pantry one year ago this month. It's interesting for me to see what I bought too much of, what I bought too little of, and of which items I bought just the right amount -- the Goldilocks of my pantry.

Foods I bought too much of included pasta, instant mashed potatoes, canned tomatoes, white rice, whole wheat flour, pinto beans, canned corn, powdered milk, and jarred applesauce. And the foods that I bought too little of included coffee and decaf (we constantly ran out) and vegetable oil. I bought just about the right amount of peanut butter (one jar left), raisins (ran out 3 weeks ago), Parmesan cheese (ran out 3 weeks ago), most of the canned vegetables, white flour, sugar,and cocoa powder. The good news for the items that I bought too much of, all of these foods will continue to keep in the back-up pantry for several more months or can be frozen to stretch their usable life even longer. 

One of my observations from this inventory is that I overbought more than I underbought. I had intended to buy just about a year's supply on many essential pantry goods and a winter's supply of produce-related items (knowing my garden would provide produce beginning in early spring). My conclusion is that having never put together such a back-up pantry, I did okay if not a little bit skewed in my planning due to extensive media fear-mongering.

Another observation -- we don't have a basement, just this small space with shelves behind the door in my office. If I needed to store additional amounts or if my space were even smaller, I could cram more in by eliminating the boxes for many items. Boxes make stacking look orderly, but they take up a lot of space. 

My last observation is how fortunate we are to live in a time when we are able to buy what we need and when we need it for the most past. Imagine living on a small farm 200 years ago, a time when you had to produce all of your food for a year in one season and find time and energy to put it all away for keeping. Having a lot of children would mean that eventually they would reach an age when they could be of serious help. However, you still had to deal with all aspects of raising small children before those years while at the same time you were producing and putting away food. And we often struggle in these days just to take care of our smaller families.

These are just some of my thoughts after having cleaned out and organized our emergency food storage. You got to come along for the ride because I don't think any of my family members would want to hear about my thoughts on our back-up pantry.


  1. I also did a backup pantry this past year. It's in the basement under the steps on shelves so I think it is the perfect place. I know I didn't get the balance correct but everything left is shelf stable for a long time. I will use it all in due time.

    I have to say that I lived like those people who grew and preserved everything they needed for the winter (for the most part). My parents always grew their own food for a family of 7. Mom canned everything and the only things purchased were meat, baking stuff, bread (I'm surprised she didn't bake bread. As us kids grew older we did a lot to help get that food in jars. I know to to can and preserve but don't do so much of it anymore. I did when the kids were young and when we lived on a large property where we could grow a big garden.

    But I do love home canned tomatoes. I canned around 18 quarts last year with the abundance of tomatoes and I thought that would last several years. I'm down to 1 quart and that is because my daughter loves homemade tomato soup and we ate soup every day during the winter for lunch. I made a big batch of whatever soup she chose and we ate it for the whole week. Oh, she loves taco soup as well and we used canned tomatoes for that also.

    1. Hi Alice,
      That's interesting about your childhood and preserving most of your food. I think you likely learned valuable skills.

      I've frozen tomatoes and made canned tomato salsa with homegrown tomatoes, but I've never made of had home-canned tomatoes. Are they really that much better than commercial canned tomatoes? I wonder what the difference is? Less metallic? More flavorful?

    2. Yes to both, Lili--less metallic and more flavorful. We freeze whole tomatoes and there is a taste difference between that and home-canned but both have more of a fresh taste to them than store-bought. I also think the kind of tomato that is canned can affect the taste. I know that ATK has made store-bought tomato recommendations for the most flavorful. When I was purchasing canned tomatoes, I went for the cost factor and bought the store brand. I figured I could add spices to make it more appealing. And yes, home canning for tomatoes and pickles is a big thing in the midwest.

    3. That's good to know, Kris. If I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I'll try canning some.

  2. I'm smiling at your comment that your family doesn't want to hear your comments about your back-up pantry. So true! It's good that we have each other. :)

    We have a pantry in our basement. It's an older home with a shower in the basement (what you would picture as an older basement shower--cement blocks, etc.). Not a terribly nice place to shower so we dismantled the water supply years ago and put shelves in it and it's been a great location for our pantry as well as our empty storage containers. We also have a small pantry upstairs in our kitchen area. Food that we tend to use frequently lives in the upstairs storage and extra items are stored in the basement. I bought some extras during the height of the pandemic but I didn't plan on living on backup food for long periods of time. I was the designated shopper and while there were shortages in the supermarket on specific items, overall there was always food available. Maybe not our favorites but we did at least have something available to purchase if need be. What I have continued to keep on hand has been toilet paper! That's not an item we can easily make substitutions for!

    You have a great system, Lili. Right now we have lots of canned tomatoes. We typically get home-canned tomatoes from my in-laws (who have a huge garden) but we never saw them last year so I had to purchase them instead. As Alice mentioned, the home-canned ones are far superior! Anyway, we finally got to see my in-laws over Easter weekend and we brought home tomatoes. Combined with the store-bought ones, we have lots and lots now. I don't use many in the summer but come fall we will go through them again, I'm sure! (although with my son going to college, I think I'll see a decrease in food consumed ... ).

    1. Hi Kris,
      I think you made good use of a basement shower that was not being used.
      I hear you on the bathroom tissue. not something we ever want to run out of! Tissue is back in full stock in our local grocery stores again. Walmart lifted the 1 per order limit at my local store and I was able to buy a few large packages this week. I did notice that their online store still limited to 1 package, so I don't know if there's an abundance everywhere yet or not.

      Yep! It's great we can all relate, here. My family will humor me, at best, when I talk about cleaning up the emergency pantry. So, I try to limit my "boring" conversation with them as much as possible.

      More home-canned tomatoes. I think that vegetable gardening must be more of a thing in the mid-west than it is in my area. I have a lot of tomato plants in my garden this year. Maybe I'll get the opportunity to can some, too! Enjoy your new supply from your in-laws.

  3. My father grew up on a farm where they provided most of the food for themselves--meat, dairy, produce. I still don't know how my grandmother kept 8 kids fed along with tending to the chickens, raising a garden, churning the butter, etc. But you did what you had to do. I didn't grow up on a farm, but like Alice, we canned or froze most of our food. I'm not sure a saw a can of tomatoes from the store until I was an adult. I don't do much of that kind of stuff any more.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      your grandmother must have been one busy lady! 8 kids sounds like such a large family. But I do realize that standards for family size were different then. My grandmother was one of 9 children and her father was one of 11 children. With a farm, as the children grew older, they'd be an asset.

      While it is a lot of work to can or freeze most of your own food, I do believe that you all likely ate better/healthier than many families that shop for all of their food these days. I can understand how taking part in that much work as a child and teen would deter one from wanting to do that as an adult if necessity didn't dictate it. My father and his 4 siblings had complete responsibility for their vegetable garden when he was growing up. He said he never wanted to keep a garden again if he could help it.


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