AND LIVED-AND LEARNED- TO TELL ABOUT IT!
Smarter folks than I have deliberated upon food storage, and typically counsel us to lay up that which we eat every day. Under stressful conditions, most folks poorly tolerate additional novelty. I have a tale illustrating the folly of storing that which you have never eaten before.
I have eaten freeze dried foods before, most memorably on a seven day backpacking trip to a National Park. My partners and I deliberated in depth on meal plans, reading widely on the issues of back-country backpacking in the middle of Lake Superior.. Our first night’s meal produced the review that “This mess tastes like salty cardboard!” By the third night, the meal appraisal was that “this mess tastes like salty cardboard. Say, are you going to finish that?” On our final night on the trail (night #6), we agreed that “This mess tastes like salty cardboard. And, they sure are stingy with the portions!” One might imagine that I would take a lesson from this experience. One might be mistaken.
I suppose it was half a dozen years later, circa 1995, that we took one particularly memorable vacation. Money was tight (…in contrast to today, right?), and I had the bright idea that we could save money by a) camping, and b) eating the survival food I had bought as a bachelor, on special, from some mail order survival supply house since closed. My normally clear thinking wife went along with this idea, as I suspect that she herself had had her fill of town living and daily routine.
As per our routine, we packed up, collected kids, and set off for a state forest campground (again, frugal accommodations). We set up the camp and set to fixing dinner. Life Lesson Number One: think through your camping menu. I glibly assumed that I’d open the can of freeze dried beef patties, and we’d have burgers over the campfire. It developed that freeze dried beef requires a bit more prep than “open can: heat meal. Repeat”. For example, if the patties are not re hydrated, they retain the texture of charcoal briquettes. For another, if they are prepared by the freeze dry house with (say) stew in mind, then they will not perform particularly well when you desire them to hold the shape of, for example, a hamburger. Indeed, they will perform just as if they were about to be crumbled into a stew. That likely will prove unsatisfactory to the children eagerly awaiting burgers. I had, foolishly, spoken my mind regarding the possibilities these freeze dried foods had presented. The lesson of managing expectations remained for me to master another day.
In addition, some greater variety in the menu than “burgers” would have been welcome. This would serve both as backup in the event that plan “a” did not meet expectations, and balance the meal. I did neither.
Number One Son, a smart aleck even at that tender age, noted that the patties briquettes were quite flammable. He dubbed them “fire starters”, and proclaimed them more successful at this than as food. This was not especially helpful as Their Mother and I attempted to extemporize a suitable meal within our constraints of time (dark approaching) and money (not much). He, on the other hand, amused himself greatly.
I had thought that I could redeem myself with freeze dried ice cream. Again, think it through. My children typically do not embrace novelty, and freeze dried ice cream was not an exception. The “not ice”, “not cold”, and “not creamy” observations were precursors to Number One Son (again) determining that these were to be known as “pot scrubbers”, due to their resemblance to nylon abrasive pads used for dish washing. Evidently, this resemblance was both in texture as well as taste, although I do not know how he had researched the taste of scrubbing pads. Not a success.
After a night’s sleep, we awakened to face the Breakfast Conundrum. Typically, we would enjoy scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and juice for camping breakfast. Some of these items were snatched from the frig at home. As it developed, I had a can of freeze dried eggs. In addition, I had no clue as to how to transform the yellow dust into breakfast. In short, breakfast fail.
It seems that adding water and scrambling is not a winning strategy breakfast wise. The result, runny yellow syrup, wasn’t especially appetizing in appearance. In addition, it didn’t respond very well to my efforts to scramble it. It never did take on the consistency of eggs, it did not fry up at all well, and (this may be a surprise to you who haven’t been following closely) the children and Long Suffering Spousal Unit (LSSU) were not impressed the least bit favorably. We went with the jelly sandwich alternative breakfast strategy, and moved along with our day (“…there is nothing to see here, folks! Just move along…”).
That evening, the LSSU bravely leaped again into the campaign of canned beef. This time, having learned from my Dinner Fail the previous evening, she created some sort of stew, blending (re-hydrated) freeze dried beef from the can with canned vegetables and seasonings. She thereby created a repast even the eldest child pronounced satisfying and wholesome. A good time was had by all, dishes were washed, and the evening festivities commenced.
In the morning, we awakened. The LSSU evidently was inspired overnight, because she set to breakfast with enthusiasm, wisely chasing me away from the food prep area. Recreating her victory of the previous evening (this time with the freeze dried eggs, christened “Yellow Rain” after our last poisonous experiment), the LSSU adapted the preparation such that food, recognizably scrambled eggs, appeared as if by magic upon our plates along with the toast, sausage and juice denied us the previous day. Another Meal Win for the LSSU.
The years passed, things changed, stuff happened. Eventually, my marriage failed and I found my (teenaged) sons left home alone while I worked two jobs, and my (soon to be ex) wife was out Ghawd Knows Where, without establishing a meal plan for my children. I worked (more!) overtime and purchased a freezer and lots of food to stock it. I cooked in liter lots on my day off, and repacked it in “unit dose” containers, which I then froze. Voila! When the boys called me at work seeking food, I could tell them to snatch a meal from the freezer, microwave it, and dig in. To address the potential for power failure and loss of freeze, I began to purchase extra cans of the food I was using regularly. I expanded my stock to canned meats, so as to have something to make (say) spaghetti with in the event of power failure.
This year, I realized that I had not established a plan to rotate my canned foods. Indeed, I had no idea which cans would out-date at which time. I remedied this problem, and arranged my cans on a modified “first in-first out” system, with the new cans going in the back. I wrote the out-dates on the top of the cans in bold marker (so as to approach idiot resistance). In the process of this endeavor, I noted a couple of cans that were approaching out-date-hood. The years had taught me lessons that I heeded.
First, the canned chicken and dumplings that had looked so appealing in the picture on the can, found new life as a casserole. My clever (if naive and innocent) girlfriend (she is, after all, spending time with ME) whipped up a casserole of the canned dumplings with some canned cream soup, added a little flour and some seasonings from the spice cabinet, and baked it up for about 40 minutes. We enjoyed that for a couple of meals.
That success behind us, we turned out attention to the soon-to-out-date sloppy joe mix. Perhaps it was cheating of a sort, but I thawed some of my (copious) frozen ground beef from the previously mentioned freezer, and whipped up some supper for my two youngest sons. Toasting some (previously) frozen buns, a meal fit for an adolescent resulted for however briefly it lasted in the face of two hungry teenaged boys!
I then turned my attention to the canned chicken nearing its own out-date with destiny. One of our household favorite recipes is Chicken tetrazzini. This is a chicken dish, in a cream sauce served on noodles. The only non-storage food I used was the milk (not dried), margarine (although I keep a considerable quantity in my freezer), and wine. Otherwise, storage food all down the line. It also was a successful effort. I awakened each morning of my boys’ visit to find empty tetrazzini containers assembled in the sink. The one container that I managed to hide from my sons served as my dinner at work tonight.
To summarize the lessons learned: Store what you eat every day. Rotate your stores (ya know, like by eating it). Think through your menu. Recognize that (you or) your children may not embrace novelty. Freeze dried food has a learning curve: travel that curve at your leisure, not under stressful circumstances. Tabasco, as well as other spices, are your friend. If you are going to experiment with new stuff, perform those experiments during good times, not when the county loses power (or during whatever crisis convinces you to eat your survival food).