Prepping Like a Grandmother

My grandmother used to make preserves. Once the season for a veggie or a fruit would come to an end, it was time to break out the canning kit.

I thought she was the master, a super-woman – not only being able to stock up her pantry but the pantries of all nearest and dearest And then, I learned about preppers. Holy tuna can, Batman!

So, Grandma, you’re demoted to the amateur league. There is a new heavy-weight champion in town.

Emergency Pantries Are Nothing New


Why People Build Prepper Shelters?

Since the dawn of human civilization, we were putting in emergency measures and prepping emergency rations in case of war, bad harvest, regular winter, etc.

Now, certain communities have kicked it up a notch. What used to be a national endeavor is now carried through by individuals, families, and small communes. Some just make sure to have a well-stocked pantry, but others go out of their way to build facilities that could withstand a nuclear winter.

And their reasons for doing so vary. People who live in areas that are visited by tornadoes or hurricanes prep for the next big storm. Some just like to have a stock of essentials just in case – kind of like an emergency fund in the bank or cash for cab fare home.

Some are expecting government unrest or breakdown, maybe even war, and would like to have their families be well provided for.

During this current pandemic, we saw how much panic came out of the lack of preparedness. A virus like COVID is not the first one to hit us, and neither will it be the last. Most of those who were ready for it this time around learned their lessons from previous plagues and flu. And it might be time for the rest of us to learn a lesson from them now.

Are You Hoarding or Prepping?


Things you need to consider when building your pantry

Those stashes that extreme couponers grow all around their home may be impressive, but how helpful are they in an extreme situation? Quality over quantity – the golden rule applies when building an apocalypse-proof pantry.

How many people are you prepping for?

Yes, you will need to figure out the appropriate amount of all the items. But even though it’s somewhat easy to figure out how much each person consumes and just multiply it by a year (or ten), it might not be so straightforward.

You will have to take into consideration other factors – if any children are in your group, they will need more food as they grow older. Or the stress might turn you all into emotional eaters and you will go through your stash in an instant.

If you are prepping for a larger group, perhaps a commune of sorts, it may be more efficient for each unit to prep different items. For example, one unit is only dealing with hygiene, medicine, and supplements, while the other unit is dealing with canned foods, etc. This may make the process easier, but it will make the headcount and related estimated that much more complicated.

How Long Are You Prepping For?

Again, not only about quantity. You’ll need to take into consideration how much time each preservation method buys you. Or plan your consumption based on expiration dates. If the catastrophic event is not currently unfolding, plan the rotation of the items, and so on.

Is this going to be permanent or temporary?

So, are we living in “The Quiet Place” or is this “You’re Next”?

If the situation is temporary, we need to just hold the fort for a while. If it’s permanent, we are looking at maybe having to change the way we live. This will inform you what you should prioritize not only when building your pantry, but when acquiring other gear as well.

What are the first things you should start stocking up on?

No matter if you’re not in the mood to jump with both feet into this lifestyle, there are some things that you will have to have a stash of. Coincidently, they are also in a prepping beginner’s kit.

 Prepping for How Long?


The essential prepping checklist

Energy and fuel – gas, batteries, solar panels, nuclear reactor. Whatever you need in case of a total black-out.

Stove and pans – you will have to cook all this food, right?

Water – because we kinda can’t live without it.

Canned foods and drinks – just make sure to keep track of those expiration dates.

Dry food – shelf-stable and will keep for months, or even years.

Dry legumes, corn, and grain – they can all keep for a very long time, especially if they are in a vacuum bag.

Flour, rolled oats, and cereals – good for several months, but stick to making your own if you need to stay longer.

Salt, sugar, whole spices, and dry herbs – no reason for things not to taste nice. Keep them in vacuum bags to preserve freshness.

Cooking fats, nuts, and seeds – all these need to go into a freezer to prevent them from going rancid. From that point, they can be there for years.

Powdered milk and eggs – the only format that is bunker friendly.

Root vegetables – they can live in a cellar for months.

Coffee and tea – whole beans, whole leaves, vacuum packed. If you can get green coffee and roast it yourself, even better.

Pickles and preserves – if canned properly, they can see you through a year or two at least.

Dry yeast and baking soda – to make bread and stuff, duh.

Vitamins and supplements – because your diet might not end up being super varied.

Prepping Pantry Checklist


Prepping a pantry for kids, babies, and toddlers

If you are dealing with picky eaters, you’ll have to get ready with a lot of headaches. It might be a good idea to deal with that first.

Outside of that, you might need to stock up on calcium-rich foods so they can grow healthy bones. Overall, you’ll have to make sure to have all the appropriate supplements that can support them through different stages of growth and development. Sweets and other treats can survive for months, but it’s up to you how comfortable you are with having that take up space.

Oh, and formula. Lot’s of it. Even if you’re breastfeeding – stress caused by pending doom can dry you up like no other.

The best kids meals in an emergency situation

Pasta, and lots of it! You can always freeze-dry pasta sauce and just add water to it and rehydrate. You can also sneak other veggies in there as well.

Preppers pantry for pets

I don’t know how much caviar your cat consumes every day, but it might not be a good choice for your pantry.

Kibble and home-made dry food and treats are a good place to start. Some canned food can also last a decent amount of time, but it’s not a great choice if you’re hiding out for longer than 6 to 12 months.

Some preppers think at least 5 to 10 years in the future. That means that even if your furball is quite young now, they may encounter age-related issues when you are snug in your bunker.

Go see your vet and ask them what you will have to look forward to. Get a recommendation for medicine and supplements. They might look at you funny, but cat parent’s gotta do what cat parents gotta do.

Note: not hating on dogs, but cats are way better bunker buddies. And if it is the end of the world, we need to make sure are lords and masters survive.

Prepping with Elderly & Kids


Special considerations for elderly when prepping

No one wants to face the Apocalypse without Gramps, but you will need to make sure that they have everything they need as well. This puts their medicine on top of the list.

Most medicine doesn’t keep at room temperature for longer than a year, so you may have to invest in a medicine fridge. Or free some real-estate in a regular one. Beyond that, make sure to consider their condition when putting everything else together – food that is not hard to chew, low-sodium items, warmer bedding, and blankets, etc.

Most importantly, you’ll have to keep track of their mental state. A lot of healthy and happy older people stay that way because they are active. Once you take away something as simple as a daily walk, their well-being may take a nosedive.

Make sure that they have plenty to do and, if possible, to find a way for them to still stick to some of their old routines.

Preparing your food and other things you need to know

What water storage systems can I use in my pantry?

Water bottles will do for short-term, but long-term you will have to think of building a water tank or even a well.

How do I keep my water drinkable and safe

Keeping it well sealed is a great first step. If you are collecting it in any way, boiling or water filters are a must. If you have the gear for it, the UV light will also help keep it germ-free.

Foods That last the Longest?


What foods have the longest shelf life?

From ones that don’t require any treatment, it’s dry legumes and whole grains, followed by root vegetables.

But when it comes to the treated food, dry-freezing wins over everything else.

What single food can you survive on the longest?

This one is a draw between eggs and potatoes. Eggs have all the essential amino acids, fats, and a lot of nutrients, and potatoes are no slouches either. They come with all those lovely slow-release carbs for energy, as well as a bunch of vitamins and minerals.

Is canning the best way to preserve your food?

No, at least not for every single type of food, and it doesn’t give you as much of shelf life and freeze-drying. Still, if done properly, it can preserve your food for up to 18 months.

How can I tell if the canned food has gone bad?

If the can or jar were compromised, you will be able to tell right away the container is leaking, bulging, or swollen. Once you open it, the content might be moldy, discolored, or rancid.

At what temperature do germs die?

Freezing temperatures will send them to sleep. while boiling temps tend to kill most germs.

Dehydrated Foods


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The eternal derby – freeze-drying VS dehydrating food

Dry food is a huge part of a properly stocked pantry. But there’s not only one way to unwrap this Twinkie.

The easiest way to differentiate freeze-dried from dehydrated food is by comparing texture. Freeze-drying leaves the food crunchy, while the dehydrated food is often chewier.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but they both do an awesome job of making food stay shelf-stable for a long time.

Classic dehydrating is easy and cheap. Yes, you can drop a grand on a super fancy-schmancy machine but, as shown by Alton Brown in one of the old Good Eats episodes, you can fashion an amazing setup under $30.

This method is great for turning plums into prunes, or grapes into raisins and sultanas. And of course, there’s jerky – one the most delicious and most (flavor-wise) versatile way to preserve meat.

The biggest downside is the loss of nutrients, mainly antioxidants. All the fiber and minerals are still there, but that vitamin C is gone the way of the foods. Also, there will be an impact on flavor. The cell walls are going to be compromised even without heat, so there will be some extra sugar and umami coming to the party.

On the other hand, freeze-drying (aka lyophilization or cryodesiccation) tends to preserve both the flavor and nutritional properties of food. The method has been used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries for decades before it moved into food production. Pretty much, if you had anything “instant” before, it was freeze-dried.

The process is somewhat simple, yet it requires complicated and expensive machinery. The food or liquid (ie stock or coffee) are flash-frozen. Then the ice is evaporated, leaving behind everything that is now water.

As long as the treated item is kept away from any kind of moisture, it could keep on a shelf for years. As long as the item was to safe to consume as it was before the procedure, it can now be consumed without extra cooking or even rehydrating. But, when in need of rehydration, it can be simply done with some hot or cold water.

The biggest downside of this method is that it is not very home kitchen friendly. The machines used for it are still very big, clunky, expensive, and suck up a lot of energy.

Freeze Dried Icecream


Does freeze-drying kill nutrients?

In the worst-case scenario, not much. Since there is no heat involved, all the vitamins are still there.

There will always be some nutrient loss in preservation, but freeze-drying is currently the most efficient method we have. [1]

Does freeze drying kill bacteria?

It will reduce the amount, but it will not kill all. To be on the safe side, you might want to blanch the produce first.

On the other hand, since all of the water is removed, the spread of bacteria is almost non-existent.

Does freeze drying kill viruses?

No. The process will only put the virus to sleep. Unfortunately, all the viruses will rehydrate and come back to life with your food.

Harvest Right Freeze Dryer


Are freeze dryers worth the money?

First, they are very expensive. As in you could set up a whole kitchen level expensive. I’m not telling you how to spend your money, but unless you have a lot of it to burn, or you’re going to get a lot of use out of it, not worth it.

Right now, you can go online and buy almost anything freeze-dried and it doesn’t have to be from a prepper place. For example, any decent baking ingredient supplier will have freeze-dried fruits in stock because they are used a lot in making cakes and desserts.

On the other hand, if you have a garden or an orchard, or if you are preserving for a lot of people or a very long term, go for it. Let’s call it the rule of 10 – 10+ people or 10+ years.

The Top Freeze Dryer on the Market

Sorry to say, not too many choices here. You can either go for a lab-grade machine or for one of the models Harvest Right has on offer.

It’s pretty much the same machine you will find on offer from other manufacturers, it’s just that here you have more options.

And before you skip away to Alibaba to try and find a better deal – yeah, you’ll find one. But then you’ll have to add the shipping and customs as well. You’ll save maybe $15?

Freeze-Dried Foods


How can I tell if my food has gone off?

By tasting and seeing if you end up in the hospital? Or you can try your other senses.


There are so many clues that you can find by just giving your food a good, hard look.

Discoloration doesn’t always mean bad news, but it should be a reminder to pay more attention. The surface layer is bound to change color somewhat because of the exposure to the air. However, if there are other signs like smell and silliness, it’s a goner.

Potatoes are the only ones that you can diagnose with a single look – if they are green, they gotta go.

Check for mold as well. A bit of mold on something like bread can be cut away and discarded, but the tiniest amount in your kimchi? “Jeoldae andwae” Jose (Translation – Absolutely no way Jose)

And look for obvious changes in texture – if you can see it, you can throw it away. Some whey separating from your yogurt or sour cream is perfectly fine and normal, but not your cheese swimming in a pool of grease.

When you’re pulling something from the icebox, take a peek at the ice crystals. It will impact the flavor and texture, but it may not necessarily mean that the food has gone off. However, you should still take another look to be on the safe side.


Oh, yeah. You know that rancid smell well.

But even if it’s not THAT obvious, just a simple difference in the smell can be a tell-tale sign. Unfortunately, you will have to get to know well what your food is supposed to smell like to be able to use your nose as an early detection system.


Cookies go soft and cakes go hard when stale. A similar rule can apply to other foods as well.

Mostly watch out for food becoming too soggy and sloppy. This is a sign that the cell walls are disintegrating. If there are no other warning signs, it may be safe to consume if you cook it right away. However, I would give that food a chance at salvation only if a soft part can be removed and the rest of it is perfectly normal.

Though, most of the fruit can be salvaged when it goes a bit soft – apple butter or banana bread, anyone?

And if you pick something up (mostly meat or fish) and it has a slimy film, just send it straight to the bin. Don’t even give it to your dog unless you hate it. It’s too far gone.

Listeria a Danger to Avoid


What is botulism?

Botulism is an illness that can easily become fatal, even though it’s rare. It’s caused by the bacterium called Clostridium botulinum that breeds in improperly canned food.

The toxin usually develops in low-acid foods like meat, fish, and vegetables. It can’t be discovered by sight or smell.

Early symptoms of poisoning are weakness, blurry vision, lack of energy, and trouble speaking.

Can you kill botulism by cooking?

Pausterization takes care of botulism, easy peasy. Also, cooking at temperatures over 175 degrees Fahrenheit deactivates the toxin as well.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is an infection caused by the germ Listeria monocytogenes. People get it by eating contaminated food and the disease mostly affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weak immune systems.

The usual symptoms are similar to flu – fever and aches and pains, but also followed with omitting and diarrhea. They might take a couple of days to appear after eating the infected food.

Just like botulism, you can’t detect listeria with the naked eye, but rapid testing is now available.

How do you kill listeria in food?

Pasteurizing and cooking also kill listeria, while freezing will only send the germs to sleep.

Avoiding Botulism


What are the best food storage containers for my pantry?

I worship at the altar of Lisa McManus when it comes to kitchen gear. She says something’s good, I open my wallet.

Plastic is more durable and will survive a disturbance in your pantry (ie, someone terminally clumsy trying to fetch something), so I would stick with the Rubbermaid Brilliance line. They will prevent any moisture from getting to your dry food.

For all your canning purposes, the good old mason jars should do the trick, but for everything else, you might want to look into vacuum sealers.

Vacuum sealed food can keep for at least twice as long at room or refrigerator temperatures without any extra treatment. Imagine what it can mean for salting or drying. For freezing, they are a must since they will stop any ice crystals from forming.

If you want to go pro, check out one of the big boys like SousVideTools’ I-Cucina 405 Vacuum Packing Machine. But for more of a home friendly version, yet again we turn to Lisa, the patron saint of confused shoppers.

They give full marks to the Deluxe Vacuum Sealer by Nesco, and I have to agree. It’s easy to use, performs well, and comes at a reasonable price.

Final thoughts

The prepper world can be a weird place. Most will find their ideas and paranoia quite ridiculous and amusing. However, our recent encounter with the plague has shown us all that we are too used to convenience of the modern life. It’s not anymore about grandma’s jam tasting better than the one from the store, it’s about us losing access to basic supplies with even the smallest disturbance in the force. Looking at you, flour isle.

It’s all good and grand to rely on Svalbard for your doomsday needs, but before things get that bad we have a lot more things we have to survive. It wouldn’t hurt to learn how and start stocking up for the next wave of the pandemic, or something a little more benign as a workers strike or a tornado.

Link: Effects of Cooking and Storage Methods on the Micronutrient Content of Foods

Link: Listeria Detection

Organized Containers A Must!