Jun 232014

Inspecting the Pantry

Unless clearly stated otherwise, the menus and recipes in the food storage section of my website are both gluten-free and dairy-free. They are designed to be prepared almost entirely from pantry-friendly foods. I developed them to be easily prepared on a 2-burner propane stove with a collapsible Coleman-style oven for baking. They are appropriate for use while camping, scouting, boating or to use when the power goes out. They also make good meals for when you’re in a hurry or need to store foods for religious reasons, emergency situations, hostile invasions from ancient alien astronauts (or their theorists) or an inevitable future zombie-geddon.

At the time of writing all of the ingredients were considered to be gluten-free and dairy-free. Formulas change, so confirm for yourself that your ingredients are free of any offending items before you begin.

After much consideration I decided to list many of the recipes by meal and menu. This is the way I use them at home and, in my experience, this is the most convenient way to plan and prepare them. You are welcome to adapt the menus to better fit your own circumstances. If you just want something easy, requiring as little thought and planning as possible, simply use the menus as written. I’ve only included meals that my family actually enjoys and is willing to eat more than once. One of the questions I always ask them after a pantry-friendly meal is “Is it good enough to eat again?” This one question put me in my place more than once. The meals that I thought were pretty good, but that the family was ambivalent about, were discarded. What’s left is the cream of the crop.

Each family has different tastes and expectations. Feel free to adapt the recipes and menus to best suit your family’s individual needs.


Bottle of WaterI do not have a lot of good advice about storing water. It’s not my area of expertise and I’ve been lucky enough to usually still have water when our electricity goes out. This is what I do know. You will always need more water than you think you do.

Assume that each meal will require a gallon water for preparation, another gallon for drinking and a third gallon for cleanup. If you’re boiling a lot of pasta, you may need more. Washing up after the meal will require at least a gallon–2-quarts for washing and 2-quarts for rinsing. You may choose to store water with each meal, or to store it separately. Plastic juice jugs, like the kind for apple juice, can be washed when empty and then filled with tap water. You can place one with each meal or store them all separately.

Medium-sized water containers, 5-gallons or less, are easier to tote about than 30-gallon drums. They are also, to me at least, easier to store.

Stored water develops a stale flavor over time. Water at camping sites sometimes has a funny taste. This isn’t a big deal when the water is used for washing or cooking, but it does not taste especially good for drinking. The flat flavor of stored water can be improved by shaking it vigorously. Another option is flavoring it with instant iced tea or fruit drink mix. I routinely mix up a gallon pitcher of iced tea or lemonade for each meal and let the family help themselves. This works well for my family. You may find other options that work better for yours.

Bottled water costs the most and takes up the most storage space. It does taste good though and many people prefer to store their drinking water with this method. Gallon jugs of drinking water taste as good as the bottled stuff and usually cost less per ounce than individual bottles.

Long term water storage is complicated and must be customized to each family specifically. I urge you to develop a solution that works best for your individual circumstances.

Stoves, Fuel & Cooking

Camp StoveThe recipes on this website can be cooked with a 2-burner propane camp stove and a collapsible camping oven. There are a variety of other ways to cook and bake foods without electricity but I feel that these are the most reliable and user-friendly. While a wood burning cook stove is ideal, it’s not an item to which everyone has access. Besides it takes a lot of space to store it, and time to learn how to use it. Even owners of tiny apartments can find room for a camp stove, oven and needed fuel, plus they’re affordable and portable. A new wood burning cook stove costs at least $1000. A camp stove and oven cost a tenth of that.

I use a 25 year old 2-burner propane camp stove produced by Hillary brand. I don’t know where it came from, or if it’s still available. I do know it’s reliable and I’ve been very pleased with it over the years. Coleman propane stoves are the most widely available and work the same way. If you don’t yet have one, then you should consider acquiring one. Before you go out and buy one though, ask around and see if anyone in your circle of friends and family has one they want to give away or sell. This could save you some cash. If you can’t find one for free, or very cheap, then have a look at your local discount department store. They can be priced anywhere from $40 to $100 depending on where you buy them and the brand name you choose. Coleman propane stoves are reliable, relatively inexpensive and have a reputation for good service. If I were in the market for a new stove, that is the kind I’d buy.

After you get your stove you need fuel, propane specifically. Propane can be purchased in large refillable tanks, or smaller pound-sized canisters that are portable. I like the smaller canisters because they are easier for me to use. I find them lighter, more user friendly and for the most part unintimidating. My husband likes the big 20-pound refillable tanks because they are more economical and easier to store. The size you choose depends on your available storage area and the length of time you plan to be cooking with propane exclusively.

When I do all of our normal cooking, including baking all of our bread and a few longer cooking stews made from lentils or split peas, I use about 3 pounds of fuel a week. If you do not plan on doing any baking and choose only the most quickly cooking dishes, then you can probably squeak by on 1-pound of propane a week. I hate bending over backwards to ration my fuel, so for me, having plenty of propane available is a higher priority than trying to save money on fuel. Two 20-pound tanks will last me for about 3 months, 13-weeks, or 1/4 of a year to be more specific. I would need 39 smaller 1-pound canisters to last as long, which would cost much more and take up a lot more storage space as well. As much as I personally dislike 20-pound storage tanks, I find that for our circumstances they are the best use of resources.

After the stove itself and the fuel to keep it going, you need a way to bake. If you never plan on baking your own bread or a pan of brownies, then don’t bother with an oven. You’ll be able to get by just fine with a 2-burner propane stove. If you have a family with children you’ll find that an oven opens up a lot of territory for you that you wouldn’t have with a stove alone. Prepared gluten-free and dairy-free baked goods are expensive, hard to find, and don’t taste as good as making them ourselves. They also require more storage space and only provide stingy portions. Being able to bake allows for more comfort foods, a high priority in emergency situations. Additionally, we find we’re able to keep our diet closer to “normal”, which is especially important for children.

Coleman Camp Oven

Coleman-Style Camp Oven fits over the burner of your stove, or over the grate of a camp fire.

Coleman collapsible ovens, or camping ovens, fit over the burner of a camp stove. They can also go on a grate over a fire. The heat from the flame rises up into the oven, through a diffuser in the bottom of the oven. Inside the oven is an adjustable rack. In the center front of the oven door is a temperature gauge. It will tell you what temperature the interior of the oven has reached. It will not allow you adjust the temperature however. You must do that by adjusting the flame below the oven. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it. I burned the bottoms of several pans of cornbread before I learned how to use this type of oven with any skill. Since the heat emanates from the bottom of the oven, the tops of most foods will not become as brown as they do in your oven at home. The bottoms will have a tendency to brown quickly so keep an eye on them, and adjust the temperature downward as necessary.

I usually use my oven in an enclosed area, well protected from wind. If you use your oven under windy conditions, it will be more difficult to maintain a steady temperature. This can make many baked goods take much longer to cook. Keep this in mind when setting up your oven. If you cook out in the open, then you may want to save your baking for calm days.

Contrary to most recommendations, I don’t preheat my camp oven. I think it wastes fuel, and I haven’t found any real difference in the resulting cooking or browning of the baked goods. First I prepare the bread, or bar cookies, or pie, or whatever. When the preparation is completely finished, I put the pan into the oven and latch the door. Then I light the stove eye, and carefully place the oven, with the food inside, on top of the flame. I adjust the flame up to high. Then I watch the temperature dial. When the desired temperature is reached, (like 350° for instance), then I turn the flame down very low. Usually the oven will maintain the temperature for the next 20 minutes or so, often long enough to finish baking the bread or bar cookies. When the temperature begins to drop some, by about 50 degrees, then I turn up the flame again, until the temperature inside the oven has reached my desired goal. Then I turn the flame down to low again, and let the food continue baking. For hotter temperatures, or for longer baking, I usually have to repeat this process a few times. I have found that using this procedure produces fewer burnt bottoms on my bar cookies and bread loaves. Camp ovens require a lot more babysitting than home ovens, and using this technique has given me my best results.

If you find your oven really struggling to maintain it’s temperature, you can fold a dishtowel and lay it over the top of the oven for additional insulation. Do this at your own risk. The towel can accidentally drape down into the flame and burn up if you’re not careful. There are probably other dangers too that I haven’t encountered yet, so be careful.

Camp ovens have smaller interiors than home ovens do. This takes some adjustment to become accustomed to. Standard 9 by 13-inch rectangular pans will not fit inside a camp oven. You must use smaller dishes and this requires recipes which produce smaller quantities. I recommend the following baking pans for use in a camp oven.

  • 9-inch square pan
  • 8-inch square pan
  • 9-inch round cake pan
  • 8 by 4-inch bread pan
  • 9-inch pie plate
  • 6-cup muffin tins, either standard sized or with big-cups

When not in use camp ovens may be collapsed so they take up very little storage space. The best time to learn to use your stove and oven is before you need them. During vacation, or on a long weekend you might consider using your propane stove and oven for several days straight. This would help you familiarize yourself with the basic techniques needed for your equipment. It would also help you determine the amount of fuel you’ll need to store and the type of cooking you can expect to be facing when the time comes and you need to use it.

I recently saw a really cool 2-burner stove and oven combo that runs on propane. If I were in the market for a new stove, this is definitely something I would consider. The oven seems much more user-friendly than the camp oven I’ve been using for so many years, and the combination of both stove and oven together in a single unit seems quite convenient to me.

CanningCooking Techniques

When you find yourself cooking without electricity you’ll notice that some preparation techniques will be different than those which you are accustomed to using. Care must be taken to avoid wasting fuel, which is a limited resource. Methods like soaking foods overnight, doing all of your prep-work before lighting the stove, and using heat-conservation to cook some foods are just as important as more active aspects of cooking and should not be overlooked.

Flame Tamer

Flame Tamer or Heat Diffuser

Additionally propane stoves take a bit of practice to regulate with accuracy. Some stoves can maintain a very low flame, which is necessary for some dishes. Others just won’t let a flame go very low before it goes out all together. It’s important to determine the lowest flame your stove will maintain for an extended period of time. Rice for instance, must sit over very low heat while it cooks. Stews, especially those containing dried lentils or split peas, will use less fuel if they are allowed to simmer over a low flame with their lids firmly in place. For some of us this means using a heat diffuser. This is a round, plate-shaped, piece of metal with holes in it that sits between the flame and the pot of food. This will prevent the bottom of pans from scorching and allow delicate foods to cook in the gentle heat they require. Some sporting goods stores carry heat diffusers, but probably the easiest way to find one is to Google it and then order one through the mail. I found mine at a yard sale 20 years ago, and it’s been working fine ever since. The one pictured is a bit fancier than most, but it illustrates the purpose.

The next method to master is Soaking. If you’re using any amount of dried foods you’ll find that soaking them overnight or for a few hours during the day will reduce cooking time and fuel consumption significantly.

For instance, if you’re having stewed apples for breakfast, take the time to cover them with water to soak before you go to bed the night before. Allow them to soak overnight until you’re ready to prepare breakfast. When you cook the apples for breakfast, they will already be mostly rehydrated. They’ll require less simmering time to become soft in the morning, and therefore require less fuel for preparation. This method works for many foods—brown rice, split peas, lentils, steel-cut oats, and any dried fruit or vegetable. If you know you’ll be serving a specific food at a future meal then plan your soaking time accordingly.

I was slow to understand the next tip, but once I figured it out I saved a lot of fuel. Do all of your prep-work first, before starting the stove. With my conventional electric stove I often pre-heat a burner or skillet before I actually use it. Sometimes I’ll preheat it for a minute or two, or if I want it very hot, up to 5 minutes. When cooking with a propane stove this is never a good idea. It wastes fuel. Whenever the burner is on, there should be a pan of food or water over it.

Cooking isn’t just heating food until it’s hot. There is prep-work that must be done before the food can be cooked. When one’s fuel is limited all of the prep-work should be done first, before one starts a propane stove. For instance, all cans should be opened and mixed in the pot before lighting the stove. Pancake or skillet bread batter should be prepared, and if the bread must be rolled out or otherwise shaped, this should be done to all of the dough before lighting the stove. If you’re making grilled sandwiches then assemble the sandwiches completely first. All ingredients, including water and seasonings, should be pre-measured and waiting. Trying to juggle these things while your precious fuel is going up in smoke is just too hard and too wasteful. Do all prep-work first, then, at the last possible moment, when everything else is ready, do the actual cooking. This may seem like more work at first, I know it did to me. But after a little time in the trenches I realized that it must be done this way because it’s the most practical. I say practical because in the long run it saves time, fuel and wear and tear on the chef.

Finally we come to Heat-Conservation. This can be as simple as pouring leftover boiling water into a thermos after heating water for a meal. The water can be used throughout the day as needed for beverages, instant soups and cereals. As long as everyone is careful to seal the thermos tightly the water will remain quite hot for most of the day.

Thermoses can be used for other foods too. If you make soup for lunch and one of the family members isn’t home yet, you can keep their serving warm in a thermos so you won’t have to waste fuel reheating it when they get home.

Hay Box Cooker

Old Fashioned Haybox Cooker or Fireless Cooker. The precursor to our modern slow cooker.

Many grains can actually be cooked in a thermos. Measure 1-cup of grain like white rice or steel-cut oats and place it in a thermos. Boil 3-cups of water and add to the thermos. Seal the thermos and allow the food to sit for several hours or overnight. When you’re ready to eat simply drain off the extra water and spoon the grain into a bowl. It will be deliciously tender and just the right temperature for eating, not too hot and not too cold. This is an easy way to have a hot grain for breakfast without having to do any difficult work in the morning, when you’re still half asleep.

Another type of heat-conservation makes use of a pile of towels or an old blanket or comforter. Arrange the towels or blanket in a cardboard box or clean, empty cooler. Make a little nest in the center, being certain there is enough extra insulation leftover to cover the top.

Now, prepare a batch of rice. When it’s time to allow the rice to sit over very low heat for 20 minutes until cooked, place the pan in your blanket nest instead of leaving it on the stove. Adjust the blankets so plenty of the “stuffing” covers the top of the pan. If you’re using a cooler, then place the lid over the nest, to keep in as much warmth as possible. Allow the rice to snuggle in it’s nest and continue cooking for about 30 minutes. This requires zero additional fuel and eliminates the possibility of burning.

A hundred years ago this method was called hay-box cooking, or a fireless cooker. It was the precursor to our modern slow-cooker.

Storage—Meal boxesMeal Box

I was slow to understand that a usable food-storage plan takes planning and forethought. For many years I simply stored a lot of dry goods in my pantry and then figured out what to make when the time came. This was hit and miss most of the time. Specific dishes were difficult to prepare because even though I knew I had another can of chicken or mushrooms somewhere in the pantry, I couldn’t always find it when I needed it. Sometimes a can of baked beans that I had earmarked for dinner was eaten as a snack by marauding teenagers with midnight munchies. It was taking too much time to organize meals and I had no way of knowing if the ingredients I needed would be there or not.

Eventually I started keeping all of the dry goods I needed for each meal together in a shoe box. This worked so well that I expanded the idea to store all of meals in this way. Now that I store a jug of water with each emergency meal, I use a plastic dish-tub or a sturdy mailing box for each meal. The shoe boxes were just too small to hold a gallon of water in addition to the dry goods. Sturdy plastic baskets work well too. I can buy these and the dish-tubs quite inexpensively at my local dollar stores. Be sure to include a copy of the recipe and meal plan with each box.

If your storage space is limited then you may need to stack your meal boxes. In this case choose plastic or cardboard boxes with a lid. Make sure they are large enough to hold several cans and then store your water separately. I prefer plastic boxes that are see-through, although I have used well labeled cardboard boxes when circumstances required.

This method of storing the ingredients for each meal all together has revolutionized my emergency pantry. The meals are easy to count and inventory at a moments glance. If we decide to go camping, I can easily pack enough food for a weekend, knowing that everything I need, even the water for cooking and drinking, is right there in the box, ready and waiting for my pleasure.

Another benefit is that inexperienced cooks, such as kids or spouses, can whip up a meal with very little effort. When I have sick days, or need to be out of town, the family can still feed themselves without resorting to take-out. Although I’m pretty sure they sneak, and order take-out anyway and then hide the evidence. What can I say? Families are complicated.

Basic Pantry Items

Most of the ingredients needed for each meal are stored in the meal box. Some foods are inconvenient to store this way—such as vegetable oil, vinegar or soy sauce. These items are kept in my basic pantry. When I prepare a meal I simply measure out any oil or other pantry items I require and then store the larger container back in the pantry.

Every basic pantry is different. Here’s a list of items I keep in my basic pantry. None of the items require refrigeration to keep well.

  • No stick spray, be careful using near an open flame
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Shortening
  • Butter Flavored Vegetable Shortening
  • Small bottles of Olive Oil
  • Small bottles of Sesame Oil
  • Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
  • Gluten-Free Worcestershire Sauce
  • Vinegar, several different types
  • Hot Sauce
  • Ketchup, will keep for several months after opening
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Brown Mustard
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Corn Syrup
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Maple Flavoring
  • Iced Tea Mix
  • Lemonade Mix
  • Orange Breakfast Drink Mix
  • Various Teas & Coffee
  • Small bottles lemon juice, will keep at room temperature for a few weeks after opening
  • Small jars Jam or Jelly, will keep at room temperature for a few weeks after opening
  • Small jars Pickles or Relish, will keep at room temperature for a couple of months after opening
  • Peanut Butter
  • Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder & Red Pepper Flakes
Necessary Equipment

When the water, food, stove and fuel situation is covered it’s time to look over your kitchen to see which tools you already have that will translate well to a non-electric kitchen. The following list is not exhaustive. I put the items I feel are most important in the first list and optional items in the second list. I think each family should make their own lists of vital and optional equipment. If you have a baby in the house then a manual baby-food mill, the kind sold at most health food stores, will be a necessity while families with older children will be able to overlook such an item.

Most Important

  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Oven
  • 2 can openers (or more)
  • Lots of Matches
  • Heat Diffuser
  • Various Pots, Skillets & Kettles, cast iron when possible, with lids when possible
  • 9-inch square baking pan
  • Two 8 by 4-inch bread pans, if you plan to bake bread
  • Wire Whisk
  • Pancake Turner or Metal Spatula
  • Big Spoon
  • Ladle
  • Big Knife
  • Small Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons
  • Medium-Sized Mixing Bowl
  • Very Big Bowl for Mixing Bread; doubles for dish washing
  • Very Big Pot for Soups & Stews & Pasta; doubles for dish washing
  • Colander or Strainer
  • 1 or 2 Thermoses
  • 2 or more 2-quart or 1-gallon pitchers
  • Dish soap

Handy to Have

  • Old-Fashioned Percolator Coffee Pot
  • Bread Knife with long serrated edge
  • Griddle
  • Slotted Spoon
  • Tongs
  • Hand Held Egg-Beater
  • 8-inch square baking pan
  • 9-inch round baking pan
  • 9-inch pie plate
  • Timer
  • Food Chopper like a Mouli
  • Non-Electric Hand Crank Blender (one day this shall be mine!)
  • Waxed Paper
  • Plastic Bags
  • Several plastic storage containers or clean glass jars with good lids

There are certainly many other things to consider, but hopefully this will give you a start on making your own plan. I cannot emphasize enough that every family has to work out the details for themselves. Other people, even experts, can only make suggestions, many of them useful. In the long run though, we have to figure out what works for us, and our own individual circumstances. If I’ve encouraged you to do that, then I’ve done well.

The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. Psalms 37:18-19

  5 Responses to “Gluten Free Casein Free Food Storage 101”

  1. I have been interested in fireless cookers for several years. I read about a women’s advocacy group in southern Africa (I think it was Namibia, which has an impressive sand dune desert) which made “magic boxes” by sewing cloth pillows filled with broken bits of styrofoam for the insulation. I loved the idea! What a great use for broken styrofoam, which doesn’t biodegrade and seemed so useless – and what a great idea for a region where cooking fuel is sparse and labor-intensive to get.

    Once upon a time, I stumbled upon the blog of a UK woman who was seriously dedicated to her fireless cookery. I think her goal was to make most heated meals with it. I went looking for her blog again today, but alas, I can’t remember either her name or her blog’s name, just the wonderful list of recipes and photos of good looking food! In the search, I did find that there is a resurgence of interest in hay-cooking, even in one or two major mainstream media outlets, like The Atlantic. Plenty of forums (antique/historical interest forums, diy-ers, survivalist and camping forums, ecological, frugality, developing world interests) are discussing it under different names (wonderboxes/bags/ovens, fireless cooking, hay-box cooking, thermal cooking, retained heat cooking) but I didn’t get a good sense that many people are actually trying it, which is why I was hoping to find the UK blog again.

  2. That is so cool. I didn’t know anyone who had ever used one. If you ever do find the UK woman’s blog let me know. It may have been deleted. I would love to build my own, but I’m not so handy with a saw and my hubby and oldest son aren’t interested in helping much. I’ve often thought that an insulated cooler and sawdust or packing peanuts might work and they wouldn’t require power tools.

    I’ve prepared old recipes for fireless cookers in my crockpot and they turn out well. Most of the old recipes need some spicing up, but the process is similar.

    Sorry for my delay in answering your comments. I’ve been under the weather, but am feeling much better now, so I’m catching up on things.

  3. I’ve been using what is called a “wonder bag”, it’s a manufactured, but on the same general idea as the “magic box”, or haybox. The only reason I decided to purchase it, was because I didn’t have any styrofoam bits and to buy a bag of them, along with the material would have cost me as much, if not more than making it. Also, by buying the wonder bag, a free one was given to a sister in Africa free of charge, which I thought was a wonderful idea. I use mine at least three times a week, and there is nothing yet that hasn’t come out wonderfully (excuse the pun). It keeps my house cooler in the summer and when the power goes out, uses much less “back up” fuel, than any other method, I’ve used. I’ve done everything from soups, stews, chicken, beans and anything else you might want. Only one pan to clean up and it stays warm up to four hours after cooking, so it’s literally cook and serve. I’m thinking very seriously of getting another one.

    • What a cool idea Karoline. I’ve never heard of a Wonder Bag. How cool that one is given to someone who really needs it at the same time. Thanks for sharing this resource 🙂

  4. I’m sorry, but in my last post I didn’t say WHERE the wonder bag could be obtained. You can get it at Amazon.com. At the time only one color was available, but since I wasn’t going to be using it for decoration, it didn’t matter to me. Yes, I was glad to purchase where someone else would benefit. These women jeopardize not only their health over open fires to cook, but their very safety in going out to get fuel. This way, they have to go out LESS for fuel, and can still feed their families.

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