The Family Larder: Why It’s Still Important

canned food in jarsLarder may not be a familiar word in our modern times, but it was a very important thing in your great-great grandma’s day. It was the stash of food that families pickled, smoked, salted and preserved for the winter months ahead. A well stocked larder was often essential for survival for the pioneers since many times they lacked the luxury of a grocery store they could frequent if their supply ran short.

In the 21st century, many people treat the grocery store as their “larder” and expect food to be there whenever they need it. However, as our country recently experienced supply chain disruptions and empty grocery store shelves it is a good time to rethink the importance of keeping a larder that you have control over. This is the perfect time to start laying out plans for what foods you want to preserve and have on hand for your family, so you are prepared for whatever comes your way whether it be a natural disaster, political event, pandemic or even financial hardship.

Planning Your Family Larderharvesting garden

Putting aside food in a wise manner is not hoarding – it is a plan for having food and supplies on hand that your family can use in the months ahead. It is similar to the idea of keeping an emergency cash fund only it might come in the form of frozen meat, dry beans, canned salsa and dried herbs. It can be foods you raise yourself, items purchased from local farms or staples you stock up on at the grocery store.

To avoid waste, you want to calculate amounts that your family might need through the winter. For example, I aim to can 100 quarts of spaghetti sauce since I estimate that our family uses 2 quarts per week throughout the year. I order 400 pounds of winter storage potatoes from an Amish neighbor to keep our crew of 7 fed through the winter. If I overestimate on canned goods, I know they have good shelf life and will keep a second year, but things like potatoes won’t store another season and need to be used up (we are just eating our last ones and waiting on new potatoes out of the garden.) Fermented goods like sauerkraut are best used within 6-12 months, depending on the product and dehydrated foods should be used within 1-2 years for best freshness. I keep records of how many quarts of strawberries and green beans go in the freezer and since we ran out of frozen berries this winter, I need to increase for next season.

As you are making your storage plan, don’t forget to consider paper products, personal care items and medicines. Watch for expiration dates and plan accordingly so your products will stay fresh in storage.

Preserving Your Foodfermenting crock

You will want to consider what methods of food preservation and storage work best in your situation. Options include canning, freezing, dehydrating, root cellaring, fermenting and dry storage. As you wait on summer garden bounty, it is a good time to choose a new preservation method to research, gather supplies and give it a try. The Farm Kitchen area at Lehman’s store is a great place to get ideas and see products demonstrated plus there are many YouTube videos if you need visual direction in navigating new food preservation methods. Start budgeting for larger purchases such as a dehydrator, a freezer or fermentation crocks while you make use of items you already have on hand for storage.

The events of this spring prompted me to make sure our family larder will be well stocked for the year ahead, and I will be extra vigilant in putting up produce from our garden and watching for what produce is abundant locally that I can preserve. Thankfully we still live in a time where we can supplement from the grocery store if our supply runs short, but it is comforting to know that our family could survive for a time if outside sources were unavailable. What steps will you take this season in creating a larder so your family is prepared?

(Want to learn more details about keeping a family larder? Check out Karen’s video on the Mother Earth News Summer 2020 Online Conference.)

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Karen GeiserKaren Geiser is a regular demonstrator and homesteading class teacher at Lehman’s.