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The Scratch Kitchen

Hand-powered kitchen tools

Cook from scratch with hand-powered kitchen tools

Willingness to prepare meals from scratch using hand tools is a big part of both sustainability and prepping.

The kitchen is a good place to start simplifying your life and preparing for outages in two ways: the food prepared and the implements used.

Cooking from Scratch

As much as it may seem like a good idea to take advantage of the many prepared foods offered by corporate America, people who are after self-reliance should really consider cooking from scratch. There are a few good reasons for this.

Cooking from scratch requires you to stock basic ingredients that you can prepare a variety of meals with. These staples, can be stored dry in a pantry without refrigeration. Grains, pastas, beans, peas, nuts, dried fruits, sprouting seeds, flour, oil, salt, and sugar are some examples. Having these on hand and knowing what to do with them means you will be prepared in case an emergency curtails the daily delivery of food to your community.

Buying in Bulk

Since you will be using these same simple items many times in a variety of combinations, you can buy them in bulk, which saves quite a bit of money ounce for ounce. You won’t be paying for lots of unnecessary jars and boxes, or the cost of getting the food into them.

Buying in bulk dramatically reduces the amount of garbage you have to deal with. Hey preppers, you don’t want to fill your underground bunker up with trash, do you?

Big box stores carry some bulk food items, or you can buy them from a natural foods distributor such as Azure Standard.

Is all that Packaging Necessary?

Think about all the energy and labor that goes into getting food into, say, a cereal box. First, a designer has to spend hours thinking about the shape of the box and the graphic designs that decorate it. Of course, somebody has to make the cardboard for the box, which means trees have to be cut down, pulp manufactured, and cardboard cut, folded and glued. These tasks require the construction of equipment, the mining of the metals to fabricate it, and electricity or some other fossil fuel to make it all happen. The inks that beautify the box also have to be made in their own factory, from materials mined or created in laboratories; and of course everything has to be transported back and forth to get all the components where they need to be. I don’t mean to sound anti-business, but given the state of the world, is this the best answer to the question of how we should be spending time and resources?

Don’t Have Time to Cook from Scratch?

Cooking from scratch might take longer, but it evens out. It takes longer to cook beans from the dry state, rather than opening a can, for example. But what do you care? Once the beans are in water over heat, they cook themselves. It’s not like you actually have to do anything except plan for the extra time.

One of the most time consuming tasks in cooking from scratch is cleaning and chopping produce. This can be considered time well spent if you are in the camp that claims fresh foods are healthier than processed ones. Being sick is one of the biggest time wasters there is. A side benefit is the ability to turn kitchen scraps into food for the soil in your garden.

Preparing food is a down to earth, centering activity. If you have refrigeration, you can save some time by cooking larger batches that can be used for several meals. Cooking from scratch is just like anything else. If there are important reasons to do it, you will find the time.

What About the Extra Fuel?

Fuel is definitely an important consideration. If you live in a cold climate, you can do all your cooking on a woodstove that is going anyway at least six months of the year. During warm weather, consider a solar cooker. I have even cooked rice to perfection in a black cast iron pot simply set in the sun on a hot day.

One technique for cooking beans and grains is to bring them to a boil in a covered cast iron pot, then turn off the heat. Wrap them in a space blanket and wool blanket, and put them in an insulated box where they can finish “cooking.”

Superfluous Electrical Gadgets

You may think that cooking from scratch is easier with a plethora of electrical kitchen gadgets. When it comes to planning a self-reliant kitchen the axiom “less is more” applies.

The common cultural assumption is that owning “time saving” implements is the way to go. But have you noticed that  people in the Western World own a dizzying array of contraptions, yet still complain of being stressed out and overly busy?

In the event of a prolonged outage, all your electrical gadgets become useless. When buying tools for the kitchen, consider that using hand-powered implements both saves money and provides autonomy when power is not available. If you are a prepper, there are probably more pressing things to spend your money on. If you’re into sustainability, there are certainly better things to use your resources for.

There may be some items you don’t want to do without. My favorite electrical tool is a blender or food processor, because I like to make soymilk from scratch. Trying to do it with a manual food grinder doesn’t provide the best results. Just because you consider one or two implements indispensable for providing nutritious meals, doesn’t mean you need every gadget in the store.

Here are the non-electric tools I find most useful in the self-reliant kitchen.

  • Cast iron cookware – A Dutch oven and frying pan
  • Enamel pots of various sizes with lids
  • Colander
  • Wire strainer
  • Tin, glass, and plastic storage containers for bulk food storage
  • Wire whisk or hand cranked mixer
  • Manual food grinder
  • Manual grater
  • Manual slicer
  • Manual can opener
  • Manual knife sharpener
  • All purpose knife, bread knife, fish fillet knife
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula
  • Ladle
  • Muslin cloth
  • Chopping block
  • Manual wheat grass juicer
  • Thermometers
  • Glass jars and screen lids for sprouting – 2 quart and gallon size
  • Baking supplies – bread pans, cookie sheets, rolling pin, measuring cups and spoons
  • Canning supplies, including a large enamel pot, wire jar holder, jar tongs, rubber spatula, glass jars and lids.
  • Cherry pitter
  • Compost container

Conspicuously absent: Electric mixer, bread maker, can opener, the beloved coffee maker, toaster, waffle iron,  and microwave. Every household on the planet could do without these things and be just fine.

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3 comments on “The Scratch Kitchen

  1. Deanne Kolberg
    March 30, 2013

    There are thousands of tools on the shelves of the hardware store and the work benches of seasoned do-it-yourself gurus, but it you were to break them down into categories, they all do some of the same things. So with five basic pieces of hardware as your foundation, you can build anything and then work from there to build your own workshop.*

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  2. lightlycrunchy
    June 7, 2012

    I love my cast iron cookware – I use it every day.

    But I also love my kitchenaide mixer – its great for large batches of baking. I have muscle spasm issues with MS – and the mixer helps me still cook from scratch and avoid unnecessary pain. We also have a microwave, but I have to admit that its only used for reheating and thawing – with a little pre-planning for thawing times, I could do without it altogether. But I picked it up for $5 at a yard sale, so it was a cheap and convenient purchase.

    Nice post!

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