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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Incorporating: Grains Part 1

In my humble opinion, grains are often the most difficult food items to incorporate in our food stores, especially for folks my age. 

Why?

Because my generation is the Wonder Bread/Instant Gratification generation.  We're worldly and we know the score:

Bread is white, light and airy and comes with a 3-week shelf-life.

Flour is white and comes in 5lb bags from the grocery store.

Rice is white and can be prepared in under 1 minute.

Popcorn comes in a microwaveable bag.

Barley, Kamut and wheat berries are nutty and crunchy and are generally consumed by people who are nutty and crunchy themselves...

Yes sir, my generation knows where it's at :)

I jest, but really, my generation is one of processed, convenience foods, uneducated when it comes to using whole grains and maybe a bit biased against them.  (Yes, that's a sweeping generalization and I know there are folks out there who don't fit that description.  Just sayin....)   But I'm sure it's not only my generation that's at a bit of a loss when it comes to using whole grains.  When you begin prepping, it's easy to go out and buy a couple hundred pounds of whole wheat, barley, rice and popcorn; it's more difficult to actually use them and be satisfied with the results. That's the true test of food storage; using and enjoying the food.

Before I begin sharing my experiences on using stored grain with you, let me just get this out of the way: I am not an expert on grains nor do I portray one on TV.  I AM however a mama to 2 healthy kids with huge appetites and sophisticated palates and these are the lessons I've learned.

Storing whole wheat is easy.  You need 5 gallon buckets, oxygen absorbers, maybe a food saver and a block of uninterrupted time.  Using whole wheat, however, can be much more difficult.  It can take a long time to develop your bread-making technique and you may go through a dozen recipes and dozens of loaves of rock-hard bread before you find a technique, recipe and flavor that you appreciate.  Start learning now, for the love of Pete!

Hard red wheat is the wheat we're all familiar with as it's a staple food around the globe.  It's what bakeries use for their wheat bread.  It's what we buy ground in sacks at the grocery store.  It's inexpensive and stores well but has a strong, nutty flavor that may not appeal to all palates.  Hard red wheat produces a bread that has definite texture, real flavor and depth as opposed to white bread which is just a carrier for meats, cheeses and condiments.  When you've eaten a slice of homemade wheat bread, you know it.  It's a meal in itself and not just a gut-filler like many baked products.  Here's a link to the wheat bread recipe I use: again, it takes practice, learning how to knead the dough and perfecting the flavor to your taste.  Don't give up the first time if it fails you.  I promise you'll enjoy the end result, even if it takes a little trial and error.       

If using whole wheat frightens you, may I suggest you start out with hard white wheat?  Hard white wheat produces a slightly loftier bread that is more akin to the loaves we buy from the store.  It contains all the goodness of hard red wheat but has a flavor closer to white bread and may be a good way to begin your journey into grains and whole-wheat bread baking.  It also makes great soft wraps, quick breads, pancakes and just about anything else you'd use traditional flour for.

I've only touched on wheat in terms of baking bread, but there are numerous other uses for whole wheat.  It can be cooked whole and made into a delicious cold salad, it can be ground and simmered with milk and sugar for cream of wheat cereal and it can also be sprouted for a real boost of nutrition.  If we step outside of our comfort zone, we'll see that wheat has much potential beyond plain old loaves of bread. 

I'll not tell you how much wheat to store; it's a losing battle that I refuse to take part in.  I will tell you that we store equal parts hard white and hard red wheat, plus a bit of soft white wheat for more delicate pastries like cookies, pie crusts, crepes and the like...(if you're wondering the difference between hard and soft wheats, it's all in the protein content.)  You can find storage calculators around the Internet that make recommendations as to how much wheat and grains to store.  Take that information with a grain of salt.  If you don't eat bread or have a gluten allergy, it's pretty useless to buy a ton of wheat.  If you supplement your food stores with other grain products like pasta, you may not need as much wheat as the calculators recommend.  Use some common sense, start small and learn how to use wheat in simple, practical ways that will benefit your family.

Now, onto rice.  We've had it pounded into our heads for the past 20 years from various 'experts' that brown rice is great and white rice is not. 

And they're right. 

Brown rice is by far healthier and more nutritious than white rice.  It's nutty and delicious, full of fiber and vitamins, and works beautifully in hundreds, if not thousands of recipes.

It also has a 6 month shelf-life.

Suddenly brown rice doesn't seem so spectacular does it?

Those of us in prepper circles generally look to white rice for our long term storage.  Admittedly it's not as nutritious as brown rice, but it boasts a 25-30 year shelf-life when stored properly, making it a staple item for food stores.  An added plus, very few people are allergic to rice so it could/would be a very valuable commodity in a SHTF situation.

An extremely versatile grain/grass, rice can be used as a main dish with the addition of beans, or fried up with an egg and leftover veggies for a quick fried rice dish.  Adding rice can stretch a pound of meat, creating filling meals like soups,  'porcupines', or good old-fashioned favorites like chicken and rice.  Combine rice with some milk,  dried fruit, sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch and you have a delicious rice pudding for breakfast or dessert.  And for infants in the household, grind the rice and cook with water or juice for a simple, easily digestible meal.  Here are some great, simple recipes that you may want to try!

There are so many varieties of rice out there, from basic long and short grain rices to aromatic varieties like Jasmine and Basmati.   All of them are delicious.  All of them store well.  All of them can be useful.  If you haven't tried rice beyond the instant minute variety, now is the time to broaden your horizons and discover which varieties best suit your family's needs.

Next up: Corn!

Blessings,
Andrea

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