We have made a lot of small changes in our lifestyle over the last two years or so. At the time, it doesn’t seem like much of a big deal but then six months pass and you realize how much your routine has changed. One of our big overall goals is to buy less pre-packaged items and make our own as much as possible. While we do have to buy the whole foods to then process ourselves (for no man is an island!), there are several things I realized that I stopped buying at the store all together.Instead, we make it ourselves and end up with a superior food for less money.
Many people argue that the prices you pay at the grocery store are for the convenience of not having to make it yourself from scratch. In some ways they would be right but honestly, I’d just be sitting on my duff watching TV and being a ‘zombie’ like the majority of Americans. I prefer to be productive and would rather spend 2 hours making up some tasty food and preserving it than watching “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and have the intelligence sucked out of my brain. We work every day to be more self sufficient and produce (or learn how to) as much of our needs as possible.
- Crackers – Crackers were one of the first things I decided I would no longer buy. It is incredible how many crackers you can make out of one cup of flour! That cup of flour (with other ingredients) was enough for 4 people to eat stew with and no one was left wanting. We have enjoyed plain whole wheat or white flour crackers but the real fun is when you add in spices to compliment the meal. One of our favorites is the garlic/oregano crackers but I have also made them with garlic, onion, and basil mixed in. Pepper crackers were kind of a fun twist but it is easy to go overboard on the pepper. One of my most popular posts to date, How To Make Crackers in 20 Minutes, will show you how to make your own, too!
- Leafy Spices – I got sick of paying such sky-high prices for seasonings on the island so I decided to start growing my own in the kitchen window. Thankfully, most herbs grow easily and are not too difficult to keep going. In a few short months, you can dehydrate your own stock of herbs and spices. To date, we have grown basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro. I got the seeds for all of them in one handy container, organic and well sealed from an American company! I am hoping to be able to buy an Aero Garden in the near future so I can grow larger stocks in a shorter amount of time.
- Jams and Jellies – It has been well over a year since we bought any jams or jellies from the store. Here in Southeast Alaska, we have several wild berries to choose from such as blueberries, huckleberries, and salmonberries. There is also rhubarb that has gone wild in several places on the island and, if you know where to look, wild strawberries. All of these combined with some sugar and pectin (if desired) make for some exceptionally tasty jams and jellies at a fraction of the price.
- Stock – We use a LOT of stock in the winter for making soups, stews, and chili. I have been making my own vegetable stock from the scraps that most people would throw away. I do not use any spices or salt: it is merely vegetable water that is boiled twice and water bath canned. On that alone, we have saved at least $100 over the last two years and the cooked veggie scraps are used again when they go into the compost pile. Talk about stretching your food! For any stock that has meat in it, you absolutely must pressure can it to ensure the bacteria is killed off and the stock sealed for it to be safe. If you ever have a question about whether something is actually sealed, don’t risk it.
- Wheat Flour – We love to make bread, crackers, dumplings, and other tasty bread-type treats. Instead of buying wheat flour that has been fortified and processed, or spending more on ‘organic’ wheat flour, we just grind our own wheat berries. Economically speaking, it is far less expensive to grind up wheat berries than it is to buy bags of wheat flour. You also end up with a superior, fresher ingredient to work with.
- Soups and stews – This one is taken with a small grain of salt. While it is true that we make and jar our own soups and stews, even making stew starters, there are certain times when I will buy a can or two for cooking purposes (like cream of mushroom for example). Overall though, I make up a huge pot for dinner and pressure can the leftovers to be enjoyed later. It is kind of cool to bring your lunch to work in a jar.
- Canned Meat – We buy our meat during the big sales twice a year. I vacuum seal it using our trusty FoodSaver Gamer Saver Silver model and put it in the freezer with dates. Any food that is nearing the one year mark (even though it is still perfectly good), I will take it out, thaw it and then jar it up into my own jars of canned meat. We buy beef, chicken, and pork but I also jar up venison and smoked salmon. Water bath canning and pressure canning are safe, easy to do and more rewarding than you can imagine! (If there is meat involved, even cooked, it MUST be pressure canned. No exceptions!) Plus, you take control over your food by creating shelf stable resources to both make a very fast but nutritious meal AND in the event of a disaster, still be able to feed your family.
- Laundry Soap – This, in particular, makes me feel like a domestic goddess. How would you like to do about 600 loads of laundry for around $25? That’s right: 600+ loads for $25 or less. By making your own, YOU determine how harsh or soft the detergent is. YOU decide if it smells strong or very light. I wrote about my experiment and results for you to check out, too!
- Apple Cider Vinegar – This is so easy, it is probably illegal in 5 states. 😉 We do not use it often but I was making applesauce and wanted to see what I could do with the scraps. I went researching and ended up trying my hand at it. It turned out wonderful and I wrote all about the experience and process.
- Bread – This is the one we struggle with a little. Making bread isn’t “hard” per se, but it is time consuming. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to fresh wheat bread, made from scratch (and freshly ground wheat flour) still hot out of the oven. Add some butter or honey (or both) and you have a veritable food-gasm going on. No, really: think about the scent of freshly baked bread and then try to convince me that you don’t like it. Anyway, we will slip now and then and buy a couple loaves of store bought bread since it is Mister Dreamer who does the bread making in the house. We hope to get a bread maker for Christmas but even if we don’t, we know how to make it by hand, from scratch and that is a lot more than many people can claim.
Since the great majority of homesteading revolves around food: The growing, harvesting, and storing of it, I decided to focus a lot of my efforts there and learn how to make my own. It is much easier to learn and practice one at a time and then implement it into your normal cooking practices. By doing it that way, it isn’t as overwhelming and allows time for you to experiment until you feel comfortable. In fact, this post was originally “5 Things I Stopped Buying at the Store,” but I kept thinking of more and more items we have stopped buying. Needless to say, I kind of feel like a super hero at the accomplishments we have made in such a short time and I learned it all online. The best part about all of it is YOU CAN TOO!