Breaking Commercial Food Dependency
One of my goals in homesteading is to reduce the amount of commercially produced foods used in our home. Nearly anything you can buy at the grocery store can be made at home often with the tools and equipment you already have. It can be less expensive and always tastes better – but it takes a little practice. Breaking commercial food dependency is just another step to self-sufficiency and a way to control what goes into your family’s food. Breaking commercial food dependency is important.
When most people think of homemade, they think of cookies and sweets at the holidays; or maybe a turkey at Thanksgiving or a Sunday roast. But homemade on a homestead includes so much more. You can start with something easy like bread. Bread can be very basic – flour, yeast, salt and water – or elaborate – premade sponge, eggs, milk, seeds, nuts, gluten-free, etc. Start simple, basic white bread or whole wheat. Homemade bread can cost as little at $.50/loaf. So, not only is this a self-sufficiency topic, but also redirects monetary resources to other things that can’t be or are more difficult to make yourself.
As I said, bread is easy; but there are things you may have never considered making at home, many that are just as easy to make.
Any dairy item you buy at the grocery store can be made at home; of course, some are easier than others and most do not require special equipment.
- Yogurt – Commercially produced yogurt can contain a lot of sugar and often has preservatives or thickeners. By making it at home, you can ensure that the yogurt contains only milk and enzymes. I make yogurt weekly for my family and add fresh fruit, granola, honey, maple and fruit syrup, and fruit curd for flavoring – infinitely better than the slimy, syrupy fruit in commercial yogurt. Plain yogurt can be a substitute for sour cream and strained yogurt can be a substitute for cream cheese. The only thing you need to make yogurt is milk (whole, 2%, 1%, skim), yogurt culture or starter yogurt, a large pot, thermometer and a yogurt maker or slow cooker. If you prefer Greek style yogurt, simply drain the finished yogurt using a yogurt strainer or a cheesecloth lined colander.
- Butter – Remember making butter in elementary school? My teacher put cream in a quart jar and we passed it from student to student shaking it until the butter flakes appeared. To make butter at home you’ll need heavy cream (preferably not UHT or ultra pasteurized) and a mixer with a whisk attachment. Simply pour the cream into a bowl and beat it until the butter flakes form. Drain the buttermilk from the flakes and store the buttermilk in the refrigerator – be sure to drain all of the buttermilk. The butter flakes can be pressed together and formed into balls or patties. Technically, butter doesn’t need to be stored in the refrigerator, however, if you don’t, it may get an off flavor after a while at room temperature. Use the buttermilk to make pancakes, waffles and other baked goods.
- Cheese – I’ve never made cheese with cow’s milk, but I have made goat cheese using goat’s milk. There are hundreds of websites on how to make cheese, as well as kits. Cheese making is on my list of things to try…soon.
Condiments were hard for me to think of as being homemade, but once you try it, you’ll be amazed at the difference. An optional piece of equipment that makes all of these easier is a food processor; this isn’t necessary but makes all of these recipes infinitely easier.
- Mustard – Mustard is one of the first condiments I made. It’s insanely easy to do. When I make mustard I replace the wine with vinegar.
- Salsa – My go-to salsa recipe is to roast peppers, onions and tomatoes then puree and can it using a water bath canner. By making a large batch and canning it, you can take advantage of getting ingredients at the seasonal harvest.
- Mayonnaise – At its simplest form, mayonnaise is eggs, oil, vinegar and salt. Experiment with the kinds of oil you use – just be sure you use one that is liquid at room temperature. The key to making mayonnaise is completely emulsifying the ingredients. You can do this by hand with a whisk, but a food processor saves your arm and is about a thousand times faster.
- Nut Butters – If you want to do something sad, read the ingredients on a jar of commercial peanut butter. Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew, hazelnut, etc. don’t need anything but nuts and maybe just a little oil to ensure smoothness. Just put the nuts into a food processor or blender and pulse adding small amounts of the oil of your choice (something with a light flavor works best) until you get the consistency you prefer. Be sure to store this in the refrigerator.
- Ketchup – I haven’t made ketchup yet, but it’s in my plans for the summer. There are recipes using fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, in a slow cooker or in a pressure cooker.
- Vinegar – Vinegar is just another fermented food. I’ve only made apple cider vinegar. I used apple cider but you can also use apples. To say I was surprised at how much better this tasted than commercial products is an understatement. This summer I hope to make some fruit vinegars.
By making condiments at home, you can experiment and add special flavors or spices. Add wasabi to the mayo or chipotle pepper to the ketchup or brown sugar to the mustard. Honey, cinnamon or cocoa takes peanut butter to another level.
Fats & Oils
Depending on what day it is, you’re going to read conflicting information about fats. However, from my cooking experience, I prefer butter, olive oil and – don’t laugh – lard. These both taste and perform better in every recipe.
- Lard – Honestly, with the recent information on hydrogenated oils, lard is one of the healthier fats to use. If you can get pork fat from a butcher or meat market or farmer, you can make your own lard in your slow cooker. Simply grind the pork fat or cut into very small chunks, <.5 inch, and put it in your slow cooker with about ¼ cup of water – the water will evaporate out and keep things from sticking. Cover and set to low until all fat is rendered – 6 to 8 hrs. When the “cracklings” float (bits of meat attached to fat), the lard is ready. Strain out the cracklings then pour into glass jars and store in the refrigerator. You won’t believe how much better your fried chicken is.
- Seed Oils – Sunflower seeds, grape seeds, etc. can be pressed for oil at home, but you’ll need an oil press. They can be kind of pricey so this may be something you want to think about. I don’t have a press so haven’t tried this yet. Besides the press, you’ll need a source for the seeds. Black oil sunflower seeds are available at farm stores, pet stores, home improvement stores and discount stores; but don’t use these as they aren’t necessarily food quality, however, you can plant them and use the seeds from those plants to press. If you live near a winery – and let’s face it, who doesn’t now? – contact the winery about buying their seeds after a wine pressing.
There really isn’t any way I could list everything here, especially when you include canning, dehydrating and other preserving methods. But here are some things that are pretty simple to make with basic ingredients.
- Granola – oh, homemade granola! It’s a beautiful mélange of whole grainy, nutty, fruity goodness. You can include all of the flavors and ingredients that you like and none of the nasty stuff, like raisins. Add it to your homemade yogurt or pour it in a bowl and add a little milk for breakfast.
- Granola Bars – just like granola, you can make granola bars at home with the ingredients you like.
- Goldfish Crackers – this is actually part of my baking addiction, but how cool is it to make goldfish crackers at home? This recipe can be made with whole wheat or regular flour. Try different kinds of cheese – cheddar, Monterey Jack, jalapeno, etc. And it’s a chance to use mini cookie cutters.
- Teddy Grahams, Saltines, Wheat Thins, Ritz Crackers – I’ve made all of these, but not regularly.
Breaking Commercial Food Dependency
In all honesty, when you can squeeze a little extra time out of your week to do just one of these, it gets easier to add another, then another. With a goal of self-sufficiency, becoming comfortable making as many of the things your family needs is essential.
Backwoods Home Magazine is a good resource for additional ideas.