The weird, miscellaneous things we talk about at our house! My daughter and I were enjoying a coconut cookie, and I said to her that coconut would have to be in the top 5 items I’d miss if we could only consume food we grew ourselves or could source locally from farmers, no grocery stores. Then I had to ask myself what else would be on that list? Coffee was the first thing that was obvious to me, but was there anything else? So thinking hard, I came up with my top 5 things I wouldn’t want to live without, without it being shipped from some far off place. These are not things I could not survive without, as much as the things which I would miss the most. Minus salt, salt would be a real issue as preserving food would be a problem.
1. Coffee – I LOVE COFFEE!!! Now technically, I can grow coffee in my house during the winter months, and move outside during the summer, but it takes about 5 years for it to produce fruit, and I couldn’t grow enough to have a steady supply. But for those who want to know, I’m trying it anyway!
2. Coconut – I LOVE COCONUT!!!
3. Chocolate – I LOVE CHOCOLATE!!!
4. Cinnamon – I love all fall desserts – no cinnamon, no bueno. I could include nutmeg, cloves and allspice, but I think if I at least had cinnamon, I’d be okay.
5. Salt – While I’m not a heavy salt user, we need salt to survive and face it, salt-less food would be pretty bland. If I lived near an ocean, or in Utah, this wouldn’t be an issue, but there are no salt mines in Wisconsin, to my knowledge. It’s also necessary for preserving food.
Things I considered, but ruled out:
Baking Soda/Baking Powder/Yeast – There are other ways to add leavening to baked goods, such as fermented dairy, or beaten egg whites. For bread, sourdough starter is delicious and easy to make without anything but flour, water, and the yeast that is naturally occurring in the air, so although convenient, they are not strictly necessary.
Seafood – I have caught and eaten many a crayfish from local lakes that taste like a cross between shrimp and lobster.
Citrus – Unlike coffee, not only can we grow dwarf citrus in our homes, but they produce wonderfully. I had a Meyer lemon that would fruit like crazy. Also, there are herbs, such as lemon balm that can be used for lemon flavor.
Vanilla – It’s on the runner up list, because it’s used so much in baking, but I don’t know if it would make or break all baked goods, so I think I’d adjust to no vanilla.
Curry – I love a good curry, and in researching, realized I can grow all the spices that make up curry powder here! Again, indoors for winter, outdoors during the summer! One stipulation, I would already have to have some ginger root, and tumeric root (which would have to be shipped from somewhere else) in order to grow it, or know someone else who is already growing it locally. But once I have it, I’d never have to purchase it again.
Sugar – I already use honey to sweeten most things, and honey is available locally. In fact, I usually purchase 2 gallons of honey per year from a local bee keeper. Maple syrup is also a great sweetener, and maple trees are also readily available in Wisconsin.
Molasses – It turns out you can grow sorghum in Wisconsin to make your own molasses. Who knew??? I haven’t tried this… yet…
Bananas – I do love bananas, but first of all, it is possible to grow a fruiting banana indoors if you have a large enough space, but in the end, as much as I enjoy them, there are other foods I would miss more.
I’m lucky in that I’ve been an avid gardener my entire life. I already grow most of the produce I use, including a host of herbs, garlic, and peppers that I make spice blends, and tea blends with. Meat and dairy are all readily available locally and we have plenty of fresh fish in our many smaller lakes and rivers, not to mention Lake Michigan. We currently purchase our beef, chicken, turkey and pork from a butcher who gets it from local farmers. We raise our own chickens for eggs.
We also have skills. My daughter and I love history and cooking, and have combined the two. We have learned how to mill grain (we only mill our own flour now), roast coffee beans (I do this weekly for the freshest coffee), cook over an open fire, in a fireplace, and on a wood burning stove. Don’t get me wrong, we generally use modern appliances, but the ability to procure or grow everything you need won’t be helpful if you don’t know what to do with it.
We make our own pasta, bake our own bread, grind pork to make sausage, smoke our own meats, brine meats (we just made our own corned beef, none of that red gel stuff), make homemade ice cream, and make our own broth. We dehydrate, ferment, and preserve a host of produce. Right now my pantry is stocked with chicken broth, beef broth, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, apple butter, jams, sauerkraut, salsa, tomatoes, carrots and beans. I have fermented hot pepper sauce, pickles and pickled garlic scapes in my fridge. My freezer is chock full of zucchini, tomatoes, celery, green peppers, red peppers, and pesto, all from my garden. I also have onions, garlic, shallots, squash and potatoes in storage and shelves of dehydrated herbs, tomatoes, peppers, both regular and smoked (my dried smoked ancho chilis make a vastly more flavorful chili than using store bought chili powder), flowers (for tea), mushrooms, celery leaves, apple slices, and sweet potato slices (for dog treats) and home fermented apple cider vinegar. I’m fortunate that I live in a state that has a wide variety of herbs, grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits that can be grown, so other than strictly tropical items, there isn’t much I can’t get.
And for the record, we all work outside the home and we don’t live on a farm. We live in the downtown area of a suburb of Milwaukee. We do have a very good sized yard, which is why we can have a few hens, and a large garden. Yes, we do use some store bought convenience items. My desire to make my own vs. just buying came about years ago because as soon as we fell in love with some seasoning mix, or product, it would get discontinued. I hated that my favorite recipes weren’t consistent because I could no longer get the same ingredients or products. More recently, I’ve become acutely aware of all the fillers, sugar, and undecipherable ingredients that can be in convenience products. The solution was to take it all the way back to the basics, and cook completely from scratch. The unplanned upside is that it has provided us a base, where the grocery store is only optional, if need be, or if I have an intense craving for coconut cookies!
So what are your top 5 food items you wouldn’t want to live without if you could not procure it locally?