In praise of canned goods

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

Food is pretty easily divvied up into several categories: short life, mid life, long life. At least, that’s how I see it. Short life is the stuff you normally buy at the grocery store..a box of cake mix, a box of crackers, a bag of potato chips, etc….basically non-canned stuff that on its own will last less than a year. Mid life stuff are things like jars and cans of food…canned vegetables, jars of sauces, etc….stuff that will last a year but not forever. (Although canned foods that are stored properly can last for amazing amounts of time they aren’t immortal…anything more than three years is a bad idea in my opinion. (Yes, your Aunt Ida has been eating from a case of canned peaches she bought in 1993 but I’d rather not rely on that kind of luck.) Long life food is stuff that will last almost indefinitely like bulk grain, rice, freezedrieds, etc, etc.

Obviously, for day to day living, most of the stuff we consume is short- and mid-life food. (In addition to things Im discounting like fresh vegetables and meat).

So we have racks of steel shelving in a cool, dry location for storing our mid-life foods. These are the foods that we use often and therefore probably want to have in quantity. What sort of foods? Glad you asked. A quick glance at the inventory spreadsheet shows canned broth, canned soup, canned tomatoes, canned corn, jars of spaghetti sauce, canned pears, canned peaches, and several other varieties of canned vegetables and fruits. Personally, I go heavy on the canned broth and canned tomatoes because both of those allow me a huge amount of room to get creative with my other ingredients. For example, canned broth is used to cook stored rice, add some canned chiles, canned tomatoes, dried onion and garlic, various spices and you’ve got a very good Spanish rice. Add in some diced chicken or beef (from pouches, can or freeze dried) and you’ve got a big meal that’s not boring and easy to make. Or the canned tomatoes can be used for making spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, or a host of other red sauces. So, for me, a couple cases of them is not too much…especially since I go through them fairly regularly.

The canned broth, by the way, is just as versatile. For a fast, cheap, filling, large meal I can mix equal parts rice and orzo, cook in oil or butter until  browned slightly, add broth to simmer until cooked. Throw in some herbs and you’ve got a Rice-a-Roni style dish that is dirt cheap and, if you throw in some meat, is a meal by itself. And it has a shelf life of years in its basic form. (substitute broken angel hair pasta for the orzo if you want something a little more similar to R-a-R.)

Canned goods around here get rotated every few months. What usually happens is Im in the kitchen cooking and I’ll realize Im out of tomatoes (or chiles or corn or whatever) so I’ll pull a half dozen cans out of storage, move them to the kitchen, and make a note to pick up more for the stuff in storage. This way we truly do wind up ‘eating what we store’. When we purchase cans, although all are coded by the manufacturer with dates, I just take a marker and put the month/year of purchase on the lid of the can to keep things easy.

As you can see, Im kind of a fan of canned goods. They’re bulky and not terribly conducive towards transport but that’s okay. We have other food for portability purposes. The canned (and to a lesser degree, jarred) stuff has tremendous appeal to me for its durability and longevity. However, nothing is perfect. Sometimes you can come across a can that’s bulging or otherwise had its integrity compromised. I’ve never come across one but it can and does happen. You very much want to get rid of it. Burying it or dumping it out somewhere is almost universally a bad idea since, as I read it, toxins get into the groundwater or somesuch. I would imagine that a roaring fire would take care of the tainted contents rather handily. These sorts of compromised containers seem to turn up more in home canned goods than commercial canned goods but the lesson is the same – if a gun is bulging, oozing, or just otherwise doesn’t seem perfect don’t use it. Although you might save a buck or two, buying a dented can in the grocery store is just plain stupid. Don’t do it.

I usually buy canned goods by the case. I wait until my local Albertsons has a sale or I head up to Costco or Wally World. Some folks worry that buying food (or anything, for that matter) in a bulk quantity like that will some how set off alarms and tip people off that you’re a paranoid survivalist. Not a problem…anyone says anything you say that since it was on sale you figured you’d pick up a case or three and drop them off at the local food bank.

Speaking of cans, its pretty obvious youre going to need a can opener. As any cook or food prep person will tell you, one of the dirtiest things in a kitchen is a can opener. Take a really good look at the cutting edges of one sometime, see the gunk and metal shavings that accumulate, and you’ll never want to use one again. I use one of those rotary-cutter style can openers that removes the lid with no sharp edges. These things are the shizznits. The cans then have no sharp edges so you can use them for whatever purpose you want and the lids can be firmly pushed back on to the can if you want to stick the half-full can in the fridge for a few days. More importantly, these can openers are much more sanitary than the other styles. Of course, you can still open a can with your P38 ‘John Wayne’ or even with a knife (a tedious process, I promise you) but for cooking around the bunker, the rotary-cut style can opener is the way to go. And do I really need to remind you that one is none and you should have several of these things?