The Pantry Challenge, 2 Weeks In


I decided to accept the pantry challenge at the beginning of the month. The challenge is to eat using only food you already have. No shopping for a month. I try to make it more interesting by having people over for dinner on a regular basis.

I had done a similar challenge a few years ago, so I was pretty confident. Two weeks in, I thought it was a good time to report on how things have been going.

As expected, I have enough food to eat so far. The challenge really gets interesting as I start to run out of some stuff later on. I have had to bake bread a couple of times. I like my homemade bread, so no complaints about that.

I did a clean out of both fridges. Found a few things I had forgotten about. I try to clean out the fridge every week. With the holidays, I few things were over looked. I had both whipping cream and half and half that was getting close to expiration. Froze them for now.

I have been making a real effort to not let any food go to waste. I had some celery, and I wanted to have it available for the whole month. I had already had it a while and I knew it would not keep to the end of the month. I dehydrated a lot of it. That way I can add it to soups later on and won’t waste any of it. I had more carrots that I thought. There was a big bag in the downstairs fridge I had forgotten about. I dehydrated some of the carrots, too.

I also wanted to use some things up from the freezer. I had gotten cranberries on sale after Thanksgiving and had popped them in the freezer. I decided to make cranberry juice and can it. I also took the leftover cranberry pulp, and made it into fruit roll ups. That dehydrator has been coming in handy.

I got a call yesterday from a friend about some free produce. A local charity group had an excess of donated produce and was giving it away. He sent me pics of piles of boxes of assorted veggies. I decided, since I wasn’t buying the food, it was okay, in the spirit of the challenge, to go get some of it. I picked up 4 butternut squash, 4 celery and 2 bunches of Swiss chard. I took a friend with me and she got some produce, too. About half of the celery is in the dehydrator now. It had seen better days and needed to be processed. I will be cooking up the chard later on today.

I am glad to see a little room in my freezer. I still need to get it defrosted and do a proper inventory. Even in the freezer, food does not last forever. I want to be sure to grab stuff from the back and use it first.

I suspect that a lot of food waste in our homes is from the fresh stuff, rather than the frozen or canned. I have onions and potatoes and I would like to have them keep until I want to use them. They have slightly different storage requirements, so I want to do what I can to keep them from going bad before I need them.

First off, don’t store onions and potatoes together. They both give off moisture and that can cause faster spoilage. Ideally, both should be stored where they are relatively dry and cool, with a few feet between them. Good air circulation is a plus, and keeping them in the dark helps, too. Potatoes will turn green if stored in the light and the green part can make you sick. Onions tend to sprout of they are exposed to light.

In the “old days” people had root cellars. Most of the people I know today don’t, so do the best you can to keep them cool. Areas near exterior basement walls tend to be cooler. An unfinished basement room would be a plus. You don’t want them as cold as a refrigerator, but cooler than normal room temps is the goal. The mesh bags onions often come in are a great way to keep the air circulating. You can hang the onion bags in a cool area of your basement. Potatoes can be wrapped in newspaper, or just placed in a single layer in a cardboard box.

Sweet potatoes are a different matter. They don’t like to be stored in a too cool place. When I grew a lot of sweet potatoes one year, I placed them in crates near my furnace in the basement. I put some newspapers in to keep them from touching each other. We enjoyed them all winter and only lost a few.

I look forward to the next couple of weeks and trying to come up with fun dishes to make with my stored foods.

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