Off-Grid Food Preservation: Little Faery on the Prairie …

Well, it appears I am beginning to live up to my namesake, Laura Ingalls Wilder, as I continue to find ways of preserving the harvest that don’t involve electricity. Mostly, I’m just tired of listening to the dehydrator run 24-7! I leave it on the porch, but that fan is a loud energy hog. Yes, I could can, but David and I really don’t eat much canned food. We’re still making our way through last year’s salsa, so I’m reluctant to make gallons more of it. We decided that time and again, we just love dehydrated tomatoes from the garden all winter long.

As warnings continue about solar flares, CME’s, terrorist attacks on the power grid, and the general weakness of America’s power grid, I’ve continued to daydream about a life less filled with whirring noises and EMF’s. Enter: my latest round of off-grid food processing that keeps things in their raw, live state:

Homegrown tomatoes awaiting transformation into truly sun dried tomatoes

Homegrown tomatoes awaiting transformation into truly sun dried tomatoes

Sun Oven

Sun Oven

After much research, I finally decided to get a Sun Oven rather than hodge-podging one together myself. This one is designed and crafted to withstand 15-20 years of daily use, plus it came with dehydrator trays, a water sterilizer and various pots and pans for all manner of solar cooking. Supposedly, I can even bake homemade sourdough rye bread in here from fermenting guru Sandor Katz’s recipe if I so choose. We don’t usually eat much bread and little to no gluten; however, I’ve read enough of Weston A Price and others indicating that fermented rye bread provides key nutrients and a different profile than wheat or other grains. We shall see. I’ll make it at least once to say I did it — and also because it will go so well with all that sauerkraut I’ve been making!

The last afternoon of this red acre cabbage

The last afternoon of this red acre cabbage

That's a mighty big "Brussels sprout" on the left, huh? Those seedlings were labeled wrong at Whole Foods,  but I'm happy for the mistake. Here are two homegrown cabbages with a new fermenting crock from Lehman's.

That’s a mighty big “Brussels sprout” on the left, huh? Those seedlings were labeled wrong at Whole Foods, but I’m happy for the mistake. Here are two homegrown cabbages with a new fermenting crock from Lehman’s.

These crocks allow storage of kraut for up to six months without refrigeration or spoilage, saving precious fridge space for things that really need it.

After the sauerkraut project and delivery of an additional 4,000 pounds of wood chips for the area behind and on the south side of our landlord’s garage (oh, my, Mini Mount Mulchmore will be a different post), it was time to release my Genie her instructions:

genie sewing machine

Yes, indeed, yesterday I broke out my total 70’s throwback Genie “Singer” sewing machine that I had not used since 1998, in order to make … a Wonder Oven … another off-grid heating or cooling device, depending on how you use it. I posted about Wonder Ovens (sometimes also called Wonder Boxes) here. Megan of myfoodstoragecookbook.com was kind enough to send me a free pattern, and she feels strongly enough about the importance of these little beauties that she will send you one, too, if you request it.

I had some trouble deciphering her instructions, but this video cleared things up. (Note: for some reason, the video has loud music and an initial Star Wars theme, so feel free to mute it. She doesn’t talk; everything’s typed out. That said, the second song is very cheery. πŸ™‚ ) Anyway, once I used my essential seam ripper to undo my initial misunderstanding, I found the sewing part very simple. The video really makes it a lot easier than most of the instructions I’ve seen floating about online.

A couple months ago, I saw a seamstress from South Bend was moving and needed to unload a bunch of fabric. I told her my various intended projects, and she picked out some coordinating cotton patterns and colors in the sizes I needed. I made two Wonder Ovens yesterday, one for me and one for my sister and her boys:

The unstuffed Wonder Oven for my sister and her family.

The unstuffed Wonder Oven for my sister and her family.

My own unstuffed Wonder Oven

My own unstuffed Wonder Oven

They are easy to sew, but not so easy to stuff. Maybe carded wool would work better than little recycled polystyrene beads? I was concerned about the wool getting stinky, though, so I opted for a Bed, Bath & Beyond extravaganza (read mess). Actually, it got much easier towards the end when David helped me. Judging by his barely controlled giggles when he observed my method, it wasn’t the most efficient. πŸ˜‰ Nonetheless, I got them filled with a minimum of reprimands at the beads flying all over my floor by covering my comments with Deva Premal chants. That kept the vibe reasonably high for making something intended to nourish and support:

Stuffed and ready for action.

Stuffed and ready for action.

My sis and I are so excited to try these, because they really minimize electricity for cooking. You just heat a crock pot type meal or whatever else you’d like to cook for about 15 minutes and then place the pot inside a towel in the Wonder Oven. It will slow cook just like a crock pot, minus the burning and all those overwhelming smells all day long. In addition, you can use these for transporting potluck items, making dairy or non-dairy yogurt, keeping groceries cold on hot summer days, making dried beans with only 15 minutes of cook time, and even … apparently … to make muffins. I can’t remember the last time I made or ate a muffin, but some people are really jazzed that you can.

Something similar called a WonderBag is transforming the lives of abused women in Africa — giving them income, reducing fuel or wood needs, and encouraging healthier meals. I recently learned that one of the biggest energy drains of the current food system isn’t actually all the horribly long transportation to get food from farm to table — often thousands of miles away from harvest. Surprisingly, food preparation in the home accounts for an even huger ding of energy consumption. Personally, I’d much rather spend my money on garden seeds, soil amendments and supporting people making things for better off-grid living. Who wants to give money to nuclear power plants that get enormous tax breaks and even refunds from the IRS for letting things like Fukushima happen? Not me.

I’ve also got a much cheaper hanging black mesh dehydrator on the way from this place. My friend Sue saw these at the North American Permaculture Convergence, and a bunch of us went in on them locally to get free shipping. It hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t comment except to say that it has a squirrel proof zipper and collapses for easy soaking or hosing out. Sue’s friend uses this “for everything.” I figure it will at least do a fine job dehydrating greens and herbs and maybe even tomatoes and kale chips. We shall see. In any case, it feels nice not to hear Excalibur rattling its sword fan. I’m sure I’ll still use the Excalibur, king of electric dehydrators for some things and during inclement weather, but I’m very happy to have alternatives.

“There is no one giant step that does it. It’s a lot of little steps.” ~ Peter A. Cohen

18 responses to this post.

  1. awesomeness!! love seeing all of the things you’ve been sharing about with me. you rock!! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Tania! I was also thinking maybe the Wonder Oven would be a good thing for you and Dave if you do all your road travels. You’d have to hide it from the cats, though! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Posted by Mari Braveheart-Dances on September 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    I am picking up everything you share, was already interested but you’re educating me and helping me tremendously. I am grateful. I aspire to a much more off grid lifestyle. I’ve got my eye on a lantern from Lehman’s and their fermenters look wonderful. What a Beautiful Blessing this all is, and you are. Lots of love, Mari

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  4. i was just thinking about that too when i saw it. πŸ˜‰ once i know the plan i’ll get more details from you. xoox

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  5. Well, once I know the plan, I’ll just make you one as a gift. See how that works? πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks and love, Mari! So happy to share as I learn, since we all benefit from shared knowledge, inspiration and skill. πŸ™‚

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  7. Then my two sis’s will have one — biological and faery twin. Wonder Box powers activate! LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. aw you’re the bestest!! thank you. love you!

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  9. Love you, too! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  10. LOL!! form of a wonder oven !

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Posted by beth on September 12, 2014 at 12:48 am

    wow, too cool! so “self-sufficient” sounds too good not to give it a go, I think i’m going to look into this further, beats using the dehydrator for what feels like forever…indeed!
    a bit complicated however, having quickly scanned the info, I must peruse more careful: sounds like it can be also used indoors and not just out in the sun(where I would not want to share with assorted beastie/flying critters πŸ™‚
    totally interesting, lol

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  12. Good job!

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  13. Again , so enjoy that pioneering and creative spirit of yours and all the new things I learn by you sharing these experiences with us! Many thanks and Bravo

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  14. Thanks, Lorraine!

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  15. Hi Beth, are you talking about the Sun Oven or the other mesh dehydrator? I don’t think you can use the Sun Oven inside, unless you have windows and space that would allow you to follow the sun. For the other dehydrator, yes, I believe my friend’s friend used it inside her front porch. That would be an advantage over the Sun Oven, as for the dehydrator function, you so need to leave it open slightly. I didn’t have trouble with squirrels, but a fly tried to get in. Of course, I would assume the Sun Oven dries things faster. I had to NOT focus it on the sun if I wanted low temps. Otherwise, on a sunny day, it easily climbed to 300 degrees in only fifteen minutes on a bright, sunny day. There’s a bit of a learning curve, for sure, but since we live in the cloud belt of the Midwest, I wanted a solar oven that could work on a less than sunny day.

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  16. […] the results of my various attempts at the off-grid or minimal input cooking methods I mentioned in an earlier post. Well, here’s an […]

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  17. […] Meanwhile, after a dinner of spiralized white scallop squash and garden fresh pesto and heirloom tomatoes, another meal of curried white scallop squash soup, 16 cups of shredded squash now frozen, many given away and many more on the bush, I still have shredded white scallop squash to use. We have a neighborhood picnic on Saturday, so guess what’s in the “Brown Sugar Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread”? If you guessed none of the above, you’d be right. Oh, and I didn’t use an oven either. Well, not a normal one. I used my Sun Oven. […]

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