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Survival Diva here to continue our discussion of how to store unrefrigerated staples. Having been brought up on an Alaskan homestead with no electricity or running water, self-sufficiency was ingrained in me at an early age, but even so, when I started serious prepping many years ago I had a difficult time figuring out how to safely store cheese and sourdough without refrigeration.
For the Love of Cheese
The first dilemma I tackled was how to avoid buying powdered cheese and still be able to store cheese for 23 people, long-term, without refrigeration. I searched off and on for months for a solution, and when I finally discovered the answer, it was amazingly simple. Like most food-related prepping dilemmas, our forefathers had already addressed the issue successfully for centuries, but sadly much of the information has been lost. Luckily, it turned out I didn’t have to look that far back. Today, Europeans still buy their cheese from food vendors that literally hang it, unrefrigerated, from the rafters. When they bring it home, it’s not always to tuck it safely away in a refrigerator. Many times the cheese remains unrefrigerated until it is consumed.
So, how do modern Europeans and our forefathers safely consume unrefrigerated cheese? The answer is to coat it with cheese wax! I could write a two-page exposé on how to coat cheese with cheese wax and store it safely for years (some claim 20 years or more). But if you’re anything like me, visuals help…a lot! It will give you the confidence you need to brave eating it yourself or serving it to loved ones without fear. I have stored cheese for many years, unrefrigerated, and have eaten it without any ill-effects. In fact, cheese will continue to age in its preserved state, so if you like a cheddar with a bite to it, you’re going to love this approach of preserving a staple few of us would want to be without. Here’s the best YouTube video I’ve found on preserving cheese, provided by katzcradul
The Yeast Dilemma Solved
The second food storage mystery I needed to solve was how to get around yeasts short shelf life that according to the experts is between 6 months to 1 year (depending on the type of yeast and the storage conditions). Yes, refrigerating yeast will extend its shelf life, but if the grid goes down it will be important to have a work-around. But before discussing that work-around, here’s a tip: Don’t Make Shelf Life the Last Word
I have kept a 40-count box of instant, granulated yeast blocks, 1 lb. per block for years. It was stored in my food storage shed that is very well insulated, with no windows that would let light in to shorten the shelf-life of bulk foods. One fall, while taking inventory of the storage food I discovered I’d let something important slip. The 40 pounds of instant yeast I’d been storing had gone WAY past its expiration date—by a full 5 years! I’d need to toss the expired yeast and replace it, which was bad news because it had been an $80 investment and would now be even more expensive to replace. Just to be sure, I grabbed one of the blocks and brought it into the cabin to “proof” the yeast before I tossed it.
I added the equivalent of one regular package of yeast (2 ½ teaspoons) and 1 teaspoon of sugar to ¼ cup warm water. The idea was to let it sit for 5 minutes. But returning to the storage shed to continue taking inventory, I got sidetracked. An hour later when I finally remembered my proofing experiment, I rushed back to the cabin, expecting to see the clear glass jar I’d mixed the proof in to be forlornly cloudy, with no foam that would tell me the yeast still had life. Instead, it looked like a beer brewery had laid claim to the jar and the kitchen counter and the floor. Rich brown foam was everywhere! So was the rich smell of yeast which meant I didn’t have to toss that 40 lb. box of yeast.
So, rule # 1: never assume yeast has expired! And even when it has, try this trick:
For “expired” yeast, mix 1 package of yeast with 1/4 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar and let it sit for 5 min. The sugar kick-starts the yeast’s action. When it’s foaming, it’s activated, and can be used in your recipe.
Sourdough Starter Myths and Solutions
Even though I’d proven to myself that 40 lbs. of yeast was viable, I still wanted an “heir and a spare.” Another words, I needed a back-up plan. I went in search of a sourdough recipe. Of course I did! Sourdough starter means a steady supply of yeast with which to make bread and other baked goods.
The Julia Childs of the cooking world insisted sourdough starter must be refrigerated. I decided to search prepping sites, where reasonable heads prevail who would offer reasonable solutions. I was wrong. Every site I visited said to refrigerate sourdough starter.
Months later, I had a eureka moment. There on my computer screen was an article about Christopher Columbus bringing sourdough starter over on the Mayflower. There certainly weren’t refrigerators on the Santa Maria. A week later, I discovered an article about men placing crocks of sourdough starter around their necks held by rope to keep it warm while they climbed Alaskan Mountainsides during the gold rush. Their final destination certainly didn’t include refrigerators, unless they sat them outside in winter—but that’s a freezer, not a refrigerator. And even then, they had to contend with summers, and no matter what you may have heard about Alaskan summers, it can get warm!
It was weeks later when I stumbled upon a website that suggested keeping sourdough starter on a countertop, unrefrigerated. Finally…someone who subscribed to what our forefathers practiced season after season, year after year. This was many years ago, just after I’d begun prepping in earnest and in my mind I NEEDED the approval of a stranger on a website I’d never met to give me permission to flaunt the convention of refrigeration in exchange for survival. Now that I’ve been at this for untold years, I’ve come to realize there is a chasm the size of the Mariana Trench separating what the experts tell us and what we must learn for long-term survival!
On the advice of this stranger, I began my first sourdough starter and kept it unrefrigerated (still do, as a matter of fact) and have never been disappointed. The only trick you must follow is to scoop out around a cup of sourdough starter and use it or toss it each day, so it won’t lay claim to your counter, and given enough time…your kitchen, dining room, and possibly your living room. Just mix flour and water commensurate with what you have removed to let the whole fermentation process start all over again. Admittedly, it requires a little up-keep, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it will become just as much of an ingrained habit as pouring that first cup of coffee in the morning.
The following is my favorite sourdough starter recipe. But, a word of advice: You have your choice of sourdough starter. Many can be ordered online, others can be flinched from Aunt Martha or a friend. But however you do it, get started with sourdough and when calamity strikes, you’ll be able to bake bread and goodies without skipping a beat!
Counter-Stored Sourdough Starter Recipe
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Granulated Sugar
I Packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
2 Cups Warm Water
Mix flour, sugar and yeast together with a wooden spoon (never use metal) in a glass, glazed ceramic, or crockery pot with a 2-quart capacity.
Gradually stir in the warm water until the mixture becomes a thick paste.
Cover the container with a dishcloth and allow to sit in a 70 to 80 degree room without drafts.
Stir once a day for 2 to 5 days until it gives off a pleasant sour smell and is bubbly.
*If you use whole wheat, rather than all-purpose flour, the sourdough starter recipe will require a longer rising time.
*Adding the sugar kick-starts your sourdough starter because yeast feeds on sugar. If a dietary restriction disallows sugar, the recipe can be made without it.
* Use distilled or bottled water if your water contains chlorine, as chlorine can stop the action of yeast.
* Temperatures of more than 100 degrees will kill yeast.
* Covering sourdough starter with a dish towel allows wild yeast to pass into the sourdough starter—and why plastic wrap is not recommended.
Last week, there were many great tips and shared memories and experiences about storing eggs, unrefrigerated. I thought it would be good to keep the momentum going by everyone sharing tips and experiences with yeast, and discussing sourdough starter and storing cheese, unrefrigerated. It’s sure to be manna from Heaven to have these items available for long-term food storage! So please, share what’s worked for you and your favorite recipes for sourdough starter.
God Bless and Stay Safe,
David Morris and Survival Diva