homesteading · preparedness · self-reliance

Organizing the “after an EMP” Kitchen

 “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

This is going to be a long one, probably a good idea to grab a cup of tea and a note pad before diving in.

A Little FYI about how I know what I know, first.

Years ago, long before moving out to the backwoods of Upper Michigan, we lived in north central Indiana. In that part of the state you will find several groups of Amish communities. About a century and a half ago the Amish found the soil in this area to be rich and thick, perfect for the Amish self-reliant way of life.  They began to built houses and barns and settled in. Keeping to tradition of maintaining small, workable communities the original settlement of Amish grew too large, consequently dividing into two self-sustaining sections each run basically by it’s own bishop. When those groups got too large they again divided, keeping each unit within a specific number of members close to the newly chosen bishop. Each break away process of expansion takes much effort and about a generation to accomplish. Today there are quite a few Amish communities or groups peacefully living and farming in the northern counties of Indiana.

This article is not a treatise on the Amish faith or culture, however, when the really hard core SHTF these folks  will have a leg up on many of us. If left alone they probably won’t feel the crumbling or even notice that America has expired.

I lived and worked many years amongst these God fearing people. Listen up! Hollywood producers would have you believe the Amish are some weird cult group who mistreat their children and farm animals.  That is not true, pure and simple. However, they do take their bible, and simple way of life very seriously.  Spare the rod spoil the child, sort of thing. Boys have been known to get a trip to the woodshed by the father of the household for serious transgressions.  Teen boys are teen boys in about every culture, it seems.

In the community we were familiar with the girl children rarely felt a fast hand to the butt. Mother usually handled their childhood misdeeds. Girl children were generally given extra kitchen duty or other chores such as hand grinding wheat berries for bread, even as young as 3 years old. Hand cranking a grinding mill of wheat for bread is a chore that takes many tedious hours. A chore in which everyone meticulously tries to avoid. Strong family ties and strict adherence to the rules that govern their collective, keep most everyone walking the straight and narrow. Don’t believe that crap they feed you on TV, those are most likely actors. The Amish, as a rule, resent their picture taken because they believe your soul or your life force is captured in that photograph, as I was told by an Amish elder.

When my youngest child was 5, I dropped her off daily to an Amish lady for daycare while I was at work. Wednesday is generally the day for Weddings, so my Amish sitter asked if she could dress my 5 year old daughter in Amish clothes and take her to the wedding. Of course I gave my permission and to celebrate my daughters costume, Katy ran next door and borrowed a camera from her English neighbor to take my daughters picture. Back then we still used polaroid cameras so Katy had the photos ready for me upon my arrival. My baby girl was adorable all dressed up in plain Amish finest. No other people were in the photo, just the oil stove Katy used to heat her house in the back ground.

Besides being massively religious and self-reliant the Amish know how much effort it takes to make a buck. They also know how to make that buck squeal. Unmarried older children (16 to 21) living in the household and working outside of the farm turn over a portion of their paycheck every payday to the head of household, their father.  The theory is, as I was told,  if children handle their own money at a young age they tend to get into trouble.  Never a wiser word spoken, in my opinion. 

Each and every household must contribute to the church an unspecified amount (the details were off limits to this English outsider) of their yearly income. The Bishop and Elder council hold this money in trust. When a barn burns down, someone is injured or whatever the crisis or need, the church/community pays for it. It is the Amish equivalent of collective insurance against mishaps. Stuff happens and they are primed and prepared to pitch in and get ‘er done.

The years we lived in Amish country were a wonderful, educational experience. My Amish lady friends weren’t shy about sharing their kitchen secrets, either. Their generous allotment of old world wisdom was the impetus for my survival during the early years out here in the backwoods. There is nothing so welcomingly tasty as their traditional Dutch/German cuisine.  Everything about it says family. Add to the off-grid lessons I learned from my Amish friends, were my own grandmothers loving command of everything domestic.

My dear grandmother was born a Mennonite,  a break away branch of Amish. Mennonites retain the simple life style and teachings of the Amish, but they do allow some of the more modern things such as driving a car and electricity in the home. Grams was born January of 1900 and didn’t own her own pair of shoes until she met my grandfather in 1918. Grams shared her hand-me-downs from an older half-sister and cousins. Her fathers first wife died at an early age, as I seem to recall. My grandmother left the Mennonite community to marry my grandfather in 1919. My dear grandmother lived during a era of many changes in her 96 years on this planet. Over the course of her lifetime she developed a command of everything domestic and taught me so much about life and living. You can see why I feel blessed and very happy to share with you the secrets of all these wonderful people.

Here we go. . .

If you have established your household previous to the coming crisis, hopefully you will be able to hunker down and safely stay in your home when it hits. The kitchen will be the primary gathering place in most households, when there is no electricity it will be the hub that makes the wheel go round.

Since the kitchen is the activities headquarters. With the probability of extra people in the household, we will need to assign sections or quadrants to allow the flow of these activities to move with ease. On a piece of paper draw out your kitchen, labeling the stove, sink, refrigerator etc. Now divide your kitchen into four equal parts, horizontal through the center of the kitchen and a vertical line through the center of the horizontal line.  Assign each quarter a title such as, cooking, cleaning section. That section would have the stove and sink in it, for example. Backdoor and table section, storage section, refrigerator and prep section. (This is my kitchen lay out, yours may be of your own design. Use this only as an example.)

My kitchen flow chart begins at the entrance door area and people center;

I noticed how people took off their coat and boots just inside the entrance and generally headed for the kitchen table. I made sure that route stays open, placed coat hooks and boot trays in this area out of the way of traffic. (A rifle/ shot gun rack on the wall under the coats during the day? It could be out of eyesight from the door but easily accessible to keep predators at away. Just a thought.) Keep this area free from debris and sleeping dogs at all times. The kitchen table should have the usual salt and pepper shaker and a light source such as an l.e.d light, solar lamp, an oil lamp or candles. For  us older folks, the kitchen table is where you will find our daily supplements or prescriptions and reading glasses.

To the seasoned prepper this information may be a bit redundant, but even in our world of constant and ever changing sabre rattling by various governments and this really scary political season, you may (or may not) be surprised how many young  folks never give a thought about life without electricity, the possibility of war, civil unrest, no snap payments  or simple food scarcity due to weather anomalies and politics. (This is the target group, 20 to 40 something with children for “How to Survive and Thrive When the Power is Out ” .)

What else would make this section more comfortable or workable?

  1. Battery operated shortwave radio, ham receiver, scanner
  2. Topographical maps
  3. Pencils and note paper
  4. Coloring books and crayons, games and books for the kids
  5. Berkey water filtration system standing on a pedestal in the corner
  6. Extra charged car battery, or a marine battery
  7. A schedule of daily tasks and chores for each member
  8. A jar of raw honey. (Manuka is the best) Honey was always on the table in the Amish home and at my grandmothers dinner table. The daily use of honey is the reason, in part, that my grandparents lived mostly illness free into very old age. Honey is an antibiotic and has many beneficial properties.

The next section, food prep section;

This will be a flat surface such as a counter or kitchen island strictly for preparing food meat and fish products.(May be a food prep station set up outdoors, also.)  You would be wise to keep this area off limits to other activities for fear of contamination. It will be ten times harder when there is no electricity and running water to keep this area free from insects, rodents, germs and bacteria. My grandmother used an oil cloth over her work area when not in use. Plastic or some other barrier would keep this area free from cross contamination.

In this food prep area you should find;

Sharp knives– paring knives, vegetable peelers,  large cutting knives, (serrated and non-serrated), chopping knife or clever and bone cutting saw. And a knife sharpener or three.

Cutting boards, large bowls and pots and pans, manual can opener, trash can and a compost bucket, another bucket here could be useful too for chicken food.

Contrary to that stupid “vegetarian” label on the carton of eggs at the grocery store, chickens are meat eaters. Chickens will eat chopped meat scraps, fish heads and stuff that would be normally thrown away. They will even eat captured and dispatched mice, other rodents, road kill and each other if one of their coop mates should become ill or lame. Oh, how they love that stuff and the extra protein does them good. The last thing you want is to have meat scraps sitting outside in a trash can for every neighborhood dog, raccoon, or worse, finding it. Hey, there’s even the benefit of barter if you don’t have chickens when your neighbor does. Meat scraps and egg shells would make a very good trade for a few eggs. A bowl or pan of clean bleach water to rinse hands and utensils in this area at all times during food prep will help keep down insects and bacteria.

If you have rigged up your coffee pot to some sort of power device, it would fit well off to the side in this area. Once fresh coffee has been brewed put it into a thermos to keep it warm and save your battery. The coffee will keep warm for many hours in the thermos.

As an aside; If you come across this coffee maker at Good Will or some other thrift shop grab it up. I think the Lehman’s catalog ( )  still offers them too. It makes wonderful coffee when the power is out or during a camping trip and it is surprisingly simple to use.

If your refrigerator is in this area it will make an excellent storage place for flour, rice and other things mice and bugs like to burrow into. Without electricity insects and rodents will be very hard to control. After the power has been out for awhile and you have used up everything that was in the refrigerator, clean it well and use it for storage. Might as well get some use out of it.  In the winter months, after the lake has frozen, bring in some large chunks of ice chopped from the lake or put out bottles of water to freeze over night. Put the ice chunks or frozen water bottles in a pan or bowl and place into the cleaned freezer section of the refrigerator.  Now you have a cold spot for food items needing cold place to hang out. The melting ice will fill the freezer with lots of cold air for couple of days.

Since we will be unable to run to the store for paper towels a stash of clean rags stored in this area will be very beneficial. Cut up old towels, T-shirts and baby diapers, they make excellent cleaning rags . Reduce, recycle, reuse.

A light source in this area, a battery operated l.e.d is nicer than a kerosene lamp would be, but by all means use what you have.

Other handy items might be salt and seasonings for making jerky, a drying rack and cheese cloth for covering your drying meat. Do you have an outdoor meat and fish smoker? An old or discarded refrigerator makes an excellent smoker. (Check now with youtube for instructions.) For a whole lot more information and jerky recipes check out “How to Survive and Thrive When the Power is Out” on this website.  Large stoneware crock for fermenting vegetables, manual food mill, and lots of canning jars. Don’t forget hot water bottles for winter warmth and sick room use.

What other handy items would you suggest for this area?

Next we move over to the cooking and cleaning area;

You have an electric stove you say? There are a few things you can do if you planned ahead.  There are tons of great camp stoves on the market today, take your pick, however, you do know that your fuel will run out sooner or later, right? Now what? An old 1970’s fondue pot with a tea light candle will almost boil water. They will warm liquids such as soup but there is not enough heat to cook your steak. For that you could bust up the kitchen chairs and set them on fire in the back yard, if you have a back yard. After that, I hope you have a plan B.

Fondue pot

Now those of us with a gas kitchen stove will fare better a little longer at least. You will need a light source here too. Those cheap solar lights you buy at Wal-mart are fantastic in this area when fully charged. Sometimes it’s hard to get a full charge in the winter up here in the U.P., though. Then the l.e.d. light will come in handy as next in line. I try and stay away from flammable lighting around the stove for obvious reasons.

Several years ago I took on a job of in-home-healthcare of elderly people. I love old people! They are so full of information if you take the time to listen.

During this time I had a 98 year old woman as my charge. What a delight she was! Melvina told me a story of her birth as told to her by her mother. Melvina was a preemie, born at about 41/2 pounds, at home. Back in the year she was born there were no such things as infant incubators. The mid-wife that attended the birth took Melvina after a couples hours of snuggling with the new Mom and wrapped her tightly in a blanket and put her in a basket. Next the mid-wife  opened the wood cook stove oven door and placed the basket and baby on the oven door. Melvinas’ mother needed rest and tiny infant needed warmth. They kept the fire going in the wood cook stove until Melvina put on some weight and got a little stronger. That was one tough lady, that Melvina!

Back to the kitchen, around the stove area we should find salt, pepper, cooking oil or spray, a timer, bouillon in the various flavors, wooden spoons, hand cranked egg beater, pot holders, a cutting board strictly for vegetables, cast iron skillet and Dutch oven, meat thermometer, measuring cups, mesh herb ball or muslin spice bag, measuring cups and spoons, small containers each of flour, cornstarch, baking soda, spices and herbs, spatulas, tongs, potato masher, rolling pin, sprouting jar, strainers, compost bucket, and popcorn. This isn’t a complete list by any means, add your own handy items and favorites.

On to the cleaning area, namely the sink;

Here you should find– clean, filtered water, dish soap if available, laundry soap if available, baby soap and shampoo if available, dish towels, baby towels, cleaning rags, soap pads and scrapers, dish drying rack, clothes drying rack or clothes line rope and clothes pins, scrub board, large tub or pan forhelen_allingham_-_drying_clothes heating water, scrub pan for other household cleaning projects and sick room. You didn’t think living without power was going to be easy did you? Lots of  lifting in this area. In the winter, clothes dry better inside. If hung outside in subzero  air temperatures, your jeans will break and you will immediately have made shorts.

Last but not least, food storage area;

These will be cupboards, closets or pantries that are designated strictly as storage. Food grade buckets, totes and other plastic or metal containers will be most helpful for storing and organizing your food supplies. Rodents and insects will be a problem when the house goes dark. Most often too, if you have many people at your house you may consider some sort of locking system in this area. With the availability or lack thereof, food will need to be protected from midnight 2, 4 and 8 legged raiders.

Be advised that your groups behavior will dramatically change when hungry tummies and addiction issues become problematic. Arguments over food will be very real as people adjust to junk food, cigarette, alcohol, electronics and drug withdrawal.

Junk food withdrawal is as real as dealing with any other substance abuse withdrawals.

Case in point—Our daughter, her husband and their two dear children had been living in another state far away from us for several years due to his job. Daughters hubby wished to move back to our area to be near family after he had been laid off. They packed up what they could, traveled back to the U.P. and moved in with us for a time while they secured new jobs and a place of their own. They had been here for about two weeks when their behavior seemed uncomfortably different. Almost like they had a burr under their saddle, so to speak. One evening, a couple of hours after dinner, dearest son-in-law jumped up and ran off to the kitchen. When I found him buzzing around the kitchen, he was making a cake. When the cake was done he mixed up a pan of brownies and put them in the oven, too. Dear son-in-law used the excuse he just felt like baking something. Of course, the cake and brownies disappeared very quickly. The next afternoon he loaded up his family and drove them thirty miles into town for a McDonalds meal.  Processed junk food is not on the menu out here in the backwoods because we mostly eat what we grow. So before they returned home here, they stopped at Wal-Mart for soft drinks, Twinkies and other nasty’s such as corndogs, tatter tots and frozen pizza to fill our pantry and freezer with. Seems our home cooked real food created four guest monsters. One caveat to this story; our three year old granddaughter had seemed much calmer off the junk food. An average day for this child will find her basically bouncing off the walls, but on real food she had the normal temperament of an average three year old again. The stuff she has been eating is loaded with food dyes and additives she is allergic to. After two weeks most of the nasty junk food toxins were pretty much out of her system. However, that reprieve was most temporary. All it took was one trip to McDonalds and our baby girl was back bouncing off the walls, to the point she was unable to settle down for bed.

I can’t stress enough that junk food withdrawals are as real as any cigarette, alcohol or drug addition withdrawal. Sometimes taking months to overcome. So, when I say your food stores could become an issue, believe me and take precautions now. A lock or two on the pantry door today could mean a fuller belly tomorrow, which could also save dear son-in-law a swift kick in the pants.

I would personally recommend these books and internet links;

“Dare to Prepare” by Holly Deyo. You can find her book at .

“Country Wisdom & Know-How” series put out by the editors of Storey Books.

“Cooking with Home Storage” by Vickie Tate

And of course my book,
“How to Survive and Thrive When the Power is Out” this website.

Check youtube for instructions on making your own portable rock stove mass heater.

Look guys, we can’t know when the next 9-11 will strike. For me, this last election has my hair standing on end. I haven’t found the “None of the above” box on the voting ballot, yet. Governments kill people to hold on to power, plain and simple. The next several years  have me really worried. October surprise maybe?

And if this last election wasn’t enough crazy, prophesy, predictions and physics are all pointing to 2020 as the year all hell is unleased on the world, or at least the U.S. Personally, I can’t say with any accuracy but I will predict that it is much better to be prepared for something than to wait for a secretative, unpredictable government to take care of me and my family during a (crisis?). Think FEMA camp, eh?

If left alone, many communities will survive. Humans are creative and giving by nature. We can overcome adversity within the confines of family or tribal group due to our diverse labor force, and by handing down or passing on our expertise to the next generation. It is how the little people have made the cut up until now.

Check this guy out;   Watch out for the contractors, he says.

Give me your thoughts if you have a moment. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s