Old Timey Food Storage

In the wake of the Coronavirus, a lot of Mormons have been a bit smug about our prophetic direction to store food for emergencies. But I’m here to tell you, hardly anyone does food storage anymore the way we used to do food storage.

How do I know this?  Because I’m pretty old by blog standards (61, just old enough  to be at special risk of COVID=19. Yay form me.)  My parents both came from long lines of Mormons. In Idaho. And my dad grew up on a farm. All of which is to say they took food storage SERIOUSLY.

I blogged here once about my father’s journal from the year 1953 (five years before my birth). That was the year he left the Air Force, married my mother and they started a life together. He talked about how much he enjoyed going with my Mom shopping on Saturdays and figuring out how to make their GI Bill money work for them. I could see in that entry the beginning of what I would come to know as our family food storage.

You have to understand, this was back in the era where your food storage was supposed to last TWO FREAKIN’ YEARS. Over time that got watered down to one year, then 90 days, then do what you can. But my folks never softened from the original two-year mandate.

When I was a  boy growing up, we had an entire room in our basement devoted to our food storage. (My oldest sister, who is the only one of us who has carried on that tradition, has a similar space devoted to food storage in her basement. This is again the two-year variety, not a wimpy 90-day version.)

It was pretty well organized, almost like a small grocery store. My father had  bought these shelves that angled down, so you could restock from the back and the oldest cans would always roll down and be in front, assuring that you rotated the stock. And this wasn’t just for a rainy day. They cooked from this food and replenished it, so that although they constantly kept a two \-year supply, it was constantly rotated so we ate the oldest food first.

One of the things that sticks out in my memory the most was an old eight pack of Coke in bottles. The bottles were dusty, because we didn’t actually drink Coke; they kept it for a kind of medicine for upset stomachs. So the only time I got Coke as a boy was when I was ill.

I had to smile at all the panic buying out there. For my folks, this would just be a Friday, no need to go to the store at all.

Did anyone else out there grow up with the kind of food storage good Mormons aspired to decades ago?



  1. Sure. I’m the same age as you.

    Mom (long Mormon pedigree) canned; Dad (convert) built shelves in every house we moved to. They weren’t fancy like yours, but they were extensive. We didn’t ever calculate “we need so-and-so many cans of corn” or “we’ll use such-and-such amount of flour in a year,” but we always worked on building a significant excess — and we always packed it up and moved it with us when we followed Dad’s work.

    We used it, too, even the wheat stored in big white buckets — it was Dad’s job to grind the flour Mom used in regular baking. We kept paper tacked to the wall near the door, with a pen on a string, and whenever you took a box of pudding mix or a can of string beans out of the room, you’d jolly well write it on the paper so that it ended up on Mom’s shopping list for the next grocery trip.

    When it was just Mom and Dad at home, they kept up the storage of extra food, but to a much lesser extent. Mom didn’t can anymore, and one spring Dad took whatever wheat was left out to the backyard and dumped it … and for a few days you would have thought Hitchcock was filming a sequel to “The Birds” out there.

    I stored considerable food when I was a homeowner. Now that I’m back to a three-room apartment, there’s no room for that. I do keep up some level of extra food, though, which has come in very handy when health keeps me from walking to the store (I have to do all my shopping on foot these days), so I can wait a week or two until I feel up to it. In the fall, I stock way, way up on bulky and heavy items that are hard to carry on foot when the sidewalks are icy and rutted. That includes toilet paper, so I didn’t have to panic buy recently. I just topped up on items so my cupboards and limited closet storage space were full. Old habits die hard.

  2. Josiah Reckons says:

    Lasy year in a ward council, I could sense the generation gap as we discussed ward welfare. Some of the middle-aged to older members lamented the state of the wards emergency packs and food storage. They thought the ward needed to focus on these for the year. Although I grew up in a home with food storage and well stocked packs, I was the dissenting voice, suggesting that the prophets hadn’t taught this sort of self reliance for some time. To increase self reliance in the ward, I though we should focus on the the new direction the church has taken in teachings and with the pathways courses. Education, business, budgeting, exercise and diet. They weren’t really swayed. They did not seem to have noticed the low number of emergency food storage talks over the last decade and a shift in emphasis didn’t seem likely to them.

    We still have packs in our home, but no food storage, and I haven’t heard anything from the pulpit in general conference to suggest I should start storing food.

  3. Yes, and then we had to empty it from the basement last fall after my dad died.

    There were dated Clorox bottles of water as old as I am (born in the 70’s). That means they moved bottles of stored water. Twice. And there was the 50 lbs of wheat that had been in storage for 40 years. The only thing it was ever used for was sensory play when we would go down and bury our hands in it. Lots of bottled produce of questionable safety from the 80s. And cake mixes and peanut butter that I think got rotated fairly regularly.

    I’d say it was just about the perfect example of the average Mormon year (or more) supply of food. There’s food down there. But no one dares eat any of it.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, Ardis, thanks so much for this! I loved the details of how your family did it. And I had quite forgotten about the annual canning. Which reminds me of a story. Once I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Syracuse, UT. They too had a food storage, and she offered me some raspberries she had canned in a glass jar. Those were the best berries I had ever tasted, and I ended up eating the whole jar. My poor mother (my aunt’s sister) was horrified and embarrass, but my aunt just laughed and said she was glad I enjoyed them.

    Also, now that you mention it I think we might have had that same system of writing down what we took.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Cloves, Ha! Thanks for the vivid image of the downside of following the prophet.

  6. Kevin, I still remember my mother’s grief when a bottle of raspberries broke in the canning bath! As a boy, you couldn’t have guessed the work and expense of that bottle, so I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

  7. When my grandparents passed away, my mother and her siblings found uneaten home-canned goods older than their eldest child (who was in his sixties). Both grandparents were raised in the church, in heavily LDS areas of Utah and Arizona during the Depression.

  8. My parents always had food storage as I was growing up in the 1970s. I particularly remember the bags and buckets of wheat, which we ground once or twice a month to make waffles (and probably other things I don’t remember). We had shelves filled with canned chicken, peaches and green beans in the pantry, next to the washer and dryer. There was a pallet next to the front door where we kept the 50-pound (?) bags of wheat. When I was 10 (1981), there was a grease fire in the kitchen that quickly engulfed the whole house. Luckily, my siblings and I and my mother were able to escape to a neighbor’s house. When the fire chief found us there after they had put out the fire, he took my mother aside and asked why in the world there were bags of wheat in the living room – when the fire fighters chopped through the outer wall, their axes broke through the bags and it spilled everywhere. When they got into the house, they kept hearing popping noises that sounded like firecrackers – it was the bottles of canned goods exploding in the pantry.

    My mother lost her enthusiasm for home storage after the fire, but my father kept it up. He had a room in the new house built specifically for storing canned goods. He also had two large freezers full of meat and a generator to keep them running if necessary. He often said that he wanted to be prepared when the time came and our neighbors came to us looking for food.

    I have between three and six months of most of the dry goods we use regularly, and about three months’ worth of canned goods. The panic buying caught me a bit off-guard in terms of Nutella, however. I will need to get a couple extra jars of that once it’s back in stock. I also have a good supply of wipes, toilet paper and paper towels as well as cleaning supplies. I have felt some comfort from that in recent days and hope that my parents are smiling proudly down upon me from whatever part of the spirit paradise they are hopefully in. I’m certain my father would have felt mightily vindicated in these troubled times.

  9. Loving all this. Thanks, Kevin and commentators.

  10. Growing up in the 80’s my parents weren’t big on “building” food storage, but wanted to be obedient to the extent that they put aside a new car for a couple years and went for the “prepackaged” food storage. For a family of 10 that was NOT cheap! All those #10 cans got hauled out a few years back. Now only 2 of us kids are into food storage and have 8-12 month supply of food/goods that we use and keep rotated. Old Mormon habits die hard, though, and even a gay sibling and spouse keep way more on hand than the typical urban couple.

  11. I remember my mom trying to rotate food storage… She’d mix up powdered milk sometimes or grind wheat that tasted like the tin can it had been stored in. I remember very liquidy/processed mashed potatoes that she insisted were delicious. I remember her often lamenting how there was no place to put storage (we had no basement). I remember cans being stored under beds, in the closet my sisters and I shared, in the backs of kitchen cabinets. I remember those weird tin drums of wheat stacked in the garage.

    My dad’s approach to food storage was to grow fruit trees.

    My mom was scandalized when the amount of food storage was down graded. She frequently would bring me a pouch of just add water mac n cheese and tell me food storage is so important but we don’t talk about it enough anymore.

    She’s been almost joyful about every one needing food storage for Corona Virus.

  12. You’re not really a Mormon of a certain age if your childhood “bed” was not a mattress on a plywood platform propped up on #10 cans…

  13. My parents had hardcore food storage, including giant bins of wheat and oats. And we rotated ours, too. One day, after I had left for seminary, my mom couldn’t get one of the bins open, so she called our neighbor’s son, who was in my high school class, to come over and open it for her. By second period, everyone at school had heard that “Kristine Haglund eats oatmeal out of a trough!”

    Not my favorite day of high school!

  14. Hah, Kristine, yes to the “bed” of food storage!

    My parents had an old school food storage supply. We had a room for storing the ten gallon plastic buckets of wheat and TVP and a chest freezer big enough to keep a half dozen corpses cool. We also had an orchard, garden and a cow, goats, pigs, and chickens that were used for food.

    One early memory was seeing my mom butcher a chicken for the first time—she cut off its head with an axe on a stump (we also had a wood-burning stove and massive woodpile), threw it into a cardboard box until it stopped running around like it’s head had been cut off and then doused it in a vat of boiling water (this was all outside) to make it easier to pull off the feathers. It was quite a shock to see my mild-mannered mother take on nature in this way.

    A more pleasant memory is the ten gallon bucket of honey. It was crystallised, of course, but it turns out that a scoop of crystallised honey and peanut butter (the original kind where the oil floats on top when you open the number 10 can) makes for a tasty snack.

  15. TVP, powdered milk, wheat, canning, gardening, bartering, canning canning canning. When mom died I was 50 and I found jars of peaches from 1967 that I had packed—and canned mackerel that we wouldn’t eat then or ever. I think my dad used the same blue print for our rolling shelves down every isle of our storage room supermarket. By 6 I was an expert with a paring knife. I have spared my family of this tradition but are sufficiently prepared to die whenever that may happen. Cool story.

  16. I still have a habit of food storage. I haven’t needed a thing. I went to the store for chocolate chips and couldn’t believe the massive amount of people shopping. I grew up in a home where my parents stored boxes of food under our beds. They had a map of where everything was. Thanks Mom and Dad!

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you all so much for sharing these wonderful memories! Who else in the world could possibly understand this weird bit of religious culture we all share?

    A few other thoughts: My dad knew how to make wheat bread from scratch. He didn’t do it often, but when he did he always wanted someone to take a picture of him holding a pan of the steaming loaves fresh out of the oven.

    My best friend’s family never bought fresh milk, but used powdered milk exclusively. I quickly learned to politely decline an offer of a glass of milk at their house.

    My dad used to teach extension classes throughout the state for extra money. On one of these trips his car hit a pheasant. So naturally he brought it home and cooked it for dinner that night. You couldn’t quite take the Idaho farm boy out of the University professor…

    We too had fruit trees. We had this apple peeling contraption made of metal that looked like an Iron Maiden we would use to peel the apples to make pies with.

  18. Kevin, Ardis, I think we all had the same basement growing up.

  19. I’d love to join in, but idea of a one year or two year supply seems to have missed us. In my adult life we have always tried to be well ahead of our needs, which hopefully maybe amounts to one month’s supply? But more like prudence than obedience. My parents had significant amounts of food stored but never referred to as a one year supply or Church mandated. To me as a child it looked a lot more like depression era penny pinching. And using the Church programmed buying groups and excess supplies as a way to pinch harder.

  20. I am one of the generation (66) who still cans food and has a food storage system. When our children were growing up my husband would pick up deer roadkill for the family to eat. One time he got the deer, skinned/cleaned it, and hung it in the garage. Our youngest son was in the habit of going to the garage each morning to get some bagged school lunch treats out of the freezer. He didn’t turn on the lights and ran smack into the hanging road kill – totally freaked him out. It still gives him the willies to think about hugging the cold, skinless roadkill.

  21. I grew up drinking powdered milk exclusively as well. The minute I left home, I left powdered milk behind forever. My mom has been teasing us kids that she has a case of powdered milk for each of us to have during this virus crisis. Not one of us is willing to drink it. We’d rather go without. Plus, who on earth would choose to drink powdered milk when there is almond milk available?

  22. Aware of the possibility that we might at some time in the near future be facing a 14-day quarantine without much advance notice, my husband and I thought we ought to check out our “food storage” in the crawl space before our next grocery trip. And there we found all the Perma-Pack boxes I’d bought back in the l970s. What a surprise to see that should we need it we have several “protein” cans (TVP, milk, etc.) as well as vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, potato….) and “fruit” (peaches, pears, apple, “galaxy”?) plus huge cans of beans and rice and yeast. Oh, and 5 gallons of honey. Somehow there was also Pero, cracked wheat, oats and both a wheat grinder and a meat grinder. None of the Perma-Pack boxes have ever been opened. I’m not sure that I have faith that their contents are still edible after half a century, and it’s 50-50 whether I hope they are, or that I never will have to find out.

  23. While hoarders sometimes have the last laugh during emergencies, food storage is extremely inefficient and wasteful unless you’re one of the few who knows how to do it well and only store food you actually eat. I learned this the hard way when as a recent college grad in summer of 1999 my wife and I faced the expected end of the world known as Y2K. I didn’t make much money but we dutifully went out and spent a few thousand dollars of canned food to store in our little apartment. We used almost none of it over the years and we through the last of it out just last year. I think a much more productive emergency supply is to have 6 months of cash on hand but of course that doesn’t fill your stomach in a natural disaster.

  24. My wife grew up in a hardcore family in in the Okanagan Valley with a full food storage approach in which 80-90% of the wood was grown or picked from nearby orchards and canned. With 7 kids they spent the entire Summer preparing food: one morning they would all go out at 4 AM and pick strawberries until noon and then process 100 lbs into jam and sugar and freeze on trays. This would be done several times each summer for every berry you can imagine, plus canned peaches, apricots, cherries, pie cherries, a wide variety of jams including wild foraged choke cherries and blueberries. Corn would be shucked and cut and frozen, beans would be blanched and frozen. They slaughtered 40 chickens each Fall and slaughter a whole cow. They had milk cows and chickens for eggs. They dried fruit to make fruit leather. Tomatoes were made into sauce and canned whole. Rhubarb was frozen and many pies were made and then frozen for quick desserts. Even chocolate was stored for dipped chocolates at Christmas.

    Their butcher always thought her mother was crazy because she would ask for an entire cow to be ground into hamburger.

    She says their larder / pantry was bigger than the average kitchen + dining room. And the garden was 5+ acres plus the pasture for the cows and the coop for the chickens.

    Everything was made from scratch. To these kids a can of Chef Boyardee was eating high on the hog.

    And her parents were not farmers, her Dad was a lawyer who always aspired to be a gentleman farmer.

    My grandparents who lived in Logan were very similar and I was always amazed at their massive storage room plus the second kitchen downstairs for canning – that seemed so exotic to me.

  25. When my mom joined the church my dad was delighted to be able to fully do all things “mormon” including food storage. My mom learned in RS to dry fruit and make jerky and can. I remember her explaining that the ladies in church would call each other when they found great sales on canned vegetables. Dad built some shelves under the stairs to the basement. We also had a store of jello although we never seemed to eat it unless we were sick. Then they were taught about storing things in big white plastic buckets. I’m not sure where they came from but they were used and had stored something sweet so the sugar and flour that we stored in them tasted of weird, old kool aid. We rarely used any of it. I remember my mom got the idea we should start using it as it was getting old and when the buckets were opened the flour had turned a strange color. Also, that smell from the buckets…shudder. By then Costco was the rage and my parents just started buying more of what we regularly ate which was a much better system.

    Years ago my sister and her family moved and they were not allowed by the movers to move food so they dumped, I mean gifted, me their food storage. 100 pounds of wheat that was already ages old and cases and cases of cans of mysterious chemicals masquerading as food – beef “stock” that had nothing whatsoever beefy just msg and salt and flavoring and other strange chemicals labeled Margarine powder. A couple months ago we started packing to move and I decided all that had to go because we weren’t paying to move it. Every week a case of cans went into the trash until it was gone. One of my favorite finds was Peach Flavored Apple Flakes. I have no idea how desperate one must be to consider that a good idea. The things with good labels had all expired in the 90s many things had no dates at all. It was a relief when it was all gone. I much prefer to keep a reasonable amount of foods we eat regularly in the pantry and forget about storage to last years.

  26. Disdaining the snowflakes that bought cans of wheat, when I was in high school in the early 70s my ward had a semi truck load of wheat delivered to the church parking lot and dumped like a huge pile of sand. The whole ward turned out and packaged it in large steel cans. I think my 94 year old mom still has some of it in her garage.

  27. Billy Possum says:

    I like that the post points out that we’ve changed as a Church culture with respect to this. We certainly have.

    I’d add that it’s not just us. Americans, at least, have spent the last 40 years steadily outsourcing our food preparation to the marketplace and emptying our pantries. I know this, among other reasons, because I (32 years old) remember my nonmember grandparents’ pantry. They were children of the Depression, and it was filled with food to last months. It opened off the kitchen, where the food was often used and always tasty. I suspect that used to be much more common (among all Americans) than it is now. So, as with all things, we Mormons are both (1) distinctive in our doctrine, sure, but also (2) just about 30 years behind the average American (who is 30 years again behind Europe).

    It remains to be seen whether, in a crisis, we pay a price for our new market reliance. Hopefully institutions (public and private) will fill the gap. But I’m planting my garden now, just in case.

  28. Kristine N says:

    Those of you with powdered milk you’re not sure what to do with (’cause drinking it is abominable) you might google ‘milk powder burfi’. It’s a lovely treat from India/Pakistan that’s a bit like white fudge. Traditionally it’s flavored with cardamom, but it’s lovely however it’s flavored.

    My grandmas were both big into food storage and canning. I went through a phase when I was probably 9 or 10 when I would go down to the basement at my grandma’s house and grab a quart jar of canned apricots or cherries and eat the whole jar a bowl at a time. I have no idea how old the jars were at that point; my grandma didn’t have either an apricot or a cherry tree, and hadn’t since my dad was about 12.

    My mom’s been cleaning out my other grandma’s basement and has had to dump jar after jar of old, spoiled canned fruit. She’s clogged her toilet at least twice. If you use stuff, it’s great to have some extra on hand. If you don’t use it though, it’s just a waste of space. I think my grandma canned her apricots every year, but I don’t think she ever ate them. We on the other hand have somewhere on the order of 10 kg of different kinds of dry beans and lentils, and a similar amount of rice, but we use those beans and lentils regularly.

  29. Marjorie Conder says:

    I am your parents. We always had food storage, starting with that 2 year idea. My ideas have morphed and modified over the years. We started as a couple with one baby and ended up with 8 people, including 5 teen aged boys (and a daughter). We also had a large garden and even a root cellar. I recently tweaked it all and have been planning my much smaller “garden for one” to plant this Spring, but I can’t quite figure how to do a zucchini for one. (smiley face here)

  30. mtp, those buckets probably came from a bakery or restaurant, places that bought cake mix and pie filling and pancake mix in bulk. At least that’s where our wards used to get them.

  31. I am honestly shocked by this. I’m 38 and have buckets of basic foods: rice, beans, flour, sugar, wheat. Not a year’s supply mind you, and yes, I rotate it and use it. Members of my stake just went through an 8-week break down in infrastructure affecting the delivery of groceries. My stake president teaches a 1-year supply of food. As we’ve watched the grocery stores the last two weeks, I noticed that the food stuffs that went first were rice, beans, flour, sugar. I have been able to continue my normal weekly shopping because I already have the things that people rushed to purchase first. My food storage is working. I feel safe. And I just might come off a little smug…

  32. I’m only 32 but I grew up in a house that was very intense about food storage, and my mom still is, because when I was in my teens my dad lost his job and we ended up living off of food storage for months at a time. I’ve never been in a position to have much in terms of storage, but I’m a big fan of buying in bulk whenever possible.

    Story time- when I was about 6 years old my mom bought a couple 50lb bags of wheat. She stashed them in the utility closet. One day I was playing hide n seek with my brothers and hid in the utility closet. I heard this horrible buzzing, crunching sound, and ran out of that closet absolutely terrified lol. Turns out it was too warm in there for good storage and the wheat was full of wheevils! The noise was thousands of them chowing down. Mom was very annoyed to have to toss all that wheat, but you can bet it never happened again!

  33. Marjorie Condor, I suspect they’re will be many willing to help you consume the extra zucchini. Something I do with it is to shred any I can’t eat fresh and freeze it. You can use it so year long in zucchini bread, but also meatloaf, lasagna, chili, really anything. And most don’t even notice the little green shreds after it’s been frozen and thawed and water drained.

  34. I grew up drinking powdered milk as well, and helping every summer to plant, pick, can, and freeze various fruits and vegetables. Although I still love the taste of canned peaches, I don’t do it myself now that I’m an adult, but I do have a store of food (and toilet paper!) on hand. My work place is having most of us work remotely so last week I went to inventory everything that was there, to see what I needed to get on my next grocery run to round it out. I had rice, beans, and lentils, and I grow my own herbs so I can make those pretty palatable. I had a large stock of pastas and different pasta sauces, also a large stock of canned unsweetened applesauce, and a small stock of frozen fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and canned tuna fish. I also realized that I had fully a dozen tins of Danish butter cookies, and that fully a third of my 72-hour kit is… chocolate. But apparently I come by it naturally: my mother, who still maintains a large supply of food, says the pandemic means she can break into her #10 can of M&Ms.

  35. I grew up with a mother who obsessed about food storage and apologized weekly for not being able to afford a bomb shelter ! She is 95 and still feels shame for not being able to obey the Lord. “Jokingly I mentioned in RS that I could rotate my food storage in seconds. How hard is it to spin a box of ramen and close your freezer door tight? Imagine the meltdown…sorry, not sorry .

  36. I’m in awe of those who had/have food storage and are able to eat from it and rotate it regularly as we have been instructed to do. I just don’t eat the kind of food that is in my food storage (and living the vast majority of my life in teensy apartments – no room for too much!). I eat mostly salads, some chicken or beef, milk, eggs, etc. I rarely eat rice, beans, pasta or anything that would keep. Powdered milk? Big nope. How do y’all do it?

  37. Meems, typically when I have rice it’s stir-fried with lots of vegetables; I usually have vegetables with my pasta as well. I prefer fresh vegetables but if need be I can switch to frozen.

  38. Jack Hughes says:

    I grew up in the 80s and never heard of the “year’s supply” mandate. I guess my parents weren’t that into it. Granted, this was California, and common-sense disaster preparedness advice, like keeping 72-hour kits, was widely promoted among the general population (I lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake) but nothing like massive private stockpiles of food was ever mentioned at church or elsewhere. And nobody I knew had a basement anyway.

    During my first visits to Utah as a young adult, I was a bit surprised to see not only the enthusiasm for food hoarding (let’s just call it what it is) but an entire industry built around it. Interestingly, my wife has relatives in southern Utah who keep a bottle of whiskey as part of their food storage, for “medicinal purposes”. I’m told this practice is an old-timey pioneer thing, but not all that unusual today.

  39. Thanks, Cate. I can eat frozen veg and such, but it’s the rotating things through the storage that always gets me. It’s hard to rotate when you just never eat the types of food that are in the storage unless you absolutely have to…

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