Non-Doomsday Prepping, Part 5: Suppertime!
Some years back, I started writing a cookbook because I realized a lot of younger families no idea how to shop, store, and cook affordable food. A lot of folks are living on takeout and spending fortunes on food, having to dine at restaurants or hit the grocery store deli every day, and eating incredibly unhealthy diets. When they tried to eat healthy food, they failed because it was expensive and hard to prepare. In addition, it occurred to me that because they were living day by day, meal by meal, they were unprepared for any emergency (such as the coronavirus we’re looking at right now, job loss or family illness).
So I came up with this concept I called “non-doomsday prepping” – the notion of having a wide variety of shelf-stable food on hand so you can cook at home using ingredients that are on sale, while also being somewhat prepared for emergencies as they arise. Prepping doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weird, it’s actually a great way to save money over the course of time, and it doesn’t even have to take up lots of space.
I’ve divided my cookbook up into smaller essays and I’ll share them here for anyone who is interested.
In this edition of Non-Doomsday Prepping, we’re going to discuss food — a LOT of food. You do not need it all. You don’t even need most of it. You certainly don’t need most of it at any given time. Trust me, we are NOT going down the path of “tamarind paste is a handy staple!” None of these things are staples. The most important ingredients are in Part 3 — Staples and Beyond.
Parts 4 and 5 of this series are more about building a versatile pantry to help you keep your sanity when eating from your pantry for extended periods of time in emergencies AND that can help you liven up anything fresh that happens to be on sale in any given week day-to-day, so you don’t fall back into the habit of buying takeout. These are not exhaustive, just things that over the course of the past 30 years, I’ve found useful or versatile, and that kept well on the shelf or in cold storage a long time. I divided them up into smaller categories to make them manageable. But since everyone has their own individual tastes, any one person’s pantry will not look like the next guy’s.
Since the meals we could cook from our pantry for dinner are so varied, I’ve divided the ingredients by style of cuisine (so for example if you don’t like Asian food, you’d not buy much, or anything, from that section). There will be quite a lot of crossover between these sections and other sections, meaning you would likely benefit from having items in other sections, particuarly the staples and have-on-hands we talked about in Staples and Beyond rather than just these items.
Remember, these lists are tools, not mandatory purchases. They are not all super important must-have ingredients.
Say it with me — if you know you will never eat something, DO NOT BUY IT.
10 must have ingredients for homestyle American cooking
Most ingredients to cook homestyle foods you’ve already purchased in other sections but here are some relatively shelf-stable options to keep available. Some are short term storers, keeping 4-6 weeks in the fridge, others are long term pantry items that will last a good long while.
Hot dogs (I like Oscar Meyer) and/or prepackaged ham or turkey breast (not packages of lunch meat – get a dinner size piece, and then you can use it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner), hot dog and hamburger buns (freeze till ready to use), hoagie rolls (freeze till ready to use), cornmeal, stroganoff seasoning, Campbells (or similar brand) concentrated tomato soup, Campbells (or similar brand) Golden Mushroom soup, applesauce, canned chili, Worcestershire Sauce
Note about the unhealthy processed meats – again, we are talking about procuring emergency food that keeps a long time, on a budget. If you can make better choices, do, as often as possible (including embracing the vegetarian option, as we already discussed) but if you’re really in a pickle and have to feed people, particularly children, quickly for not a lot of money and hopefully not a lot of complaining, most people will happily snarf down the occasional hot dog, and a hot turkey sandwich can be a healthy, filling, and delicious meal in itself. Packages of preserved meat will keep sealed in the refrigerator 4-6 weeks after purchase, enabling you to buy extra of these items when they’re on sale, and pass by fresh meats when they are exorbitant (or in the case of panicked buying clearing store shelves, nonexistent).
Note about stroganoff seasoning — canned mushrooms are pretty bad and fresh ones are perishable and often expensive. You can make a pretty decent knock off version of beef stroganoff with hamburger, a carton of sour cream, noodles or rice, and a packet of stroganoff seasoning, even without the ‘shrooms.
Note about the canned Campbells soup – while I’ve previously eschewed Campbells in terms of having it on hand as soup for lunch due to its expense, some of the flavors like tomato and golden mushroom are very handy as sauces – and as sauces, they go farther and are much more economical. (I wrote about my family’s fave tomato soup recipe in my American Sandwich Project piece, Loose Meat Sandwiches.)
If you prefer to make your own chili Sam Wilkinson has a recipe here: How to Make a Basic Ground Beef Chili
Special mention for Manwich sauce — In my “Loose Meat Sandwich” article linked above I have a bit about Manwiches. If you like Manwiches or have pleasant memories of school lunches that featured them, and can see yourself eating them happily in a time of crisis, please feel free to add in Manwich Sauce (for the uninitiated, it comes in a can that in my store is usually near the chili). It’s easy enough to brown some hamburger and dump a can of sauce in it (vegetarians and vegans can use lentils instead). Anyone can do it even without a high level of cooking skill, so wait for the Manwich Sauce to go on sale and procure it at that time.
Special mention for frozen vegan and vegetarian meat replacers – while I DO NOT think that things like premade hamburger patties and chicken nuggets are economical and worth purchasing for meat eaters, I make an exception for vegetarian and vegan options like Morningstar Farms (the sandwich patties in particular are very tasty). Many of the convenience products I mention in my Non-Doomsday Prepping series are meat-oriented, and if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s ok to have something quick and easy on hand, even if it’s a bit expensive.
You will have already purchased cream soups like Cream of Mushroom, Asparagus, Chicken in your have-on-hand condiments, but if you skipped them then, now’s the time!
10 ingredients for American-style casseroles, hot dishes, and side dishes
Folks have been debating the difference between a casserole and a hot dish for ages, but I hereby declare a casserole something you bake in the oven and a hot dish something you cook in a skillet on the stovetop.
Boxed mashed potatoes (I like Idahoan. Avoid the kind that are add-water-only as they’re generally bad. Get the ones you add milk and butter to, they’re better), seasoned rice mixes (like Rice a Roni or Knorr), boxed macaroni and cheese (I like Kraft and find it’s worth the extra money, store brands are often inedible.) Jaybird has a recipe for dolling up mac and cheese here: Truly Decadent Mac and Cheese), Stove Top stuffing, frozen french fries and/or tater tots, quinoa (ONLY if you will eat it – I bought quinoa once and never did eat it, but it’s quite popular), bread crumbs, French fried onions (those crunchy things you may remember from green bean casserole), poultry seasoning, dry Italian dressing seasoning mix like Good Seasons
Note about fries/tater tots – yes, a splurge, but if you’re a vegan or vegetarian (or even if you’re not) you can make a whole meal out of these with very little preparation or clean up. Also, if you find yourself often stopping at restaurants with a craving, it can actually save you money to buy them frozen sometimes. I personally love sweet potato fries which are healthier, but they’re more expensive. Watch for sales!
Note about the seasoned rice packs – play around with these as you may like some better than others. I find I mostly prefer the Knorr ones, particularly the Knorr cheese and broccoli and Spanish rice. The Rice a Roni brand Spanish rice is dreadful IMO, but I do like the Rice A Roni fried rice, and the chicken and beef pilafs too. There are also Vigo and Zatarains brands with more choices, though I’ve never tried them. The price difference in these on sale is huge so keep an eye for bargains.
Note about dry ranch (mentioned in Staples and Beyond) and Italian dressing seasoning mix – they last forever, are cheap, and can elevate a very bland and mediocre casserole or hot dish to yumminess pretty quickly.
Note about French Fried onions – of course, not at all mandatory but a small amount can doll up otherwise unspectacular canned/frozen vegetables, potatoes, and casseroles. Onions may be in short supply in an emergency – while they do keep for a while, it’s not indefinitely. If you prefer, you can replace fried onions with cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, grated cheese, bacon bits, that kind of thing, but they won’t have that oniony flavor.
Special mention for bacon – due to its high expense compared to the amount of food value in it, and the fact that it doesn’t keep long once opened (unless you freeze it, or cook and freeze it, which may be more work than you have time for in an emergency, for something that just adds a bit of flavor) I don’t have bacon listed in any of these sections. If you adore bacon, you can add it of course, and it can definitely liven up side dishes and casseroles in particular, and is also great on salads and vegetables and as a flavoring agent in soups, especially chowders. More about salads, vegetables, and soups here: Non-Doomsday Prepping Part 4: Filling in the Gaps
I am not a fan of packaged au gratin potatoes. While these are popular and many people like them, for the amount of food value you get (it takes 3 boxes to feed my family) they’re ridiculous in price and enough for family-size meal takes up a large amount of storage space. I would skip them, unless you get them on a massive sale and plan to add additional ingredients to them (like tuna, chicken, ham, cooked veg) to make them more like a casserole. Otherwise you get very few potatoes in a whole lot of sauce. Eating a box of au gratin potatoes (even the expensive ones) is like going on an Easter Egg hunt but instead of eggs you’re looking for the practically non-existent slivers of potatoes in the nearly empty sauce. (and they’re not hard to make on your own out of real live potatoes!)
Same with the Pasta-Roni and Knorr pasta sides – you get a lot of sauce, not much actual food. They’re ok for a base into which you stir in additional ingredients (and tend to be cheaper than Hamburger or Tuna Helper) but if that’s not your cup of tea, I wouldn’t bother. Jaybird has a recipe for dolling up Hamburger Helper that would work great with both HH and the Pasta-Roni/Knorr’s packages too.
Idahoan makes these little preseasoned packages of flavored mashed potatoes. Because they’re preseasoned you can just add water to them and they’re not terrible, while still being affordable and easy. We ate them a lot when we were building our house and we lived in a camp trailer for weeks at a time. Occasionally they go on sale and if you’re someone who literally cannot cook at all beyond boiling water and are in dire need of some comfort food, or you want something for your stash that doesn’t require other ingredients to prepare, you may want to check them out. Not a necessity at all (I won’t even bother giving them an italic!) but for some folks, may be welcome additions to their rotation.
Update – something I forgot to mention the first time through is canned chicken chunks. While this is not the absolute yummiest way to enjoy chicken, cans obviously keep a long time and they are a good source of protein. In a casserole or soup, they’re tolerably edible, although I would not rely on them in any recipe where you really need your chicken to shine, like a chicken salad. If you see canned chicken chunks on sale, you may want to pick them up and see if it’s something you can see yourself relying on in an emergency, even if you wouldn’t eat it voluntarily day to day.
10 ingredients for Asian recipes
Red Thai Chili Paste (NOT sweet chili sauce), Green Thai Chili Paste, yellow curry sauce mix (this is generally sold in bars in the Asian section, but I have seen it in jars lately), coconut milk (the kind in a can, NOT the milk replacer in the dairy section) canned pineapple, cornstarch, fresh gingerroot (I despise ginger and rarely use it, but if you do, you can store a hand of ginger in your freezer for quite some time, grating a bit off as needed), ramen, tofu (sealed 1 lb packages in the refrigerated section of the grocery store keep for 2 months unopened in the fridge, and shelf-stable tofu stored in a cool place may keep 6-12 months), lime juice
I love Asian food, and my husband doesn’t, so I had to become expert at cooking it or give it up forever. Most Asian dishes are centered around fresh vegetables, so if you’re trying to eat more healthfully on a budget Asian dishes are great go-tos to increase the amount of vegetables your family is eating, not to mention cut down on expensive meats.
Note about curry — OMG what the heck is up with all that curry? I am a huge fan of curry, as you can probably tell. While curry paste is somewhat expensive, curries are extremely healthy and can be mixed with a small amount of meat and veg, and a large amount of rice, to make a filling and affordable meal. (Many curry recipes call for coconut milk added to the curry paste, which I’ve listed above, but you can substitute plain yogurt, sour cream, whole milk/cream, evaporated milk, or soymilk instead if you don’t have it, and the yellow curry bars don’t need anything else added to them.) You can also add small amounts of curry paste to stir fries to add flavor to your own sauce. I don’t recommend stir fry sauces or packets as you can make a far better sauce much more cheaply for very little effort (if you have one you like, by all means) but curry sauces are much harder to make and require a lot of fancy ingredients most people aren’t familiar with, hence my recommendation.
Note about tofu — If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but for vegetarians, vegans, and people like me who just plain like tofu, it’s a fairly inexpensive and relatively shelf-stable protein option. If you had it once and thought it was gross, you may want to give it a second look as there is a lot of badly prepared tofu out there, putting people off what is actually delicious when cooked properly.
Note about lime juice — like so many things, it’s not strictly necessary, but a bottle of the RealLime (while obviously not as great as the real thing) will keep indefinitely in the fridge and adds a little something extra that lemon juice just doesn’t have. Lime juice is also enormously useful in Hispanic cooking.
Shout out for lemongrass – in the produce section you can find tubes of preserved lemongrass. It’s a bit expensive, but is really good (although far from a necessity) and a little goes a long way, so you can buy it once and have it on hand for quite a while afterwards. Not worth an italic, but I have enjoyed it when I had it. You can even buy fresh lemongrass in the store, or a living lemongrass plant and have it forever.
Sriracha or nah? – many people would also add sriracha to this list. I love sriracha and do usually have it at home, but you can get by with a bottle of regular hot sauce. I don’t think it’s necessary, even though it’s nice, and unlike the curry sauces I’m so fond of, it’s not just a dump and go kinda thing – you have to have some finesse and additional ingredients to make a sauce with sriracha. Same with miso, Sriracha mayo, Kewpie mayo, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, and many similar Asian products. Entirely at your option, and if you go big into Asian cooking, you’d eventually want to give them all a whirl, but for most families these aren’t going to be no-brainer kinds of things they really need to have at home in case of an emergency. DO NOT buy sweet and sour sauce, though. I have never found a storebought sweet and sour sauce that was tolerable, and I’ve tried quite a few. Thai Sweet Chili Sauce is good, though, and has many similar applications.
Noodles? – In my experience you don’t need to buy special noodles for cooking Asian food. Between ramen and spaghetti, you can make do without the fancy noodles, which are also far more expensive.
Canned Asian veg? — Water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, exotic mushrooms, baby corn, bean sprouts, etc — with the exception of water chestnuts, which I have occasionally purchased because they are versatile and add some nice crunch not only to stir fry but also to dips and salads — I skip these. They’re pretty expensive, and aren’t as good (or healthy) as fresh vegetable options. Why eat a soggy, metallic-tasting baby corn ear when you can have a stalk of yummy fresh asparagus for the same price? By the way, if you were wondering, asparagus, bean sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, pea pods, onion, and zucchini have a particular affinity for Asian flavors, so if you catch any of these on sale it’s a good night for a stir fry.
What about all those readymade kits? — Some of these are quite tasty, particularly the Thai Kitchen products and the Annie Chun soup and noodle bowls. They also are expensive for what you get and the soup/noodle bowls take up a massive amount of space. I classify these under “Chef Boyardee” in terms of great expense for not much food value.
You will also find the previously mentioned soy sauce (pretty much mandatory for Asian cooking), fish sauce (be warned, this smells awful, but a small amount adds a lot of flavor and can be added to non-Asian foods too to add some umami), peanut butter, and curry powder useful if you don’t already have them on hand.
10 ingredients for Italian recipes
Spaghetti sauce (I prefer Tuscan Traditions), ricotta cheese, olives (black – don’t worry, you’ll be adding green olives in the Mexican/Hispanic section if you prefer them), olive oil, oregano, Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese, dry mixes for non-marinara-type spaghetti sauce such as Knorr’s – I love their pesto mix (it’s dairy and nut free, but still has the pesto taste) and Parma Rosa sauce particularly, meatballs (frozen, storebought or homemade), ravioli (frozen)
Note about spaghetti sauce – you can make your own sauce, and Sam Wilkinson has a great recipe for doing so here: Simple Red Sauce. Jaybird has a slow cooker marinara here: Colorado Style Sauce. Tod Kelly has a great recipe for a Puttanesca Sauce too. But, as is the case for so many things, even though I can make my own sauce, I usually don’t. Thus, let me sing the praises of Tuscan Traditions, the marinara sauce that has ruined all other marinara sauces for me forever. It’s so good. So so good. Not every store has it but it’s worth looking for. If you find it too expensive, in a pinch, I’ve mixed Tuscan Traditions half and half with that cheap 99 cent Hunts sauce in a can (one of my children will only eat Hunts, so I usually have both on hand) and it still has most of the Tuscan Traditions yumminess while being cheaper. Please note, the dry seasoning packets for “spaghetti sauce” are generally terrible – and as you know by now I love me some dry seasoning packets, so please take my word, they aren’t good. And of course you can use marinara sauce for more than just pasta; it also makes a good pizza sauce.
Note about ricotta cheese — this is useful if you plan to make lasagna. But you can sub in cottage cheese if that’s what you have or nothing and just use extra shredded cheese or some sauteed vegetables. If you’re not making lasagna, you probably don’t need it, although it’s also used in making lots of delectable desserts.
Note about Parmesan cheese: Just get the stuff in the green can. Yes, it’s considered by some to be bad/inferior, but a whole lot of us grew up on it, it’s affordable, it lasts a good long while, and you don’t have to spend any time grating it. If you prefer to do it yourself and can afford unshredded Parm, also fine. Follow your bliss. If you’re wondering “but is this NECESSARY” take it from someone who’s eaten a lot of spaghetti over the years – it may not be strictly necessary but it sure can help elevate poverty cuisine into something actually pretty good for only a couple pennies’ worth of sprinkling.
Note about frozen meatballs and ravioli – these vary in quality wildly but if you find a brand you like, they can be nice additions to your rotation, especially for vegetarians. If you’re confused why I’m saying meatballs = vegetarian, they sell vegan/vegetarian meatballs now too (some made with nuts, beans, even eggplant, others made from soy) and of course there is a wide variety of frozen vegetarian ravioli on the market.
Oh and one more thing: garlic bread. Premade garlic bread can be quite expensive and my family snarfs it up quickly, but if you happen onto a sale, you may want to pick up a couple loaves on hand to go with your Italian meals. If you have the room in your freezer and like the stuff (personally, I’m not a huge fan but my family likes it) please add garlic bread to your list.
10 ingredients for Mexican/Hispanic recipes
Cilantro paste (Dried cilantro is not a thing and fresh cilantro spoils quickly. Cilantro paste is sold in tubes in the produce section, and while it is a bit expensive, it lasts for a while), taco shells, tortilla chips (these take up a lot of room though and are fragile), corn/flour tortillas, canned green chilis, pickled jalapenos, cumin, cheese (Mexican blend or Monterey Jack best), canned RoTel tomatoes, olives (green – don’t worry, you’ll be adding black olives in the Italian section if you prefer them)
Note about corn vs. flour tortillas — they’re used for different applications and if you can manage it, have both on hand. Corn tortillas last quite a while in the fridge, and flour tortillas can be kept at least as long as a loaf of bread, if not longer, on the shelf. They can also both be frozen.
If you are serious about Mexican and Hispanic cuisine you can likely think of many additions to this list – chorizo, mole sauce, black beans, pepitas, lots of delicious cheeses, bitter orange juice, lard, lots of different herbs and spices, but the above ingredients are a good start for most people.
Refried beans are something you probably already purchased when getting your food in cans, and salsa is something you probably got when picking out your important condiments. Taco seasoning and enchilada sauce seasoning are also have-on-hands. If you didn’t get them already and plan to make meals containing them, now’s the time.
10 ingredients for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern options
Most of the ingredients for cooking fantastic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine – honey, lemon juice, garlic, dill, yogurt, olive oil, feta cheese, olives, pickled peppers, rice, legumes of all sorts, oregano – have already been mentioned in other sections.
M/ME cuisine is something many people are not terribly familiar with, but it’s both healthy and affordable, not to mention delicious. Most options can be made vegetarian or even vegan. If you’re unsure what to do with these foods, don’t buy them, but I do hope to have a recipe essay someday for the uninitiated – and in the meantime, there are scads of recipes online.
Bulgur wheat, orzo, tahini, hummus, paprika, rosemary, matzo and/or matzo meal (you can do q w get these on sale around the spring holidays, and they keep indefinitely), couscous, pine nuts, flatbreads such as pita (can be frozen).
Note about hummus — Hummus has gotten quite popular of late. My kids love it, as do I. Hummus on a tortilla or pita with cucumbers is a cheap and delicious meal. While you can make it at home, if you find you don’t, you can often catch readymade hummus on sale in the grocery store deli. Sealed, it lasts a couple weeks.
Note about pine nuts — We used to eat scads of pine nuts (my stepmother would send them to us from New Mexico) but then one of my sons came up deathly allergic to them and we had to stop having them in the house. If you’ve never tried them, they are fantastic, and can be stored in the freezer for a long time.
Special mention for fresh veggies — In addition to the more obvious tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant…beets, cucumber, spinach, sweet potatoes, and zucchini have a particular affinity for Mediterranean flavors. Beets in particular are excellent staples to keep around as they last in the fridge a long time.
Wait hold on! Beets…Are you freaking kidding me with that? — Truth, a lot of us had bad experiences with beets (myself included, and it took me well into adulthood before I learned to appreciate them). But they are a beloved food for many people around the world and so I list them here as long-storing options for people who do like them. Beets are also easy to grow at home, and if you think you hate them, a garden fresh beet with butter or sour cream, or pickled with a good quality vinegar, is a whole ‘nother animal entirely. As always, if you know you can’t stand them, don’t buy them, but you may not want to let bad childhood experiences completely define how you eat forever.
There are many other ingredients such as phyllo dough, grape leaves, Kalamata olives, balsamic vinegar, and a wide array of seasoning agents that one could add if they planned on cooking Mediterranean or Middle Eastern meals frequently, but they are not a necessity.
If you didn’t buy any nuts (particularly walnuts and almonds) and dried fruit (particularly apricots, raisins, and dates) now is the time. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) and lentils are another must for this style of cuisine.
5 Seafood options
These do tend to be expensive, but often go on sale. They keep a long time too.
Breaded frozen fish fillets, packaged imitation crab or lobster meat (hey- I like it, and maybe you do too, plus it keeps for a while in the fridge), canned salmon, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce if these are things you can’t live without (personally, I live without, finding Thousand Island dressing a good-enough replacement for both).
Note about breaded fish fillets — Some people enjoy these. Some people don’t. If you’re in the latter group please feel free to skip them. It’s just another option for people to have on hand when they can’t get to the store for fresh, less processed ingredients (and probably healthier than hot dogs!)
If you enjoy other things like canned shrimp, sardines, smoked oysters, etc by all means, go for it. I just don’t tend to find these options as versatile (plus I prefer fresh/frozen shrimp to canned, when I buy it, which is rare anyway).
You’ve already added canned clams (get ONLY Chicken of the Sea canned clams, as other brands are gritty) and tuna in the canned goods section but are worth another mention.
10 ingredients for Regional American cooking
I filed this under “R” for regional instead of “A” for American because these things aren’t super familiar to many, but Tex-Mex, creole/Cajun, New England, and Southern cooking are definite genres unto themselves and need a special category for the many people who enjoy these cuisines. Many things we’ve already touched on – rice, cornmeal, Ro-Tel tomatoes, hot sauce, green chiles, Jello – are things that you’ll use again if cookin regional cuisine.
Bottled sauerkraut, hominy, frozen lima beans (the small green ones), Fritos, masa harina, black eyed peas (they cook fast, so dry beans are as easy as canned), dry pinto beans, dry or canned butter beans (the big white ones), grits, smoked sausage like Polish Sausage or kielbasa, or andouille if you’re after a Cajun flavor.
Note about Fritos — Why Fritos? Because unlike most chips, they’re sturdy and don’t get crushed in storage, and can be used in lieu of pasta, rice, bread as a basis for casseroles.
Note about masa harina — this is corn FLOUR. Not corn MEAL that you make cornbread from. You need masa harina to make tamales, you can use it to thicken Tex-Mex style chilis and soups, you can use it to make casseroles, you can use it to make cornbread, a hot drink called atole, and you can also make your own corn tortillas from it. Personally, I tried making tortillas once and wasn’t happy with the results (they came out more like gorditas, which is sort of like a fatter tortilla) and quickly returned to tamales, but if I was stuck at home for an extended period of time it would be a concept I’d happily return to. Some may think masa harina is not a necessity, but for many folks it is a necessity, hence its inclusion here. If you won’t use it, don’t get it.
I have molasses up in the vegetable section, but you will definitely use molasses a real whole lot if you plan on doing much regional American cooking (especially that of New England). Another category of syrup that you may not be familiar with is cane syrup (like Steen’s) or golden syrup (like King). Many people swear by these products for getting an authentic Southern taste and can be used in pretty much any application where other syrups like maple or corn syrup are used (in baked beans, pies, cornbread) Not a necessity but if available in your area, syrups keeps a long time and is versatile.
If you aren’t beaned out already, a lot of Southerners prefer to use trusty kidney beans in their cooking. I don’t think I’ve mentioned kidney beans specifically in any of these categories simply because they’re so ubiquitous I figured everyone would have already bought some, but a can or two of kidney beans will always be welcome in chili or 3 bean salad.
Special mention for chili sauce — This is a little like salsa, but with a more all-American taste. It’s good in things like shrimp cocktail, chicken salad, on top sausage or hot dogs, and on sandwiches. Not a necessity, but it is nice to have on hand. You can also use it in lieu of salsa if you’ve run out, although the taste is a bit sweeter and more ketchup-like than salsa.
Special mention for okra — okra, if you can get it, is a very important ingredient for gumbo and some other Southern/Cajun dishes. It’s not always available in every area, but you may be able to find it in the frozen vegetables in larger stores even in the North.
Special mention for cole slaw mix — I love cole slaw (I have what I believe to be the best recipe for cole slaw of them all). But I find heads of cabbage rather daunting to shred, and when I set out to make my own cole slaw shreds, I often don’t. Even though cabbage lasts a long time (making it a handy Non-Doomsday Prepping food) when I buy it it often shrivels in the fridge, unshredded. Thus I learned to buy the sack of precut cole slaw mix when I have a hankering. It doesn’t keep forever (meaning it really doesn’t count as a Non-Doomsday prepping food resource), but it does last about a week (make sure you check the date when you buy it, as occasionally I’ve found some bags at the grocer that were already well on their way to spoiling). If you buy that whole head of cabbage and some carrots, they keep even longer. So if you’re hungry for it, please add cole slaw mix or cabbage if you’re feeling ambitious.
Hang in there, we’re almost through! Check back next time on Non-Doomsday Prepping when we’ll talk about our non-food items that most of us ought to have on hand.