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Making do and doing without: Ranch family tips for being prepared

Tips for always being prepared

Don’t buy what you won’t use. If no one in your family eats it, don’t buy it.

Stock up when things are on sale.

Put the newly-purchased items at the back of the cupboard, so you use the older items first.

Start gradually adding to your pantry by buying twice as much of non-perishable items when they’re on sale.

When you open your spare item of things like mayonnaise, soy sauce, ketchup, dish soap, shampoo, etc., put it on the list to restock the pantry.

Every two to three months, go through your pantry and pick out items that need to be used up. Treat it as a cooking challenge.

Eat or freeze leftovers

Keep baking staples like flour, sugar, yeast, chocolate chips and oil on hand. Bread is one of the cheapest food items, and the ingredients last a lot longer than pre-made loaves of bread. Bread can also be kept in the freezer. Homemade bread doesn’t last in the cupboard near as long as store-bought bread, so freezing or refrigerating it can help stave off the mold.

Eggs are perishable, but last for a long time. Stock up, and find local sources.

Keep in stock necessary feminine hygiene products, frequently-used medicines and medications and basic first aid supplies.

Keep a few gallons of water on hand, but use it and refresh the supply every few months.

Keep your gas tank on the top half, rather than waiting for the “low fuel” light.

The old saying goes, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

As toilet paper, meat, eggs, bread and canned goods fly off grocery shelves, many ranchers continue with their calving-season-forced social distancing, knowing that they’ve got enough supplies in the pantry and freezer to keep their families fed for months.

In areas where blizzards and the work at home often preclude regular trips to the store, being prepared has become a way of life, and these skills are handed down for generations.

Marvin Kammerer recently turned 83. He lives about 8 miles from a Wal-Mart, but he still figures he could get by for months on the groceries in the freezer and on the shelves—many of which he and his wife, Joy, canned and prepared themselves.

“I’ve been hungry a time or two,” Kammerer said. “But I always knew where there was something to eat. I just had to come home.”

He recalls a lot of homemade bread. His mom baked bread several times a week, and the after school snack was usually a piece of bread with butter or peanutbutter and jelly. Lunch was carried in a bucket and included a sandwich of some sort, and fruit or vegetables if they were in season, but most of the time it was just a sandwich.

“There wasn’t a store we could just run out to,” he said. “We knew nothing else. It seemed to be a good way to live.”

As far as a toilet paper shortage, Kammerer laughs. “We didn’t have a bathroom. We had an outdoor privy. The only toilet paper we got was when Mom would be canning peaches, and they came individually-wrapped in tissue paper. Man, that was a luxury item. It was lots better than the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Those glossy pages you had to crumple them up good before you could use them. We used up the Yellow Pages first.”

Kammerer’s family raised chickens, sheep, hogs and cattle. They butchered in the fall when the weather got cool enough to hang the meat without spoiling, then cured the hams and bacons, and packed the sausage in lard in one- or two-gallon crocks.

He remembers the blizzard of 1949, when no trains could get in or out of Rapid City for three weeks. “There were no trucks going down the road hauling. There were no interstates then. Things got damn scare, but there was always meat in town.”

In the days before deep freezes became common, Kammerer remembers going to the locker plant and picking up a few packages of meat for the week. The locker plant had locked coolers with a key for the owner of the meat, and one for the locker plant, and when you got an animal butchered you just rented space at the locker plant.

Kammerer was making a batch of stew during the interview. “We’ve still got old habits, that I like. I still can vegetables, we always have a supply of flour. It’s pretty comforting at times like this.”

While making head cheese and crocks of sausage is probably not on the average person’s weekend to-do list, there are still plenty of practices that can help prepare for long-term shortages, quarantines or unpredictable events. While “prepper” is often a derisive term, being prepared is something anyone can—and should– do.

Jolyn Young has honed her preparedness skills living in cow camps four-and-a-half hours from town.

“You learn the root vegetables last the longest. Eat your highly perishable produce first, then apples, sweet potatoes. Have dried fruit on hand for when the fresh fruit runs out. Don’t be afraid to ration the family—it’s okay to say ‘only one cup of milk per day.’”

She said you learn to not cook what people won’t eat, and that when the options are limited, people get a lot less picky.

She said she used to try to make extensive lists and figure out what recipes she was going to use, but now she knows what to keep on hand, and a can-do attitude has always taken her further than being extra organized. “I just make whatever I’m making, with a twist,” if she runs out, she says. “We’ve run out of milk, flour. You just smile and serve cornbread made with oil instead of eggs. People will eat it and fill up their bellies and go to sleep and be happy.”

As far as the paper product shortages, she said when she heard about the lack of toilet paper in stores, she bought old sheets at the thrift store. If she doesn’t need them for toilet paper (thrown away, instead of flushed), she’ll use them for a craft project.

And if she gets really desperate, she’ll trade some of her 50-pound sack of flour for toilet paper.




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