A Journal of the Plague Year: Prep School

Posted Sunday, May 3, 2020 in News

A Journal of the Plague Year: Prep School

by Gina Hamilton

So we are entering the next month of lockdown, except for essential employees, which means that I'll be working at home, but my husband will be serving coffee at Starbucks, because mocha frappacinos are essential to the economy. And because I'll be at home, and because I haven't been able to buy the typical five-pound bag of flour anywhere, we ordered three large bags of flour -- one fifty-pound bag of bread flour, two twenty-five pound bags of all-purpose flour from a bakery supply house, together with a pound of yeast.

When things were looking very grim, flour-wise, we bought some red wheat berries which we hand-ground, along with some rye seed that we hand-ground, a bag of King Arthur rye flour that was a bit of a ground score at a local grocery store, and a kilo sack of semola flour for pasta and pizza crust that we ordered from an Italian restaurant supply house, since our local supplier, Bob's Red Mill, is having a supply issue.

When the pandemic hit, we still had a little bit of whole wheat flour, a box of cake flour, and virtually every other baking item one needs to make everything from chocolate chip cookies to everything bagels to soft pretzels to pies to scones and currant buns for tea to cakes and loaves of bread. 

We've also been sharing our newfound flour wealth with anyone who needs it locally. It's a tough time for many of our aging friends to be stuck at home without some of the basic necessities for life, and, I'm sorry, my gluten-free friends, lovely gluten-rich bread is one of those things. 

We store the flour in large plastic bins to keep it dry and free from dog hair, filling smaller plastic bins in the pantry as needed. When friends need flour, we fill their bins or fill a flour sack for them. 

In any case, we aren't the only people having this and similar problems, but we are possibly better prepared for them than many people are. We grow our produce, can our own jams and sauces, freeze other produce. We keep chickens, gather eggs.  We know how to make cheese and butter and grind wheat berries into flour, and make our own bread and pasta. My husband roasts and grinds his own coffee. If we had to, we could have probably survived an extended pandemic with just a few additions to our diet -- liquid milk products, meats, cooking oils, and fresh produce top of the list. And tea. And of course, enough medication to get by for a month or two.

Obviously, other things are necessary -- feed for the animals, paper products, even the city's pay-as-you-throw trash bags -- but we are as prepped as we can be. Spending the pandemic ordering seeds and working on the garden plans and encouraging the hens to lay and starting plants isn't something new and different and frightening -- it's what happens every spring at Turning Tide Cottage.

When we were living in California, we had to prepare not only for being on our own for an extended period of time, but also to be on the move if necessary after an earthquake or flood. The prep work was a lot less extensive but portable, and included things we don't really have to think about during this emergency -- drinking water, extra gasoline, personal hygiene items in case we had to shelter in a stadium or travel long distance to stay with a relative, paper records of the deeds, insurances, a copy of everyone's birth records, vaccination records, marriage records, and passports. 

Meanwhile in Maine, we exchanged flour for rice; we gave away eggs and coffee; we planned month-long menus and made certain we had all the ingredients. We found ways to celebrate the small things -- an Easter dinner with a chocolate cake, sending small gifts and cards for birthdays, ordering flowers for Mother's Day, planning a Mexican dinner for Cinco de Mayo. Life goes on, luckily, for us, and we spare a thought for those for whom life has been so tragically interrupted. 

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