11 May 2009

Storing Grains

My mother had a problem with bugs, which she told me about. All her grain products, and many of her bean products had developed those little needle nosed bugs that some people call weevils, but are really Tribolium confusum, or the so called "confused flour beetle." Yes, it's a species of beetle. They're fascinating little creatures, and have a standard life cycle of egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They can survive on the tiniest amount of grain, and can even survive the freezer.
However, the people who typically give advice on bug management tell you to do horrible things, like put the grain into the freezer for extended time, so that they can be frozen to death. I don't know about you, but I'm not too keen on the cold, and freezing to death doesn't sound like my idea of fun. I think that the best way to avoid eating bugs (although it's funny how squeamish people get about eating bugs, when they have no problem eating other animals, but that's for another day) is to prevent their access to your food supplies in the first place.
This is dead simple to do, as long as you are fastidious about it.
1. If you already have an infestation, don't buy any new grain until all the old grain is completely consumed (by either you or the bugs). I'd suggest just letting the bugs have at, because the eggs are small enough to pass through a sieve, and are too small to be seen easily by the human eye. Better to start fresh, so that you're not taking any chances at all.
2. Clean out any vestiges of grain products left in open surfaces, such as on the counter, in cupboards, pantries, or other storage areas, and any other place you think some grain may have fallen. Thoroughly vacuum your kitchen, to pick up any stray pieces. Go over everything with hot water and bleach. It'll take a while, but it's well worth it if you're looking to start over fresh.
3. When you buy grain, beans, or anything else that these critters like to attack, store them in air-tight containers with as small an opening as possible.
I'll repeat that, in case you missed it: store them in airtight containers with small openings.
What do I mean?
Juice bottles! You know those bottles of cranberry juice or apple juice that you buy from the store? (Or, in some cases, bottles of liquor with a screw on cap.) Those are perfect for keeping out bugs, because you can close them tightly, they don't cost you anything, and they store a LOT of grain.
I can easily fit a 20 lb bag of rice into a couple of one gallon juice jugs. I prefer the clear containers, so that I can see what it is that's inside the container, but you can use any bottle you have.
If you've ever visited my apartment, you'll see bottles of rice, split peas, and other random grains on top of my fridge, bottles of spices in my cupboards, and bottles of other grains in my pantry. The easiest way to get your stuff into those jars is to visit a hardware store, and buy one of those cheap plastic funnels that have a very large opening on the bottom, so that your grain flows through evenly. Once they're in there, it's very easy to dispense.
Those funnels are usually used to get oil into a car, but they work just fine for grain. If you find that the opening that rests in the bottle is too small, grab a serrated knife, and saw off the bottom tip until it's wide enough to admit the grains, but narrow enough to fit the mouth of the bottles. Sand it down a bit with your sharpening steel, some steel wool pads, sandpaper, a nail file, an emery board, or whatever else you have lying around. The point is that you want to avoid the little bits of plastic getting into your food.
If you'd rather not spend the $1 - $3 on the plastic funnel, grab a newspaper, and roll it into a cone with an open end. Secure it with a staple or two, or some tape, and go to town. Or, use one of those party hats, and snip off an end. I used the same party hat for about six months while I was trying to find a better way, and it worked just fine for me.
In fact, I find it awkward to use my grains without pouring them out! The smaller containers are much easier to handle than those messy bags that they come packaged in.
This goes triple for sushi or basmati rice. Both are extremely expensive, and I'd sooner miss out on the attractive packaging that they come in than lose out on the rice itself.
If you have friends that also discard their used juice and water bottles, ask them to save the bottles for you, so that you can reuse them.
WARNING: Ensure that you wash and thoroughly dry the containers before putting any grain into them. Any leftover moisture will encourage the growth of fungus, and will spoil your stuff. Make sure that it's completely dry before using the containers. It's important to was the juice containers, because the leftover sugar will attract ants and other critters. Best to avoid it in the first place!
Why recycle when you can reuse?