Having the right tools for the job is sometimes a luxury. For the homesteader, the right tools are a necessity. If you don’t have the right equipment to process, preserve and prepare food, it can make life very difficult.
When we asked ourselves which tools were indispensable in our homestead kitchen, seven items made the cut.
These tools enable us to turn raw ingredients into edible food, and to preserve today’s harvest for the winter months. They work hard for us and if well cared they’ll continue to serve us for many years to come.
A Good Chef’s knife
Please believe me, here’s all you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chefs knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand. ~ Anthony Bourdain
Once you’ve worked with a chef’s knife, you’ll become attached to it rather quickly. A knife is of the most used tools in any kitchen. A well sharpened chef’s knife is a heck of a work horse. Whether it’s chopping through a chicken or carefully mincing garlic, a good quality chef’s knife should be at the top of any homesteader kitchen list. A knife with a good heavy blade and durable edge is best. You want something that will withstand hard, daily use.
When selecting a chef’s knife you’ll want to look at the different size options. If you can, visit a kitchen supply store so that you can handle the knives. The 8″ blade is most common in home kitchens. Personally, I prefer to use a 10″ chef knife. Such a big knife can seem a little intimidating at first but a few days you’ll probably be wondering how you ever managed without it. I can’t even use smaller knives anymore, they feel like toys.
I’ve got a good number of knives and most sit unused in a drawer. The knife that I use every single day, and couldn’t manage without is the Victorinox 10 Inch Rosewood Chef’s Knife. It also comes in 8″ and 12″ (the 12″ being recommended for people with large hands). I like the weight, the balance and the comfortable wooden handle. Victorinox has been making kitchen knives since 1884 and the lower price point is a pleasant bonus.
Enameled Cast iron Dutch oven
Soups, stews, stocks, sauteeing, baking, etc. we use an enameled cast iron dutch oven for almost everything, and, if push came to shove, we’d probably keep it over even our cast iron pan. I’ve got a few different brands of Dutch ovens and I really do suggest saving up and buying a Le Creuset. If you want a pot that’s durable, and going to stand up to many years of use, they’ve mastered it.
I have a Henckels Dutch oven and a Cusinart and I am not happy with either. The enamel is chipping and wearing down and they are only a few years old whereas our Le Crueset pots are 7+ years old and have been used over open fires, dropped, and used quite roughly for years. I find it so frustrating when products like this don’t last. Certain items should last you forever. If you are looking for something that will stand the test of time, do your homework before making the investment.
Why enameled cast iron? I recommend enameled pots because you can cook tomato based meals and they won’t take on that metallic iron taste that non enameled cast iron has a habit of doing.
I’ve noticed that Le Crueset pots will go on sale now and again so keep your eyes peeled and you are sure to get a bargain. I actually bought our original set using Aeroplan travel miles way back when we got them!
Cast iron skillet
For general cooking and baking needs. A large cast iron skillet is a versatile, durable, reliable way to cook almost anything. It can go from the stove top (or fire) to the oven then right to the dinner table. On our homestead they are constantly in use. We’ve written about using cast iron quite a bit: Cooking With Cast Iron Made Easy! Tips For Perfect Cast Iron Cooking and Getting Started With Cast Iron Cookware are a few of our articles.
We quite like the American made Lodge cast iron pans, they’ve been really reliable. I do favor my older vintage cast iron because it tends to be lighter and smoother but even so, you can’t go wrong with a lodge pan.
Water bath canner
For canning of acidic foods such as jams. Jellies and pickles you’ll want a water bath canner and a few other canning supplies. Water bath canning is easy to learn and the preferred form of canning for many. A water bath canner can also serve as a large stock pot (or vice versa)
Over the past couple of years, we’ve started using the multi-purpose stainless steel steam canner from Victorio. The steam function saves a lot of time, which matters a lot when you are preserving food. I am extremely happy with this product and would never go back to water bath canning! I’ve written a detailed review on it that you can read here.
For safe and convenient canning non-acidic foods such as meats and vegetables you’ll want a pressure canner. Pressure canning enables you to preserve a much greater range of foods than you are able to with just a water bath. If you want to preserve and make soups, stews , meats, beans and other meals shelf stable, a pressure canner is a must have item. If you are new to pressure canning, take a few minutes to read Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained. This article is a good primer that should help you get started.
There aren’t a lot of pressure canner options out there. We use the Presto pressure canner. It is lightweight, aluminium and does a good job. The two other brands that make good pressure canners are Mirro and All American. The All American looks impressive but we haven’t tried one yet because we’ve had the presto canners for a lot of years, and they are still doing a good job for us.
There are those that love a coffee in the morning, and then there are those that simply can’t function without their morning coffee routine. I fall into the latter category. I LOVE COFFEE! The coffee press, or French press, delivers the ultimate coffee experience: no paper filter, no machinery, just excellent coffee that always has a “certain something” to it! This item probably shouldn’t be on the “homestead kitchen essentials” list, but sometimes, a person just has to take a stand. We’ve upgraded from the one shown in the photo to a double insulated stainless steel model.
Fermenting crocks & Carboys
For making wine and beer from such things as carrot, parsnip, rhubarb, birch, raspberry, elderberry, honey, and more you’ll want some carboys in varying sizes. We use small 1 gallon carboys most often. When you are making wines and other wild crafted items the small size is far more practical than the large 5 gallon carboys. They make it easy to make up small batches and they can be used for a lot of other things as well.
For sauerkraut, kim-chi, apple cider vinegar and other fermented products you will be well served to get yourself some fermenting crocks. I love the larger crocks for making things like sauerkraut and apple cider vinegar. I also use the Masontops Complete Mason Jar Fermentation Kit for smaller batches of ferments such as grape leaves, fiddleheads and beet kvass. Our fridge is always filled with mason jars of various foods we’ve fermented over the summer.
Although there are many items which are nice to have, and certainly make jobs easier, the above essentials can give you a lot of homesteading capabilities. With only those tools, you have the ability to prepare and preserve a wide variety of food, to dazzle friends and neighbors, and even get a little drunk.
With the right essential tools, a willingness to work hard, and an ability to improvise you can do almost anything. There is an old saying: “Fear the man who only owns one gun.” Where does it come from? It comes from the fact that the man who only owns one gun only shoots one gun, meaning he is probably pretty good with it. The same applies to kitchen tools: you’re far better off to know a few tools well, rather than having all the toys and not having the skill to use them.