Saving Money On Flour and Other Staples
Several recent threads voicing concern over the recent rise in the prices of flours prompted me to start this thread..
For people living long distances from a nearby source of good flour(s) I recommend starting a co-op to purchase flour(s) in bulk..The smallest amount that most mills will consider packing up and shipping is a full pallet of twenty 50 lb. bags of flour..This may at first glance seem to be an obscenely large amount of flour to consider purchasing at one time..However, from my own needs baking bread for myself, and one otjher person, I know that I could easily purchase and store up to 250 lbs. at a time without risking the possibility of the flour spoiling before I finished using up the last of it..People baking for larger families can easily store, and use larger amounts..
The logistics of storage is generally the biggest concern..For storing 20-25 lbs, of flour at a time I recommend the followimg containers..While not dirt cheap, they will last for decades with reaasonable care (some of mine are pushing 10 years old)..I recommend the white polypropylene containers over the clear polycarbonate containers, as the clear containers are easily fractured by an errant drop to any hard surface..The white containers will bounce off a hard surface when dropped..They can be broken, especially at the corners, but one has to work at breaking them, unlike the clear ones that break pretty easily..
For storing larger quantities of flour the baker is going to have to decide how much convenience is desired over the extra work to fill several smaller containers from a single 50 lb. bag of flour..Plastic, aluminum, and SS ingredient bins on casters are available to purchase, albeit at a premium price..Used is always a possibility..Traditional 20-32 gallon galvanized steel garbage cans make good, relatively inexpensive flour containers..Dollies with wheels are available for round cans if mobility is desired..
I believe that those bakers such as are represented here on The Fresh loaf are going to have to give very serious consideration to adopting a new mindset as regards to purchasing and storing bread flours..I believe that the current situation is only going to worsen as the economy declines, and as the healthy business's survive, weeding out the marginal ones..If we as serious bread bakers want the smaller so-called boutique flour mills to survive the coming lean times, then we are going to have to patronize those firms to the possible exclusion of NOT purchasing flours from the giant, nationwide grocery chains..
For those people living within a several hundred mile drive of a good, small flour mill, this might mean being willing to spend part of a weekend every month or two that is dedicated to driving to the mill to purchase a 1-2 months supply of flour direct from the miller..Many of the smaller boutique mills are already set up to sell direct to the consumer in this fashion..For any mills that are not set up to sell direct to the public, a few letters, and or phone calls, from home bakers expressing a willingness to purchase the mill's products above and to the exclusion of the giant flour producers products, might go a very long way to getting such a mill to sell direct to the public..
This is especially true of the few mills that specialize in organic flours..Everything humanly possible should be done to insure the survival of these all so valuable sources of organically milled flours..
As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I fully believe that serious home bread bakers have over the past 10-20 years, and are currently continuing to be, marginalized by the producers of flours aimed at supermarkets..The flours packaged in 2-5 lb. paper sacks destined for sale in supermarkets are a major pain in the butt for the huge flour producers..Regardless of how much we as comsumers need and want these products, the amounts sold in supermarkets are but a tiny fraction of the yearly flour sales for the big food conglomerates..Most of their yearly flour sales come from the sale of 50 lb. bags of flour destined to be sold to commercial bakeries, and by railcars of flour sold to food factories..In the Baltimore area it is very hard to any longer find 10 and 25 lb. bags of A-P flour, something that was fairly common to find in local grocery stores just a few short years ago..
We live in an age where the average person / family crams an awful lot into each 24 hour day..In addition to filling our days with activities, we do not particularly care to be inconvenienced..As a result, we have become accustomed to one-stop shopping at our grocery stores..People my age, 54, can barely remember the days when meats were purchased at a butcher, lunch meats at a delicatessan, fruits and vegetables at a produce store / stand, and everything else at a dry goods store..We tend to regard those days as quaint, nostalgic remembrances that have little to no meaning in the 21st Century..We forget that those individual small stores tended to do what they did very, very well, with a lot of specialization, and generally a ton of pride in serving their community well..For the convenience of the grocery store, Americans have substituted quality of product and service for supposedly lower prices, quantity of choices, and convenience..
As bakers that are increasingly finding it harder and harder to find quality products in our local grocery stores with which to bake with, it is up to US to make the decisions to regain some of the control over our food choices..Organic flours, milled by a speciality miller are the best way to start taking control of those choices..It only takes twenty people purchasing 100 lb.s of flour each to obtain the pallet price from a mill..
Another way might be to get a pallet added to a truck that is delivering flour to an artisan bakery near to where you live..Smart, resourceful bakers willing to invest some time, and perhaps a little money in flour storage containers, should be able to source out high-quality flours regardless of where in the United States they live..
People living in very rural areas are going to have the toughest time getting flour delivered..Even so, adopting the rural Alaskan method of twice-yearly deliveries of staples should insure that a family gets the best prices on flours..I lived in Alaska for two years, and a lot of the folks up there can only afford to get the heaviest items that they need for survival delivered 1-2 times a year by barge or small plane..Bakers in the lower 48 states not close to a small flour mill might have to consider storing 500 lbs. of flour at a time in rodent-proof containers in order to be able to afford the high-quality flours of their choice..