25 September 2011

Prep30: Store Less, Accomplish More, part 7: Aluminum Foil

This is part 7 in the Store Less, Accomplish More (SLAM) sub-set of posts within the Prep30 series. Each post in the SLAM "mini-series" focuses on a single preparedness item that you can stock and use in many different ways. Whenever possible, we've selected items that store very well, either lasting indefinitely or at least several years.

Use your Prep30 time to become familiar with today's SLAM item, which is Aluminum Foil.

Aluminum foil is a lightweight and very handy material to keep stocked in your supplies. Its reflectivity, conductivity, strength, and ability to be easily shaped means that you can use it in hundreds of ways.

Regular readers of this blog know that we're a big fan of using aluminum foil in our cooking, as shown in a number of our recipes. In fact, we even presented a post on how to properly fold an aluminum foil packet.

Below are a few more helpful uses for aluminum foil that make it an excellent SLAM item for your preparedness planning:
  1. Cooking liners: Properly seasoned cast iron cookware builds up a fairly decent "non-stick" surface. However, some syrupy or sticky foods are best cooked when some kind of liner is used. Sure, you can buy pre-made liners (like these foil or paper Dutch oven liners), but those are pricey, and you have to have different liners for each pot size. Instead, simply line your cast iron with a layer of foil. When it's smoothed against the side of the pot, the foil conducts heat very well and makes cleanup very easy.

  2. Foil heat reflectors: You can use foil to reflect heat from any heat source back toward one side. For instance, you can wrap plywood in foil to reflect radiator heat into the room. You can accomplish something similar for a campfire by attaching aluminum foil to upright sticks stuck into the ground. These reflectors put the heat where it's of more use, rather than letting it radiate out on all sides.
  3. Image courtesy of Field & Stream
    Reflector ovens: This builds on the heat reflector idea listed above. The basic concept is to build a small foil "room" next to the fire, which then catches and amplifies the heat from the fire to bake whatever you put in it. You can buy manufactured reflector ovens, but learning to build one on your own is helpful. That way, you can find out if it's worth buying a pre-made one, and you'll also know how to do it if you need to make one on the spur of the moment.

  4. Cardboard box ovens: Somewhat related to the idea of a reflector oven is a cardboard box oven. These are simple to make and use, since you're basically just covering a cardboard box with aluminum foil. You can download a printable tutorial on making a cardboard box oven from FoodStorageMadeEasy.net, or just watch their excellent video below:

  5. Solar oven: Similar to the cardboard box oven above, except that the sun provides the cooking power, so you need to provide a "window" to let light in and retain the heat. You can find plans for an inexpensive solar oven that performs well in the Solar Cookers World Network's "Minimum" Solar Box Cooker article on Wikia. Actually, plans for homemade solar cookers are all over the Web, so finding something that fits your needs and supplies shouldn't be too difficult.

  6. Easy ash cleanup: Place a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil under the charcoal briquettes for your dutch oven or cardboard box oven, or across the bottom of a fireplace to collect the ashes. After you're done cooking, and are sure that all the ashes have cooled, you can just gather up the foil and throw the whole bundle away.

  7. Improvised frying pan: If you don't have a frying pan, or need another one... just make one. Put a forked stick in the center of two or three layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure that the center of the foil forms a little dished area between the stick's forks, then securely wrap the edges of the foil around the forks. Voila! You now have a temporary frying pan with a cool(er) wooden handle.

  8. Disposable food platter: When you need a convenient temporary food platter, just cover a piece of cardboard with heavy-duty aluminum foil. You can also substitute a foam tray used for packaging meat — just be sure to rinse the foam well and completely wrap it in foil to minimize germ transmission.

  9. Keeping sleeping bags dry: Put heavy-duty aluminum foil beneath your sleeping bag to protect against moisture.

  10. Sharpening scissors: Fold foil into several layers and cut it with your scissors. Make six to eight passes through the foil and your scissors should be much sharper.

  11. Sun box for window plants: Plants that love a lot of light often do well in a sunny window, but they tend to bend toward the light. To help provide light from all sides, use a sun box: first cut off one side and the top of an appropriately sized cardboard box. Then, line the other three sides and the bottom with aluminum foil, using tape or glue to hold the foil. Place your plants inside the box and put them back in the window.

  12. Increased lighting: Again using the foil's reflectivity, you can position a foil "mirror" behind the light to improve the illumination where you really need the light. Note: attach your improvised reflector to the fixture with electrical or duct tape, but be sure not to apply tape directly to a bulb.
If you'd like a printed book of tips, try Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil: Over 100 Helpful Household Hints. For online list of alternate uses of aluminum foil, you can find 10 here, 15 here, 30 here, 30 more here, 40 here. You can also read 12 tips on reusing your aluminum foil.

Foil is great for preparedness storage, since it never goes bad. Of course, it's important to stock up on as much as you can, since it'll be hard to come by in a long emergency situation.

It's worth picking up some small rolls of aluminum foil from your local dollar store. These are especially handy for your evacuation kit. You may want to consider getting some larger rolls of foil too, especially heavy duty foil which is more durable, and the larger roll size is more economical.

A final note: many are concerned about cooking with aluminum, mainly because some researchers thought there was a link between aluminum consumption and Alzheimer's disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer Society of Canada, it's generally thought that aluminum in not a risk factor for Alzheimer's. Aside from that, the amount of aluminum consumed by cooking in aluminum is said to be neglible compared to how much is consumed or absorbed from other sources.

That said, foods that are highly acidic (like tomatoes) will react when cooked with aluminum, making the food bitter and/or metallic-tasting. Therefore, you'll want to cook acidic foods in some other type of cookware.

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