General store interior. Moundville, Alabama, USA
As anyone building a deep larder knows: buying in bulk is best. Especially when it comes to dry goods.
For the past couple of years, when refilling my store of dry goods in the pantry, I would drive nearly 120 miles northwest to a place called the Belknap Store. It’s about half-way between Thompson Falls and Trout Creek, Montana. Great little place run by a Mennonite family. Cheerful gals behind the counter, stacks and stacks of every type of dry cereal, grain or legume you could imagine. Baby chicks in the spring. Dehydrated this and that, spices, yeast, local honey, local cheese and meat. Just an all around fantastic store. But… 120 miles away. Each way. That’s alotta miles to restock the dry goods. Worth it, yes. But still a mighty long drive.
So this past weekend, a friend and I took a drive up to a little town called Lakeside, on the shores of Flathead Lake, to visit a micro-brewery. It was a glum and rainy Sunday, and we were both chomping at the bit to leave our houses. So north we drove to drink yummy craft beers and eat tasty pub fare. A drive well worth it. About 100 miles each way.
Hey – I live in Montana. Nothing’s close!
So on the way home, we were driving south through the Mission Valley when a billboard caught my eye just north of St. Ignatius. A sign for a place called the Mission General Store. Now, I didn’t garner much as we flew past at 70 miles an hour. But I did happen to see the words “bulk” and “cheese and meat” and “dry goods.” Somehow, miraculously, I remembered the name of the store on the sign.
A quick Google search tells me that this may be a replacement for Belknap! I’m excited! With the exception of wheat, which comes from Wheat Montana, all my bulks came from Belknap… at over 200 miles round trip! (And now that I seem to be allergic to wheat, no more Wheat Montana. Ohhhh what to do with the 150 pounds of wheat in the pantry? Anyway… I digress..) St. Ignatius is only 40 miles away – so one-third the distance that I was driving. And from the picture on the website, the store looks to be two to three times the size of Belknap. AND!!!! (AND!!!!!!!) Proceeds benefit the local AMISH school! HA! Can you get any better than that??? Mennonites are okay. But they’re not AMISH!
Yes, we all know I have an unhealthy obsession with the Amish. And to be honest, I had absolutely no idea there were Amish folks in these parts. I’ve never seen a buggy on the road before. And yet, to make it a little more odd… St. Ignatius is on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Amish Indians? Hey – I’m not one to judge!
The store is open on Saturdays (which Belknap only is on rare, random occasion) … So, I bet you know where I’ll be this coming Saturday morning!
Too excited for words. A near-by bulk food source!!! It doesn’t take much to amuse me – and boy howdy, does this amuse me!
An aside on bulk buying and storage: Yes, many grocers now have bulk sections where you can fill up your handy-dandy plastic bag with a pound or two of lentils or rice. But in the end, it’s not terribly economical. And could you imagine the look on shoppers faces if you rolled up to the check-out with fifty pounds of lentils in plastic bags in your cart? It would be mayhem! So to save the chaos, I choose to seek out stores where I can buy 25-35-50 pound bags of dry goods. Then I pack ’em up in 1.5 gallon mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, and into food-grade buckets they go in the pantry. To be used as needed.
For those who don’t know, storing bulks in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers is a great way to significantly extend the shelf life of your whole-grain bulks. Won’t work much for ground flour (so you should buy a wheat grinder, like my beautiful, red Grain Maker mill to process your whole grains as needed). But whole wheat, lentils, rice, beans, oat groats, etc. work great with this style of storage. In fact, I’ve read accounts of whole wheat storing for 30 years via this method! Now, my food certainly doesn’t last 30 years, since I “eat what I store, and store what I eat.” But I suppose if I forget about a bag of oat groats in the back of the pantry, at least I have some leeway on usage. 🙂
So for now, I will be delighted to be checking out the Mission General Store up in St. Ignatius this coming weekend. And if I’m feeling froggy, I may take some pictures to post. Keep your fingers crossed. I really need a more local source for my bulk foods.