When I first got interested in grinding my own wheat for artisan bread making, we found ourselves in a dilemma.The cheapest way to buy wheat berries is in 50 lb. bags, and to maintain its quality the grain needs to be stored in the house at a constant temperature. As always, the internet provided the solution: 5-gallon plastic buckets.
Each bucket can hold about 35 lbs. of wheat, rice, beans, or whatever. Two buckets would easily do the trick for my 50 lb. bags of wheat. But where do you get 5-gallon food-grade buckets? Home Depot and Lowe’s sell buckets for pretty cheap (about $3.00 each), but the problem is that they are not food-grade. You can overcome this by buying food-grade mylar bags that you seal with a clothes iron, but that’s getting complicated and more expensive.
The solution came one day while the family was at Sam’s Club. As we walked by the bakery, I noticed a neat little row of plastic buckets on the sink behind the counter. I asked what they were going to do with them, and when they said the buckets get thrown away I sprang into action. A few minutes later Leigh was hanging her head in shame while I convoyed three overloaded carts of glaze-encrusted buckets through Sam’s like the circus rolling out of town. Damn the spectacle… Free Buckets! Who’s gonna’ say “no” to that?!?
A few weeks later I discovered that the local Winn Dixie had the same bucket disposal regimine. I spoke with the bakery manager, and she agreed to hold the buckets for me. Each week I would call, and if she had any for me, it was on. It wasn’t long before we were storing everything in buckets and finding new uses everyday. With such a handy storage method at our disposal, I convinced Leigh that we would save money buying our beans, rice and corn in bulk and storing them in buckets just like the wheat. Accountants love saving money.
On one of my routine bucket runs, the bakery manager finally grinned and asked me, “What the heck are you doing with all these buckets?” I hadn’t thought about how strange it probably seemed. During breaks I’m sure the bakery staff told stories about this dude that wandered in every few weeks harvesting buckets. I’m sure in her mind I was up to something, she just didn’t know what. I smiled wryly and told her I was selling them on the black market. She really wasn’t sure of what to make of that, but she kept me in good supply for several months.
They don’t usually clean the buckets out very well when they save them for you. If you get one that held icing, it can be particularly difficult to clean the oily residue out. I discovered, quite by accident, that if you leave the bucket outside, ants will find it. Within a few days they will clean the thing entirely. Once you notice the ants have moved on, just wash it out in the sink, and you’re done. We’ve also had success taking the upper rack out of the dishwasher and washing one at a time that way.
I know I took the long route to relay this information, but the moral of the story is: don’t buy expensive buckets when you can get them for free. The bakery staff may laugh at you, but you’ll be the one with all the buckets.