Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flour Sacks - A Retro Alternative for a Sustainable Modern Life

Flour Sacks - Better than Paper Towels

Earlier this morning, I was writing up the recipe for Spinach Portobello Quiche I made for dinner last night and threw in a short homage to flour cloth towels. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I use these handy-dandy little items. Yes, they're ideal for rolling out pie crusts and pasta dough, but they also do so much more. They're readily available, reusable, multipurpose and very, very affordable. What's not to love? Here are just a few of the ways I use flour cloths around the house every single day.

Draining and Straining

I'm not a big fan of cheesecloth. I know it's what most folks call for when they need to drain milk curds, strain lumps from gravy and wrap cheese for aging. I hate having to cut the stuff to the right length and use two or more layers whenever I need it. Even worse, I somehow always end up picking threads out of things when I'm done. Flour cloth, on the other hand, is essentially lint-free and doesn't shed little threads from the cut edges. It's finely woven enough that I don't need multiple layers when I want to say, strain coffee grounds from milk or let yogurt drain after it ferments. Flour cloth towels are perfect for lining a wire strainer but sturdy enough to stretch over a bowl and secure with a rubber band. They're big enough to gather the corners together and twist them when you're making cheese. Best of all, after you're done with the task, you can just wash them in hot water and use them again.

Paper Towel Alternative

America, we've been sold a bill of goods - or at least, a roll of paper towels. I'm old enough to remember my grandmother's reaction to the idea of paper towels. She was horrified. Why waste your money, she reasoned, on something you'll use once and throw away when cloths work just fine? Her cleaning cloth of choice was the old-fashioned birdseye cloth diaper, which has all the qualities of flour cloth and the added benefit back then of costing her nothing, since we had all outgrown our need for them. I'm a fan of flour cloth towels as a paper towel alternative for a few reasons:
  • They're lint-free, which makes them perfect for cleaning mirrors, windows and glasses
  • They're soft and just get softer with washing, so they won't scratch any finishes
  • They're super-absorbent, making them ideal for cleaning up spills
  • They're stronger than any paper towel will ever be, so you can scrub with them
  • You don't throw them away
That last one is a pretty big factor for me. Here are just a few statistics to put paper towels in perspective.
  • Paper towels account for more than 250 million tons of trash each year
  • We use about the equivalent of 50,000 trees per day in paper towels
  • The paper industry is the 3rd largest contributor to global warming
  • If every household in the US used one less roll of paper towels per year, it would save 544,000 trees per year
Oh, and also? A pack of 12 flour sack towels costs anywhere from $13 to $20 and will last for years. Before I started using them, we were going through more than a roll of paper towels per week. That means that in the 5 years since I bought a batch of flour sack towels, we've not bought about 600 rolls of paper towels for a total savings of about $700.

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