I want to discuss the many different types of home food preservation. I don’t necessarily think that today’s post will be a specific way, or a step-by-step instruction how to do each method, but more of an introductory list to the methods. This list includes, but is not limited to, canned food, dehydrated food, fermented food, MREs, frozen food, root cellars, long shelf life commodities, freeze-dried food, and smoked foods.
If you are storing food, like the copy-canning method, but are not learning how to can food yourself, or storing rice and beans without better foods available, you probably need to open your mind to the other options out there so you can store more of the good stuff. You may be a gardener or farmer, and constantly have abundance during one season, to just have nothing to eat in another season, you should consider storing your wonderful, healthy, organic, garden veggies throughout the other seasons so you will have good quality food, year-round, so you don’t have to eat the crap from the Grocery store.
There are MANY different methods of storing food, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. They are all great and should be used, but for different reasons. They are:
The Refrigerator: The most basic of keeping foods fresh is the refrigerator. This has gained popularity over the last 70 years or so. It all started with the ice box. The ice box had a big block of ice in the bottom and the cooler, or fridge up top for food storage. Remember how relatively new this method of keeping food actually is. It’s actual purpose is to keep food that will be eaten in the next week or so as fresh as possible. That is the big advantage. You don’t break down any of the molecular structure of the food when you refrigerate it. All you do is slow down the bacterial growth enough to keep it fresher longer. This is a method that should never be overlooked for meats and veggies that you will be eating quickly. If your veggies are garden-fresh, they actually may keep better just out in the open in the kitchen air.
The Freezer: Like the refrigerator, this is meant to be a good method of storage with minimal impact on the food that you store, but it actually will change the structure of a lot of fruits with lots of water. The freezer further slows or inhibits the growth of food-spoiling bacteria so you can store even longer. A problem that most people have, and this includes me, is that we think of the freezer as storage for a year or two. The problem with this is the fact that it is a very unreliable method of long-term food storage. Along with deep-freezers and refrigerators, they can lose power, have the door seal broken or door left open by, oh I don’t know… MY CHILDREN. There is a story with that statement. A really cool way of freezing some things, is to submerge it in water and freeze the water around it. Freezer burn is almost non-existent this way. So if you are planning to store for survival, you should not be storing in here, but if you are wanting temporary storage of food that is soon to be used the fridge and freezer are great methods of keeping high-quality, almost garden-fresh foods.
Canning Food: I am not talking about canned food from the store. I am talking about canning your own food. This is the go-to method of the last 100 years for long-term, non-refrigerated food storage. You can can vegetables and meat. A good canned meat will end up extremely tender, and will come out of the can with almost a gravy that is really just a high nutrition stock made from the meat. You can just cut up some veggies, like onions, bell peppers, garlic and potatoes, and have a little stew. Canning vegetables is widely used still from gardeners. Canning is a good way of preserving the integrity of the food while not refrigerating. Before learning any other method, I recommend learning the basics of canning things… well, this and dehydration.
Dehydrating Food: Dehydrating food is a methodical approach to removing the moisture from food. Most bacteria and microorganisms that spoil food and make us sick require a certain amount of moisture to survive. Remove the moisture and you will remove the bacteria. Dehydrating is also very easy to do. You can use an electric dehydrator, which is a fairly low power draw because it is just a very small heater with a fan. This is probably the easiest way to do it, and most successful. You can also use your oven, although it draws quite a lot of power. It is still a great entry-level way of learning dehydrating, especially the new convection ovens on a low heat. You can dehydrate out in the sun on a grill, grating, or screen. You can just do it out in the open, or if you don’t like the chance for bugs to land on it, you can dehydrate in a sun-dehydrator box. Other people just dehydrate in their house in the open air with a fan.
Freeze-Drying Food: I haven’t freeze-dried anything personally, but I have eaten a lot of the food. It is good. It has a much higher quality than basically dehydrated food. The basic process in the more commercial setting is to flash freeze and vacuum the water out of the food. This created a very long shelf life product. usually 18 months in air, or 5-10 years with oxygen absorbents. I have researched it quite some time ago, and it seems that you can almost get a freeze dried effect by placing a single layer of small cut veggies on a screen in the freezer. Like I said, I haven’t tried this yet. I am still working on the other methods.
Fermenting Food: This is how people make pickles, chem-chi, pickled foods, yogurts, kefirs, and more. There are many different methods of fermenting foods. There is the processes for things like yogurts and kefirs. Then there is a much different process for pickles and pickled foods. There are lots of different methods to ferment based on what the food is. Another method that is pretty much a cross between fermenting and dehydrating is bil tong. Biltong is a way of surface fermenting large chunks or strips of meat. The inside of the meat is still pretty much untouched, but there can be no bacteria in it because the fermented and dried surface. This makes great meat since it isn’t all hard like fully dehydrated meat. Another way of ferminting, for drink, is making wine, beer, or mead. These use fermenting bacteria to create alcohol which will essentially kill all other bacteria which is why in B.C. days there was such a large amount of wines and beers made in place of the viral infested waters.
Smoking: Smoking food is a great way to keep bugs off of it, and to keep bacteria off of it. When in the wilderness, a great way to rid your skin of bacteria is a smoke bath. The same is true for your meat. You can smoke preserve it, and it will stay for a season to a year. You can smoke a log of cheese and it will keep for about the same amount of time. Small smoke houses are pretty easy and cheap builds. You could also just use a smoker, just not set up for cooking.
Storing Long-Term Stable Foods: This is just storing wheat berries, rice, pastas, beans, and other foods that keep for a long time with minimal amount of work from us. Many of these foods are pretty much dry when they come off of the plant. Most of these are high in carbohydrates and are not considered all-around healthy foods. They are, however, a great 3rd-tier backup food. Whole, self-ground, long-time heirloom wheat is actually quite healthy, but only used in moderation. Just get varieties of wheat that are before the hybridization for additional gluten. I don’t remember exactly when but it was sometime in the middle 1900s that wheat started having hundreds of times the gluten of its predecessors.
Using a Root Cellar: For root vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, beets, and more, a root cellar is awesome. You can build it for the cellar, and use it also as a storm shelter, or like me, you can get a storm shelter and use it as a root cellar. You can bury an old refrigerator, with some modifications, or you can even just bury the plants in the ground a couple of feet with a large amount of straw. Root plants keep for an extremely long time in a correctly used root cellar, or root storage system. That is their natural temperature, and the way they do best. There are several other vegetables that are not root veggies that do well in root cellars as well.
Using MREs or pre-packaged, Long-shelf-life Foods: Here I am talking about military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and the prepackaged dried or freeze dried meals. Many of these have a minimum of 18 months to 2 years of shelf life. Some has more. If you are going to use the ready made meals, you need to recognize the high sodium content, and other things added to them. Most of these things are not made for the sedentary lifestyle. They are survival food for those working hard, marching, and in war. Some of the other meals made by Thrive or Mountain House are pretty high in sodium and fats, just for seasoning. I would try to learn how to store with the other methods, and use these as a last resort.
I have discussed many different ways to store food, and if you simply try to teach yourself each of these methods by simply using grocery store items, you will probably have at least a month or two of great quality food stored for an emergency. You can give yourself a lot of diversity, so you aren’t eating the same crap every day during an emergency.
As I write tips for your adventures and hear about cool gear, I will let you know all about it!