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Food Preservation Methods

Resilient Life
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By Samantha Biggers
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

Food Preservation Methods

Resilient Life
By Samantha Biggers on
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021
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Over the last 18 months, the shortages and economic uncertainty of the nation have led to many people not only gardening but putting back food by canning and other food preservation methods. Unfortunately, throughout the COVID-19 fiasco, some food preservation products have been in short supply.

Canning jars and lids are still hard to find in some areas. In other locations, the availability is sporadic. While canning is a great way to put back food, there are some clear disadvantages too. No food preservation method is perfect for all situations. It is likely in your best interest to use a variety of food preservation methods to keep your pantry stocked through good times and bad.

This article is meant to provide an overview of the main food preservation methods available in modern times. It is impossible to put all the details and recipes I would like to in one article, so I have provided links to websites and books that offer more details. This is important since food safety is the priority. Following proper procedures for food preservation is critical. Food poisoning is no joke. At the same time, do not be afraid of preserving your own food. As long as you follow the right guidelines, food preservation is very low risk. Preserving food in season will allow your family to reap the rewards of lower food costs and better health and nutrition.

Canning

Equipment and Resources Needed

Note: You absolutely must pressure can some foods to safely can them. A hot water bath canner is only okay for some things. Most home canners eventually purchase both.

  • Water Bath Canner
  • Pressure Canner
  • Jars
  • Lids and Rings
  • Canning Kit: Funnel, Magnetic Lid Lifter, Jar Tongs
  • Stove and Heating Method

 

Hot Water Bath Canning and Pickling

Note on Pickling and Kraut Making Using A Canner

When you pickle foods and process them in a canner, you lose any beneficial bacteria. Sure, you may have some good flavor, but you lose a lot of health benefits. To make fermented and pickled products that have more health benefits, please see the section below.

Pickling and Fermentation Live Active Method

 

Equipment  and Resources Needed

  • Crock (Optional. You can pickle and ferment in just jars)
  • Jars
  • Airlocks
  • Alternative fermentation containers (e.g., Crazy Korean)
  • Non-Iodized Salt
  • Vinegar

 

 

 

If you ever find yourself with a lot of mixed vegetables in the fridge that you don’t want to waste, you should consider pickling them using a live active fermentation process. I prefer to use Crazy Korean fermentation containers because they fit well in the fridge, come in a variety of sizes, and they allow you to make smelly fermented products like Kim Chi without stinking up your house. If you want to learn how to ferment a variety of foods, I advise picking up a copy of “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz and exploring online recipes.

I do use an old fashioned crock sometimes because I have one from before I discovered the Crazy Korean Fermentation containers like the small one in the window.

Pressure canning some foods is mandatory.

A lot of foods require pressure canning. The reason for this is that some foods are too low acid to be safely preserved using a hot water bath canner.  Although pressure canning takes a lot more time and energy, it allows for safely canning high-calorie foods like meat stews.

Canning Directions

All foods have specific guidelines for safely canning. I recommend always checking with a reputable canning book or looking up directions at The National Center For Home Food Preservation website. The website is operated by the University of Georgia and contains everything you need to know to safely preserve anything in a jar! In addition, they publish a book that includes the canning instructions from their website. For a mere $20, you can get a book to have on hand no matter what you want to can.

Dehydrating

Equipment and Resources Needed

  • Dehydrator or Solar Oven
  • Electricity if using a traditional dehydrator

We love our Nesco food dehydrator. For some foods, it makes so much more sense than canning. For example, we can dry and preserve our Shiitake mushroom harvests with ease simply by placing whole mushroom caps in the trays, breaking them up into pieces, or slicing.

Dried tomatoes are another easy solution to a bountiful harvest.

Beef Jerky

If you like beef jerky, then you know how expensive it is. You can make better jerky at home for a lower price. Beef jerky is one of the simplest shelf-stable cured meats you can make.

To make jerky, you need the following:

  • Food dehydrator with fan and temperature setting. The Nesco is your most affordable quality option.
  • Beef roasts for cutting into thin slices
  • Jerky cure with spices.

Note: You can make your cure using Prague Powder and spices; however, I recommend just using a premix the first few times you make jerky to get some experience and a good result.

A meat slicer can help you get thinner cuts. If you plan on doing a lot of value-added food processing at home, it might be worth investing in one.

The Basic Process

Note: Most dehydrators have a specific number of trays they recommend using when curing meats. For our Nesco, you are not supposed to stack more than 4-5 trays when doing jerky, whereas you can use up to 12 trays when drying fruit and vegetables. Using fewer trays means the meat is dehydrated faster and eliminates the risk of spoilage.

  1. Slice meat very thin. Thicker cuts take longer to dry and result in tougher jerky.
  2. Place in bowl with cure mix. Follow directions precisely. It is critical to use the right amount of cure for food safety.
  3. Cure the meat for a specified time. Typically this is up to 24 hours, covered, in the refrigerator.
  4. Lay jerky strips flat on dehydrator trays. You can place them close to each other but make sure they don’t touch.
  5. Turn on the dehydrator to 165F. The Nesco has clear markings for different foods, so it is hard not to get this right.
  6. Dehydrate as long as needed. The total time depends on how thick your cuts are.

Freeze Drying

Equipment and Resources Needed

  • Freeze Dryer
  • A reliable source of electricity

There is currently only one brand of home freeze dryer available to the public. Harvest Right makes a small, medium, and large freeze dryer. Those that get them seem to be very happy with them. When they first became available to the public, they had their issues. At this point, those problems have been fixed. It shows that it is not always good to purchase a product immediately upon release to the public.

The downside to freeze dryers is that they are a significant investment. You need to make sure that you will utilize your machine enough to make it worth it. They also require a steady and reliable supply of electricity. You can speed up the freeze-drying process by pre-freezing foods in a regular freezer, but again, this all requires electricity which costs money.

  • Freeze drying at home is far less expensive than buying a lot of freeze-dried foods. You also get to be picky about the ingredients and quality of the foods you are freeze-drying.
  • Freeze drying eliminates the need for jars, canners, and other sometimes hard-to-find supplies and equipment.
  • Foods that are freeze-dried take up far less space than freezing or canning. If you are short on space and want to put back a lot of food with a long shelf life, then a freeze dryer may be just what you need.

Meat Curing

Equipment and Resources Needed

  • Curing Salts: Prague Powder #1 or #2, depending on what you are doing.
  • A safe place to store meats as they cure
  • Refrigeration or a very cool place
  • Casings for cured meats
  • Lots of non-iodized salt
  • Smoker if desired. Smoking does help with shelf life and adds flavor but you can also just cure meats without smoking them too.

Note: Cured meats can also be dehydrated. A quick cure and dehydration is the fastest way to make beef shelf-stable without pressure canning.

When my husband and I were living in a camper and building our small house, we raised a lot of pastured pork. We cured some bacon and ham. Years later, we raised some beef and cured and smoked some tasty summer sausage.

Some cured meat products are shelf-stable with no refrigeration, while others must be kept cold. Bacon is a good example of a cured meat that still needs refrigeration. The curing process helps extend the shelf life and changes the texture and flavor of meats. Uncured bacon cannot be kept in the refrigerator as long as cured bacon.

Country hams are one example of a cured meat that doesn’t require refrigeration. Curing, smoking, and heavily salting the meat lends a product that is safe and stable for a long time. The heavy salting that is required means that meats often have to be soaked in water, and the water is thrown out before they are eaten. The alternative is to use the country ham to flavor things like a big pot of beans. You simply make sure not to add any other salt to the dish.

We keep some country ham on hand as part of our emergency food supply. As I said, it adds some much-needed flavor to bland foods like beans.

Curing meats properly is a bit of a process. Different meats have specific requirements that must be strictly followed to avoid spoilage or illness. Never skip steps or take shortcuts when curing. Don’t listen to people that cure their meats and take obvious shortcuts while telling you, “I have done it this way for years” or “My grandma or grandpa did it this way and never got sick.” Guess what? People got sick from food all the time years ago, and you probably didn’t hear about it. Some of the canning methods and other food preservation methods I have seen practiced by older people are correct, but there are definitely some that have just been downright lucky they have not gotten serious food poisoning like botulism.

Freezing

Equipment and Resources Needed

  • Freezer
  • Freezer Bags
  • A reliable source of electricity

In the preparedness community, people always discuss what a disaster it is when the power is out and you have a lot in the freezer. I think it is time we reevaluate freezing as a method of food preservation. Freezers and the availability of backup power have changed greatly within the last five years.

The Facts

Modern freezers do not consume near the same amount of energy as older models. Therefore, it is far easier to use a backup power source to keep foods frozen during grid-down emergencies when the amount of energy consumed is kept low.

In the past small and large freezers used similar power supplies. You didn’t save a lot of energy by purchasing smaller freezers.

Backup power is more accessible. Not only has the cost of power centers and solar panels dropped dramatically over the last decade, but there are also more choices available than ever. More choices and production have kept prices in a more affordable range.

Our Freezers

We have a 20-year-old upright freezer that we were given by parents when they decided that one freezer was enough for them. This is a great commercial-grade freezer that is still going strong. The problem is that it requires defrosting much more frequently than modern freezers, and it burns five amps of power.

Our smaller chest freezers were purchased within the last 18 months. They have five cubic ft of space and burn around 1.5 amps. The cost for each freezer with tax and delivery from WalMart.com was $186. Not bad at all. They are light enough for a single person to push around and move when they are empty. The 1.5 amp power consumption means we can use a solar panel and Jackery Power Center to keep things frozen during a grid down situation.

You might be saying, well, no wonder they burn less, that is a much smaller freezer. Remember what I said about older smaller freezers burning just as much as large ones?  This is where I like to point out to people that they may be better off selling their older but still working chest freezers and buying a modern freezer or two. I like having multiple smaller ones because it allows for easier organization of foods.

Freezing foods from your garden, such as green beans, will also free up your canning jars for foods that are higher in calories and overall nutrition.  What if you couldn’t keep your freezer going during a long emergency? From a survival perspective, I would rather lose vegetables than meat. Also, consider that meat will last longer if canned properly and ready to eat compared to meat put in the freezer. Even with good vacuum seal bags, meat in the freezer doesn’t last as long as canned.

Preserving Eggs

There is a time of year when a lot of backyard chicken folks have an abundance of eggs, and then there are the leaner months of winter. Instead of relying on the grocery store for eggs during the leaner months, you might consider preserving your eggs. It is not hard or expensive to do. Here are a few options to consider.

Pickling

You can pickle eggs and keep them in your refrigerator for months at a time. Here are a few links to some great recipes.

Easy Pickled Eggs

Pickled Eggs with Beets

Spicy Pickled Eggs

Freezing

Over the years, I have had many readers comment on how they freeze liquid scrambled eggs in ice cube trays and then transfer them to freezer bags. These eggs can then be unthawed and used to make scrambled eggs or for baking.

Water Glassing

If you want to store eggs in their shell for a long time, water glassing is the way to go. This method uses pickling lime or slaked lime. Eggs can stay good to eat for years using this method. Here is a video that shows you how to do this.

Coating in Oil or Wax

Dipping eggs in paraffin wax seals the porous exterior and preserves them. You can also use oil to do this, but wax makes a thicker coating. People used to use lard for this purpose. Sealing the eggs allows you to keep eggs in a cabinet or on the countertop for several months. However, any amount of refrigeration or reduction in temperature will help further the shelf life of your eggs.

Note on Dehydrating Eggs

Currently, there is no at-home method for dehydrating eggs that are considered safe. The risk of botulism is the reason food safety experts give. Unfortunately, this is another one of those cases where many people do it anyway and get away with it. I tried it a few years ago but deemed it not worth the risk when there are so many other options for safely preserving eggs. Freeze drying is the only method that is safe and currently available for home use.

Conclusion

It is important to learn how to preserve foods using a variety of methods. Relying on one method is not always possible during times of shortages. Some foods are easier to preserve using some methods than others. For example, dehydrating mushrooms takes a lot less work and resources than canning them and results in a more useful product.

Remember to do your homework and make sure you are using a food preservation process that is actually safe. Never take short cuts.

 

What are your favorite food preservation methods? What are you doing to make up for shortages on canning supplies?

 

 

– Peak Prosperity –

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