Vol. 2 No. 9       

bountiful harvest


Preparing
Food for
Home
Storage

by Marylyn Rands
 
 
This is a brief rundown of food-storage techniques, just to spark your imagination and get you going. Another great resource for all areas of food storage and survival "off the grid" can be found in Sun Bear's Self-Reliance Book. It's out of print but you can find copies on the 'Net. And here's a really great website that specializes in Food Storage Solutions.


Not long ago, most food was grown and preserved at home or on small farms. Today, we rely on manufacturers to preserve food. And because of mass production, we have had unhealthy preservatives, dyes, hormones, and other chemicals introduced into what we eat.

When energy supplies began to seem infinite, we lost many of the basic skills for storing and preserving our own food. But knowing how to create and preserve our own food supply can help us to feel in control of our own survival during hard times. Putting food away is also satisfying. We can become reconnected to the living nature of food.

We are going to briefly discuss four strategies of food preservation, and give sources for finding out more. These methods are drying, smoking, cold cellars, and vacuum packing.

Drying

Food harvested in season can be dried for later use. In prehistoric times, drying racks, tossing baskets, and the heat of the sun — perhaps combined with smoky fires — were the drying tools. Today, we have electric or gas dehydrators, barbeque grills, and microwaves. Some people still use sun or air drying, or drying over woodstoves or log-burning pits.

solar dehydratorToday, you can purchase sophisticated electric food dryers with racks and trays capable of drying large quantities of food at one time. The Excalibur is perhaps the most popular for home use. Bosch, L'Equip, and American Harvest are also popular. See PleasantHillGrain.com for a larger selection. Also very good for some climates are solar food dehydrators, also available FernsNutrition and many other sites. Look for "food dehydrators" or "solar food dehydrators" your search engine. Plans for making your own solar dehydrator can be found at JRWhipple.com/sr. Almost any food can be dried. Each type has special drying times and heat levels, so consult a manual. Fruits and vegetables can be dried and eaten by hand or used in salads and stews. Pasta and noodles can be dried and combined with vegetables to be reconstituted later. Breads like hardtack and matzo keep well. Herbs can be hung upside down and air dried. With some practice, you can dry and package full meals, such as those used by astronauts.

Store your dehydrated foods at the lowest possible temperature. Corn, for example, will keep forty years at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, but only eight to twelve years at 70 degrees. Some say that dehydrated food will not maintain the flavor of fresh food, but this depends on how it is dried and stored.

Smoking

Drying meat by smoking it needs to be done carefully. Dangerous bacteria grow at temperatures above 40 degrees and below 140 degrees F. You can buy smokers that work on charcoal or water, or you can create a log-burning smoking pit.

Smoke tends to dry out the meat. And, according to some sources, water smokers that work on steam are too hot. Make sure you have a way to control the temperature so it is between 200 and 220 degrees F. at the meat. You should be aware that it is the toxins in smoke that retard spoilage

Flavor is provided by the wood or charcoal used in the pit. Sausage, bacon and ham are favorites, as is jerky. Some meats are cured before smoking using salt or nitrates.

Jerky, because it retains some moisture, cannot be trusted to be free of E. coli bacteria if you use conventional smoking methods (see a new way of precooking jerky and a sample recipe here).

Cold Cellars

Cold cellars, also called root cellars in some parts of the country, are an energy efficient way of providing a medium-cold environment for food storage. They can be simple or elaborate.

To make a cold cellar, you simply dig a hole in the ground, put your food inside it, along with sand, straw, or other insulating material, and then put a cover over it.

If you have the space, you can build a cold-storage room. Stairs can lead down into the ground, with ceilings as high as you wish, shelves around the walls, and bins for potatoes and onions. Cold cellars are good for freshly harvested food or dehydrated or smoked foods. Canned foods also can be stored there if you have enough room.

Plans are available for root cellars that can be built in your basement, backyard, and even your apartment. These guides also tell you ways to pack your food to preserve freshness for the longest possible time. For storage purposes, choose produce that is fresh. Overripe fruits or vegetables can contaminate an entire lot. Also, certain varieties keep better than others.

Vacuum Storage

Oxygen causes food to spoil. Vacuum packaging machines remove the oxygen from food storage containers, and then seal the containers so air cannot reenter.

Some vacuum packaging machines can use only special vacuum bags. Some also can remove air from mason jars and most rigid-sided jars and cans. Other machines can vacuum-package food in mason jars, regular glass jars, and cans, but need to have special attachments; in these cases, the original lids are replaced with vacuum packaging lids. Costs range from US $20 to US $2000.

Advantages of vacuum packaging are:

  • Foods keep their freshness and flavor 3-5 times longer, because they don't come in contact with oxygen.


  • Foods don't get freezer burn for several years because they don't come in contact with cold, dry air.


  • Moist foods won't dry out because there's no air to absorb the moisture from the food.


  • Dry foods (like brown sugar) won't become hard because they don't come in contact with moist air.


  • Crunchy foods (like crackers and cookies) will stay crisp.


  • Foods that are high in fats and oils won't become rancid because there's no oxygen to cause the rancid taste and smell.


  • Insects can't grow because there's no oxygen to allow them to survive and hatch.


  • You'll save money on food bills. Foods last longer, so you'll throw away less spoiled food. Plus, you can buy lower-priced bulk quantities and re-package at home into smaller portions. You can also take advantage of supermarket specials and vacuum package for later use.


  • You'll save time. Make fewer trips to the grocery store because foods will last longer. Cook several portions when you have time and vacuum package single servings in a bag or right onto a plate. Leftovers stay fresh in the freezer for several months. You and your family can have homemade food every night without having to shop and cook so often.


  • Meat and fish will marinate in minutes instead of hours. Vacuum packing opens the pores of the meat or fish to allow the marinade to penetrate.


  • You can enjoy your favorite foods all year, even when they're out of season. You can blanch and freeze vegetables from your garden in the summer to enjoy in the dead of winter. Or you can freeze your favorite fruit when it's in season to eat or cook with later when you can't find it anywhere in the grocery store.



Food inside a vacuum package is not sterile, as natural microorganisms are still present. Therefore, vacuum packed perishable foods must be refrigerated or frozen. But because air is removed from the storage container, vacuum packaged foods will stay fresh longer than fresh foods.




A community in control of its food supply is a community with options. We hope you will consider these ideas and others, and that you will find or rediscover the pleasure and security of knowing you have a healthy food supply at hand, just for enjoyment or for emergencies.

REFERENCES:

Drying

Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook, Mary Bell, William Morrow & Co, 1994.

Smoking

Cooking with Fire and Smoke: Users Guide to Equipment, Fuel and Accessories, Phillip Stephen Schulz, Simon & Shuster, NY, 1986.

"Meat Smoking and Curing FAQ," website maintained by Richard Thead,
azstarnet.com/~thead/msfaq.html.

Nitrite Curing of Meat: The Nitrosamine Problem and Nitrite Alternatives (Publications in Food Science and Nutrition), Ronald B. Pegg & Fereldoon Shahidi, Food & Nutrition Press, 2000.

Smoked Foods Cookbook: How to Cure and Prepare Savory Meats, Game, Fish, Nuts and Cheese, Lue & Ed Park, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 1992.

What to Look for In Smokers: How to Make Your Own, Big Chief/Little Chief, Luhr Tenson & Sons.

Cold Cellars

Return of the Root Cellars.

A Root Cellar for Your Homestead, Victoria Ries.

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, 2nd Ed., Pam Art, Ed., by Mike Bubel & Nancy Bubel, Storey Books, 1991.

Root Cellaring: The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables, Mike Bubel & Nancy Bubel, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, 1979. An excerpt is found at The Root Cellar Home Page.

Vacuum Sealing

Food Store.

Preservation Time Table.

Vacuum Sealers.

General Food Storage References

Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills, Readers Digest, 1997.

Foxfire 11: The Old Homeplace, Wild Plant Uses, Preserving and Cooking Food, Hunting Stories, Fishing, and More Affairs of Plain Living, Kaye Carver Collins & Lacy Hunter (Eds.), Anchor Books, 1999.

Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques & Recipes, Claude Aubert, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1999.

Making a Food Cache and Evaluating the Safety of Preserved Foods, 2nd Ed., Shirley Van Garde, PhD, 106 pp. Send US $14 (in US) or US $18 (in other countries) to author at PO Box 886, Gresham, OR 97030.

Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, Sue Shephard, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2001.

Pre-Cooked Jerky

Note: This method reduces the risk of your meat being contaminated by E. coli bacteria. You may need to adjust your favorite marinade recipes when using this method to make them less strong.

Steps in Precooking Jerky

  1. Slice meat across the grain quarter-inch or less strips.
  2. Prepare 1-2 cups marinade per pound of meat in a large saucepan.
  3. When marinade reaches a full rolling boil over medium heat, add a few meat strips.
  4. Return to full boil then immediately remove meat strips with tongs. Repeat until all meat has been marinated.
  5. Place meat strips on drying racks with a small space between each strip. Dry in dehydrator for 3-4 hours at 160 degrees F. Lower temperature to 140 degrees F. for another 4 hours or so. (If oven drying, dry 8 hours at 160 degrees F., and at least 4 hours, until dry.) Bacteria require moisture, so these low temperatures dry the jerky completely for safety.
  6. Test for dryness by cooling a piece from the dryer and bending it. It should crack but not break, and there should be no moist spots.
  7. Package air-tight and store at room temperature for several months. Freeze for longer storage.

Adapted from New Venison Jerky Procedure by Oregon State University Extension, SP50-819, October 1997. See
foodpres.com/jerky2.html.

Marinade

This marinade works with the pre-cooked method. Use it as a guide to modify your favorite marinade for pre-cooking.

2 cups salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cider
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
half teaspoon garlic powder
2 quarts water
Mix and bring to a boil.

Rinse marinaded meat before drying if you prefer a lighter flavor.

Adapted from Don Holm's Book of Food Drying, Pickling & Smoke Curing, Don Holm and Myrtle Holm, Caxton Press, 1978.




Top of Page Print Version