So you got all this fresh food that you want to include in your survival stockpile, but fitting them all in the freezer is an impossible job. It would be a huge waste of money to let them spoil, but you can’t consume them all in one go, either.
There’s only one thing left to do: extend their shelf life through food preservation techniques.
Ever wondered how our forefathers made their food last before the fridge was even invented? Or how about making your beef stroganoff last for 20 years? We’ll be discussing that and more in this article so read on to find out!
Dehydration is a method that, as its name suggests, takes the water out of food. Since moisture permits the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage, taking it out of the equation means a longer shelf life.
There are many ways to do this, including traditional sun drying or oven drying, but one gaining traction in the prepper community is using a dehydrator. You can easily dehydrate food products at home with a dehydrator. All you need to do is to cut your food into thin slices, pop them on the dehydrator and wait for the process to finish. You can then store your food in airtight jars or pouches for best results.
If done and stored properly with a vacuum seal, your dehydrated food can last for weeks, even months. You can dehydrate common items including fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, and meat.
Freeze-drying has been making rounds among the prepper community for years now. What makes it so attractive?
Freeze-drying comes in many different fancy names like lyophilization or cryodesiccation. The process itself, however, is quite simple.
It's a method of food preservation that involves freezing the food and then lowering the surrounding pressure to remove all the water through sublimation. Freeze, then dry--- really fast. The resulting food product is one with very little moisture (around 1-4%).
Technically, you can consider freeze-drying as a more advanced method of dehydration. Because there’s so little water left on the food, microorganisms won’t have a chance to grow and cause spoilage. This is why freeze-dried products often last for 25 years. Mountain House has even raised its guarantee to 30 years. That's around 7 American presidential terms!
Another thing that preppers love about freeze-drying is that it also retains most of the nutritional value of the food, as well as its taste and smell. Imagine eating beef stroganoff that smells and tastes like you just cooked it when in reality it was made 10, even 20 years ago. All you have to do is to reconstitute it with hot water and you'll have a nice warm meal.
Freeze dried food often come in packets, #10 cans or big buckets for long term use.
Like all recent technologies, the best freeze-dried food is commercially made. They also come with hefty price tags. A single-serve pouch can cost around $8, while a year-long food supply can run around $1000.
You can certainly try to do the process at home using a freeze-dryer but you have to be wary of some common mistakes, such as attempting to freeze-dry large chunks of meat. According to Common Sense Homesteading, these take a long time to process and don't rehydrate too well either. To avoid eating leathery pork or beef, you might want to dice or shred your meat first before popping them into the freeze dryer. Also, make sure to keep your food evenly stacked and spaced on the trays for more efficient freeze-drying.
Nope, we're not talking about making moonshine (although fermentation is the process of making it). You can make your fresh produce last for years through fermentation by turning them into pickles, kimchi or sauerkraut. Fermentation works by converting sugars and carbs into alcohol, which acts as a natural preservative. Fermentation in food enhances not only the shelf life of the food; it also improves their flavor and increases their nutritional value because of the probiotics made in the process.
Try making some sauerkraut from your excess cabbage produce. All you need to do is chop some cabbage, put it in a mason jar and submerge it in brine. The cabbage will undergo the process of lacto-fermentation. Basically, the good bacteria (lactobacilli) on the surface of the cabbage convert the sugars into lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative. Once the fermentation process is done, you can store your jar of sauerkraut at room temperature for months.
The tried and tested method of canning has been around for centuries. Many of the original homesteaders canned their produce and meats to last for many a long winter. There are two canning techniques: water bath canning and pressure canning.
Water bath canning is a pretty simple method used for mostly acidic food like fruits, pickles, and jams. It involves submerging sealed jars of food in boiling water. The boiling process creates a vacuum seal inside the jar, locking in all that freshness. When doing water bath canning, it's important that all your materials and supplies are sterilized.
If you wish to can meat and other low-acid food like veggies, you can use the pressure canning method. It pretty much works the same way as water bath canning, only that it uses a higher temperature (240F) to preserve your food. You will also need a special pressure canner for this technique. Check out the full guidelines here.
Curing is a chemical food preservation method that relies on the use of salt, nitrates or sugar to draw water out of meat products. The low water content inhibits the growth of bacteria, extending the shelf life of meat for as long as 4 years. Like canning, this method has been around for ages and also uses various, relatively cheap techniques.
One is through salting or corning, in which salt is added to the meat. Salt can be added in as a solid (salt pellets are called corns, thus the process called corning) or as liquid in the form of brine. Nitrite or nitrate salts inhibit the growth of bacteria like clostridium botulinum, salmonella, and E.Coli. They’re also responsible for the pinkish coloring in cured meats. Sugar and smoke curing are also used to further the preservation process and to add flavor to the meats. Most hams and sausages use this process. Speaking of ham, here’s a pretty good ham recipe you might want to try to test your meat curing skills.
Food preservation is an important skill for every prepper. Practice your food preservation skills and see what works best for you. Have small food preservation projects on the side. You can use your dehydrated food as snacks during camping trips. Can and pickle some veggies or turn your extra berry produce into jam and jellies.
Not only will it improve your prepping skills and save you hundreds of dollars in the process, it also gives you that sense of assurance that you and your family will have something to eat, even in times of trouble or calamity.
What’s the food preservation method that works best for you? Let us know in the comments below!