Preserving Food - for Beginners

If you guys are anything like me, you like to save money. Buying food in bulk is my favorite way to save money, but how can you keep all that food fresh? Well below I have listed some common ways, and a little bit about them.
Cold Storage
When most people thing of cold storage, they think about root cellars, but they can also be an unheated porch or pantry, unheated basement space, crawl space, or in ground "clamps" (holes or trenches for food storage) etc. The space just needs to be cool and dry. This is mainly helpful if you don't have electricity (i.e. you don't have a fridge/freezer), but if you do have electricity, you might not have enough space in your fridge/freezer for all the bulk food that you buy.
Most food can be dried using a commercial dehydrator, air dried in a solar dehydrator, on drying sheets, or hang drying. Dried foods are great if  you are low on storage space, but they do lose more nutrients than items stored in a root cellar or items that are canned. They should be stored in your cold storage area in an air tight container to keep freshness. Drying can also be applied to meat (beef jerky anyone?), but also usually involves the salting process. I have never made my own jerky, but one of these days I will.

Canning is the heat processing of food in glass jars, there are two types of canning:
Water Bath Canning: this can be done with any large stockpot or kettle with a lid, as long as you have a way to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot and can over your jars with at least two inches of water. Water bath canning is used to preserve high acid foods such as pickles and tomato sauce, and high sugar foods such as jams and jellies. If you can with a pressure canner, you may use it for water bath canning by leaving the vent open.
Pressure Canning: This requires a pressure canner, which processes foods using high temperatures and hugh pressure steam. PRESSURE CANNING MUST BE USED FOR LOW ACID FOODS, such as beans carrots, corn, soups, broths etc.
This is what most people do even if they are not homesteading, however I recommend that you blanch (briefly immerse in boiling water) all your vegetables before freezing to stop enzyme action and insure best quality. You can use vacuum seal bags to prevent ice crystal formation. This will improve the quality and storage duration for most crops. 

Natural Fermentation
Low acid foods can change to high acid foods via fermentation, which will give them a longer shelf life to store "as is", or allowing them to be canned in a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner. Through the use of salt, whey or specific starter cultures, food is fermented, improving its digestibility and nutrient content. It becomes what is referred to as a "live culture food". Because fermentation involves substances such as lactic acid and specific microbes, the flavor profile and texture of the food does change. Fermentation is responsible for treats such as chocolate, cheese, yogurt, as well as staples like sauerkraut, sourdough bread and vinegar. 

Booze is toxic to microbes, you can submerge small amounts of food completely in the hard liquor of your choice, and they will store almost indefinitely. Best for making flavor extracts or perhaps some highly flavored fruit.

Immersion in Olive Oil
Very common is some parts of Europe apparently, and is not recommended for the inexperienced home food preserver. Basically, food is immersed in oil, locking out the air, to preserve it. The trick is, air pockets can be trapped in side, and if the vegetables are low in acid, they present a serious problems.

Vinegar Pickling
Germs can;t survive in a high acid environment, so vinegar can be used for food preservation without heating/canning. Think old-fashioned pickle barrel.

Using Salt and Sugar to Preserve
More common before modern canning, freezing and dehydrating were available, packing foods in salt or sugar draws liquid out of the food, therefore drying it while the salt and sugar also interfere with germs. These methods significantly impact food texture and flavour.

Please comment if there is something in particular that you would like me to post about. I am rather busy these days with harvesting etc. but I will do my best to get at least one post out per week!

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