Foods that last forever on their own and preserving other for… almost forever too!

 Foods that last forever on their own and preserving other for… almost forever too!

This guest post is by Mary in GA and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

I’m sure that most of the Wolf Pack is already aware of the foods that are called “Forever Foods”. You can find the list many places, but for anyone who isn’t aware of them, they are: Sugar, pure vanilla extract, white rice, corn starch, honey, hard liquor, salt, corn syrup, maple syrup and distilled white vinegar.

The problem with this list is that other than rice, none is a stand-alone, substantial food. I’m not discounting the importance of the other items. We all know that vinegar and salt are priceless for helping us preserve foods such as pickling cucumbers and other vegetables, or salt for curing pork and storing fish. I use corn starch in gravies and count on it as a thickener. For baking; sugar, honey, corn and maple syrups are vital and vanilla extract adds much too. Hard liquor has its place, but each person can decide if it’s for stress relief or barter, LOL!

Many of us store rice and dried beans as the mainstays of what our after TSHTF meals would be. Even though beans didn’t make it on the list, if stored properly, they will last for many years. Most of us also have long-lasting condiments, ie: Tabasco sauce, soy sauce and other seasonings to help break the monotony of endless meals of rice and bean dishes. Most of you, like me, have probably stored freeze-dried vegetables to further add to and give diversity to bean and rice dishes. With all of that being said, many people would crave proteins that aren’t from beans (and other legumes) and that aren’t dependent on hunting and fishing skills.

Awhile back, while having lunch with a great friend and fellow prepper and Wolf Pack member GA Mom, we were brainstorming about additional food storage. Imagine that!! I relayed something that I had thought about, but just never saw through. I was at a local grocery store, about 2 years after I had started prepping, when I noticed some country smoked hams.

Having worked at food storage very hard for 2 years, I had accumulated most of the typical items. I had canned goods, afore-mentioned rice, legumes and freeze-dried vegetables, ditto for Ramen Noodles, coffee, sugar, condiments, etc. I was at the point of looking to expand. I had read about food fatigue, picky eaters and knew that I would need more variety than what I could grow, or my husband could shoot.

I noticed that these hams were not refrigerated, just out on a table in a wide aisle. I remembered things I had read about the pioneers and old-timers who didn’t have refrigeration smoking and curing hams. Actually, one better, when I was a child we lived on a mini farm for a while that still had the original old smokehouse. My Dad always wanted to learn to use it, but sadly, never did.

I picked up one of the hams and started looking for an expiration or sell by date, and there were no dates on it at all. I asked to see the Manager of the Meat Department and when he came out he knew about as much as I did, in other words, he really didn’t know how long you could store them. He was middle-aged like me though and said, “Didn’t people used to store them for years, hanging in their cellars?” I told him that was my understanding, but neither of us really knew, so I bypassed them, thinking I would go home and do some research.

The fact that this happened between Thanksgiving and Christmas ended up with me just never getting around to following up. I recounted this to GA Mom at lunch and she made a note, promising to look into it and let me know what she found out. Later that night she emailed that she had looked online and contacted a couple of companies that sell country hams.

She at first got an answer of 2 years, I believe, but after pursuing the question, was told that it was probably much longer, but they guaranteed two years. She and I both ordered some right away. Before I wrote this article, I felt that I should look for some references and did find a few.

One company is in Tennessee, so M. D. may be aware of them, http://www.countryhams.com/ediblememphis.htm .

Two quotes from this site are worth mentioning. One is “Mold-ham’s badge of honor-just wash or trim it away.” I have read this other places as well, sort of like cutting mold off cheese which I’ve done many times. The other notable quote was, “Such preservation makes the shelf life of a country ham practically unlimited…” I have read that it is important to leave them in their original wrapping, keeps insects off them and to hang them so that rodents can’t get them.

I also found a site with very simple directions for curing a country ham at home.

In the email from GA Mom, she asked a great question, “How about fruit cakes, don’t those things last forever?’ Actually they pretty much do. I accept that you can’t discuss fruit cakes without the typical frowns and “ughs”. That goes for me too. My grandmother made these things for years and I hated them. Fruit cakes are definitely like Martha Stewart, people love or hate, no in between! Still, it was worth some research, and I found some interesting facts.

Fruit cake aficionados will NOT consider eating a fruit cake until it has aged for at least four years. Some people eat fruit cakes twenty-five years after they were baked. Wow, this gave some respect for the old red-headed step-child when it comes to long-term food storage.

I researched how to store them to get that 25 year shelf life and it is like most things, how you store it. For the longest storage, you simple wrap it in liquor soaked cheese cloth, then coat it with powdered sugar, put it in a cake tin and store in a cool, dry place. Every 3 or 4 months, take it out and re-soak the cheese cloth with liquor, recoat with powdered sugar and put in the cake tin and restore in cool, dry place.

I received the 4 fruit cakes that I had ordered yesterday and picked up more cheese cloth and powdered sugar today. Most people soak them in brandy, rum or bourbon. I intend to soak 2 in some of my husband’s Jack Daniels and 2 in Grand Marnier. I think soaking them in Grand Marnier will give some added flavor and I may actually like them! At any rate, I figure they’ll last a long time, and if they don’t, I won’t be the first person who ever snuck one to the trash can!! Some references for the fruit cakes:

http://www.eilenbergerbakery.com/Articles/Tips-for-Storing-A-Fruitcake-25.cfm

http://www.ehow.com/how_6961512_age-fruit-cake=brandy.html

The last thing I’m going to mention is bog butter. I just don’t know about this one, but felt it was worth mentioning. Apparently before refrigeration people made and stored butter in bogs to make it last. It apparently does last, and last, and last…..This butter has been found and eaten many years after it was stored. Some scientists say it is between 2000 and 3000 years old. People would wrap the butter in burlap, animal skins, or store it in hollowed out wood and bury it in a bog. Students at a school were given some that was ancient and the students tried it. They said that it looked and smelled like butter but didn’t taste very good.

http://www.show.me.uk/site/news/ST0269.html

Best to the Wolf Pack and happy storing and preserving!!!

This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place : $100 Cash.
  • Second Place : $50 Cash.
  • Third Place : $25 Cash.

Contest ends on October 10 2012.

"Foods that last forever on their own and preserving other for… almost forever too!", 5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings.

Comments

  1. Mary in Ga.,

    This is a great article. Thank you for taking the time to do this research. My brother is big into smoking fish and meat. Next time I am up that way, I am going to have him show me his setup.

    The contest is heating up folks.

  2. This is a very thought provoking article.
    We will find that information on this subject is hard to find on the method of making anything long term and usefull to us for future use.
    On ehow they list the Pioneering methods as:
    Pickle it
    Salt it
    Dry it
    Smoke it
    Ferment it
    We do use now days and with the prepping mind especially Canning and we tend to dry foods also. But as we have been programmed to go to the grocery store for food we no longer use some of the methods that were used by our ancestors. And our taste buds have fallen into disuse of some of these methods.
    I have yet to find a reference as to how long you can keep smoked meat that gives me confidence to do such a thing. The salt curing of hams would be a really good thing to do as those pinto beans would not be beans without a chunk of ham in it.
    And in the “Little House” books Ma went up to where the hams were hanging in the rafters and would cut off some and fried it. Laura sure liked it.
    In the last 3o (maybe much more) salt pork where I live is not that of when I was a kid. It no longer has the salt crystals on the top. In fact now days salt pork is rather bland compared to when I was a kid. So how many more of our foods have changed since we were even kids?
    My dad used to buy slab bacon, if it got a little bit of mold on it he would scrap it off and slice it up and no one died from it.
    My aunt made fruit cake around the holidays. Us kids didn’t like it much. She didn’t soak hers but for a couple of years. The ones soaked in booze seemed to be the favorite. She also made up the same recipe with just cherries and nuts, my favorite. Later years we called her unsoaked cakes “grungy”.
    Oh about fussy eaters, we ate all that was put in front of us even the stuff that didn’t resemble what it was intended to be. That even meant those bisquity cookies I made.

    • Mary in GA says:

      Ellen,

      Being one of five, we had to eat what was put in front of us too!!!
      Mary in GA

    • My mom used to talk about having to eat salt pork back in the depression days. She said they would pack it into wooden barrels and store it in the root cellar. To pack it, first they’d start with a generous layer of salt, then a layer of pork, then meat etc, etc until finally applying a final layer of salt on top, then the lid which was held down with a heavy object to keep the varmits out.
      To prepare the meat for table use they had to wash it 3 or 4 times and it would still be very salty, but it was still better than nothing.

  3. My dad was born in the 20’s so he grew up on a farm during the depression and never went hungry and he loved country ham. For a few years I gave him one for christmas every year and he would hang it in the basement and cut off a hunk when needed and scrub the mold off and then soak the salt out and fry it up for breakfast or put in a pot of beans. They always looked gross and spoiled to me all covered in mold etc but then I was a young 20 something and WAY smarter than the old man so I would not touch the stuff. Sure wish I still had him and the grandparents around to pick their brains on being self reliant or just living the way they did 50-100 years ago.

  4. Oh forgot, two of my big concerns on long term storage are fruit and meat, Now that I have got pressure canning down not as worried but thanks for the reminder Mary looks like I will have go get a couple of country hams and hang them up…

    • Mary in GA says:

      George,

      I’m up to 6 now (half hams) and need to find some good hooks. If you find any please post where you find them.

      Mary in GA

      • I found some very large hooks at Walmart the other day. They are sturdy metal covered with black plastic. Two in a package for just a few dollars. You can find them by the clothes hangers. Now I just need to figure out where to hang ham in my house. We live in Texas without a basement and well, you know… lots of HEAT. I am not sure that hanging a ham is going to be an option for us. We have stocked up on #10 cans of freeze dried chicken and ground beef that is really good from http://www.srmarketplace,com. I don’t know if they have ham, I’ll have to check.

        • Mary in GA says:

          Anya,
          Thanks for the tip, the next time I’m in Walmart, I will definitely look for these.
          Mary in GA

        • Anya,
          I’m also in Texas and thinking of digging a root cellar. Depending on how large your property is and how nosy your neighbors are it may be an option.

      • Encourager says:

        Many blacksmiths will make you whatever hook you need. You can find them at reenactments, farm museums, etc.

        • Mary in GA says:

          Thanks Encourager, that’s a good idea. We have a re-enactment coming up the beginning of October, they always have blacksmiths, so I’ll ask around.

  5. I have had home cured country ham that had hung for 16 years.It had dried to the point that about the first inch or so was hard as a rock.That was used in beans the rest was still very good.the mold washed right off with a scrub brush,didnt need to be cut off.

  6. Heavy proof alcohol is a pain reliever and antiseptic , if its high enough , can be used for an emergency cooking , lighting fuel . Bacardi 151 I have found gives you the most bang for the buck , the content is so high that it has a flame arrestor on each bottle . Thats about as high as I have found in the mass produced arena . It will burn lol

    • Try some “Ever Clear”. Same as Medical alcohol. I use it in my homemade anti-fungus med and keep some in my kit. I also have started a campfire with it.

    • T.R
      To follow up on your post, as most Mom’s know, an alcohol rub will also bring down a fever.

      I would like to find a company that makes a copper still kit, as a put aside, does anyone know of one that is on the up and up?

      Very well done article!

      • TR, on the up and up as in actually licensed to pay the proper taxes, or just looking for one that won’t explode?

        From my understanding, if you buy any still from a proper seller or a shady dealer who keeps records enough for the authorities to find your name, you’re going to have inspectors wanting to look at your still to make sure you aren’t using it. (Water may be okay, I think wood alcohol isn’t allowed.)

        I think it’s possible to build a still from commonly-found components, the best I know is that it either involves a pressure cooker or a pressure canner. (It might be either.) Sorry, I didn’t get this information optically, so the details are…. what’s the audio equivalent of blurry and chewed on?

      • cant vouch for their being on the up and up , but then again in many states , its not illegal to possess one and to even use it . Its when you sell it that the problems start .

        http://www.coppermoonshinestills.com/
        http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/116786638/Copper_Stills_Alembics.html
        http://www.milehidistilling.com/
        http://www.clawhammersupply.com/
        http://stillspirits.com/nz/filters/stills.html

        • TR…… Thank Youuuuuu

        • robert in mid michigan says:

          actually in most states its illigal to use a still with out a permit, even for water as it is hard to determine what has been used in it. remember they dont care about the hootch its the taxes.

          i also believe that buying one will call a lot of attention to yourself from people you do not want looking at you. thier are hundreds of designs and plans on the web look one up, print it out and have the materials on hand to build one. i have one for purifying water its in a bunch of pieces but it can be put together if i ever need it.

          be careful with these things because federal and state laws dont always follow one another and lack of knowledge of either can land you in a lot of hot water.

      • recoveringidiot says:

        Beer kegs, hard copper pipe and stainless or copper mesh scrubbers. Maybe a few more odds and ends plus some running water and you can have a column still. Cracked corn, corn meal, apples, pears and maybe some sugar and yeast to start the mash or beer. Maybe even that nasty wine you made that didn’t work out so well, run that as well. Read up on things like this now so you can do it later without killing yourself or others. I personally won’t drink hard liquor but there are a lot of uses for it other than drinking and I could see how someone that has the skills to distill spirits when no one else can might be able to survive in a long down turn(SHTF).

  7. Mary in GA:

    Thanks for the info and references. Reminds me that we have a country ham store just north of us. They work all year on them and sell them between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    • Mary in GA says:

      JP,

      The holidays seem to be when I find them locally. Otherwise, I have to order them.

      Mary in GA

      • Mary,

        Can you tell me where in GA did you get them? I would like to purchase some too!

        • Mary in GA says:

          The first ones I saw were at Bi-Lo. They have them at the holidays, or you can order them from the Dillard House in Dillard, GA. See Ga Mom’s post below for direct link.

  8. Most dried grains will have a long shelf life , perhaps not as long as rice .
    Buckwheat is a good one because it has good nutritional value and is good for folks on a gluten free diet , others as well . It always makes me laugh to see salt with an expiration date on it , sort of like the brail pannel at the drive up ATM .

    • Expiration dates on salt are funny. The Braille on ATM machines in the drive through lanes allow blind passengers to bank independently. Relatives of mine can do their banking from the back seat of a taxi or a friend’s car–no need to give their PIN numbers to anyone else.

  9. I have packages of country ham in my stash. My family always enjoyed country ham biscuits so I buy them sliced and vacuum sealed. The packages I got are supposed to last 200 days but longer is stored in a cool dry place. My nearest grocery store also sells bits and pieces to use in beans to flavor them.
    Bensons Bakery in Athens GA has a cake sale open to the public in Dec. They have good fruitcakes reasonable priced and we have kept them for a year soaking them in homemade brandy.
    I enjoyed the article.

  10. James Nelson says:

    Another way to preserve dried meat for years is to cook it, remove the fat and cut it up to a reasonable size. Then put it into a clean canning jar with a lid and a ring and with an oxygen absorber in it. Screw the jar lid down tight and the o2 absorber will cause the jar to seal. Presto, meat that keeps for many years.
    One of my favorite ways of doing this is to grind a big batch of burger and boil it in a big pot. When it is cooked, I use a sieve to separate the burger and put it in the food dryer. It not only lasts a long time, but it takes up about 1/2 the space of regular canned meat. I grind my own burger because I know how unsafe store made burger is.
    When the burger is dipped out, you are left with a thick and flavorful broth, which can be canned or made into soup which can also be canned.
    IMHO the best dried meat is biltong. This is the only dried meat that I don’t cook first. You need lean meat cut into 2 to 3 inch wide strips with the grain. Coat with coarse salt and let sit in the fridge for 1 hour.. Thoroughly rinse off the salt with apple cider vinegar. Coat with a 50/50 mix of coriander and ground black pepper. Put it back in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours and then dry it. I use a dryer at about 120 degrees for 24 hours, but just hanging it up in the house for a few days will work. YouTube has lots of plans for home made biltong boxes for drying. There are lots of different recipes, but this is the one I like. Slice it thin against the grain and enjoy.

  11. Great Article Mary!

    I absolutely LOVE having a prepper friend within 10 miles of my house. It is nice to share ideas, know that you are not alone and have someone with whom you can discuss your “biggest secret” with (your prepping secret).

    I still have my hams – I’m storing them in our garage refrigerator. I figured that the dry cool temperature would help them last longer.

    I also ordered smoked bacon. My 15 year old son just loves bacon so this would be my way of keeping his life “normal” if/when all heck breaks loose.

    I got my smoked hams & bacon from The Dillard House in North Georgia. Many fond memories of that place as a child & teen traveling there with my parents. They ship anywhere in the USA & probably Canada and their prices are reasonable. http://www.dillardhousegiftbook.com/

    My plan with my smoked meat storage is to eat one and then replace it immediately – that way I’ll always have 2 large hams and 3 packs of bacon.

    When storing meat – don’t overlook the DAK canned hams – I was at Walmart 2 weeks ago and the expiration date on them right now is 2016. I know they pale in comparison to smoked meats and probably have tons of preservatives & chemicals in them, but they are meat none-the-less. They’d make a great ham salad! I believe Spam and Dinty Moore Beef Stew (a complete meal in a can) is now up to 2016 expiration date as well.

    • Mary in GA says:

      Thanks GA Mom! :)

    • Wow! I am soooooo envious of you two! There isn’t anybody up here (that I know of) who preps. I can discuss food storage with everyone at church because they have it too, however, no one is interested in storing hams (or anything else) for when the world ends.

      Maybe someday I could travel to your neck of GA and have lunch with both of you!

      • Mary in GA says:

        Kate,
        That would be great! GA Mom and I are always ready for a fun girl’s lunch. Let us know. email me at: mbb278atcomcast.net you know the deal about how to substitute the @. We welcome you to our neck of the woods.

  12. I bet this is another one of those “all hell started breaking lose after the 50’s” things, but eating something that died x months ago and wasn’t frozen, pasteurized, or chemically-altered is a very scary concept.

    Of course, it might be my mother freaking out at anything that wasn’t modern food safety approved and knowing that she was justified because of a severe problem with her digestive track. I’m sure it’s not just the alcohol that makes me able to survive breaking FDA-accepted food-handling guidelines.

    Someone suggested Pemmikan as another way to preserve meat. As for the mold, does heat destroy the toxins from green fuzzy that might not be penicillin?

  13. Uncle Charlie says:

    (Currently in GA) When I was a kid growing up in KY, my mother would purchase a KY country ham every year. Being a city boy, the large burlap bag with a home made hook out of the end of end always looked and smelled strange. However, my mom would pull out her brass (or copper, I can’t remember) brush and clean all the mold off the ham. Slicing it up this way was perfect for breakfast and very salty. Then she would soak the rest of the hame if it was going to be dinner. Hmm, hmm good.

    I’ve spent most of my life in GA and I can tell you, you can’t go wrong with Claxton fruit cake. Very, very good. And of course soaking anything in bourbon always makes it better. As far as preservation goes, soaking in spirits would make me want to consume it all the more, but I guess I will have to learn self control.

    By the way James, I know that grocery store hamburger can be unreliable raw but if you’re going to cook it well, it should be OK. Several years ago Publix promised that they were going to sell irradiated ground beef so I could have very rare hamburgers and not worry about but they never did much to my disappointment so I have to cook everything medium well and like it or lump it.

    Pure grain alcohol is much cheaper than any brand named high proof stuff and works just as well. When I was is college a good friend of my used pure grain alcohol as a matter of financial necessity as he could not even afford the cheap bourbon, gin or vodka the rest of us were consuming and that’s when our off campus drinking club was selling long necks for 15 cents a bottle and we still broke even, even allowing for breakage. When we went to our friendly neighborhood family grocery, no one asked to see an I.D. when we bought 12 cases at a time. Good thing :)

    • Mary in GA says:

      Uncle Charlie,

      So true on the Claxton fruit cakes, they’re well-known all over. In the CSRA part of GA, how about you? Generally, of course!

      On the grain alcohol, isn’t that what was used in PJ, made in bathtubs??? LOL!

      Mary in GA

      • I buy a box with 3 cakes of Claxton fruit cake every year art Christmas time when they are available at Sam’s. Love them.

  14. Thought I’d be the odd one, but it appears that there are others here who actually like fruit cake.
    I need to look into the hams. I do remember reading that properly stored, certain hams and cheeses keep for a long time.

    • Ohio…. that you are “Odd” is a given. To enjoy a real…. soaked fruit cake is to simply enjoy life itself.

    • village idiot says:

      Collin Street Bakery, Corsicana, Texas—best store-bought fruitcake on the planet. And I pray that someone will get me one for Christmas every year so I don’t have to buy 2 or 3 of them.

      I’m throwing in with you odd folk who love fruitcake. Oh, yeah, and cured ham.

  15. I have all the Foxfire books and I am sure they have how to cure and smoke hams. These books were part of a classroom research on the old way of country living done by students of a high school near Clayton, Georgia. They interviewed old timers on just about everything that was part of farm life as far back as the turn of the 1899. The teacher was a lovely person truing to save the county heritage of that county.

    I am going to search for them. They are packed somewhere in the various boxes of things I have not needed since we moved out of the farm. Will post what I find about the country hams.

    I remember trying to talk DH into building a a smoke house. Never happened.

    We also buy all our country food from Dillard House. Love the place. We used to go by it every year until the year of 2000.

  16. SurvivorDan says:

    very interesting post mary. Thank you.
    ham sounds good.
    I believe the butter might be preserved by the anaerobic nature of many bogs. That and the lower temps.
    Fruit cake. Don’t you know not to throw away a fruit cake for any reason.
    Just mail it to the next guy….

  17. Great post! One of the men in our church was famous for his Brandy-soaked fruit cakes. Folks made orders far in advance of the Holidays. He would wrap them in cheesecloth, just as you said.
    Are the Foxfire books still in print? I would love to get them.

    • Sewist, you can find the smoking article in the Foxfire book. The foxfire project books are available at – http://www.foxfire.org/thefoxfirebook.aspx
      By purchasing from Foxfire you help support their continued efforts to preserve the knowledge gleaned from our ancestors on a whole host of topics.
      Back in the 70’s I was fortunate to write for a similar magazine while in high school in Colorado. Our magazine was created based on the Foxfire model though sadly the magazine in Colorado is no longer being published. It seems that the school wasn’t able to find a teacher willing to provide the necessary support to keep it going. Our high school teacher was very dedicated and help setup similar magazines in other parts of the U.S. but I don’t know how many of them are still published today. It was a great learning experience and we met real people with real skills. The people were just average normal Americans who truly appreciated sharing their knowledge with us “younger folks” but that was a long time ago.

      • Col. D, I wonder whether you could collect as many old issues of your magazine in Colorado and get a project going to scan or something and sell as e-books?

  18. I am very new to this.What started my quest had nothing to do with WSHTF prepping.SHTF when both my adult children lost their children and I took custody of them.They both fly into rages and were raised on the crap from the grocery store.I started pulling out my canning supplies and researching ways to feed them real food.Being a one income family starting over put us into survival mode.I remember stories of an Aunt who kept her bacon in the cupboard and also canned butter in the oven.
    I love fruit cake and canned brown bread.

  19. How about Freeze dried eggs, or powder eggs. They serve them at every hotel breakfast across the country and maintain much of the needed protien carbs and fats needed. They can be mixed with rice or other dishes and are very cheap compared to Freeze dried lasagna or some other meal.