Homesteading

Food Preservation Done Right

You work tirelessly for weeks and months to create a bountiful harvest and cultivating livestock. You spend countless hours hunting in the woods and at your favorite fishing hole, to ensure the family will have enough food to get through the winter and to stockpile for emergencies. All of those efforts will be for nothing if the food grown, raised, shot, and caught, is not preserved properly.

Sure, excess garden harvest items can make great composting material, but there is no need to let a single picking go to waste. Food preservation takes time, but is neither an expensive or difficult endeavor.

free ranging chickens on the garden

Top 7 Ways To Preserve Food

1. Dehydrating
2. Smoking
3. Freeze Drying
4. Salting
5. Freezing
6. Pickling – Fermentation
7. Canning – water bath and pressure

There are pros and cons to each method, most of which are centered around personal preference, equipment on hand, and the time it takes to complete the food preservation process.

If you are living on an off the grid homestead or also preparing for a potential disaster, freezing and freeze drying might not seem like the most viable options. A freeze drying machine would really suck up a plethora of generator power, but traditional freezing, with a twist, could still be a realistic method of food preservation on off grid homestead and during power outages.

If you freeze water in buckets that have a firm-fitting lid and place them inside of a shed that you have lined with insulating material, like styrofoam, and then cover the buckets and floor at least loosely with sawdust, you have yourself a makeshift ice house.

Dehydrating can be used to preserve food inside of an electrical machine designed for that purpose and in a DIY solar dehydrator equally well.

Dehydrating

You can dehydrate fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat, and dairy products in both a solar or standard home dehydrator. My dehydrator cost less than $100 and has worked great under heavy use for three years. We routinely use the machine to make deer jerky, powdered milk, and to preserve all of the bounty from our garden.

When dehydrating liquids, making fruit leather (fruit ‘roll ups’) or preserving thin and small items, like berries or herbs, using mesh liner or plastic tray inserts designed to fit your dehydrating machine, will be necessary. When using a solar dehydrator to preserve these same types of items, I use a wire bread cooling rack or cheesecloth on top of the metal baking sheets I use as a base for the off grid dehydrator.

When dehydrating anything, uniformity is the key to success. Thin or small slices or chunks allow the food item to be dried in a uniform manner. A piece of cheese that is thicker on one end than the other, will not dry well individually. A tray of cheese (or anything else) slices that are not uniformly cut to essentially the same thickness, width, and length, will not dry all at the same time – with the larger ones taking longer to dry or possibly causing the food stuffs to grow mildew.

strawberries ready for dehydrationHow to Dehydrate Fruit

• Peaches – When dehydrating peaches, you do not have to peel them, but the pits must be removed. Peach pits are poisonous. Cube of slice the peaches into small portions. If you prefer to dehydrate peaches in halves, you may have to use only one tray at a time and double the drying time. To help enhance crispness and to thwart browning, spray the peaches with up to one teaspoon of lemon juice per tray. Dehydrate the peaches for 5 to 15 hours, depending upon the number of trays used, at the 130 degree setting.

• Rhubarb – Steam the rhubarb to make it more tender before dehydrating. Cut the stalks of the plant into about 1-inch cubes and place them on the trays inside the machine. Dehydrate for 5 to 15 hours depending upon amount of rhubarb being dried, at 130 degrees.

• Cherries – After removing both the stems and the pits from the cherries, cut them in half and place them on either the fruit leather or mesh inserts already placed on the dehydrator trays. Dry the cherries at 130 degrees for about 18 to 20 hours.

• Bananas and Strawberries – To preserve the crispness of the bananas or strawberries, spray them with up to 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per tray before drying. Chop the bananas into thin slices and dehydrate them at 130 degrees for approximately 10 to 12 hours. Make sure the banana slices are thoroughly crisp before removing them from the dehydrator, the strawberries will have a leather consistency when dried completely.

• Grapes – To make raisins, cut the grapes in half and place them onto a mesh tray liner before drying them at 135 for up to 10 hours.

• Citrus, Apples, and Pears – Slice the fruit into thin chunks and use a mesh tray liner to dehydrate them at 130 degrees For a full five trays of fruit expect the drying time to be about six hours.

• Plums – To make prunes, the plums must be quartered before being dehydrated at 130 for 10 to 30 hours.

• Melons – The skin and seed must be removed from melons before dehydrating at 130 degrees for 10 to 15 hours. Cube the melons and space them out to allow for adequate air flow on a mesh tray liner. Melons can remain a bit pliable even when completely dried, but going an extra hour in the machine should make them crips and perhaps prolong their shelf life.

• Berries, except for Strawberries – Rinse the berries and pluck off the stems. Place the berries in a pot of boiling water until their skin is cracked – while this step is not absolutely necessary it is highly recommended and vastly speeds up the drying process. Put a solid or mesh tray liner in the dehydrator and space out the berries to allow adequate air flow in between them. Dry the berries at 130 degrees for a minimum of 10 hours. Large batches of berries can take up to 20 hours to dry. The berries will also boast a leather-like texture and can remain slightly tacky to the touch even when completely dehydrated.

getting strawberries ready for fruit leather

Top 20 Fruits To Preserve For Making Fruit Leather

1. Apples
2. Bananas
3. Cherries
4. Strawberries
5. Blackberries
6. Grapes
7. Watermelon
8. Cantelope
9. Pears
10. Apricots
11. Peaches
12. Raspberries
13. Lemon
14. Kiwi
15. Pumpkin
16. Plums
17. Pineapple
18. Oranges
19. Blueberries
20. Rhubarb

How To Make Fruit Leather

1. Remove the cores or large seeds from the fruit after washing it. Do not remove the skin.
2. Cut the fruit into tiny cubes or use a food processor on the pulse or dice setting to cut up the fruit.
3. Mix in sweeteners (optional) at a 1 to 2 ratio with the amount of fruit used. Recommended sweeteners include: nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, maple syrup, almond extract, or vanilla extract. A sprinkling of raisins, nuts that have been chopped finely, coconut shavings, sesame seeds, or a finely chopped bit of granola can also enhance both the taste and nutritional content of the fruit leather.
4. Mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly and pour onto solid plastic tray liners that have been placed in the dehydrator.
5. Dry at 135 degrees or approximately four to 10 hours, depending upon the amount of fruit leather being made and the thickness of the mixture.
6. If the fruit leather is difficult to remove from the trays, place the trays into the refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes to help it release from the tray and peel away more easily.
7. The fruit leather can be rolled into stripes of parchment paper for easy packing. Store the fruit leather in a vacuum sealed container or Mason jar. It should last up to two weeks to one month when dried and stored properly.

How To Dehydrate Vegetables

With the exception of peppers and mushrooms, all vegetables should be washed and dried completely before dehydrating. Some types of vegetables should be blanched before being dehydrated, like potatoes, to avoid brown spots from forming and mildew from growing on the preserved food over time.

Blanching is often used on various vegetables as a personal preference to preserve both nutrients and crispness. All vegetables can be dehydrated at 130 degrees.

Corn – Remove the corn from the cob and blanch (optional) before placing the kernels onto a mesh tray liner for six to 12 hours. The corn kernel will be exceptionally brittle when dried.

Beets – The beets must be peeled after being cooked and then cut into pieces no larger than ½ of an inch before drying. The beets should be dried for up to eight hours and will have a leather-like texture when completely dehydrated.

Green Beans – Snap the beans into small pieces (about 1 inch long) and dry for up to 10 hours, until they are brittle. Some folks prefer to blanch green beans before drying them to preserve crispness.

Mushrooms – They must be dried at an 80 degree temperature for three to four hours during the initial drying stage. Then, place the mushrooms in the dehydrator at 125 degrees for five to 10 hours, approximately, or until they are thoroughly brittle.

Carrots, Broccoli, and Cauliflower – Shred or grate the vegetables into small bits and dehydrate for about eight hours. Broccoli and cauliflower can also be dried in larger chunks but will take up to 12 hours to complete the process. Always use a mesh tray liner when drying small cubes or shredded vegetables.

Lettuce – Rip the lettuce into strips and place in on mesh tray liners inside the dehydrator machine. It takes about two to four hours to dry the lettuce completely. The dehydrated lettuce will have a somewhat yellow coloration when dried.

Potatoes – Wash, peel, and slice the potatoes. Blanch them before spreading them out on mesh tray liners. Dry the potatoes until they are completely crisp – this generally takes about 10 to 12 hours.

Peppers – Chop the peppers into small cubes and dry them at 130 degrees for six to 10 hours. The pepper will boast a leathery consistency when the drying process is completed.

Peas, Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Onions – Slice the onions, zucchini, or tomatoes into thin pieces of shred. Place the sliced vegetables or peas onto mesh or solid tray liners in the dehydrator. It will take between five to 12 hours to dry the vegetables depending upon how many trays are being dried at once. Dehydrated vegetables can be tossed directly into chili, soup, or stews without reconstituting

How To Reconstitute Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables

Lightly spray or soak the dehydrated food into up to 1 tablespoon of slightly warm water per ½ cup of dry material. Allow the mixture to sit for five minutes so the fruits or vegetables can soak up the moisture content and be ready to eat, cook, or bake with in typical recipes.

Preserving Poultry and Meat By Dehydrating

It is possible to dehydrate any type of meat, but the process is really only recommended for lean meat. Lean meat has a at content of 15 percent or less. Meat from cattle, particularly grass ed cattle, is usually between seven and 10 percent fat.

Fatty meat may become rancid if only a tiny amount of oxygen creeps into a storage bag or container. When the stored dehydrated meat is exposed to either heat or light evenly slightly, the chances of oxidation increase. Always vacuum seal meat if possible and store it in a cool dry place.

Meat Dehydrating Tips

• Always brown meat before dehydrating.
• Add a handful of breadcrumbs to meat )especially beef) before dehydrating to help preserve its taste. Use approximately one half of a cup of breadcrumbs per each pound of meat being dried. This practice is only recommended if the dried meat will be kept on the shelf for longer than one year because the breadcrumbs can sink into the fat content of the meat and prompt bacteria to grow.

How to Dehydrate Meat

1. Brown the meat over medium heat.
2. Drain away the grease and paper towel or air dry until no grease residue remains. I always blot the meat with a towel before dehydrating.
3. Place a mesh or solid tray liner into the dehydrator.
4. Spread the meat onto the tray as evenly as possible. It will be nearly impossible to keep hamburger meat from touching, just attempt to allow for as much air flow as possible.
5. Dehydrate the meat for six to eight hours at 145 degrees. The meat will be hard when it is thoroughly dry.

Dehydrating Poultry Tips

• Skin the bird and trim away as much fat as possible.
• For best drying results, quarter the bird and then steam it for 60 minutes.
• Remove all of the bones from the bird.
• Cut the bird into either strips or small chunks.
• Place the strips or chunks onto a mesh tray liner in the dehydrator.
• Add just a few pinches of salt – optional
• Dehydrate the bird at 145 to 150 degrees for up to eight hours.

Dehydrating Meat To Make Jerky

1. Cut the meat into thin strips and remove as much fat as possible. Extra fat can cause the meat to become rancid.
2. Marinade the meat strips overnight or soak just prior to using a jerky gun if clogging due to thick marinade ingredients is a concern. Typically, you can make up to two pounds of jerky in a 5-tray dehydrator at a single time. Most jerky guns hold one to two pounds of meat.
3. Use mesh tray liners or solid fruit leather tray liners to place the meat upon in the dehydrator.
4. Dehydrate a full five trays of jerky for up to 15 hours at 160 degrees.

Salting Food Preservation Method

Standard table is not the best option for curing meat. It is best to use only salt products noted as “curing salts” to preserve meat. Both Kosher salt and sea salt are frequently used in home salt curing by folks who do not have access to commercial curing salt products.

Curing salts are often a mixture of sodium nitrite and table salt. This mixture of salt is known to decrease the possibility of bacteria growth and help reduce the chances of botulism.

Salt preserves meat by pulling the moisture from its cells and membranes. Once beef, poultry, pork, or fish has been properly salt cured, it no longer requires refrigeration to remain shelf stable

How To Salt Cure Meat

1. Rinse the meat in cold water.
2. Cover the surface of the meat liberally with a 1-inch thick layer of salt. Remember, any area of the meat exposed to moisture, air, and light that is not covered by salt are at high risk for the development of bacteria.
3. Rub the salt into the meat to make sure it not only sticks firmly to the meat but also seeps into the inside of the meat being salt cured.
4. If you are going to season the meat, do so now.
5. Covering the meat with cheesecloth is not required, but is recommended. This practice can help prevent bugs from getting into meat that will be hung outdoors or even in a shed or root cellar.
6. Hang the meat in a cool dark place.
7. Typically, salt cured meat is safe to eat for about 12 months after being hung in most climates.
Pickling and Fermentation
Fermentation is a centuries old food preservation process that uses the combination of sugars and yeast to prevent spoiling. Not only can meats and vegetables be fermented, so can fruits, nuts, and even milk. When fermenting any of those particular food items, most recipes call for adding ample honey and sugar to the brine.

Pickling Meat

You can also use salt to create a brine to pickle meat. Generally, most recipes call for using a half pound of pickling salt (canning salt) for every 12 pounds of meat being preserved.

1. You can soak an entire piece of meat in a salt brine or cut it into strips or chunks before preserving the food using this method.
2. The salt brine mixture must remain at a steady 33 to 45 degree temperature until the pickling process begins.
3. Mix together the recommended amounts of pickling salt for the pounds of meat being preserved. For every pound of pickling salt used, pour in three quarts of water and a half cup of brown sugar – along with spices to taste.
4. Place the meat in a crock and pour the salt brine over it. You do not want to leave any more head room in the crock than absolutely necessary to get a firm-fitting lid or piece of board to onto the top to hold the meat down.Place a layer of cheesecloth between the meat soaking in the salt brine and the lid.
5. Although not required, I would recommend wrapping the whole crock in plastic wrap to further protect the contents inside from moisture.
6. After a week remove the meat from the salt brine, stir, then replace the meat and store in the same manner.
7. Repeat step 6 once a week for four weeks.
8. Store the crock in a cool dry space that remains at a constant 36 to 38 degrees for at least 30 days to cure the meat via the salt picking method.
9. Remove the meat, wash to remove the salt brine and then hang until ready to up for up to 12 months.

Pickling Fruits and Vegetables

The vast majority of fruits and vegetables can be preserved through a pickling – fermentation process. This is how cucumbers are turned into pickles even when using a water bath canning method to preserve them. Typically, you can use either a dry salting or salt brine method to preserve garden and orchard produce.
• Low Salt Curing – This is the method of pickling or fermentation that pickle makers often use to create a crunchy and tangy treat. The salt induces growth of lactic acid, a good bacteria, that helps prevent spoiling. A low salt brine instead of vinegar to pickle, tends to produce a taste that is far less sharp upon eating the preserved food.

• High Salt Curing – This method preserves produce basically pickled when their own fluid content is infused by a salt brine. High salt curing is most successful when conducted in the winter or early spring – before temperatures are regularly below 65 degrees. When preserving food this way, the produce are submerged into the brine to allow it to leach into them to prevent spoiling. If a pickling bloom (scum layer) emerges on the surface of the brine while pickling inside the corck, scaper it off immediately.
• Dry Salt Curing – With the exception of turnips, green tomatoes, rutabagas, and cabbage, all vegetables must be blanched before dry salt curing. Typically, most curing recipes for this type of food preservation call for a half gallon crock is used to allow or at least one quart of food to fit inside be surrounded by the brine. It is recommended to use produce that is not yet fully ripe when dry salt curing. The crock must be stored in a space that remains at least 33 degrees to no warmer than 50 degrees, during the minimum 30 days curing period. Remember to always check for bloom each week.

Freezing

Purchasing a huge deep freeze is one way to preserve you food, but such appliances can be costly, take up a lot of space, and become a massive power drain on an off the grid system – or run up your electric bill. If going this route to preserve at least some of your food, frequently check the temperature settings on the devices to ensure it remains a steady 30 degrees or lower to safely keep the edibles stored inside.

Creating an old-fashioned ice house in the manner mentioned at the beginning of this report should keep your food preserved properly, in most climates, from winter up to the beginning of summer – or longer, depending upon the type of material the ice house is comprised of and the grade of insulation used.

Canning

There are two types of canning, water bath and pressure. The type of food you are preserving will dictate the manner of canning used. For example, corn must be pressure canned using a pressure cooker. Tomatoes and a host of other produce, can be water bath canned using a large pot filled with water and placed upon a heat source.

While canning over a conventional stove is the most common way to preserve food in this manner, you can also can using an open flame, a propane stove, or a wood cook stove.

Canning Tips And Supplies

Supplies

Mason Jars – (or other brand) canning jars
• Lids – not reusable so buy a LOT of them
• Rings
Pressure Canner
• Canning Pot
Canning Jar Rack– fits inside of the pot for easy removal and to hold the jars in place so they do not touch while being processed. I cannot recommend getting one highly enough. If the hot jars touch each other, they almost always crack.
• Magnetic Lid Lifter – another non-essential and incredibly handy gadget to help you quickly and painlessly lift the boiled rings out of a small sauce pot and place the on the waiting filled jar. Always avoid touching the rubber seal on the ring once it has been heated, not only will doing so make you say ouch, any residue or debris on your hand can prevent the lid from sealing properly and allow the food to spoil.
• Jar Lifter – This unessential tool is used to lift hot filled jars to and from the pressure canner or water bath canning pot. You could use an oven mitt to accomplish the same task, but there is far less chance of both getting burned or dropping the filled jars, if a canning jar lifter is used.
• Metal Funnel – The food being preserved is poured from a pot through the funnel and into the canning jar. Careful pouring as well as wiping around the rim of the jar, should facilitate an airtight seal.

Water Bath Canning

This is the simplest form of canning. The Mason jars are boiled with the food inside after being placed in the water bath. The acid content in either the food of the spice and vinegar brine used – or both, works to eliminate harmful bacteria while creating an airtight seal between the lid and the jars.

If you want to preserve the jams, jellies, pie filling, and salsas that you make at harvest time, you can water bath can them. Properly water bath canned food stuffs are typically safe to eat for at least five years – as long as the seal is not broken between the jar and the lid.

Pressure Canning

Meat, seafood, pork, and poultry must be pressure canned – along with some types of fruits and vegetables. Foods that possess a low acid content must be heated to far higher temperatures to kill harmful bacteria.

To create the higher temperatures, a pressure canner is used. It is basically a deep and large pot that has a firmly locking lid. The boiling water inside the pressure canner creates steam that is capable of reaching upwards of 240 degrees.

Smoking Food Preservation Methods

.Preserving meat via a smokehouse or smoker method is a centuries old method beef, seafood, poultry, and pork. Smoking meat, like salt curing and dehydrating, removes as much moisture as possible from the food to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.

Not only will smoking meat preserve it, the process adds a distinctive and tasty flavor to the meat. Seasoning the meat or soaking it in a marinade before smoking, as well as using flavored wood chips in the smoker, can also greatly enhance the taste of meat prepared or preserved in this manner.

smoked deer hind quarter roast

A smoked deer hind quarter roast. It took about 12 hours to smoke. Before smoking the meat it was treated with a homemade spice rub, BBQ sauce, and then wrapped in bacon. As you might guess, it smelled incredibly delicious during the smoking process. The wood chips used were a mixture of plain, apple, and Jack Daniels flavored.

When not smoking a roast, ribs, or other large hunk of meat – especially when making jerky, it is recommended to cut the meat into slices that are about one-fourth of an inch thick. The trick to smoking meat is roughly the same as barbecuing meat – you want to go low (on the heat) and slow.

Build your fire and then let it burn down to the coals before placing the meat either above it, if smoking over an open flame, or inside the smokehouse or smoker. If you can hold your bare hand over the hot coals for at least 10 seconds without jerking it away, it is time to start smoking the meat.

The temperature best suited for making jerky or smoking thinly cut meat is between 150 to 200 degrees.
Salt must be added to cure meat for long-term storage. The salt will block out water or moisture from touching the meat and deter the growth of bad bacteria during the smoking process as it does in the other ways to preserve food noted above.

Sugar has also sometimes been substituted for salt when curing food before smoking because it too helps block out moisture. Sugar may counteract the drying out of the meat which salt can cause – which is why many smoking recipes use a combination of the two substances.

When smoking meat, use about 1 half pound of salt and up to 1 quarter cup of sugar per every 10 pounds of meat. If spices and other flavorings are going to be added to the smoked food, dice them as finely as possible and combine them into the sugar and salt mixture before rubbing it onto the meat.

Always store your preserved food in a cool, dry, and preferably a relatively dark place to avoid needless contact with moisture, heat, or sunlight that can cause spoiling. Check your stockpiles regularly for signs that preserved food or the jars it is stored in, have not been compromised. Catching exposure to moisture early could allow you to salvage at least some of the potentially exposed food.

Tara Dodrill

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
View all posts by Tara Dodrill →

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