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These 8 ways to preserve food at home will help you build your food storage. Learning to preserve your own food at home is something every family should implement, not just for survival or preparedness, but for frugality, health, and working together.
An old fashioned kind of gal, I prefer to use traditional methods whenever possible. Our grandparents and the pioneers were pretty incredible at providing for themselves without all of the technology and super markets we have today and we stand to learn a lot from them.
We raise 100% of our own meat and over 60% of our own fruits and vegetables for a family of four. Living in a northern climate we have a short growing season, which means knowing how to preserve food for long term storage is a must if we want to enjoy it for the full year.
Growing your own food is wonderful, but knowing how to preserve it for year round sustainability is priceless. From May to October the hiss and jiggle of my pressure canner and the hum of the dehydrator are an almost constant rhythm in our home.
These are the main ways we preserve most of our own food at our homestead.
1. Water Bath Canning. There are two ways to can your food. The first is a water bath method, which is used for acidic fruits, jams, jellies, syrups, and pickling. Water bath canning is immersing canning jars with food in a bath of boiling water, food must be 4.6 pH or lower to safely be canned at home.
Water bath canning is a great entry point of food preservation because all you need are Mason jars, lids, bands and can use any large pot with some type of rack to keep the jars up off the bottom of the pot. Home canned fruit is better than store bought because you can adjust the amount of sugar (if any) used during processing.
Foods that can be safely water bathed are most fruits, jams, jellies, fruit butters, fruit syrups, chutneys, marmalade, pickled vegetables, tomato sauce and salsas. To be done properly and safely, tomato sauce must have added acid and salsas must be tested canning recipes to ensure the overall pH level is 4.6 or lower to avoid botulism.
2. Pressure canning. This is only safe way to can non-acidic food, vegetables, meat, soups, and combination recipes. The pressure canner allows the jars to reach a higher temperature than just boiling water, which is crucial to ensuring all bacteria (especially botulism, a fatal form of food poisoning) are killed. When done correctly, pressure canning is very safe, but there are still some items that shouldn’t be pressure canned at home.
Learn how to use a pressure canner for FREE in this 4 part series so you have shelf stable food at the ready all year long –> Learn How to Pressure Can at Home
The advantages to canning is the food is fully cooked and ready to serve, you merely have to open the jar. This makes getting food on the table when life is hectic easy. Home canned food is a must during emergencies and power outages because it doesn’t rely on electricity to keep it from perishing. Because it’s fully cooked, you don’t have to have water in order to prepare it, making it a truly open and eat food source.
3. Dehydrating. Dehydrated food takes very little storage space. It’s light weight enough to take with you on the go. To prolong its shelf life, it should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area. We dehydrate our herbs the old fashioned way, by hanging them in a warm dark area, but we use an electric dehydrator for our fruits and vegetables.
Learn our one simple trick to shave hours off your fruit dehydrating time –> How to Dehydrate Fruit
Dehydrated food is shelf stable and some forms (dried fruit) will be eaten from the dried state. Other items, like dehydrated carrots, zucchini noodles, and such will need water to rehydrate them before using in cooking and eating.
All fruits, vegetables and herbs are candidates for dehydrating. You can dehydrate some forms of meat and eggs, but need to make sure you’re following proper safety and storage procedures.
4. Cold storage or root cellar. This simply requires a cool, damp, and dark area for root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, cabbage, and apples. Winter squash and pumpkins prefer it a bit warmer and drier. I think this is my favorite way of preserving food because it honestly requires very little work on my part.
In many parts of the world where the soil doesn’t freeze too hard, you can mulch your carrots and potatoes and leave them in the ground to harvest straight from the garden.
5. Freezing. Freezing food allows it to keep for many months and sometimes years if packaged properly. We use a deep freezer for our beef, chicken, and some fruits and vegetables. Many foods can be frozen that people don’t typically think of. You can freeze butter, milk, cheese, and even eggs. Yep, you read that right. In the summer when the hens are laying like crazy, you can put some of the eggs into the freezer to use later.
The drawback to the freezer is space , cost to operate, and during power outages, you can stand to lose a lot of food.
6. Salt Curing. Before refrigeration and the invention of the Mason jar in 1858, salt was used to cure meat. Salt draws the moisture out of the food. This is excellent for pork and fish, but can be done with beef as well. Here’s how to salt cure ham at home.
The drawback is the meat does still need to be kept cool.
7. Fermenting. Fermentation is a long practiced form of food preservation. It uses a culture of good bacteria to preserve the food and also contains many health benefits along with its preservation benefits. Fermenting vegetables (think sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi) is done by using a salt water brine and time.
After the food has been fermented, it does need to be kept in a cooler environment to slow the fermentation process down and for long term storage.
8. Immersion in Alcohol. Many foods can be immersed in alcohol to preserve them. Herbs and fruits are immersed in alcohol to create extracts. We make our own mint, vanilla, and lemon extracts this way. Your summer fruit can also be preserved in alcohol for summer baking. Here’s how to make 6 extracts at home
We use all the above methods on our homestead based on the safety, space available in the fridge or freezer, and how we best like to eat the food. The method we use the most of is canning. I invite you to take the free canning series above with me and get your pantry shelves stocked with home canned goodness!
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.