9 Ways to Safely Preserve Food at Home - Tips From Generations Past

9 Ways to Preserve Food at Home

By Melissa Norris | Food Preservation

May 12

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These preservation methods will help you build your food storage up and be well prepared in case of an emergency. Learning these methods to preserve your own food at home is something every family should implement, not just for survival or preparedness, but for frugality, better health, and working together.

Jars of preserved food lined up on a table.

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 supermarkets we have today. We stand to learn a lot from them.

Over the years I’ve tapped in deeply to the roots my grandparents set long ago. Some of my favorites have been learning to water-bath can homemade strawberry jam and other fruit preserves. Knowing the difference between water-bath and pressure canning (and which method to use when) is something we all should know.

Other methods I’ve learned have been how to butcher and put up a whole cow, how to butcher a chicken, and raising chicks for meat.

Why Preserve Food at Home

My family and I raise 100% of our own meat and over 60% of our own fruits and vegetables for our 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 food at home 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. If you’re looking to build up your food supply you’ll want to check out my preserving plan for preserving a year’s worth of food at home.

Methods of Preserving Food at Home

  1. Water-bath Canning
  2. Pressure Canning
  3. Dehydrating
  4. Cold Storage or Root Cellar
  5. Freezing
  6. Salt Curing Meat
  7. Salt Curing Herbs
  8. Fermenting
  9. Immersion in Alcohol

Jars of home canned food lining a pantry shelf.

1. Preserve Food at Home by 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 can at home.

Water bath canning is a great entry point for home canning 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) added 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.

Water Bath Canning Recipes

Jams & Jelly Recipes

Fruit & Vegetable Recipes

Other Home Canned Goodies

A few other resources important to note are how to properly and safely store home-canned food, how to know if a canning recipe is safe, canning problems and solutions, and do check out my home fruit preserving eCourse.

A pressure canner with two jars of pressure canned food next to it.

2. Preserve Food at Home by Pressure Canning

Pressure canning is the only safe way to can non-acidic food such as certain 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 a very safe way to preserve food at home. Learn how to use a pressure canner for FREE in my 4-part series so you have shelf-stable food at the ready all year long.

The advantage of 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.

Pressure Canning Recipes

Vegetables

You may also be interested in learning how to choose the best pressure canner, tips and tricks for pressure canning like a pro, and also this Q & A on canning in electric pressure cookers.

Dehydrated tomato slices on a dehydrator tray.

3. Preserve Food at Home by Dehydrating

Dehydrated food takes very little storage space and it’s lightweight enough to take with you on the go which makes it an ideal way to preserve food at home.

To prolong the shelf life of dried food, store 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) are eaten from the dried state. Other items, like dehydrated carrots, zucchini noodles, and such should be rehydrated 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.

Here are our top FIVE reasons for using a dehydrator at home and why we think it’s a preparedness MUST.

Another option to preserve food at home is to freeze dry food, however, I didn’t list it as one of the 8 options because home freeze dryers are still quite expensive making it a very cost-prohibitive option for most.

A table filled with onions ready for storage.

4. Preserve Food at Home using Cold Storage or Root Cellar

Most people who grow large amounts of root veggies and some fruit might plan to store their food in a root cellar or cold storage as these kinds of food do really well.

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 to preserve food at home 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.

Here are 10 Tips for Root Cellar Storage without a Basement.

When using root cellar techniques you must cure your crops before putting into storage.

Here’s how to cure winter squash at home.

Frozen pieces of beef on a table..

5. Preserve Food at Home by 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. You can also freeze bread dough!

And, one of my favorite things to do to save time on busy, hectic days, is to batch and freezer cook to have ready to eat meals on hand.

The drawback to the freezer is space, the cost to operate, and during power outages, you can stand to lose a lot of costly food.

Salt cured ham.

6. Preserving Meat at Home by Salt Curing

Before refrigeration (and the invention of the Mason jar in 1858), salt was used to cure meat so it wouldn’t spoil. 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 a tutorial on how to salt cure ham at home.

The drawback is the meat still needs to be kept cool, so you have to have proper storage set up for it.

herbs being cured in salt in a mason jar.

7. Preserve Herbs by Making Homemade Herbed Salt

While you can dehydrate herbs, not all herbs keep their flavor once dried, especially basil. Once you know how to make herb salt you’ll likely never dehydrate basil again. It tastes fresh and keeps for months, all winter and into the next spring. 

Learn how to preserve fresh basil in salt here. 

Fermented sauerkraut in a mason jar.

8. Preserving Fruit & Veggies by Fermenting

Fermentation is a long-practiced form of food preservation that actually enhances the health benefits of the food where other methods can degrade it.

Fermenting food uses a culture of good bacteria to preserve the food at home and also contains many health benefits along with its preservation benefits. Fermenting vegetables (think sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi) is done by using a saltwater 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.

Here’s how to make old-fashioned saltwater brine fermented pickles at home.

Mint leaves in a mason jar with alcohol being poured over the top.

9. Preserve Food at Home with 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. It’s one of the most special ways to preserve food at home. Now if only I could grow my own vanilla beans!

Your summer fruit can also be preserved in alcohol for summer baking. Here’s how to make 6 extracts at home. And, if you’re not keen on using alcohol, here’s how to make a mint extract without alcohol.

We use all the above methods to preserve food at home based on the safety, space available in the fridge or freezer, and how we best like to eat the food.

The method we use most often is canning. I invite you to take the free canning series above with me and get your pantry shelves stocked with home-canned goodness!

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About the Author

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.

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