Off the Grid Food Preservation Techniques

Lisa Lynn, from The Self Sufficient Home Acre presented alternative ways to preserve food during the 2014 Survival Summit. Food preservation is important because fresh food has a short shelf life. Extending the life of food allows for less waste. We all need to expand our preservation skills as part of our survival plans. We have no guarantee that we will have food in the future just because we have some today. Whether we acquire food from a grocery store or by foraging, hunting, fishing or gardening, these tips are useful.

Some preservation techniques require purchasing additional equipment, like pressure or waterbath canners, vacuum sealers and their supplies. In the long run, you can save money and more importantly, you know the quality and the source of the food you preserve. There are several techniques that can be used without electricity.

Root cellars and clamping involve storing fruits and vegetables in cool storage. Root cellars need to be below ground far enough to be below the freeze zone. They need to have good ventilation and a way to control the humidity and temperature as different crops have varied optimum storage requirements. Clamping involves digging a trench, adding straw layers below and above the stored food, covering the straw with soil and a tarp. Stored items need to be checked frequently, using or discarding the oldest or any that are past their prime. Remember one rotten apple can spoil the rest.

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables allows for longer storage time, the food is often much lighter and more portable.  Herbs can be dried by simply hanging them in a dry place out of direct sunlight.

The Sun Oven® can be used for dehydrating fruit, vegetables or meat. You need to watch the temperature so the food doesn’t get cooked. Alternatively, you can build a fire, cover it with a lattice of branches, then smoke and dehydrate at the same time.

If you smoke meat, the temperature should be 145º F. Adding green wood, small twigs & branches to a low fire will create lots of smoke. The length of drying time will depend on the thickness of the meat slices. Adding salt to thin strips will speed up the process. Salt is a natural preservative. It draws moisture out and kills bacteria. To extend the shelf life, add ground celery seed as natural nitrates to kill bacteria. The drier the meat, the longer you can keep it. Moist cured meat should be used within six months. Store it in temperatures from 36-40º F. Place it in an air-tight, non-reactive container – don’t use cast iron or aluminum pans. Fish can also be smoked and dried or salted and air dried.

Fermenting and culturing food with bacteria and yeast causes a chemical change in the food that allows it to be kept for a longer time. Examples of fermented and cultured food include sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt, kimchee and pickles. The probiotics present in this process increase the nutrition and digestibility of foods.This process creates some marvelous, complex flavors. Plan to use jars or crocks and colored sea salt (not processed). The standard fermenting recipe is 6 TBS salt to 1/2 gallon water. Lactobacilli thrive in a fermenting environment and repel other decomposing bacteria. Make a liquid to submerge the vegetables. Cover and watch for bubbles, that’s a sign the process is working. You will need to add an airlock valve or burp the lid from time to time to let the gas out. Store in a cool place. Fermented foods will keep for several months, but most foods are not suited for very long storage.

Editor’s Note: After Hurricane Ivan, a friend of ours dug a pit in the ground, lined it with plastic bags, straw and rock salt. Into it she placed the frozen contents of her freezer, covered it with plastic bags, followed by more rock salt and straw and topped with styrofoam. Things stayed frozen for nearly two weeks in the hot Florida weather. 

Dehydrating Apples in a Sun Oven®

Apple harvest time this year produced lots of fruit. We canned slices, made apple sauce and dried some. The SunOven® works well as a fruit dehydrator. First we set the SunOven® outside, but not focused on the sun. We wanted a slight preheat but to less than 100º.   Apples were washed and aligned in a Norpro “Apple Master”, an apple peeler, corer, and slicer. A few turns of the handle made quick work of the first apple. Slide the apple spiral slices off the core and place them on a cutting board.

dehydrating apples in sun oven

Slice the spiral in half.  Place the apple slices in a solution of water and Fruit Fresh® ascorbic acid (follow directions on bottle) to keep the slices from turning dark.

dehydrating apples in a SunOven®

Cover the drying racks with parchment paper and drain apple slices. Line them up on the racks. Carefully arrange the racks inside the SunOven®. Leave the door latches under the glass door to allow air flow and keep the temperature low inside. We turn the oven so it is behind the sun track. Check at the end of the day. If not completely dry, latch and leave over night. Finish the next day. When slices are dry, remove from racks and pack into a clean glass jar. Add an oxygen absorber and pull a vacuum with a Food Saver® or by hand with a clean brake bleeder. Store cool and dark.

dehydrating apples in a Sun Oven®

November 2013, Every Needful Thing                               Billie A. Nicholson, editor

Sun Oven Dehydrated Peaches

Summer is almost over, which means my favorite fruit, peaches, will soon disappear from the markets. Fresh, in pies, cobblers, or jams – I could eat them every day. This is my first batch dehydrated in the Sun Oven. I plan on enjoying them in the dead of winter – if I can resist that long.

Since I’d never dehydrated anything other than tomatoes before, I did a quick search for some tips. The best information I found was on the Georgia Peaches website – you can find it here. They recommend dipping the slices in an ascorbic acid or some kind of sugar solution to help preserve the color of the fruit. I chose the ascorbic acid (Fresh Fruit) option because I didn’t want any added sugar. I also got the idea to use cheese cloth to line the racks.

Unfortunately, after all the time I spent searching for help and then preparing the fruit, I didn’t get the peaches in the oven until almost noon. By the end of the day they were not quite done (but that didn’t stop me from eating half the top layer) but a couple of hours tomorrow should do the trick.

To use a Sun Oven as a dehydrator, prop the glass door open by letting it rest on the metal clasps. This will let the moisture escape. Then, position the oven so it’s not directly in the sun. You want to reach a temperature of 150F or so. The Sun Oven will need to be repositioned every half hour or so to keep it from getting too hot. The hardest part of Sun Oven drying is keeping the temperature low enough. I set a timer (one that I can hear from anywhere in the house) to remind myself to move the oven.

Sun Oven Blueberry Pastries

I subscribe to the King Arthur Flour company’s emails and every now and then I find a recipe in my inbox that I just have to try immediately.

This one for hand-held pies is one of them. The pastry dough is rich and flaky and they’re almost as much fun to make as they are to eat.

The complete recipe, with detailed instructions on how to execute it, can be found here. They use something called instant ClearJel as a thickener for the filling. I used cornstarch instead.

The baking time in the Sun Oven was about 40 minutes. I used the stackable baking racks, if you don’t have them you could use two cross-stacked rimmed baking sheets or bake the pies in two batches.

I believe they’re meant to be breakfast pastries, but for us solar chefs they make a great afternoon treat.

Solar Baked Oatmeal Bites

A cross between a cracker and a cookie, these super easy to make, slightly sweet squares go well with cheese, soups, or even yogurt.

Sun Oven Oat Crackers

Ingredients

1/2 cup steel cut oats

2/3 cup wholewheat flour

1 teaspoons baking powder

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Buttery Solar Baked Bridge Rolls

Rich, buttery, soft rolls from a traditional British recipe. Using a bread machine to knead the dough and a Sun Oven to bake them means next to no work for the baker. This recipe makes a dozen rolls and fits perfectly in the Sun Oven’s cooking chamber.

Sun Oven Bridge Rolls

Ingredients

1 egg

7 tablespoons milk

2 cups white bread flour

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup butter

1 teaspoon salt

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Solar Spicy Molasses Cookies

When baking cookies in the Sun Oven there are three things to keep in mind: adjust the tilt of the Sun Oven before putting the cookies in the cooking chamber, use rimmed baking sheets, and set a timer. Due to the high fat content of cookies they can easily slide off the pans. Getting the leveling tray as flat as possible and a rimmed baking sheet (or the rim of the dehydrating racks) will stop that from happening. The cooking time is short enough that you won’t have to readjust the tilt while they’re baking. The fat content also make cookies one of the few foods that can burn in the Sun Oven. A timer will solve that problem. You don’t need the dehydrating rakes to bake drop cookies but they make it a lot easier.

Sun Oven Molasses Cookies

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

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Solar Breakfast Bars

Now that we live in the L.A. area long commutes are becoming a part of life. What should be a 20 minute trip can take an hour (on a good day) or more. Easy to eat, fun snacks like these oatmeal bars help make sitting in traffic a little more bearable. This recipe is pretty basic. It can be jazzed up with mix-ins such as chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or dried fruit.

Ingredients

3 cups old-fashioned oats

2/3 cup whole-wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg, beaten

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Sun Oven Holiday Baking

I can’t remember the last time I baked sugar cookies. I don’t have the patience, let alone the skill, for fancy decoration. Food coloring or decorating sugars are not things I keep on hand, and, at least until now, it was hard to fit very many cookies in the Sun Oven at one time, but after my recent cake calamity I was left with a craving for something sweet. When I saw a sugar cookie baking mix at Trader Joe’s I couldn’t resist.

The dehydrating racks took care of the space issue. The mix comes with frosting and sparkling sugar and, with a yield of only about two dozen, I managed to muster up the patience to frost them. Cookie cutters were not an issue. I pick them up at yard sales or thrift stores, and now  have an extensive collection of them, so it was nice to get a chance to use a few.

Blackout Solar Cookies

We were among the thousands of Los Angeles area residents without power after the massive windstorm Thursday night so I finally got to use my Sun Oven in an emergency situation. What did I make? Cookies, of course. I thought, based on the estimate given to us by the power company, that the outage would be fixed by early evening. If I’d known we’d be without power until the following day I might have rustled together something for dinner instead, but cookies were on my schedule so that’s what I made. We had just enough sunshine to get the job done.

Big Sun Oven Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

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corin