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.