The Ultimate Guide to Food Preservation

Check out this guide to food preservation to learn all about canning, freezing, food dehydration and more.
By Nicole Faires
August 2012
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Whether you are simply interested in learning how to compost or are striving to live completely off the grid, “The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading” offers something for anyone looking to increase their quality of life and decrease their carbon footprint.
Courtesy Skyhorse Publishing
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From building a yurt and raising animals to food preservation and herbal remedies, The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011) by Nicole Faires is all you need to live off the land. With diagrams, charts, photographs, original illustrations and comprehensive, detailed instructions that anyone can follow with relatively few supplies, this massive full-color book answers all of your self-sufficiency questions. Learn everything you need to know about food preservation in this excerpt from Chapter 7, “Food, Field, and Garden.” 

The Ultimate Guide to Freezing Food

What is blanching? 

Before freezing vegetables, you must blanch them. There are two ways to do this: boiling and steaming. Blanching slows or stops the enzymes that make vegetables lose their flavor and color. If you blanch too much then they will lose nutritional value, but blanching too little will speed up the enzymes.

How to blanch using the boiling method: 

1. Wash, drain, sort, trim, cut vegetables.

2. Put one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetables, or two gallons per pound of leafy greens, into a pot and bring to a boil.

3. Put vegetables into a wire basket, coarse mesh bag or metal strainer and lower into the pot.

4. Keep boiling for the specified time for that kind of vegetable.

5. Cool the vegetables in ice water for the same time that you boiled them (except corn on the cob), stirring occasionally.

6. Drain thoroughly and pack into a container and freeze.

How to blanch using the steam method: 

• Asparagus: small stalk, 2 minutes; medium stalk, 3 minutes; large or all stalk, 4 minutes.
• Broccoli: 5 minutes.
• Brussels sprouts: small heads, 3 minutes; medium heads, 4 minutes; large or all heads, 5 minutes.
• Butter beans: small, 2 minutes; medium, 3 minutes; large or all, 4 minutes.
• Cabbage: shredded, 1 1/2 minutes; wedges, 3 minutes.
• Carrots: whole, 5 minutes; diced or sliced, 2 minutes.
• Cauliflower: 3 minutes.
• Celery: 3 minutes.
• Collard greens: 3 minutes.
• Corn on the cob (Note: cooling is twice the time): small ears, 7 minutes; medium ears, 9 minutes; large or all ears, 11 minutes.
• Corn whole kernel/cream style: 4 minutes.
• Eggplant: 4 minutes.
• Globe hearts artichoke: 7 minutes.
• Green beans: 3 minutes.
• Green peas: 2 minutes.
• Greens: 2 minutes.
• Irish potato: 3–5 minutes.
• Jerusalem artichoke: 3–5 minutes.
• Kohlrabi: whole, 3 minutes; cubes, 1 minute.
• Lima beans: small, 2 minutes; medium, 3 minutes; larger or all, 4 minutes.
• Mushrooms: whole steamed, 5 minutes; slices steamed, 5 minutes; buttons/ quarters steamed, 3 1/2 minutes.
• Okra: small pods, 3 minutes; medium pods, 4 minutes.
• Onions: until center is heated, 3–7 minutes.
• Parsnips: 2 minutes.
• Peas: edible pod, 1 1/2–3 minutes.
• Pinto beans: small, 2 minutes; medium, 3 minutes; large or all, 4 minutes.
• Rutabagas: 3 minutes.
• Snap beans: 3 minutes.
• Soybeans: green, 3 minutes.
• Summer squash: 2 minutes.
• Sweet peppers: halves, 3 minutes; strips/rings, 2 minutes.
• Turnips: 2 minutes.
• Wax beans: 3 minutes.

Freezing directions: 

1. Gather freezing equipment: bags, steamers, and pots. Turn the freezer temperature to -10° F a day ahead of time.

2. Boil vegetables (or blanch if necessary), then chill in ice water. Use only the freshest and best food, and smaller is better—use not-quite-full-grown vegetables such as baby carrots and half-grown beans. Fruit can be treated by adding a bit of lemon juice, or adding 1/2 cup of sugar per 1 pound of fruit.

3. Cut as needed and put in plastic freezer baggies or wide-mouthed jars (leave 1 inch to spare at the top). Label them with type of food and the date.

4. Put bags in the freezer, and once they are frozen, turn the temperature back to 0° F. Frozen fruits and vegetables last about year (except onions), and baked foods last 6 months. Animal products and meat only last 3–6 months, so be careful.

Running a freezer: 

The best temperature is -5° F, but to save energy you can go as high as 0° (but no higher!). Put cartons or buckets full of water into the bottom of your freezer, so if the electricity goes out, food will last longer, and you will have a small water supply. Keep the freezer in the coolest room of the house, but not where it freezes since it can withstand hot temperatures but not cold.

Food preservation if the electricity goes out: 

Keep the door closed, and cover the freezer with blankets except for the motor vent, if you know the power is coming back on soon. If it isn’t, you will have to pull everything out and use non-electric food preservation.

1. The first thing to do is to build an outside refrigerator using a cooler. Dig a big hole in the ground, stick the cooler in and insulate it with materials like straw and bricks and then cover it up with something very heavy so animals don’t get in. I would also move lots of stuff from the fridge into the cold storage. If you have a running stream you can try to create a waterproof container for food, which would keep it even colder.

2. However, meat won’t keep long in a cooler. Use a fire or barbecue to cook some of the meat that you plan to eat in the next week. Cooked meat will stay good just being refrigerated much longer than raw meat, probably 5–6 days. The rest of the meat you need to salt and dry. You could smoke the meat, but to do this properly takes a smokehouse and several weeks of time and constant vigilance. If you suddenly have to take care of all your meat, salting is much more practical.

3. Clean the meat, and cut off anything you don’t like, but you might want to leave the fat because that can be valuable later. Dry it off thoroughly and you can leave it whole, but it is easier to cut it into smaller strips to make it more likely to preserve in the middle. Rub spices into them, and then rub tons and tons of salt into them.

4. When you’ve rubbed in as much salt as you can, then cover it in a layer of salt to coat it. Hang it up somewhere that is about 59° F for at least 3 weeks, checking often for spoilage. A basement or cold storage is ideal. When you are ready to cook it, wash off the salt. The way this works is that the salt dissolves into the water in the meat and prevents bacteria from growing if that balance is greater than 3.5 percent salt to water. You want it to be over 10 percent, which you can’t really control but if you rub tons of salt in there you can be pretty sure you’ve got it.

Food that does better if you freeze it than drying or canning it: 

Asparagus, sweet green peas, snow peas, whole berries, melons, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, freshwater fish.

Food that you can’t refreeze after it’s been thawed: 

Any kind of meat, ice cream, and vegetables. Fruit and bread you can refreeze without any problems.

The Ultimate Guide to Canning Food

Note: If canning isn’t done properly, you can end up with botulism and die. Follow the instructions exactly, and use proper jars and seals. 

Canning equipment: 

Pressure canner, enameled canner, glass canning jars, a sieve, canning jar lids and seals, wide-mouthed funnel, rubber gloves, jar tongs or lifters, a loud timer.

The canners: 

A pressure canner has a dial-type temperature gauge, pressure regulator, and lock down clamps. It is not recommended to can without an accurate pressure regulator. In the old days it was done but today, and for beginners, always use one. This is because water boils at 212° F, not hot enough to kill all bacteria, so pressure is used to raise the temperature to 250° F.

An enameled canner is blue or black with white speckles, has a lid and canning rack, and is used for sterilizing and boiling things. It is also used to can things such as fruit that has lots of acid so it’s safe to can—which is called water bath canning.

The jars: 

The jars must be heavy mason or mason-type jars made for canning. Using old mayonnaise jars doesn’t work because they break very easily under pressure (although it is possible in an enameled canner). Some companies are now selling classic mason jars with the wire bail lids, but the cheapest method is to get reusable jars and get new lid and screw bands. This type has a small lid with a rubber seal, and a metal band or ring that tightens it (the rubber seal can be used once, but the ring can be re-used). Then you throw out just the lid after one use. Never use cracked, chipped jars, or jars with a worn rim.

Pressure canning: 

1. Prepare the food for canning by blanching, skinning, pitting, slicing, and poaching as needed (use a canning recipe for each mixture). Use only the best fruit, and make sure to remove all the bruised or infected parts.

2. Boil all your plastic and stainless steel equipment for 30 minutes, then wrap in a clean towel. Wipe down counters with chlorine scouring powder (like Comet) or other antibacterial solution, and rinse with boiling water. Dip knives with wooden handles in boiling water. Wash canning jars and put in simmering water (180° F) for 10 minutes. Heat canning lids in hot water but don’t boil.

3. Put the food into the canning jar and add liquid to within a 1/2 inch from the top (for air space). Put on a lid snugly, but not so tight that air can’t escape.

4. Put the jars in a rack in the pressure canner with 2–3 inches of boiling water in the bottom. Make sure the jars don’t touch the sides, the bottom of the canner, or other jars. Fasten the lid and open the petcock. For fruit: Put jars in the rack, and cover with 2 inches of briskly boiling water. Put the lid on, but don’t fasten it down. Leave the petcock open so that steam can escape.

5. Turn on the heat until steam comes out of the petcock in a steady stream (about 10 minutes). When the steam is nearly invisible 1 or 2 inches from the petcock, close the petcock.

6. Raise pressure rapidly to 2 pounds less than you need, then lower the heat and bring up the pressure the remaining 2 pounds slowly. This process should last for the amount of time specified for that particular food. Turn off the heat and let the pressure drop to zero. Wait 2 minutes, and then slowly open the petcock. Open the lid away from you so you won’t get burned by steam, or just wait a while until it cools.

7. Pull the jars out with tongs, holding them straight upright (don’t tip them!); let them cool on a dry, non-metal surface for at least 20 hours. When they are cool, test the seals, wash, dry and label them, remove the jar rings, and store in a cool, dry, and dark place.

Pressure canning altitude adjustments: 

To use: find out your altitude, and for every thousand feet use the appropriate pounds (see the chart in the Image Gallery). The poundage raises the temperature (which takes longer the higher you are).

Water-bath canning: 

1. Use only highly acidic foods such as high-acid tomatoes and tomato sauce (no mushrooms or meat), jam, jelly, juices, barbecue sauce, chili sauce, relish, pickles, etc., or use a recipe which calls for an acidic additive specifically for water-bath canning in an enamel canner. If you are in doubt of the acidity of something, add 2 tablespoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (vitamin C) per quart.

2. Clean and sterilize the jars by boiling and heat lids (same as step 2 for pressure canning), then fill the jars with the hot food (as called for in the recipe). Put a new lid on the jar and screw on a ring firmly.

3. Fill the canner with water so that when the jars are put in the water will reach 1–2 inches above the top of the tallest jars. Bring to boil, and put the jars into the wire rack in the canner. This is the water bath. Put the cover on and let it reach a full rolling boil.

4. Processing time starts when the water reaches full boil. At the end of the processing time (check the recipe), lift out each jar carefully, and place on dry folded towels. Each jar will seal and you will usually hear a ping as the lid is sucked in. Don’t touch them until they are cool.

5. The next day (usually takes a long time to cool), remove the rings, check for a good seal, wash the jar, label it with contents and date, and put it in a cool, dark, dry place.

Water-bath canning altitude adjustments: 

See the chart in the Image Gallery for altitude adjustments for water-bath canning.

Food safety rules for food preservation by canning: 

• Never eat from a jar that has lost its seal. It won’t make a suction noise when you open it, and the lid won’t be sucked in.
• When canning, make sure the temperature is high enough and that you do it for a long enough time.
• Keep the jars stored below 40° F.
• Cook canned food for at least 10 minutes at boiling or 350° F in the oven before eating.
• Don’t use recipes or methods from before the mid-1980s—always use modern recipes.
• Throw out anything with mold—don’t try to scrape it off. Store jars loosely to prevent mold.
• Don’t use jars larger than a quart because they can’t be heated enough.
• Check the top rim of the jars for nicks before you use them.
• If your boil drops or your temperature drops at any time, start over completely from the beginning.
• A boil means a super-hot-really bubbling boil, not tiny bubbles.
• Put hot food in hot jars and cold food in cold jars as temperature changes will break the glass.
• Don’t put hot jars on a cold surface or in cold air.
• Check the processing time for altitude and adjust as needed.
• If your water bath is not covering the jars by at least an inch, cover with more boiling water.
• Add a piece of tomato to everything you can. Tomato has enough acid in it to prevent botulism from occurring.

How long canned food lasts: 

Government authorities say that canned food lasts 1 year, and that’s when you should throw it out. However, most home canners use their food far after that time period without problems. If you follow all the safety rules your food should be fine for a very long time, even 10–20 years. However, it will not have the same nutritional value and the longer you wait the bigger the risk.

The Ultimate Guide to Dehydrating Food

About using food dehydrators for food preservation: 

A food dehydrator can dry food of any kind (including chips, jerky, and fruit leather). It can make stale chips and crackers taste better, de-crystalize honey, dry bread sticks, pasta, flowers, dyed wool, start seedlings, grow sprouts and make yogurt. A low-wattage dehydrator can run well on a home power source.

How to dry herbs by hanging: 

Bunch the plant and tie up with a string. Then hang them upside down from the ceiling. It should take about 2 weeks to completely dry, and they will also hold their flavor longer if you keep them this way. When you are ready to use them, remove the leaves and crumble them up. Make sure the room is cool, dry and airy.

How to screen dry (fruits, vegetables, herbs and seed pods) in the sun: 

1. Use ripe fruits and vegetables. For fruit leather they can be overripe. Wash them thoroughly, peel, and slice very thin unless you are doing peas or corn. For seed pods, harvest before they burst.

2. Dip fruits in a gallon of water that contains 6 tablespoons of pickling salt and soak for no more than 5 minutes. Blanch vegetables, and chill in cold water, then soak up the water with a cloth. Prepare fruit leather.

3. Spread one layer on a drying tray (remember to line with plastic when doing leather). Keep moist foods away from dry foods—in fact, it is best if each type of food is dried separately. Label everything so you know what it is.

4. Put the trays in the hot sun, or in your oven or electric dryer. Dry at a low enough temperature that it doesn’t cook, but high enough that it will dry before it spoils.

5. Turn big chunks of food three times a day, and small foods once or twice a day. In a dehydrator, move almost dry food to the top, and moist food to the bottom.

6. Vegetables are dry when they are brittle and break when bent. Fruits are leathery or brittle, and should produce no moisture drops when squeezed. Pods will become dry and brittle.

7. Put the food into a wide-mouthed bowl for a week, stirring it 2–3 times per day. Keep it covered with a screen or porous cloth. This conditions the food to resist mold. Then repack it more tightly somewhere else.

8. If you want to pasteurize, put it in the oven for 30 minutes at 175° F. Store dried foods in the dark, or in a dark container or it will lose nutrients. Remember to label, and check it in the first 2 weeks for moisture—if there is some, dry some more.

9. Food should stay good for at least 6 months and more. If you have bugs, remove the bugs and roast food item for 300° F for 30 minutes.

Homemade fruit leather and vegetable leather: 

1. Even fruit that has already started fermenting can still make good leather. Wash, peel, remove seeds and pits, then grind the fruit up by mashing or blending. Vegetables must be precooked and spiced and sweetened to taste (although it will be sweeter when it is dried so do it very lightly).

2. The puree must be thin enough to pour but not too thin to be watery. If it is too thick, add fruit juice or water. If it is too thin, add another kind of fruit puree.

3. Line the tray with plastic wrap, then pour the puree onto it. Tilt the tray to make it the same depth all over. The best drying temperature is 120° F.

4. Dry until the leather is still slightly sticky but peels easily from the plastic. Cut into strips and roll up with the plastic wrap.

Sun-dried jerky: 

Cut meat into a lean, trimmed strips 1 1/2 inches by 1/2 inch and as long as you want, cut along the grain. Trim off tendons, gristle, and fat, and sprinkle with ground pepper and salt. Dry in the sun 4 feet above a slow fire. The firewood should be non-resinous hardwood (green is ok) and flames kept very low because the fire is just to keep away birds and flies. Dry in the middle of the day, not at time when dew may cover it.

The Ultimate Guide to Storing Eggs

Cold storage: 

Don’t store the eggs near anything smelly like onions. Pack the eggs in a wood, plastic, or ceramic container in sawdust or oatmeal with the small end down. If you don’t have cold storage, use the fridge, basement, or root cellar. Use eggs that you gather as soon after laying as possible. Eggs in the fridge will last 6 weeks, but if you seal fresh eggs in plastic bags they will last 2 months. If they are stored at 30–40° F in fairly high humidity they will store about 3 months.

Pickled eggs: 

Hard boil eggs, cool, and remove the shells. Soak the eggs in a brine of 1/2 cup of salt per 2 cups water for 2 days. Pour off brine and heat 1 quart vinegar, 1/4 cup pickling spice, 2 cloves garlic, and 1 tablespoon sugar to boiling, pour it over the eggs and leave for 7 days to cure.

Freezing: 

Use only very fresh, clean eggs (not ones that you had to clean). Crack the eggs and put the contents into the freezer container. Only freeze as many eggs per container that you will use at one time because you can’t refreeze the eggs once you thaw them. Stir together without whipping in air, and add 1 tablespoon of sugar or 1/2 teaspoon of salt per cup of egg. They will store 8 months.

Drying: 

Beat very fresh eggs well and pour into a layer 1/8 inch thick onto a drying surface that is lined with plastic or foil. Plates work for outside, and pans work for the oven, or you can use a dehydrator. In an oven or dryer, dry at 120° for 24–36 hours, then turn the egg over, remove the plastic or foil, break it up and dry for 12–24 more hours. In the sun, it will take 5 days until they are dry enough to break easily when touched. Grind the egg into a powder and use in baking, or to reconstitute add an equal amount of water (1/2 cup egg powder with 1/2 cup water). Dried eggs will last 3–4 months.

Lard pack: 

Use very fresh clean eggs and dip in melted lard. Then pack the eggs in salt in a large bucket so that no eggs touch each other. Put the eggs in a cool place such as a root cellar, and they may stay good for a year.

The Ultimate Guide to Live Storage

What is live storage? 

Live storage is a way of keeping certain vegetables and fruits in a cellar over a long period of time without any processing. The best plants for this are pumpkins, potatoes, dry beans and peas, onions, parsnips, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, tomatoes, and most other root vegetables.

Preparation: 

When preparing to store foods in a live storage, leave the dirt on, which will help preserve the food from decay. Use untreated wood bins, plastic buckets, or enamel cans, and keep fruits away from vegetables because the gas produced by apples can cause vegetables to sprout. Pack root vegetables in damp sawdust, sand, or moss. Keep potatoes out of any light or they will turn green and be poisonous.

Maintaining the storage: 

Put a thermometer on the inside and outside of the cellar and monitor the temperature every day. Use doors and windows to maintain a temperature of 32°F, opening the door in cold weather and closing the door in really cold weather and really hot weather. The food needs humidity so it doesn’t dry out, usually 60–75 percent, so if necessary put out pans of water, sprinkle the floor with water, or cover the floor with damp sawdust. If it is too damp, take pumpkins, squash, and onions to a dryer area or they will rot. Remove all spoiled food, and if something is about to spoil, dry it or can it quickly before it rots. Throw it out if something is rotting, molding, and treat for insects right away.

The Ultimate Guide to Storing Honey

Saving honey: 

Honey does not need to be frozen, canned, or refrigerated and keeps well in any type of container. Don’t refrigerate it or it will crystallize sooner, and when storing for a long time don’t let it get warmer than 75°F or it will lose flavor. Use a container that has a wide mouth because eventually the honey will crystallize and then you won’t have to be pouring it, you can scoop. When you keep a small amount in your kitchen keep it in a warm place.

Types of preservation: 

Freezing: There is no need to freeze except that it doesn’t crystallize. Just warm it up and it will liquefy.

Crystallizing: This happens naturally to honey, and it simply dries. It can be used exactly the same in a recipe and to make it liquid you simply warm it up to 130°F as quickly as you can and then cool it as quickly you can. If it is in a can, put it on your woodstove. If in a jar, put it in a double boiler. Don’t let it get hotter than 130°F.

Read more: For more homesteading tips from The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading, read the articles Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks and Geese and A Guide to Horse Training and Handling.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading by Nicole Faires, published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2011. 


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