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Preserving Food, Basic Methods
There are a variety of ways to preserve your food without all the chemicals or cost of the pre-packaged varieties. Food can be frozen, canned, pickled or dried, and will keep anywhere from several weeks to a few years.
Some methods will alter the food a bit, sometimes making it better, or a whole new treat on its own. Some things won't be altered at all, and some will only really be good cooked in something. Experimentation will be necessary to figure out what fits best into your schedule.
Freezing is a great way of preserving foods. Freezing basically pauses the deterioration of most foods, and greatly slows it in others. It is usually cheaper to buy produce pre-frozen, or in bulk when it's on sale if you decide on freezing.
Frozen foods aren't nearly as likely to spoil durings hipping. Seasonal produce can also be kept more freely available frozen, so it tends to cost less. Freezing is a great option for leftovers, or even home-made TV dinners. It allows you to become your own personal chef.
Freezing does tend to cause frostbite and foods drying out, however. Some foods have to be placed further from the door or they could defrost and re-freeze, which can cause spoiling, freezer burn, and occasionally mold.Freezing is the easiest method, but it needs to be done properly to be effective. Proper freezing merely requires freezing the meats or vegetables individually and then bagging them together once frozen.
Here are some tips for successful freezing:
- Some foods,especially produce, will freeze better if they have been cut up.
- Most meals and leftovers can just be bagged or put into an airtight container and frozen as is.
- Rice and pasta tend to dry out quickly unless covered in sauce.
- Liquids need some air at the top as they will expand when frozen.
- To avoid frostbite, make sure you get as much air as possible out of the containers.
- With liquids you will probably have to experiment a little to figure out just how much air is needed.
- Foods with frostbite are still safe to eat, but they do NOT taste the same.
Canning and Pickling
Canning and pickling are two other great options. The difference is the seal.
- Pickling is immersing a food into an acidic or sugary
liquid. The acids and sugars prevent bacteria from getting to the
- Canning is giving it an airtight seal and a quick scalding.
This prevents airborne bacteria from getting in the container
in the first place, and kills of a good deal of the bacteria
already in the food.
When combined, this method of preservation can last for ten years or or more. This is however the most time and work consuming method. The foods must be prepared, usually to the recipe exactly. If you stray far from the recipe the food will not preserve or seal properly. You then fill the jars and cap them with new lids.
It's very hard to find old fashioned lids, and they were much more work than the new ones. You can reuse the jars,but you do need new lids every time. For canning, the jars are then either immersed in boiling water or in a pressure canner/cooker for a certain amount of time. They then need to be removed from the liquid and set to 'rest' until the lids pop down.
The lids pop as the air inside the jar cools and shrinks. The pop lets you know that the can has sealed. If the can didn't seal it's contents need to kept in the fridge and eaten. The sealed ones can be kept almost anywhere except the freezer. They will explode in the freezer.
Drying is another way to preserve food. This is about as difficult as freezing, but a little more time consuming. The food will need to be prepared. Fruits and veggies are usually sliced or cut up into chunks. Meats will need to be cut up and salted. The big deal here is no seeds, pits or bones. If you don't like skins those need to go too. You will want as uniform pieces as possible, more so with an electric dehydrator or oven than with air drying.
Produce should be dipped into an acidic solution, like lemon or pineapple juice, for color retention. Honey will also work. While this is not necessary, it does help keep the color and preserve the flavors of the foods longer. A sulfur dioxide treatment can also be used, but takes much more work. After the food has been treated, it can be dried in a commercial dehydrator, a low temp oven, or sun dried outside.
There are a few different types of directions for a solar dehydrators online, but if you live in a hot climate, a cake pan covered loosely with plastic or glass will work just as well. The cover isn't necessary, but the local squirrels and birds will consider the lack of a cover to be a dinner invitation.
Preserving your own foods is a great way to save money and eat healthy. If you combine any of these methods with bulk-purchasing or even your own garden, you will have given yourself much more control over your grocery budget, menu, and be able to keep specific foods on
hand year round.