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Food preservation is a vital skill for homesteaders, people working towards self sufficiency, and anyone living a frugal lifestyle.
You spend all winter planning. Then all spring preparing and planting. Finally you spend all summer tending to and caring for your garden. Now harvest time is finally here and all that hard work is paying off. But what to do with all that food? Preserve it!
In this 8 part guide you will learn about the different methods of food preservation, along with some helpful tips for success, safety guidelines, and storage recommendations for all your homemade goodies!
But first, lets talk about why you should be preserving food, and a quick overview of the different methods.
Why should I preserve food?
There are so many great reasons to preserve your own food:
Food Preservation Saves Money
Buying food in bulk, in season, and preserving it for later is so much cheaper than running to the grocery store every time you need something. Even cheaper, nearly free, if you grow or hunt it yourself!
Prevents Food Waste
When you have a bumper crop, things will go bad before you can eat it all if you don’t preserve it somehow. If you grow or buy huge amounts of cheap, local produce or raise livestock, you need to find a way to keep it from spoiling before you can use it all.
It’s Eco Friendly
Preserving local or homegrown food cuts down on food packaging waste and the environmental impact of raising and transporting food. Plus, many foods are preserved in reusable jars or containers – less waste!
Food Preservation Gives You Control of Your Food
Because you made it yourself, you know exactly what is in it. You can avoid artificial ingredients, preservatives, excess sugar or salt, GMOs, other additives, or anything else you might want to avoid.
Fresh from the garden or farmers market, preserved at the peek of ripeness, always tastes better than store bought!
You control the flavors
Make things in flavor combinations you can’t easily find at the grocery store. Try out different recipes for unique jam flavors for example. Take a look at a good canning book and you will surely come across some awesome flavor combos you’ve never seen at the grocery store!
Preserving your own food will leave you less reliant on the grocery store. Knowing you can provide food for your family is a satisfying feeling.
You never know when there will be a natural disaster or some other type of emergency leaving the power out for days or weeks. In a situation like this, the grocery store shelves will likely be empty too. If you have a stock pile of preserved food, you know your family won’t go hungry.
It’s fun and creates precious family memories
My love of preserving came from my father. I have fond memories of freezing tomatoes, canning peaches, peppers, & pickles, and making jam with my dad and grandma. I hope to share this love and valuable skill with my daughter one day.
Types of Food Preservation
Whether you grow your own food, buy in bulk from a farmers market, or even find a great deal at the grocery store, you will need to find a way to preserve it so your food doesn’t go to waste. Here’s an overview of the 8 most common food preservation methods:
Preserving food in glass jars at high temperatures. You can can almost anything: fruits and veggies, salsas, pickles, jellies, condiments, meats, and more.
There are two types: water bath canning and pressure canning. What you are canning determines the method you use. High-acid foods can be safely canned in a water bath. Low-acid foods must be pressure canned to safely kill all spores and bacteria that can make your food go bad – and make you sick. You can read more about the different types in Part 2 of this series.
Freezing is one the easiest and most common food preservation methods. It’s fast, pretty simple, and doesn’t require any special equipment.
Freezing works for fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s great for preserving meat, and just about anything else you can think of. Whether you raise animals for meat, buy a whole animal locally, or find a great deal at the grocery store you can freeze it for later.
One drawback is limited space. If you plan on freezing large quantities, you may need to invest in a larger freezer.
Power outages is the other issue with freezing food. If the power goes out for extended periods, you risk your frozen foods going bad.
Dehydration works by removing moisture from foods in order to prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and bacteria. Many foods can last for years if properly dehydrated.
You can dehydrate fruits, vegetables, and meats. Drying is a great way to preserve herbs too. Try making some jerky, fruit leathers, sun-dried tomatoes, or dehydrated fruits for baking or snacking.
4. Making Jams & Jellies
Making jams and jellies is a way of preserving fruit with sugar, acid, and pectin, either canned in a water bath or frozen. This also conserves, marmalade, and preserves. Even fruit butters and chutneys are a similar way to preserve fruit with sugar.
Pickling is a way of preserving food with vinegar or a salt brine solution. The high-acid content prevents food from spoiling.
Think beyond regular cucumber pickles. You can pickle just about any fruit or vegetable! Try peppers, beets, green beans, or even peaches!
Similar to pickling, except the acidic environment is created by a chemical reaction between sugars in the food and naturally occurring bacteria rather than adding acid (such as vinegar when pickling).
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and miso are all fermented foods.
7. Smoking & Curing
Hot smoking preserves meat by removing moisture to prevent bacteria growth and killing microbes with heat. There are also compounds in the smoke that act as preservatives.
Curing preserves meat with salt, either with a dry rub of a salt mixture or in a liquid brine. The salt draws out moisture, preventing bacteria growth.
Smoking and curing work great together to preserve meat – think bacon!
8. Root Cellar
A root cellar is an old fashioned way to preserve produce over the winter. Usually an underground, or partially underground, room or structure that stays at the proper temperature and humidity level all winter.
If you have one, or room to create one, root cellars are great for storing your harvest for use all winter. You can store potatoes, apples, carrots, and more.
Food Preservation for Beginners
Food preservation doesn’t have to be difficult. Anyone can do it no matter where you live. You don’t even have to have a garden. Farmers markets, local farms or picking patches, and roadside produce stands are all great places to find delicious, seasonal, local food – and usually at a great price too!
Are you wondering “Do I need to go buy tons of special equipment to do this?” Yes and no – some methods do require more space and/or equipment to get started, but others (like freezing) require little to no special equipment at all.
One piece of “equipment” I highly recommend investing in, regardless of which type of food preservation you are interested in, is at least one good book on food preservation. They’re full of tested recipes, advice, helpful tips, and safety guidelines. You never know when you might need to quickly look something up!
Here are some of my favorites:
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Juli Kingry and Lauren Devine
- Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk and More by Leda Meredith
- The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour
Check out the rest of Food Preservation for Beginners for all you need to know to get started preserving your own food!
- Part 2: Canning for Beginners
- Part 3: Common Canning Mistakes to Avoid
- Part 4: Freezing Food for Beginners
- Part 5: Canning Jams & Jellies
- Part 6: Pickling & Fermenting
- Part 7: Smoking and Curing
- Part 8: Root Cellars & Storage