How to Preserve Food at Home
Techniques to preserve food at home help prevent spoilage, keep the pantry stocked with healthy food, and save money.
The rewards of preserving food at home are immense for self-satisfaction and the healthy goodness provided for your home. Fortunately, there are a variety of techniques to preserve the food grown in your garden or purchased in bulk. Which one(s) works best for you?
Root Cellars and Other Storage
Of all the food preservation options, cool, dark storage is the easiest. When you have exceeded the space in your extra refrigerator or ice box, root cellars, pantries, and nooks in an unheated basement are common spaces for storage.
Drying and dehydrating foods is an easy, basic method to preserve food. An oven, a food dehydrator, or a drying box will effectively dry food. In addition, fruit can be dried when placed out in dry, sunny weather. Once dried, store foods in airtight containers to keep out moisture, which can introduce microorganisms and spoilage.
There are three types of canning that use heat to process food in jars: water bath, steam, and pressure.
- Water Bath Canning: This process involves putting foods in sterilized jars in a large stockpot and heating them in water at a high temperature. The process pushes air out of the jar and vacuum seals the jar as it cools.
- Steam Canning: Steam canning follows a similar process as water bath canning but uses steam to preserve food, not boiling water.
- Pressure Canning: Special equipment is needed for pressure canning, which is a process that uses high-temperature, high-pressure steam to preserve jars of food enclosed in the pressure canner. Storage and jar protection are important upon completion of any type of canning, so use protective, stackable, and versatile storage such as that provided by the LEM Canning SafeCrates.
Smoking dries out meat, which helps to keep it from spoiling, and infuses it with a smoky flavor. Many believe smoking makes meat taste better, which is a preference but hard to argue. Smoking meat is typically a matter of hanging or placing it on a rack in a smoker, smokehouse, or grill with a smoke-box attachment. Different hardwoods give the meat different flavors. Low, indirect heat allows the smoke to waft over the meat and the amount of time the smoke wafts determines how much smoke gets absorbed into the meat.
Freezing inhibits spoilage by slowing the reproduction of bacteria on food and preserves flavors and textures. The process is simple: place food in a freezer bag, remove all air from the bag, and freeze. Frozen food is best when consumed within six months of freezing.
Freeze-drying works by lowering the temperature of a deep freezer or freeze-dryer to its lowest temperature. A freeze-dryer quickens the process with a vacuum that removes moisture. After 2 to 3 weeks in a deep freezer or 24 hours in a freeze-dryer, the food is placed into mylar bags and sealed. Fortunately, freeze-drying works for nearly any food, but certain vegetables, fruits with high sugar content, and meats require primary care before launching into the process. Respectively, leafy veggies need to be blanched, fruits sliced into small pieces, and fat-trimmed. For foods that do not store well, like creamy soups, hot dishes, seeds, and dairy products, freeze-drying is a go-to.
Fermented food is processed by involving starter cultures that pre-digest food using microbes. The process, which breaks down carbohydrates, has been used for centuries to make cheese and yogurt and is used today to create food like sourdough bread, chocolate, sauerkraut, wine, and kombucha. Masontops Complete Fermentation Kit has all the tools and information needed for beginners and expert fermenters. Another good option is the LEM Water Seal Crock Set (10 liters), a ceramic water-seal crock set that creates an airtight seal to begin the fermentation process.
Preservation in Salt & Sugar
Salting food to draw moisture out is often an initial step in drying, smoking, or fermenting food, commonly meat. Sugar also reduces water content but should be employed with foods that benefit from a sweet taste, like those destined for jams and jellies.
Pickling is an ancient preservation technique that involves sealing food in a highly acidic environment to inhibit microbial action. Vinegar is typically the high-acid liquid used in pickling. The process changes the flavor and texture of food but preserves it for up to half a year. The process is as simple as boiling the vinegar, which can be mixed with salt, water, and sugar, pouring the solution into a jar with the food, cooling, then refrigerating. For more extended storage, the process should start with the brining of the food, then follow the above process.
Another simple way of preserving food, alcohol immersion removes water and prevents bacteria growth. The type of alcohol imparts its flavor in the taste of the food, so be aware that your food will taste like your choice of alcohol.
Olive Oil Immersion
Olive oil is a natural food preservative that is commonly used in Mediterranean countries. All foods preserved in olive oil are protected against oxidation, but heat treatment and other guidelines may be necessary before preservation, depending on the food item.
If you are ready for a new adventure in providing fresh food at home, make butter. The LEM Butter Making Starter Kit has all the tools and instructions you need to turn whipping cream into real butter in minutes.
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