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11 Traditional Food Preservation Methods for Homesteaders
Food preservation is not a new concept. Before the days of modern technology, people had already devised several means of food preservation. Some work better than others and may work better for specific types of food. Regardless, you can effectively store and preserve nearly any kind of food using traditional food preservation methods.
Anyone interested in becoming self-sufficient, and living on a homestead, should feel comfortable preserving food without electricity or modern technology. It is not only a fulfilling life skill to have, but it will also prevent your food from spoiling when the power goes out.
To learn more about how you can preserve your food following traditional methods, read our guide below. But first, why should you learn traditional food preservation methods?
Why Learn Traditional Food Preservation Methods?
Learning how to preserve food is an important skill to know for becoming a self-sufficient individual, especially if you intend to live on a homestead or are planning for a SHTF scenario. Our ancestors were known to preserve meats, vegetables, and fruits for months and years without electricity. Their foods were natural, unprocessed, more nutritious, and more flavorful, and because of this, our ancestors were also healthier.
Whether you are a homesteader, a prepper, a gardener, or just curious about food preservation, it is important to learn traditional preservation methods to be able to store nutritious foods when power isn’t widely available.
Different Methods of Food Preservation
Cultures and people from across the world have developed different food preservation methods. These methods were shaped largely by the resources and tools available to a group of people. On our list, we decided to include both modern methods of food preservation as well as methods that have been practiced for thousands of years.
Smoking is a slow process wherein the smoke naturally preserves fish, avocadoes, meat, pineapple, asparagus, and eggplant. This method has been practiced for thousands of years, where Scandanavians and Native Americans in cold climates developed sophisticated techniques to smoke fish, and southern Europeans were proficient at smoking ham.
There are several kinds of smoking methods you may wish to try. The first method is cold smoking. With cold smoking, you keep the temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit as the smoke dries out the meat over the course of a couple of days. The other type of smoking is hot smoking. This keeps the temperature at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit and cooks the meat.
Using wood to smoke food helps preserve food for longer because wood has natural preservatives in it.
You may be used to using salt to cure meat before smoking. But salt is a method of preservation in and of itself. Salting dries your food, killing microbes and extending the lifespan of foods in the process.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to realize the preservation methods of salt, but this method of food preservation became popular in medieval Europe once salt was more widely available to the public.
With salting, you’d rub a thick layer of salt all over the food. You’d then hang the food in a cold area for at least a month. After a month, you can cook it.
You can preserve your fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs in salt. Note, however, that this method of food preservation takes up a lot of salt and time.
Dehydrating or Drying
Dehydrating or drying is one of the oldest and most ancient food preservation methods. Due to its effectiveness, people still widely use dehydration as a food preservation method today.
Our ancestors have found that you can preserve a vast number of food types through drying or dehydrating; however, they also found that there are some foods that are not suitable for this.
Foods that are well-suited for drying include many fruits like raisins, dates, apricots, and the like. Some vegetables also work well. These vegetables include tomatoes, mushrooms, and herbs.
Today, many foods come dry, like grains, legumes, and pseudo-cereals. These, when packaged properly in mylar bags or food-grade buckets, can be stored for up to 30 years.
Preserving vegetables and herbs in olive oil is remarkable. Once preserved in oil, vegetables and herbs will remain fresh almost indefinitely; however, preserving food in oil comes with its own disadvantages.
The first disadvantage is that eating food preserved in oil means you’re eating food with higher fat content. The second disadvantage is that the oils that you’ll be using in this food preservation method are costly and may hurt your wallet. So, unless you want to try preserving food using oil specifically, you may want to try out some of the other food preservation methods on this list.
This method of food preservation is well-suited for sundried tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, artichoke hearts, eggplants, and various types of cheeses.
Although you can technically use any type of oil, we recommend using healthy unrefined oils such as extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil. However, do keep in mind that these oils do go rancid with time, and you should aim to use preserved foods before the oil goes rancid.
In warmer climates, people who didn’t have regular downfalls of snow were able to use the natural cooling mechanisms of the earth to help preserve their food. Often, certain groups of people would dig a hole into the ground, then would clean the area of bugs and bacteria by lighting a fire in this whole. Then, they’d use reed mats or clay to line the hole before burying food that they’d put in containers. Root cellars were a popular storage method for Native American tribes.
The practice of using these mini root cellars makes use of the natural cooling properties of the earth by digging below the ground. Nowadays, homesteaders make use of the same principles and concepts. The difference is that today, modern-day root cellars may come in the form of larger rooms that can store more produce and food.
Canning is one of the newer food preservation methods, becoming popular in the early 19th century. Today, preserving food in cans or mason jars is one of the more popular food storage methods. This process involves heating and cooling foods to ensure pathogens are eliminated, and the seal is vacuum sealed, so it does not get contaminated.
Here are some of the food items you can water bath can:
- Pie filling
- Apple butter
- Tomato sauce
And here are some of the things you can pressure can:
- Different kinds of meat
- Meat and vegetable stocks and broths
- Different kinds of vegetables
- Dry beans
- Soups and stews
- Chili and baked beans
You can successfully water bath can and pressure can off-grid without electricity using a fire. Still, you’ll need to pay close attention to the temperature to make sure everything gets canned appropriately in order to avoid botulism.
Another classic method of food preservation is pickling. Pickling eggs, fruits, and vegetables not only extends the shelf life of food but can also give them more flavor.
To pickle your food, you should start by adding equal parts vinegar and boiling water. You can use either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Then, add some sugar and salt. Next, you may opt to add additional spices for flavor. You’d then fill a glass jar with your food and completely fill the jar with your pickling brine. Finally, close the jar tightly.
Sugaring is an ancient practice used by Greeks and Romans to preserve fruit as well as vegetables with honey or molasses, but regular and raw sugar can be used as well.
To do this, you must first dry the food, then coat it in sugar. The sugar would then kill harmful microbes. While following this method, do keep in mind that sugar attracts moisture, which could result in your food fermenting. Although fermenting is also a food preservation method, it will alter the taste and flavor.
Fun Fact: Honey was used to preserve mummies in ancient Egypt.
Fermentation has an ancient history, with evidence it was practiced in ancient China before 6600 BC. This is an ancient food preservation technique practiced and used across the world to make healthy and delicious foods. This fermentation works by using microorganisms to kill harmful pathogens, helping the food preserve itself for longer. In the process of fermentation, the vitamins from the alcohol and acids make fermented foods more nutritious and flavorful.
Fermentation is used popularly used to preserve kimchi, kombucha, pickled cucumbers, and yogurt. In addition, people use this method to make fermented wine and beer as well.
Using a Zeer Pot
You can create your own non-electric mini-fridge at home. All you need are some ceramic pots, water, and sand.
Creating a zeer – a clay pot that was invented thousands of years ago – is a sustainable and inexpensive way of keeping your food from spoiling in hot and dry climates.
Making your own zeer is easy. Here’s how:
- Buy two unglazed ceramic pots of different sizes, some sand, and water.
- Fill the bottom of the larger ceramic pot with some sand.
- Put the smaller ceramic pot in the larger one.
- Fill the space between the two pots with sand.
- Pour water into the sand.
- Cover the pots with a wet cloth or a ceramic lid.
And that’s it! You’re now ready to store food inside your zeer. However, you’ll have to remember to add water to the sand every day since your zeer uses evaporation to cool and preserve your food.
As water evaporates through the clay, energy is released into the air, thus cooling the space inside the zeer. You can think of the process as splashing water on your face on a sunny day; the water evaporates off of your skin while keeping it cool. In fact, refrigerator coolant works similarly, using evaporation to pull heat out of the refrigerator itself.
It would be best if you would keep your Zeer pots in the shade since the sun will warm them up; however, you may also opt to keep them in a windy area since wind causes the water to evaporate faster and the food to cool more quickly.
When hunting and foraging, Native American tribes have traveled vast distances. These tribes led a nomadic existence in order to protect the natural resources in their region. Moving on instead of settling allowed the environment to recover, in turn allowing them to return later on. With that said, they needed a method of food preservation that allowed them to lug around their food with them on their travels. And so, pemmican was invented.
Pemmican is easy and quick to prepare, is nutrient-rich, and lasts for years. You, as a modern homesteader, can still make use of pemmican to preserve meat or fish.
To create your own pemmican meat, you’ll need to pulverize dried meat first. Then, you’ll add pulverized berries to your meat. This mixture will be held together by rendered fat that uses spices and herbs to enhance the flavor. The finished pemmican product is no larger than the size of your hand. So, it’ll be easy for you to pack or store away for long periods of time.
In this article, we’ve discussed the many food preservation techniques that people from various civilizations used before the rise of modern technology. Whether you want to try out a new food preservation method for fun or you simply don’t want to rely on a fridge or freezer, there’s a food preservation method here that will work for you.
If you are interested in learning modern methods of food preservation without electricity, consider reading our articles on storing dry foods in mylar bags and food-grade buckets.
To learn more about the many aspects of prepping and homesteading, check out the other in-depth guides on our website. We have many other articles similar to this that focus on prepping, homesteading, and living a fulfilling life off-grid.
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