Sunday, March 6, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 6: Food Storage

I may seem preoccupied with food, and if I do, it's because I am. I started to say that I don't know why, but I do know why I'm so preoccupied with food. It has to do with my belief that good food = good health and that most of the "dis"eases Americans suffer from are actually preventable and are caused by our horrible dietary choices.

Food is important. It's not as important as shelter or water, but people have fought wars over food. In fact, much of the conflict between the indigenous people in the Americas and the Europeans had to do with hunting grounds, i.e. food. Our media would have us believe that the problems the Middle East is having right now are politically motivated, and they may be, but only in a people-tend-to-blame-their-leaders sort of way. The civil unrest in Egypt and Libya are due to an increase in food prices. People can't afford to buy food, and they're blaming the rising prices on their leaders' impotence to provide just the basic stuff of life to the people.

If those people had a way to provide food for themselves, if they weren't so afraid of starving, perhaps things would be different. How they feel is not something I want to know.

So, yes, I am rather preoccupied with food, and I don't think it's a bad thing. The reality is that the price per barrel for oil is over $100 today, and the price of food is going up. Manufacturers of processed foods have done a good job of hiding the rising costs, but those who are paying attention have noticed the price per quantity has increased even as the price per item seems stagnant. It's in the size of the packaging, which is getting smaller.

If I could grow or forage my food, I probably would relax a bit more, but I live in a cold climate, where food doesn't grow year round, and while there are things that we could eat in the dead of winter, if we don't have stored food, our choices are pretty limited.

We modern people have a lot of different options for storing food. As long as we still have electricity, we'll have access to freezers and refrigeration. Many food items will keep for up to a year in the freezer, and in the absence of a root cellar or other low-tech cold storage, the refrigerator works for keeping many of our food items fresh-ish. Things like carrots and beets and apples and cabbage will keep for a fairly long time in the crisper drawer.

Most of us, who process our garden excess for long storage, use canning. I have both a water bath canner and a pressure canner/cooker - and really, I love shredding cooked chicken (from the birds we raised in our backyard) or leftover turkey into jars with a wee bit of broth and pressure canning it for use later. It's infinitely better than anything I can get from a can at the grocery store. You know all of those recommendations for storing canned tuna? Yeah, I got that covered ... only it's not in a can that has potentially been lined with BPA, and so I don't have to worry so much about growing a little beard - with a nod to our esteemed Governor Lepage for his concerns about hirsute Maine women ;).

There are a few problems with depending on canning and freezing as a primary way of storing food. In her book, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life Jean Hay Bright talks about experiencing a shortage of canning lids. Apparently, every store in her area was running out, and they couldn't find enough of them. If canning is the only way we know to store our food, but we don't have canning lids, it could be a serious problem.

The problem with freezing as our primary way to store food is that we may not have electricity. My mother grew up on a farm on central Ohio. They didn't have electricity at the homestead, but they did have rented freezer space at a facility in town. Perhaps these sorts of freezer rentals are in our future, but for now, what we have is our home deep freezers, but if we can't power them, we'll end up with a lot of food that needs to be eaten pretty quickly.

In a quest to find the best answer, I looked to the people who lived in this climate before there were freezers and canning jars, and I asked, What did they do?

The answer, for the most part, is that they dehydrated their storage food, either by drying it or by smoking it. In fact, the primary way to store meat was by making it into jerky, usually over a smoldering fire. The hot smoke would dry out the meat without cooking it.

Some foods that can not be preserved in other ways are particularly well-suited for drying. I love drying greens, like kale, spinach and beet greens to add to soups and stews over winter for a boost of color and vitamins. We also dehydrate onions, mushrooms, and all of our herbs. Kate, over at Living the Frugal Life has a great post up about dehydrating garlic.

There is one really, very important point to note about the timing of Kate's garlic drying. Kate only recently dried her garlic - the garlic that she harvested back in the fall. She's had it in storage and has been using it fresh since harvest and is only now dehydrating it, because it's starting to sprout. I think a lot of us will look at our storage food and believe that it's "gone past", but sometimes it hasn't. It will, if we don't act, but like Kate, we could dehydrate it, and then, store it.

I use an electric dehydrator right now, but there is a better way, which is covered in the book Solar Food Dryer. If you're interested in being the lucky person who will win a copy of the book, please leave a comment. The winner will be announced on March 12.


The winner of the subscription to Backhome Magazine is Julie. Congratulations :). Please leave a comment with the address to which you would like your magazine mailed. Comments are moderated, and I won't post your address.


  1. I'm heading over to check out the garlic drying post right now! We have a bunch that's sprouting.

    If it makes you feel any better, food is my number one topic of interest too :)

    That book sounds great!

  2. Food, water and shelter ...I am almost obsessed with these three things also. And I think in terms of good quality food..Two things amaze me thinking of this right many people do not think at all of what they are putting in their bodies and how many people are not thinking at all about what could happen in the next year or so. I am mainly speaking of my immediate family, I guess. Most of them are just thinking about making it ...hoping not to get laid off...everything is in such turmoil right now...but all of this is not pertaining to the subject...or is it? Thanks for doing this everyone a lot to think about...I would like to enter in the giveaway.

  3. Oh oh Me me! *Raising hand* I wanna win the book!

  4. Thanks for the nod. Actually, the garlic I just processed was harvested in early July. Not a bad shelf life with no energy inputs (other than human labor) - 8 months.

    I would imagine that salt curing would have been popular for meats up in Maine. Though maybe the winters there were cold enough that not much other preservation was needed for long stretches of the year. Cold closets were built into kitchens in the San Francisco bay area, with vents on the exterior wall of the house. If that mild a climate could make use of cool nights, surely natural refrigeration was used in Maine. Still could be too.

    Given that I already have an electric dehydrator, I feel a bit sheepish asking for a chance to win the book you're giving away. But I've got just that much nerve, I suppose. Please count me in. If I win I'll pass the book on in due course.

  5. Kate - Wow! That *is* impressive!

    Salt curing would have been used by the Europeans, but I don't think the natives did much in the way of salt curing. From what I could find, most of their preserved food was dried.

    The cold closet is on my list of to dos. I completely agree with you. In my climate, I really do believe that we could very easily get away with not having a fridge - and without having to be complicated and dig a root cellar, either. It's cold enough for long enough that we don't need to waste electricy keeping our milk cold.

  6. I am also obsessed with storing food. I'm just now venturing into dehydrating stuff-- we'll see how it turns out. :)

  7. Food is my main focus as well. Dehydrating is one of my favorite ways of putting back foods. It is also one of the easiest methods. If you are storing for long term storage there may not be a better way. Canning is great but takes a lot more room in the pantry than dried foods do. LOL I could go on but I guess I will stop now! I have an electric dehydrator now but I'm wanting to build a solar one soon. Maybe even this summer. Time will tell I guess.

  8. Still learning to live with my electric dehydrator, but I think we will get to be the best of friends. To your point, though, solar drying is something I should know more about.

    Does anyone know of any home process that could allow us to use jar lids again? It seems like I never have enough and it makes me feel awful to discard them after one use.

  9. Irma - I reuse the lids for dry goods storage (like dried beans, rice, or popcorn) in the pantry, for keeping leftovers in the fridge (which my husband takes to work, and let me tell you, he gets a couple of sideways glances when people see him eating homemade chicken soup from a mason jar ;), for freezing extra broths, etc, that I don't try to put in a sealed jar, and when I make yogurt, which doesn't need to be sealed up. Basically, any time I need a lidded container, I grab a canning jar and a used canning lid.

  10. Oh, yeah, and I also use canning jars for "to go" cups for cold beverages, like iced tea (I have a special mug for hot drinks). I simply poke a hole in the lid with a nail and insert a straw. It's quite a conversation starter ;).

  11. I love dehydrating...but with my excalibur. I have tons of glass left her from the previous owner, and while thoughts of cold frames and greenhouses flow through my mind, perhaps making solar food dehydrators is the way to go....hmm......


  12. Regarding canning lids and reusing them, I've heard that you CAN reuse them, if you've taken care to not puncture or bend the lids with removal. Essentially, if the rubber ring is still in tact, you should be ok. Of course, Cooperative Extension is not going to say this.

    has anyone had experience with the "reusable" ones?

  13. Wendy,
    I've been following your blog for a couple months now and have read it all the way through. I've also enjoyed catching up on Moose Boots as well. I've have looked up and read may of the books you have recommended.

    I'm trying to recall if you've posted anything on the reusable tattler canning lids that were developed in the 70's when they were running into canning lid shortages.

    My husband, son's, and I use our cheap round little electric dehydrator. It isn't temp. controlled and we never have enough room I'm really excited to check out this book and really hope I could wind it ;)


  14. Weird, I left a comment this morning and it must not have gone through. Please sign me up for the book drawing, it sounds like an interesting concept!

  15. I too am all about food storing. I mostly can and freeze items, bought a dehydrator 2 years ago but mostly only use it for deer jerky. Oh how I wish I had a large basement or root cellar to store many things in-but alas I have a small 700 sq ft home for my family of 4. Not much space.

    I have reused canning lids on occasion, but you want to make sure they are extra hot when you put them on the jars.

    Do you ever seal with wax? (another alternative) I seal some of my jams with wax...and I am going to seal my cheese with red cheese wax tomorrow...

    Oh and all of our "drinking" glasses are pint and quart sized mason jars... Hubby know I have been canning when when don't have any glasses in the cabinet. lol :)

  16. I've started canning more things for storage, mostly fruits, jams and some pickled beets, since we've no pressure canner, trying to gradually build up our pantry storage. I'd dearly love to have an option for storing some vegetables, and dehydrating sounds ideal. Pleas sign me up for the book drawing

  17. Interesting post and comments. Food is so basic, we'd better be preoccupied with how we'll have it in the future. Glad to see the mention of drying and smoking. I have a friend who's looking into this very thing.

  18. Solar food drying is definitely my next step, I'd love to win the book.

  19. I've pondered the same thing - what if i didn't have electricity for refrigeration or keeping foods frozen? Dehydration is definately the way to go. And without electricity, an electric dehydrater would be useless. Better to learn to do it via solar energy...

    Please count me in for the book drawing!

  20. You must store the foods properly at the refrigerators to avoid from being rotten. Leftovers can be heated for the next meals. You must see that there are no foods to be left for nothing.

  21. Having an electric dehydrator myself, I can tell you that dried mushrooms keep almost FOREVER. Dehydrated chow figures heavily into my cooking at work. [I've already won something so you don't have to put me in the drawing.]