As promised last week, I thought I’d take a few posts (not necessarily sequential) and talk about food preservation. I seem not to be alone in this; several other blogs have taken up the topic recently (such as SHTF Blog, discussing pickling even as I write this). Personally, I’m all in favor.
One thing I’ll not be talking about in this series is storing your emergency supply. You know the stuff I’m talking about–those #10 cans of freeze-dried whatever from Mountain House, or the 5-gallon buckets of grains from Emergency Essentials, or your stacks and stacks of MRE’s. All of that stuff will get its own series of posts.
Most folks think about canning when they discuss preserving food, especially this time of year, as the seasons wind through summer and the first harvests start coming in. The hoard I mentioned in my basement is somewhat typical of this: most of what’s there are vegetables, with only a very few of them apparently pickled. Truth be told, while I’m certainly a fan of the veggies in general (and the pickles in particular), I’m perhaps not as intimately familiar with their preparation as I might be. For the most part, I leave the technical aspects of canning to my wife, helping out with maintaining the boil, and whatever other tasks she assigns me. (I’ll see about getting a guest post from her, in future.)
I tend to be more active in two of the other preservation methods: fermentation, and curing. “Fermentation” involves using “beneficial” microorganisms to acidify or otherwise chemically alter food, making it inhospitable to pathogenic organisms. Examples include, but aren’t limited to, sauerkraut, fermented pickles (as distinct from brined/canned pickles), yogurt, kefir, cheese, beer, and wine. (Yes, making alcoholic beverages is a way of preserving the harvest. I could lecture on this, but that’s more in the anthropology department than the survivalist department.) “Curing” typically involves either salt and/or smoke, and we most often think of meats for this process. Salt-pork, a Hawaiian staple, relies on salt; smoked salmon from the Pacific Northwest uses smoke; bacon, that perennial favorite, typically takes both.
Then there’s the ever-popular root cellar and its variations. Things preserved there don’t necessarily last as long as via other methods, but really the root cellar isn’t for super-long-term preservation; it’s for putting food by to last through the winter and into the spring, until you have access to something to replace them in your diet.
Are there other preservation methods than these? Certainly; many of them tend to be specially adapted to local conditions, making them less universal. (Certain of the tribes of the far Northern reaches of Russia cure fish and reindeer meat by slicing it thinly, then hanging it outside. In temperatures reaching below -50F in winter, the meat essentially freeze-dries. This is probably not a good preservation choice for most of the U.S….) Are there crossovers from type to type? Yes–corned beef is, essentially, pickled meat; some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted was a smoked Gouda. Will I eventually get around to details on each of them? I certainly hope so.
To date, I’ve done canning (well, I’ve helped my wife), I’ve made some simple cured meats (bacon, duck prosciutto), I’ve made basic cheeses (farmer’s cheese, ricotta, mozzarella), and I’ve brewed more than a few beers and wines. I started playing with fermented vegetables (“firecracker” carrots) a few years back, but had to set it aside due to Life ™; I’ve got a number of crocks, both antique and new–a friend of ours is a potter, and he threw and fired three crocks for us–and hope to get back into that act in my “copious free time.”
My plan for the blog is to cover the various bits one at a time; I hope to discuss techniques, variations, tips-and-tricks, shelf-lives, etc. If I’m really good, I can even get into how to manage some of them without the benefits of modern technological society. Above all else, I’d like to get feedback from you, my readers–what types of preservation you’ve done, your tips & tricks, recipes, ideas, etc. I think this is going to be fun!