Canning, Preserving, and Dehydrating Food
When living off-grid, food storage and preservation can present a challenge. Without access to the large appliances used by those living on the grid, I had to find new ways to preserve my food. In this blog, I, Matthew Davies, will be discussing the ways that I have learned to prolong the life of the food I forage, hunt, and fish. These ways have been used for hundreds of years, so I will not be providing you with any breakthrough hacks. However, the tips provided below, which introduce you to canning, preserving, and dehydrating, may be unfamiliar to those accustomed to storing their food in modern-day appliances such as refrigerators and freezers. These skills will be beneficial to my fellow off-gridders and may even be of interest to those living on the grid as well.
Hot Water Canning
Canning is the process of preserving food from spoilage in containers that are heated (and therefore sterilized) and hermetically sealed. Nicolas Appert of France invented the process in the early 1800s. As with many things in our daily lives, the process was initially devised for government use. The military needed to preserve food for its troops. Remember, these were the days before freeze-dried food. The canning method used by Appert is the same method we use today. The food is loaded into a container, usually a glass jar, and then heated to a specific temperature.
It would be another 50 years before Louis Pasteur would be able to explain to us why the food would not spoil. Essentially, when you heat the jar, it kills off any microorganisms, and the seal on the jar prevents the introduction of any new microorganisms.
Canning can be quite fun and is easy to learn. It does not take much time or money to get started either. All you will need is a large stockpot, a canning rack, canning jars, lids, and bands. Of course, you will need the food that you intend to preserve as well. An important tip that I learned years ago is that you do not want to reuse the lids and bands. They are a one-use item. Fortunately, the supplies are quite cheap. Many canning websites will provide you the specifics. Suffice it to say, you need only to load your food into the sterilized jars, place the lid on top and screw on the band. Then you will put the jar back in hot water for a short amount of time and remove them again. Once the jars have cooled, you will be able to store your food on a shelf for approximately one year.
Fundamentally, pressurized canning is the same process as hot water canning but uses a pressure cooker. If you have foods with low acidity (i.e., meat, poultry, seafood, and most vegetables), you will need to use this method. The reason is that they do not have the proper amount of acidity to be canned for long term use safely. The only additional item worth mentioning is that you will need to bring the water to a higher temperature than you would if you were simply using the hot water canning method.
Dehydration is another food preservation process. While canning has been around for hundreds of years, dehydration has been in use for thousands of years. The process can be traced back to 12,000 B.C.E. by people living in the modern-day Middle East and Asia.
Dehydration involves removing the water from the food. Water is the number one catalyst for microorganisms. Therefore, removing this medium will impede the growth of microorganisms.
Dehydration can be done in several ways, air drying, sun drying, smoking, or wind drying. Modern technologies such as food dehydrators and freeze-drying can be used to speed the process up.
To conduct this process at home, you are going to need a few items, which will vary depending on the method of dehydration you choose. If you opt for a food dehydrator, you need only to read the instructions provided by the manufacturer of your food dehydrator. However, if you are going to dehydrate your food the natural way, you will need to invest in potassium metabisulfite, BHA, or BHT. While these are not required to dry your food, they will prevent you from needing to refrigerate or freeze your food after the process is complete. Don’t be ashamed of choosing an electric food dehydrator over the natural dehydration method. Most electric food dehydrators do not draw a lot of power. Therefore, you should be able to efficiently run them using your solar grid you already have in place.
Secondly, you will need a place to dry your food. This should be somewhere that is inaccessible to wildlife, which will no doubt take an interest in your hanging meat. Make sure you have a sturdy shed that locks to prevent any undesirables from entering and taking your food while it is drying.
The benefits of food dehydration are vast. However, the number one reason that you should consider this process is to shrink the size of your food. The reduction in size can be particularly helpful to those who have limited storage in their homes.
One final tip: When you enter into the world of dehydration, you will need to learn to be patient. Do not make the mistake of applying more heat to move the process along. This will limit your food’s shelf life, as it will form a hard shell around the food in which water cannot escape, which, as we know, defeats the purpose of dehydrating your food.
I, Matthew Davies, hope you have enjoyed learning about food preservation as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing this information. There is a lot to do when you are living off-grid. Making sure that you have an adequate food supply should be one of the things you focus on daily. If you live in a region that has a lot of rain, you might find that canning on those days helps to pass the time when you’re stuck indoors.