Homesteading is meant to help you be self-sufficient in your whole life, not just in the summer and fall months. But for those who live in colder climates, it may be hard to imagine how you are going to be able to keep up with everything once it gets too cold to grow a garden or the animals are not able to produce as much milk and so on. Preserving your food is going to be key in this process and this chapter is going to take some time to discuss the different preservation methods that you can use to make that food last all year long.
While all of these types of preservation can be great for keeping your food healthy and delicious for a long time, you need to make sure that you are preparing and storing them properly. For example, if you are canning and don’t ensure that a seal is completely met, you will find that the food can still spoil. You may need to experiment with some smaller batches ahead of time to get used to the idea before continuing to get the best results.
Canning is one of the most popular methods that you can use to preserve your food for the winter. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just throwing together a few ingredients and sealing the jars just right can really help you to see the results that you are looking for. But it is really important that you get the ingredients prepared right, learn how to get the jars to close properly, and to store all the food in the correct locations if you would really like the food to stay good through the year.
There are two main ways of canning, the boiling water method and the pressure canning method. The boiling water method is best for preserves, pickles, jellies, jams, fruits, and tomatoes while the pressure canning is going to be the best for seafood, poultry, meats, and vegetables. Both are going to use water, but the pressure canning will go into higher temperatures and rely more on the pressure, rather than the heat, to help the foods get tight and secure in their jars.
To get started, you will need to find the right tools to make it happen. You will need to pick out some jars, usually Ball or Mason jars are the best along with the lids and the little sealers that come with them. Jar lifters, funnels, a lid want, clean cloths, hot pads, spatula, and knives can all help you to get through this process a little bit easier.
From here, you need to find a recipe that you really like to use. This will help you to know what ingredients are needed to can and preserve any food that you would like. Make sure to get the cans to really seal up, allowing them some time to cool down on the counters to finish this process, so that the food stays fresh.
Store these cans in a cool and dry area until you are ready to use. It may be best to include some labeling information, such as the name of the ingredients inside and the date that you canned them, to ensure you are not getting a product that is old. Your basement up on some shelves can often be a good place to put the food so it is out of the way and still being safe from any water and heat that could ruin the work.
Freezing can be a great way to keep your food safe and happy for later use. Almost any type of food will do well with freezing as long as you follow the proper procedures along the way. You can choose to freeze your fruits and vegetables for later, any of the meat that you butcher, and so much more. If you are interested in using the freezing method to keep the food good over the winter after all that hard work, follow these basic steps.
- Cool foods to room temperature—if you left the produce out in the sun or cooked up some of the food before freezing, you need to allow it to reach room temperature before freezing. This helps the food to freeze as uniformly as possible and can help to prevent spoilage. Plus, hot foods can warm up the freezer and cause damage to some of the other foods inside.
- Leave some room—when using covered containers, leave a little room for the food to expand. An inch between the top of the food and the lid is usually enough and ensures that the food can expand without breaking the container.
- Press the air out—any time that you are wrapping up foods or placing in plastic bags, make sure that all of the air gets out. This can help to prevent freezer burn from occurring.
- Invest in the right wrappings—if you would like to keep these foods frozen for the long term, go with options that are meant for the freezing process. This really does a great job at helping keep the foods fresh for longer.
- Label the food—include as much information as possible. The date, the name of the food, and even some preparation instructions can help you out. Always take out the oldest food first to prevent anything getting old.
- Never overload your freezer—while it may be tempting to stuff the freezer full, this can prevent the right air circulation from occurring. This will prevent the temperatures from staying right where it should and the frozen food could spoil.
Another option that you can choose is drying. This will help to take the moisture out of the foods so that the water doesn’t attract mold or other bacteria that makes the food uneatable. Drying does take a little more time and is not as quick as some of the other methods, but it can work really well if you need to store foods for a long time or for options like meats. Some of the steps that you should follow when it comes to the drying process includes:
- Select the best pieces for dehydration—when you use freezing or canning, it is fine to add in some of the lower quality foods, but in dehydration, this is really going to show up and can ruin the texture if the perfect produce is not picked. Choose options that are at their peak eating quality, ripe, and don’t have a lot of bruises on them.
- Prepare the food how you will serve them—once the foods are dehydrated, they are going to stay that way while they are eaten so prepare the foods at this time. For example, you can choose to take an apple and puree it to make a leather, cut it into rings, or even slice it, but decide at this point.
- Keep the pieces uniform—all your pieces should be the same height and width, usually between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch. This helps them to dry at the same speed and can quicken up the process.
- Wash the foods—if you are drying option like seedless grapes, berries, and herbs, make sure to wash them off before dehydrating.
- Light colored vegetables and fruits can do well with some lemon juice or steaming before you dehydrate them. This can prevent them from browning in the process.
- Select the drying method—there are a number of methods that you can choose. Some like to use their ovens while others will purchase a dehydrator to do this process. If you live in an area that get steady sun that is hot, you can even use the sun for this.
- Learn when the product is done—each product is going to take different times to finish. You want to make sure that all the moisture is out of these foods or they will rot while you store them so give them the right amount of time.
- Seal up the products properly. You want to make sure that they are in containers that won’t allow moisture and will keep the food safe for a long time. You will also want to pack it in as tight as possible so that the food is not going to get affected by air pockets.
- Store the food in an area that is dry, dark, and cool and keep it away from heat sources to help it stay fresh. Use this food within twelve months to ensure that it is the best quality and frequently check the food to see if anything has gotten wet.
And that is all there is to it. While the drying process can often extend for a whole day or more to properly get the food ready, it is a really great way to take care of the food you would like to save without making a lot of changes to the taste when everything is done.