In another post here on the Surviving Urban Crisis Blog, I discussed long term food storage
In that post I mostly talked about dry goods and commercially canned products and the actual shelf life you can expect to get from these products, which is far longer than the food companies give credit.
To add to that topic, today let’s investigate home food preservation a little further. The core idea here is to look at the methods our ancestors used back in the homesteading days of the late 19th century America, when there was no electric grid or refrigeration. Seems to me to be a very good policy as a prepper, to not have your food supply totally wrapped up in your freezer(s) which are dependent on the grid. Not saying freezers don’t have their place, it’s just the ‘all your eggs in one basket’ kind of thing that can be avoided with some planning.
Of course most folks think of home canning, right off, when discussing home food preserving. And you’re quite right, home canning is typically the top choice for most people. There’s plenty of product and information out there, such as your supply sources for jars, rings and lids which you can easily find locally. During the summer season, we can plenty of fresh produce while the getting is good. Between the hot water bath method and the pressure canning method there is not much you can’t put away by canning, by the item such as beans or carrots, even making up your own soups, stews and other goodies. We also home can meats along with the summer veggie crops.
I will say that home canned meats, unlike the pretty green beans, bright carrots, corn and other veggies, look truly disgusting sometimes after the canning process. We did a batch of hotdogs (yeah, home canned hotdogs, for real) and they certainly look terrible. But they taste just fine, like regular ol’ hot dogs. The idea behind that experiment was having another item not needing refrigeration that was a common ‘comfort food’ item. That batch of hotdogs will now be good for two or three years.
How about smoking meat? (No, it won’t work very well, rolled in paper and lit on one end.) This has been done about as long as humans have had fire and meat. Salting meat has worked for centuries as well. Smoking can be accomplished on a small scale with a ‘smoker cooker’ or outdoor grill, or bumped up to large scale with a dedicated smoker building. That kind of thing is one of the many reasons preppers prefer to live outside communities where life is restricted by dumb city ordinances or the dictates of little terrors know as homeowner associations. My Tennessee grandpa smoked and salted all his own hams in his smokehouse. Dad used to bring one or two of those hams home from our visits ‘back home’, man that was some tasty eating.
Now, how about fermented foods? That process is also ancient in origin. How about beer, wine, cider, cheese sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, sourdough bread? Yeah, some of these do still require being kept cold, but even so they would last longer than the unfermented original items. Some items like cheese were, and still are, wrapped with cloth and wax so they only needed to be kept cool as in a root cellar or other cool place, so the cheese survived without need of the modern power grid. ‘The Art of Fermentation’
And finally, another ancient way to preserve food is drying. Sun drying is the oldest method, but today we have modern electric dehydrators, capable of everything from drying veggies, making fruit leathers to beef jerky. We have a well-worn Excalibur dehydration machine which has probably been through a literal ton of fresh fruit and veggies, and a decent portion of jerky. Dried meat or jerky is also in this category, so if you have a dehydrator that’s one more item you can make with that very useful appliance.
As I mentioned in the article I referred to way back at the top, finishing off a lot of dried goods or store bought bulk dry goods, like noodles, rice or beans, we generally use our Foodsaver machine to hard vacuum this stuff to make sure bugs and moisture are kept away from this hard work and future food. By hard vacuuming, I mean sucking down the bag until the finished item is as hard as a brick like some coffee products you see at the grocery. Buying dry goods in bulk, as in 25 or 50 pound bags of rice, is very practical with a Foodsaver, repackaging the rice, beans, sugar, plain flour or whatever into manageable one, two or 5 pound bags to use out of while the remainder sits safe and dry in the pantry storage. If you have the Foodsaver canisters, you can ‘recycle’ product jars, such as jelly jars, salsa or spaghetti sauce jars, virtually any with the popping lid, the kind you know that ‘pops’ if you press it down and the vacuum is gone from the jar. You can re-vacuum items partially used to stay fresh in the fridge far longer by putting the item into the canister it fits into, with the lid just lightly finger tight, and vacuum the canister until the machine cycles. The jar inside will have it’s vacuum restored upon removal, just test the ‘pop’ spot, if it doesn’t pop, you’re good. Now, tighten down the lid fully, and you’re set. You can also do this with portions of dried foods, cereal, rice, whatever, with the same recycled jars or extra canning jars, all works the same. It’s in the top five most used kitchen appliances at our place, but occasionally ventures out beyond just vacuum packing dried foods. Items like boxes of ammo, spare gun parts, and clothes for our Bug Out Bags. Clothes are waterproofed and the compression saves a lot of space that way. Boxes of matches and many other items that need to be protected from moisture are good candidates as well. The non-food items are bagged with the machine set on its lowest vacuum setting so as not to crush the box (as with matches or bullets) or pierce the bag with sharp corners like with spare parts or pointy loose ammunition. It hasn’t ever happened to me, lucky I guess, but there may be a remote possibility to ‘set off’ a box of strike anywhere matches by crushing with the vacuum machine setting way too high, resulting in the matches being forcefully ground together inside the box, which could start the ignition process. There might not be enough air to get much reaction, but then setting off 250 or so matches at once, even in a mostly vacuumed environment, may cause quite a bit of excitement. You don’t need any serious degree of vacuum, you’re just sealing out most of the air and the moisture. I have seen arguments that vacuum packing ammo may supposedly render it ‘useless’ on the theory that it would suck all the air out of the cartridges thereby not allowing the gunpowder to ignite when the primer is struck by the firing pin, making the round a ‘dud’. I don’t think so, personally, because firstly I don’t set the vacuum anywhere near the maximum this machine is capable of, and additionally because even if the idea were valid, as soon (or shortly afterwards) as you exposed the ammo to regular atmospheric pressures the air would return into the cartridges, if it ever left. Assuming modern ammo is universally considered to be completely waterproof, and therefore largely resistant to air pressure or moisture, I’m not going to worry about it. The only time I put away ammo in this manner, is in our long term storage buckets stocked with dry goods, hard vacuumed items that may not be seen again for 10 years or more. Otherwise the ammo goes into surplus ammo cans with good rubber seals and lots of silica gel desiccant packs.