Growing & preserving pure organic food is one of the core focuses of our homestead.
For those that are seeking self reliance but live in climates that do not provide year-round growing, keeping a well stocked pantry is absolutely essential.
As I type this my wife @walkerland is stirring a cauldron sized pot of tomatoes that I harvested for her this morning. She is making us a hearty sauce that will get bottled up for winter.
What follows is an overview of some of the primary preservation methods we use. Using these techniques we are able to stock a healthy pantry that sees us through the winter, and then some.
Five Great Ways To Preserve Food For Winter
The grand-daddy of food preservation, canning is one of the most commonly used food storage methods. You can can almost anything, and if you know the proper techniques there is not much you can’t preserve in this manner.
Note that there are two main types of canning: boiling water canning, and pressure canning. No special equipment is required for boiling water canning, however, a pressure canner is required for pressure canning. This is a heavy duty vessel that can contain the pressurized water needed to perform this type of canning. Generally speaking, low-acid foods require pressure canning. Pressure canning must be used in order to generate temperatures sufficiently high enough to kill off botulism spores. Acidic foods do not require this special treatment: they can be canned safely in a boiling water bath canner.
If you are serious about food preservation, you’ll want to be able to do both types of canning. To start with, the boiling water technique is simpler and less intimidating. If you are new to water bath canning my wife just wrote a post called: The Canning Guide: The Basics For Preserving Jams, Jellies & Pickles that will get you started with confidence.
One of the easiest preservation methods, drying food is particularly useful when it comes to herbs and spices. You can dehydrate and store a years worth of herbs, with very little effort. Simply chop the herbs and spread them out to dry. You can do this with a fancy dehydrator, or with no equipment at all.
Depending on the amount you are doing, and your climate, an electric dehydrator can be well worth the investment. Where we live it is extremely humid during the summer, and trying to dry herbs in our climate would be an exercise in futility. We make great use out of an electric dehydrator, and preserve many hundreds of dollars worth of food and spices, every season.
Another ancient technique, smoking meat is an excellent way to preserve food for over the winter. The general technique is fairly simple: slice up meat into dryable chunks, hang it and run smoke over it until it is capable of being stored on long term basis. It’s simple in principle, but there are all kinds of nuances involved to getting the right flavor and the right texture including temperature of fire, meat preparation, spicing, rubs, wood chip type and duration of smoke.
Some people turn old refrigerators or stoves into smokers. Others spend thousands of dollars on highly impressive smokehouses. You can keep it really simple or get complicated: it’s up to you! Smoking is one of those techniques that take awhile to get down, but once you do, you’re sure to keep at it. There is nothing like a properly done piece of jerky, after all!
A more modern technique, it’s hard to argue with the simplicity and convenience of freezing food. Many people, in the West particularly, take this preservation method for granted: we should not, as it is not available in many parts of the world! Though we often forget it, it is actually quite a luxury to be able to reach into an electrically cooled freezer and pull out a perfectly preserved piece of fruit!
This ancient technique has been around for thousands of years. It is making a big come back thanks to the popularity of healthy drinks such as kombucha and milk keifer. Our ancestors would have stored pickles, cabbage and many other foods using the art of lacto-fermentation.
Around our homestead lacto-fermentation is quickly becoming one of our favourite food preservation methods. Some fermented foods do degrade faster than canned items so we never solely rely on this method but it is an excellent way to add nutrients and diversity to the pantry.
We like to use lacto-fermentation to create things like pickles, sauerkraut, grape leaves and garlic scapes. There’s also nothing better than making your own raw apple cider vinegar. You can also learn to make delicious and healthy fizzy sodas using the same age old principles.
Lacto-fermented foods are not only preserved for long term storage but when done properly they are enzyme rich, nutrient dense, and filled with probiotics. The basic requirements for creating lacto-fermented foods are salt, purified water and fresh clean fruits or vegetables. These ingredients are placed in a crock or jar, the solids are weighed down with a stone and the fermentation process begins.
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to store food for the winter. We’ve found them all beneficial and equally valuable to learn. Each of the techniques here has its place, and the serious homesteader will likely want to learn them all.