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This is part 3 of our 3 part REAL FOOD STORAGE series. You may also enjoy:
Please do your own research before attempting any of these food preservation methods. Some of them look pretty simple and basic, like mineral oil for eggs, however simple mistakes like replacing mineral oil with food oil, or not heating up the oil to proper temperatures first could result in severe illness.
Contact your local health or agricultural department for guidelines that are recommended for your jurisdiction.
The purpose of this article is to shed light on some of the many possibilities of food preservation, but detailed instructions are for many future posts 😉 And honestly, I don’t even recommend all of these methods, but knowledge is fun.
Refrigerator/freezers became household appliances around 1930 when both of my grandmothers were in their teens. As this “modern-day kid” watched my Grandma Violet pull out a pizza from her freezer, her sense of awe never seemed to wane.
She shared stories about how her family had ice delivered to their home every few days by the “iceman.” And they stored their perishables in “the icebox”. It was life-changing when her family was finally able to buy a refrigerator that just plugged into the wall!
My father grew up in the Arizona desert in St. David with no electricity (or plumbing). It’s no surprise that my paternal grandmother’s favorite food was always ice-cream! She too called the freezer the “icebox”. This term held its ground with both of my grandmothers to the end of their days.
Here’s to THEM
I dream longingly for the times when knowledge was passed down from elders and they were needed and respected because their knowledge was so vital. I believe it still is, and while I missed that opportunity to learn those skills from my grandmothers, I’m grateful that I have been able to learn many of them from my father.
Have you ever wondered how people used to preserve food with no refrigeration, let alone ice or canning?
- Eggs, dairy, meat, fruits, veggies…?
- How many people were sickened or worse from misjudging food safety in a moment of desperation?
- BOG BUTTER: People in Great Britain and Ireland buried large 20+lb balls of butter in bogs! It was so valuable that at times it was used as currency. The acidic, cold, low-oxygen conditions preserved this butter for extended periods of time. One recent find is estimated to be about 2,000 years old, and one brave soul actually tasted it and lived to tell about it!
- KIVIAK: A delicacy of the native people of Greenland even today, which is made by preserving whole birds, feathers, beaks and all, in seal skin slathered in oils by burying it under rocks and letting it ferment for months.
- PERSIAN YAKHCHALS: Kept food cold using the evaporative cooling effect of water around 400B.C.!
- OILING EGGS: Coating eggs with mineral oil before refrigeration. Must be fresh within 24 hours of laying, unwashed but not poopy. (These eggs will lose their ability to froth)
- WATER GLASSING EGGS: using a sodium silicate solution.
- KePeg: Developed during the great depression when refrigeration was scarce, preserving them for up to 12 months. Made from: Purified water, Paraffin, Beeswax, Citric acid, Magnesium silicate, Boric acid
- CONFIT: Originating in southwestern France, traditionally speaking, this is preserving fruit (cooked in concentrated sugar syrup), meat or vegetable (cooked in fat at much lower temperatures than frying(250-275ºF with the fat staying around 185-200ºF). Shockingly, when stored in the refrigerator and properly coated in fat, meat can be preserved for a very extended period, even months. I have a very dear friend who told me about this method after she tried it with duck and she lived to tell me about it. Confit fruit can last years!
- PICKLING: Can be applied to meats, veggies, fish, eggs, and nuts. Using at least 5% acidity vinegar in a 50% water/50% vinegar solution, or 2%-5% by weight salt brine.
- SALTING: Meat, fish, veggies
- DRYING: Huge list of possibilities! TIP: Don’t vacuum seal dried foods unless they are so dry they are brittle and snap when you break them.
- JELLYING: Cooking fruit and sometimes nuts in sugar are the most common references to jellying, however, this method can also refer to cooking something in other materials, like bone stock gelatin, agar or arrowroot flour, that solidifies to form a gel. Potted meats in aspic (a gel made from gelatin and clarified meat broth) were a common way of serving meat off-cuts in the UK until the 1950s. Many jugged meats are also jellied. I’ll have to do a lot more research before I give those a try. 😉
With access to modern machines, devices, special packaging and more, our options seem limitless. I can only imagine what my ancestors might think if they saw me dare to complain about preserving food now. With a very grateful heart, I’ve been preserving food on my own for just about 10 years now. Some of my current favorite preservation techniques are:
- PRESSURE CANNING: Appropriate for many low acid foods.
- WATER BATH CANNING: Acid foods only.
- FERMENTING: Stored in a refrigerator, fermented foods last months if not longer. I have fermented garlic floating around in a jar in my fridge that’s still good after a year! Just be aware that if it’s probiotics you’re after they do all die off after a period but you’re left with loads of beneficial enzymes.
- FREEZE DRYING: Requires a very expensive machine unless you’re lucky enough to have the skills and equipment to build your own.
- VACUUM SEALING: In mason jars or mylar bags but not in Food Saver type bags, which always end up leaking air after a few months in my experience.
- OXYGEN ABSORBERS: For non-sprouting food.
TIP: Don’t use oxygen absorbers to store grains, seeds or beans that you may want to sprout someday. Oxygen absorbers kill seeds. Vacuum sealing, however, doesn’t remove all of the oxygen so, in my experience, these items stay alive, viable and well-preserved for years. Germination rates may still drop over time though so sprout a handful from time to time and evaluate your supply if you’re concerned.
Side Note: I was blessed to grow up watching a father that loved to grow a garden and freeze, pressure can, water bath and dehydrate his way to a very well stocked 4 car garage pantry. Most of this reached the 30+ year mark and got dumped in the compost pile when they moved. That taught me something about rotating and utilizing our food storage!
A great source of information about food preservation in colonial times before refrigeration or canning is this website about colonial Williamsburg. They have great tools for teaching children (and adults).
What did I miss? Know of any food preservation methods that I haven’t listed here? Were you blessed to learn skills from your grandparents? Comment below
In loving memory of my beautiful Grandmothers, Alice and Violet.