When you sit around the campfire and talk food preservation techniques with fellow survivalists, it gets boring rather fast. Canned and dehydrated are the two staples, and whilst they're excellent at extending the shelf-life of your food, you're going to get bored very, very quickly if this is all you're eating after a disaster. Imagine it right. Beef jerky and canned tuna are now your staples. Don't get me wrong, I love both of these, but I can't imagine eating them every day from now until forever, especially if I have any choice in the matter. That's what got me thinking about the topic today, as there's got to be a better way! People survived for centuries without electricity and refrigeration, so how did they do it? Today, we're going to cover the traditional preservation techniques so you can enjoy a little variety in your supplies, and keep things interesting with your meals after the SHTF.
Fermentation The most common fermented food is sauerkraut, but there's plenty of foods we get via fermentation, like turning barley into beer, grapes into wine, and milk into yoghurt. It works as the bacteria present in the food feed off the sugars, resulting in higher acid levels (hence the tangy taste), and done right it can be very healthy, and a great way to increase the shelf life of dairy products, while giving your gut a healthy dose of good bacteria.
Pickling This is one of the easiest techniques, as it follows a very simple concept. Vinegar stops the growth of bacteria, which means soaking and storing certain foods in vinegar is a great way to extend their shelf life. Most commonly it's done with cucumbers, but there's a whole host of foods you can pickle. Beets, beans, cauliflower, celery, chili, eggplant, figs, pears, tomatoes all work well, and you can even pickle meat and eggs.
Smoking If you're bringing in big game or fish in season, smoking them is a great way to ensure the meats keep. Either buy a commercial smoker or make your own, it's essentially just a chamber that traps the heat and smoke from an open fire in a central chamber, drying out the meat and infusing it with a delicious smoky flavor. Generally it's done slowly, cooking the meat at around 150 degrees for up to 36 hours (depending on how thick each slice is). The smoke also adds a protective barrier to the meat, which makes it resistant to future bacteria growth and mold.
Salting This technique is often used as a step in the smoking process, but you can use it alone to preserve both meats and vegetables. It really is as easy as it sounds. Cover the food you want to preserve in salt, which acts as a barrier to both mold and bacteria growth, because it draws all of the moisture from the food you're preserving. Personally I prefer salting my vegetables over canning or freezing them, because it enhances their taste instead of making them boringly bland. Mixing up a brine and soaking your food in it before you dry it is another way to preserve with salt.
Sugar and salt If you're not a big fan of salted foods, try a combination of salt and sugar to preserve your produce. It depends on your particular taste preferences, many of the guys in the APE Survival team actually prefer this mix over pure salt. The sweetness of the sugar counteracts the salty taste, while still drawing out all of the moisture. Again, this technique is very similar to salting, just cut up all of the meat and cover it with a generous amount of sugar and salt. Pack the meat tightly into jars, covering each with a cheese cloth and store it at a temperature just above freezing for a month. Once you're done, wrap it tightly in saran wrap and it will store for months without needing refrigeration.
Sugar When you're preserving fruits one of the best additives is pure sugar. Jams and jellies are very high in sugar, but it's for a reason. All the additional sugar you've added stops bacteria growth, so learn how to make home-made jams and ensure none of the seasonal fruit you collect goes to waste. For a tasty treat you can also turn fruits into candy, by boiling them in a mix of sugar and water, then laying them out to dry and wrapping them in even more sugar before storing them away in an airtight container. They'll last for months, and make for great treats when you need a change from ‘survival’ food.
Root cellar If you've got a working garden you're going to need a root cellar. It's one of the easiest ways to preserve produce like fruits and root vegetables, and allows you to store them for months in their original forms. Over a winter, apples, beets, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and onions will all last, the trick is to build your root cellar with a dirt floor. The lack of insulation helps keep the cellar cool during winter, and the dirt floor generates the right amount of humidity to store your crops. Just because the powers out it doesn't mean you've got to endure a lifetime of boring canned vegetables and dehydrated meats. With a little creativity there's actually several different ways to extend the shelf-life of your produce, and none require electricity. Perfect during a crisis or a long-term disaster. Plus, they're relatively healthy and pretty easy to implement in your own home.