My experience in gardens started when I was very little, gardening with my family. I watched as the goodies came in and got stored away in its own special way. Personally, my husband and I started raising our own gardens and preparing food raised from them for use year round about fifteen years ago. But it is not just garden goodies that need preserving, as a bow hunter; I also understand the need for being able to preserve your harvestable proteins as well. Today, I am constantly expanding my knowledge of the lost food preservation techniques that our ancestors took for granite just a couple of generations ago.
My favorite preservation method is canning. Everything, including meats, can be canned using one of two methods: hot water bathing or pressure cooking. As a general rule, things that have lots of acid like tomatoes and pickled anything can be preserved in a hot water bath. But, anything lacking this acidity, for example: corn, meat, green beans, etc. must be done in the pressure cooker. Safety precautions using these and all methods cannot be underestimated. If done incorrectly, any one preservation method could make you very sick. It is very important to invest in a good canning book to be your guide. Typically my go to reference is the Kerr Home Canning Book. I use the one that is from 1958. I find the recipes less “dolled up” than the books from our era.
When canning the traditional lids can only be used once and then must be thrown out. A company called Tattler now makes a canning lid that is reusable. It is more expensive but worth the investment.
Root Vegetables and Cold Storage
There are some vegetables that store very well on their own or with very minimal storage methods. These are generally the root vegetables but there are some others as well. Root vegetables can be stored for a season (about 3-5) months buried in sand or dirt. Simply layer a Rubbermaid container with a layer of gently moistened sand then vegetables, then sand then vegetables until the container is full and there is a sand layer covering the top (about three inches). The easiest way to store your container and the safest way to keep it from pests is to use a cold storage cellar. This is a building, usually buried in the ground, where light, temperature, and moisture level are kept to optimal temperatures for food preservation. There are many books out there on how to construct one but if this sounds like too much your Rubbermaid bin can simply be buried in a deep hole.
*Cold Storage Tips:
Onions and Garlic can be braided into bundles by their greens and hung in the room as an effective way to store them.
Cabbages and Squashes can be left on paper bags or burlap in the open air and will last for a long time as long as they are not stacked together. You may have to peel off a couple layers of the cabbage before eating.
Beyond canning meat, the general method of old world preservation was to smoke and cure the meat. Curing is also done in one of two ways. Either submerging the meat in a brining solution or using a method of dry curing where the meat is directly treated with salt and seasonings. Both methods take about 3-5 days to cure. After the meat is cured it is smoked, in a smokehouse or a commercial smoker. The length of time will depend on your meat and smoker. Afterward it is wrapped in a brown paper bag, using a special butcher’s wrap and then put in a sack for storage in the cold storage. Meat can also be made into jerky. There are lots of different seasonings and machines out there to do this with. Traditionally the meat was cut, like unwrapping a role of tape, into very long strips. Then it was salted and smoked over the fire.
Jerky can also be made into pemmican bars. These are basically ground jerky, nuts, seeds, or dried fruit all bound together with animal fat and rolled into balls or bars. They can be stored in a container with a lid in a cool, dry place.
Now that you have been inspired by the possibilities, get out there and start preserving your food. You will be amazed at how much money you can save by making the most out of everything you harvest.