Last year I committed myself to putting up (canning) 400 food items before the first snow fall of the year. This is an admiral goal, which may take several years to accomplish, but I am set on making this happen.
Since moving off-the-grid and putting a big focus on producing as much food as we can for my family, canning has become a staple production during the growing season. Whether I grow it, or score a good deal from a neighboring farm, there are plenty of ways to preserve the seasonal bounty that Maine has to offer.
Canning has been around since the early 1800's when France sought after a means to keep food for extended periods of time without the potential for bacteria growth or spoilage. Today, the Mason jars are a household staple and although they are used for a wide range of purposes, their main reason to is store food at room temperature for many months to potentially years.
I first learned to "can" food back in my late teens when a friend of I ended up with hundreds of pounds of tomatoes come late summer. Although we gave away as much as we could, the bounty was ridiculous and we needed a method to preserve the tasty tomatoes we grew. His grandmother, Nan, taught me how to put up tomatoes without having to use a water bath. It was so easy, I've been using the same technique ever since.
Canning is not for farmer's only. Any person who access to excess fruit and vegetables can put up some jars in just a matter of a few hours. It is a versatile way to store acidic foods and come in handy if those who are grid tied, have to deal with extended lose of electricity.
Choosing to live a sustainable life, one that is based in and around nature means utilizing techniques to preserve the bounty that the warmer months of the year provides. Syrups, sauces, and chutneys are just a few ways to transform a variety of ingredients into winter staples. Tomatoes get cooked down into sauce, elderberries merge with honey + vanilla for immune supporting syrup, or packing cucumbers or greens beans in brine for a delicious sour pickle to enjoy in January.
While traditional water bath canning is an effective technique for many ingredients, it is not ideal for preserving low acid foods like meat, fish, or straight up vegetables. This is where a pressure cooker comes in handy.
Although canning is a great means to food preservation, it does require a lot of hands on prep. Below are a few other ways to preserve an abundance of food for extended periods of time.
Preserving without Canning
From a savory foods perspective, vinegar extractions are one of my favorite methods of food preservation. With a low ph, unpastuerized apple cider vinegar (which I can source locally or make myself) acts as a solvent, extracting both flavor and medicine from a wide array of ingredients. Fire Cider, the potent medicinal extract of spicy herbs and vegetables are infused into a blend of apple cider vinegar and honey. Since learning the technique, I have been making it every fall with my own or locally sourced ingredients.
Every fall I take a large portion of my homegrown garlic, chop it up, then age it in Sewells organic apple cider vinegar for a minimum of 6 months. Actually, the longer it sits, the better it gets! If you want to make your own, check out my recipe here.
Culinary and medicinal herbs like sage, rosemary, lamb's quarter's, and cat's claw are just a few plants that can make a great tasting vinegar. For the best possible end results, be sure to use organic unpastuerized apple cider vinegar as it contains active cultures and is tops in flavor.
Organic vodka or grape alcohol provides us with an ability to make our own medicine at home. Tincturing is a way to extract medicinal compounds from a wide array of plants that can be used for months after the season has past.
With the addition of some honey, you can make a sexy cordial to enjoy with your partner that can feature elderberry flowers, damiana, passionflower, or rose, to name a few...
Double extractions using both alcohol and water can be one of the most beneficial ways to take in medicine from mushrooms and plant material. Check out Surthrival's dual extracts of Medicinal Mushrooms and one of my favorites, Pine Pollen Pure Potency.
How about some autumn olive fruit leather? Yes please... Today, dehydration is an underutilized technique for preserving food although it is a great way to dry excess fruits and vegetables as well as being a effective tool for creating unique recipes like fruit leather or pemmican. On the downside, unless you are building yourself a solar dehydrator, these machines rely on electricity to perform, so in a grid down situation, your cool tool is now useless.
I've owned the 9 tray Excaliber dehydrator since 2006 and have used it hundred of times to make everything from coconut macaroons, to various fruit leathers. Heck, I've even dried out the my son's placenta after he was born to make medicine for my wife!
One of my favorite culinary topics, fermentation transforms a variety of ingredients into nutrient dense, easy to absorb "living" foods by converting sugars into acids, gases, or alcohol. Although fermented foods are not completely shelf stable, they can last for long periods of time under refrigeration or cold storage. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and pickled vegetables are just a few recipes that are staple foods across the globe.
Never made sauerkraut before? Check out my detailed recipe HERE and start making your own fermented foods at home now!
Cured meats are about as old as you lineage. With the addition of salt, meat and fish can be stored throughout the year without the need for electricity. Salami, salt cod,
Through osmosis, water is extracted out of the cells, stopping any potential for microbial growth and in return allowing meats of fish to be stored for long periods of time. This can be a fantastic way to preserve large chunks of meat. Think proscuitto.
Pictured above is a breast of a duck I raised that was cured in salt and hung to dry in my attic. The end result was a tasty appetizer I served to friends over a New Year's Eve celebration.
Although we often think of the Arctic and Inuit people for curing meat, it is a staple food in countries like North Africa, Scandinavia, and Russia. For more detailed info and exact recipes, check out Charcuterie, it's on my bookshelf!