If you have a garden, you have likely experienced an abundance of produce at one time or another that you could not use right away. Knowing how to preserve your extra harvest will not only allow you to savor your garden’s deliciousness throughout the rest of the year, but food preservation can allow us to stock up on some extra food for times when we might need it. Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, knowing how to preserve food is a very useful skill to have in case we buy too much produce from a farmers market or picked loads of fruit at an orchard.
To assist you with making your food preservation journey more sustainable, the following is a list of natural food preservation methods that do not require electricity. Think of these methods as a way to reconnect with the wisdom of our ancestors, as well as a way to be gentle on our Earth.
- Sun Drying. Due to the high amounts of sugar and acid in fruits, they can easily be dried outdoors in the sun on a sunny day. A hot, dry, and breezy day is the best condition, with a minimum outdoor temperature of 85℉ (29.5°C). Humidity should be below 60% during the entire drying period.
It is not recommended to dry vegetables and meats in the sun because they do not contain the necessary sugars and acids that fruit do, and raw meats can easily become contaminated with bacteria.
Foods that have been drying outdoors should be brought inside overnight covered to avoid moisture condensation in the air during the night.
Screens or racks are helpful to allow air circulation over the drying food, and to avoid insect and bird issues, two screens are best (with one to serve as a shelf, and the other one to serve as a cover over the food)[sc:1].
Examples of sun-dried foods are sun-dried raisins and sun-dried tomatoes.
- Drying. Some foods like fresh herbs can simply be dried in a warm, dry place. Hanging them upside down tied with twine in your kitchen is a great way to do this. An alternative is to place your fresh herbs inside paper lunch sacks where they will dry on their own.
Once your goodies are fully dry, you should store them in a storage container such as glass jars with lids to help keep them dry and away from dust and insects. This is an excellent use for that recycled glass jelly jar that you have been saving in your kitchen cupboard.
- Fermentation. Fermentation is not only a way to preserve food itself, it is also a great way to preserve and enhance the nutrition of these items. Fruits and vegetables are commonly fermented, such as during the preparation of sauerkraut and kimchi.
Fermentation is sometimes used to preserve meat, such as during the preparation of salami and pepperoni.
- Salting. Salt is a very useful preservative of meat, and has been used as such for much of human history. Salt is also a key ingredient in the process of fermenting different kinds of vegetables.
- Vinegar. Because vinegar is a natural preservative, it works very well for preserving different vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, and onions. Vinegar also works great for preserving fresh herbs, and can be used to create herbal vinegars that add an extra something special to a homemade vinaigrette salad dressing. Regular white vinegar can be used for food preservation, but for added nutrition, apple cider vinegar is a great choice.
- Smoking Meat. Smoke cooking is used for the preservation and to instill flavor in meat. Commonly smoked meats include hams, bacon, salmon, herring, and oysters.
- Honey. It is well-known that honey can last for many years. Because of its high sugar content, honey contains very little water, thus prohibiting most bacteria and other microorganisms from surviving there. Honey is naturally acidic, which readily kills off microbes, and it naturally contains a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, which also helps to kill germs.
Keeping your honey sealed will ensure that it not be exposed to moisture that would cause it to eventually spoil over time[sc:2].
Honey is so good at preserving things that it was used during Medieval times to preserve fruits and other foods[sc:3].
- Alcohol. Consumable varieties of alcohol such as rum and brandy can be used to preserve summer fruit like berries and can then be used to make gourmet treats. This is certainly more of an adult food preservation project, but it could nonetheless be an enjoyable one.
80- to 100-proof alcohol varieties such as vodka can also be used to preserve the healthful properties of medicinal herbs by making your own herbal tinctures from herbs that you have grown yourself.
- Root Cellaring. Having a root cellar in your home is a great way to extend the useful life of produce like carrots, cabbage, beets, potatoes, and turnips, but you could also store other foods like sweet potatoes, nuts, apples and pears.
- Saving seeds. While the saving of seeds is not likely the first thing that you think of during a discussion about food preservation, it actually plays a very important role in preserving food plant species, giving it a wider application than just preserving food for the winter.
Continued seed saving preserves important varieties of fruits and vegetables and their important biodiversity for generations to come that simply would not otherwise exist. So, by saving seeds, we truly are saving and preserving food in an even more critical way than when we ferment, dry, or root cellar our harvest.