When I introduced this topic to a couple of my friends, they remarked “ALL food is perishable.” And ultimately, they are right. Food is organic, and all organic things ultimately decay – whether we’re talking about food, plants, animals, anything with life in it. But the amount of time before perishing certainly varies. A person may live to be only a few years old or may live to be a century old. Likewise, leaves compost much more quickly than tree limbs though they come from the same root source.
So here we are discovering how to prepare and stock foods to last for longer periods of time. The times vary, as do the processes. But we all know that without the constant supplies of a grocery, fresh, ready-to-eat foods generally just aren’t available. Let’s look at some ways to make the foods we CAN obtain last longer than the few days fresh veggies and fruits may give us. We’ll discuss ways to obtain the foods in the next several blogs. Here we’ll look at how to keep them once we get them.
When I was a kid, we had a root cellar. Many fruits and veggies will keep for several months in such a cellar. It was simply a hole in the ground with concrete walls and a concrete floor, and it was covered with a wood or tin roof. You may have a storm cellar built much like this and that makes it a great root cellar too. My folks stored their ample potato crop under our house which rested on concrete posts! It was regularly my job to crawl under the house to answer mom’s call, “Randy, go get us some potatoes.”
Six feet below ground usually keeps a temperature of around 65-degrees – not unlike a refrigerator. So, things you keep in a refrigerator work well here. Now, putting a big box of apples, or pears, in this environment requires that the fruits don’t touch each other since one spot of mold spreads quickly. But if you layer the fruits in straw so that they don’t touch, you’ll keep a lot more apples. Other foods easily kept this way are potatoes, turnips, onions, beets, cool-weather greens such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage, carrots, leeks and parsnips, and winter radishes. Winter squash, garlic, and sweet potatoes are great additions, too. If the cellar has lower humidity, you can also store dried beans.
For longer storage or products that don’t lend themselves to a cellar, try fermenting. Cabbages make kraut. It ferments when shred and sprinkled with salt. Cucumbers are chopped or sliced and added to a saltwater brine to make pickles. Both ways have a brine and create an environment where beneficial bacteria can grow. Other foods that fit one or both of these methods are carrots, beets, green beans, garlic, and many peppers. These foods may be put in a cool place and kept for many months.
For many years, folks have been canning their excess summer foods. My mom was an expert at it. But in my childhood, most families canned summer produce to enjoy all year long. Some foods were precooked and put in jars, which were then put in a boiler pan and brought to a boil to remove excess air. Then when they cooled, we heard the “pop” of the lids as the seals seated and kept the contents edible for years! I delighted in eating my mom’s homemade vegetable soup for a decade after it was canned. If you’ve never canned, there are a number of great teaching books with exact instructions and aged comments on techniques and ideas. Just practice. You’ll love it next winter!
A simple dehydrator is another tool for long-term storage preparation. Removing the moisture from the foods and then putting them in jars with a desiccant to draw out the oxygen that causes them to spoil is an easy process and can be accomplished with a simple electric dehydrator, placing trays over a wood stove, or even placing the foods on screens or a pan in the hot sun – we’ve all tasted sun-dried tomatoes, right?
And since freezing saves more nutrients than simple drying. Most families in years past had a home freezer chock-full of nutritious family favorites. I’ve recently looked at a unit you can purchase for your home that performs “home freeze-drying”. It freezes to below 50-degrees removes the moisture and works for all foods: garden-fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, meats, and completer meals. You then just put the foods removed from the machine, put them in jars, add the desiccant, and seal the jars. They claim this process will keep your food nutritious and flavorful for up to 25 years.
Among the four things in Proverbs 30:24-28 that Solomon said were small but extremely wise, he mentioned “ants are not a strong people, yet they store up their food in the summer” so they would have food later. And by storing up your own food, you control the quality and the nourishment of the foods you select. Protect your family’s food supply so you may keep them healthy!
- Randy Lee, BSE, MS, ND, is the Owner of The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, 73130. Call us at (405) 736-1030, and visit our website at www.thehealthpatch.com.