If you buy vegetables in bulk, or you’re an avid gardener, you may find yourself occasionally faced with more food than you can eat at any one time. Rather than let perfectly good food spoil, here are five easy ways to preserve it for future use.
Canning is the old standby for long-term storage of perishable foods. There are two primary types of canning, water bath canning, and pressure canning. Water bath canning is the process most people are familiar with, using mason jars and boiling water to preserve high acid foods such as fruits, jams and jellies, and tomatoes. The main thing to worry about when canning is the prevention of botulism poisoning. That’s why water bath canning should not be used to can low acid foods.
Pressure canning is a newer method of canning that uses high pressure and higher temperatures to can food. Pressure canning is the preferred method of canning for low-acid foods such as soups, meats, and many types of vegetables, as it meets the minimum temperature requirements necessary to destroy botulism spores. As long as the proper steps are taken to adhere to safe canning practices, the risks of botulism poisoning can be avoided and foods can be canned and safely stored for the months or years to come.
2. Cold Storage
Many older houses were built with root cellars, intended to store root vegetables and other foodstuffs that benefited from cooler storage. Root cellars for food storage should keep food at cellar temperature (50-55F) to prevent spoilage. That means that they are more practical for storing food over winter rather than in the summer months when ambient air temperatures may be higher. Foods that fare well in root cellars include root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and rutabagas, fruits such as apples, and other vegetables such as onions and garlic.
3. Drying or Dehydrating
Preserving food by drying or dehydrating is an old method that, thanks to modern technology, is now within the grasp of most people today. You can still dry food the old-fashioned way, leaving it out to dry naturally either in the sun or in an area with plenty of airflow. This is often the best way to dry out various herbs that might get damaged by excessive heat, but it’s less than ideal for moister foods that might start to rot or spoil when humidity levels are high.
Commercial dehydrators are available at relatively reasonable prices, allowing you to dry food right on your kitchen counter without taking up much space. Many ovens nowadays also come with a dehydration option, allowing you to dry large amounts of fruit or make lots of jerky with ease. Many drying methods recommend that you heat food to 160F for 30 minutes or freeze at 0F for 48 hours to kill insect eggs or bacteria that might remain in any food you dry.
The viability of freezing for food storage is driven mostly by the availability of space in your refrigerator freezer. If you want to freeze large amounts of food, it might be good to look into purchasing a chest freezer. 7-cubic foot chest freezers can often be found new for less than $200, and offer enough space to fit a quarter of a cow, or up to roughly 200 pounds of food.
When preparing fresh vegetables for freezing, the most common recommendation is to blanch them before freezing. Blanching stops the enzymatic processes that are at work within the vegetables, extending their shelf life within the freezer. Vacuum sealing is also recommended for long-term storage of frozen foods, as it helps prevent freezer burn that can ruin frozen foods. Vacuum sealers and bags are also readily available at reasonable prices.
5. Freeze Drying
Freeze drying is most often associated with astronaut food or survivalist food kits. The technology to freeze dry food is now available for home use but it’s still pretty expensive. Expect to pay well over a thousand dollars for a single freeze-drying unit. For the average person that probably isn’t worth it, but for larger families or those who want to store large amounts of food, especially cuts of meat, it might be worth looking into. Freeze dried food is incredibly lightweight and if properly processed and stored can have a shelf life of several years.