Back in the day, even after electricity was widely available, most food storage was done off the grid. Most refrigerators were too small to hold much, so only the things that absolutely must be refrigerated to be safe, like milk, cheeses and leftover cooked meals, were kept there. Most foods were dried, pickled, canned or kept in the natural cold storage of a root cellar to ensure that fruits and vegetables were available year round.
The art of preserving food without refrigeration is observing a renaissance, partly due to tough economic times, but that`s not the only reason. A lot of mass-produced commercial food contains an overabundance of sugar and salt and much of it contains trans-fats, artificial colors and flavors and chemical preservatives. These not only pose health risks, but they also mask and distort the natural flavors unique to fresh produce.
With the rise of urban homesteading, many households grow too much to eat themselves, so preserving their excess avoids wasting it. There are several ways to preserve foods, most of which are astonishingly simple.
Drying fruits and vegetables is one of the simplest ways to preserve them. Many fruits can be chopped and sliced and then spread on a screen topped with a layer of cheesecloth. Place another layer of cheesecloth on top and leave the produce outside in the sun for two days or so. Once the fruit is dried, layer it with sugar in sterile glass jars. You can also dry chili peppers, herbs and cut vegetables by hanging them.
Pickling foods can be as simple as layering freshly washed lemon wedges in a sterile jar with kosher salt and lemon juice to more complicated old school methods of brining that require weeks of soaking and skimming.
Canning, or heat preserving, foods is best done in glass jars because they are easy to sterilize and can be reused indefinitely. The basic process is very simple. Sterilize the glass jars and simmer the lids to soften the inner sealing material.
Wash and prepare your fruit. This often involves cooking it down and straining it, though many fruits (and especially vegetables) can go into the jars, raw. Once the produce is in the jars, along with any liquid the recipe calls for, place the lids on and tighten them almost all the way. Place them into a pot of boiling water and cook them as per your recipe`s instructions.
Take the jars out of the water and place them on folded dishtowels, because if you set them on a cold counter they may crack. The lids will make a little pinging sound as the jars cool, creating the vacuum that keeps the food safe from bacteria. The key to this type of food preservation is to sterilize the jars and pay careful attention to the processing times, which can take as long as eight hours.
The best way to guarantee healthy and delicious home-preserved foods is to use the freshest produce and the highest quality basic equipment. The urban homesteading trendsetters at The Backyard Chicken Farmer highly recommend browsing the wares of home goods purveyors such as Wares of Knutsford to start building your collection of beautiful and functional home preserving equipment.