Off-Grid Food Preservation Methods

With these food preservation techniques, you can rely less on electricity and more on tried-and-true ways to preserve food: evaporation, fermentation, culturing, curing, and pickling.


| June/July 2016



Food preservation

A zeer keeps contents cool as water evaporates from damp sand or cloth between two clay pots.

Photo by London Permaculture

Before widespread refrigeration and electricity, people developed other food-preservation methods to slow down spoilage. Adopting some of these long-established ways to preserve food and relying less on modern ones will reduce your carbon footprint; increase your self-reliance; and cost less than canning, freezing, and other grid-dependent ways to preserve food. (Note: Home-preserved food may carry a slight risk of botulism or food poisoning. Find recipes tested for safety by the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

As you become familiar with these off-grid food preservation methods, you’ll be ready to try some recipes. Here are a couple of simple, delicious preparations that allow you to store food with traditional low-energy techniques:

Salted Fish Recipe
Rumtopf Recipe

How to Keep Food Cool Without a Refrigerator

Cool temperatures, such as those inside a refrigerator, don’t permanently preserve food, but they do significantly delay decay. The following practices helped people keep food cool long before the invention of refrigerators. You can use them — or your own solution for cooling and storing — when you try the recipes listed above.

Wet cloth wrap. Evaporation creates cooler-than-ambient temperatures, so simply wrapping a container of food in a wet cloth will help the food last longer than it would otherwise. The drier the surrounding air, the quicker the evaporation, and the more effective this method will be. Unfortunately, in a humid climate, the cooling effect will be negligible.

Zeer Pot. A zeer pot, or pot in pot refrigerator, is a small clay pot nestled within a larger, unglazed clay pot with damp sand or cloth stuffed between the two vessels. Like the wet cloth wrap, a zeer also works through evaporation. The food is placed in the central pot, which is then covered with a lid. Water evaporates from the sand or cloth through the porous outer pot — which is why using an unglazed pot is important — to cool the food within the smaller pot. If you choose this technique, you’ll need to add water to the sand occasionally, or stick one end of the cloth into a reservoir of water that it can wick up. Clay pot refrigeration also works best in arid climates where swift evaporation creates a significant cooling effect.





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