A solar food dehydrator can work well to preserve much of summer's harvest.
Because I like high-quality food but live somewhere that doesn't have a year-round growing season, the best way for me to ensure I have it available is to stockpile, store, and preserve food when it is in season and plentiful. I will outline some of the ways my mother and I have preserved food over the years.
Did you read my mom’s recipe in a past post about how to make cheese using milk that is souring (almost no longer good) or if you have extra milk? I would say the best way to figure out what you want to have plenty of is to make a list of what you love and use the most. For instance, I use tons of herbs and tomatoes, so I will explain how I make sure I have plenty of those items.
The best way to “store” food is on the plant. I plant tomato plants every 3 or 4 weeks so I have plenty of tomatoes over the fullest course of the growing season. For herbs, I have an herb garden right outside my kitchen door so I can have access to fresh herbs.
Growing up, we traveled a lot and didn’t have refrigeration, so we tended to dry the majority of our extra food. We dry vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes are heavenly) and fruits (I love dried strawberries or blueberries) on baking trays in a car parked in the sun. If you have bug problems even in your car, some get muslin or cheesecloth to cover everything as it dries. Mom finishes off the last drying either in our solar oven or in the gas oven with the temperature at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
I did also build a solar dryer (pictured above) using plans from the South Carolina Solar Energy Center as an outline, which worked well to dry things. However, high humidity caused the dryer to rot too quickly from the inside out, but it still had a good 5-year life. As we kids moved out, mom didn’t need to make so much food, so I never built a new solar drier. [Note, check out MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own "Best-Ever Solar Dehydrator Plans" for a tried-and-true design.]
My mom has a dehydrated-vegetable soup mix which consists of dried vegetables like, such as zucchini, carrots, greens, peas, celery, cilantro, garlic, and sometimes onion, but usually adds fresh onion to it. It is very tasty when made into a soup or added to a stew. Remember, you need plenty of water to reconstitute.
I wanted to include smoking as a way of preservation although we didn’t use it much growing up. I do clearly remember an intense few days when I was 13 or 14 when we were given a deer and, because we didn’t have a refrigerator, we smoked lots of jerky over a smoldering fire, and canned lots of deer meat.
It was a lot of work, but that was a tasty year of smoky food. I think one of my favorite snacks due to that winter of the deer is still pemmican, which is a mixture of dried/smoked meat, animal fat, and dried berries. If you think this is weird, a meat stick version of this is sold in every gas station across America.
Mostly, we tended to can our food growing up as a way to preserve. Cold-water canning just means not in a pressure canner. I recently went shopping to set up a friend with everything for basic canning, and even with three cases of jars, it was under $100.
We bought a couple of bushels of tomatoes at the farmer's market and ended up with three dozen jars of good, canned tomatoes and a couple gallons of tomato juice. I just bought one of those immersion blenders and that really shortened the prep (only quartered the tomatoes instead of diced them) and cooking time (usually I cook the tomatoes down into sauce) to liquefy the tomatoes. After straining out the juice, put in jars with lids and simmer for 45 minutes. I love the sound of the lids sealing as the jars seal.
I will readily admit that I have gotten lazy in my food storage since I got my deep freezers. I keep two, so I fill one up as I eat the other down. Deep freezers don’t use that much energy after the food is frozen, so this is actually a good way to store food when living off the grid.
The only issue is that if there is a long-term (2 days or longer) power outage, frozen food will thaw out if you don’t have a backup power source. I remember how during a region-wide week-long power outage (Inland Hurricane or Direcho), I actually bought another deep freezer to run on my off-the-grid solar system as I was given lots of food from businesses that was thawing out due to no electricity.
I filled two deep freezers with gourmet organic freezer meals. Really the only problem with deep freezers is I forget about it for long periods of time, so I break my rule: Whatever you store, make sure it is something you use on a regular basis. I have been better at making lists of what is in the freezer so I don’t have to root around to see what is in there.
Soup stock is way too expensive and many recipes call for it, so here is how I make and store it.
I save, in a gallon resealable bag in the freezer, every scrap of vegetables that I cut off (carrot tops, onion skins, celery bottoms, cucumber ends) as long as the pieces are not rotten. Once I have a full bag, I put it all in one of those pasta straining pots so I can easily strain the solids out after it is cooked. I put lots of water and let it simmer for at least 4 hours — but better overnight.
I also save all meat straps in a separate bag as I don’t like to have the vegetables and meat stored together. I feel it is a food safety thing. I have had meat scraps go bad in the freezer before vegetable scraps. Mostly the scraps I save are bones which I crack open with a big mortar and pestle. Sometimes I mix the meat and veggies, but usually I make soup stock and bone broth separately.
Using this method, I usually end up with just over a gallon and a half of flavorful liquid which I than can. If you make a small amount or don’t want to can it, it's good in the fridge for about a week, or once it is cool, pour into quart freezer bags to put into deep freeze. I just find that freezing liquid is a hassle, and if it is in the deep freeze, I rarely use it. I like the canned method better.
I look forward every day to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. Stay energized.
Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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