I kind of hate to put the “real” in real food in quotation marks as if to imply that it is not in fact real. But there is a difference –to me anyway– between food and real food. I see “real” food as rather unaltered, minimally processed, raw (in terms of dairy), preservative-free, and untouched by chemicals or artificial additives. Like raw milk, fermented breads, cultured and probiotic drinks, raw fruit, pasture-fed meats, blah blah blah. In other words, not pop tarts. The modern “problem” of preserving such real foods is that they don’t contain those creepy chemical preservatives and so take more care to preserve.
The Weston A. Price Foundation meeting I attended last night was geared towards practical ways to preserve real foods. The whole meeting (if you want to call it that… it was more like a mini class) was full of like minded folks just trying to pass on experiences and thoughts to others. It also helped that one of my buddies was there as well. We sat up front and took notes like teacher’s pets 😉 and whispered silly things to each other about how creepy and gross the real food process is.
Food Dehydrators: One of the teachers brought in a mondo Excalibur brand 9-tray electric dehydrator. (Apparently they come in pretty colors now!) My bartered dehydrator is about half the size and it was nice seeing what is possible in a mega super huge model. So keep in mind that food dehydrators are pulling the water out of the food at a low temperature. Once the food is dry you should store it in a glass jar to keep little critters out. If there is still moisture left, you will see condensation inside the jar. If you are storing your dehydrated food in a ziplock bag, you may want to put it in the freezer for 48-72 hours to kill any critter hitchhikers.
Here are some creepy (just kidding) things you can make in your food dehydrator:
Fruit leather, yogurt, meat jerky, smoothie leather, herbs, lettuce, kale chips, broth turned into powder, yogurt turned into powder, fruit, veggies, powdered eggs (scramble first), and you can even proof bread in a food dehydrator.
Solar Ovens: Apparently solar oven temperatures can reach the 300’s! I think I have underestimated these guys. This is my quite crude and quick sketch of the 18″W x 18″L x 12″T solar oven. It was built of wood, had a black interior, plexiglass top, lightweight mirrors, and a swinging tray inside to keep your pot level I’m guessing. Looks easy enough to build yourself. That is, as long as you can make a box.
Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning: Okay. Let me try to explain this as best I can. Essentially “water bath canning” is a pot o’ boiling water that you can use to can high acid foods like fruits and tomatoes by submerging the jars in the boiling water. Tomato is a fruit after all. Some hybrid tomatoes do not contain enough natural acid though so may need some lemon juice or vinegar added. If you want to “water bath can” veggies, you need to add acid –like vinegar– making it into a pickled veggie.
“Pressure canning” is for low acid or high acid foods. Low acid foods include: soup, broth, chili, meats, eggs, beans, and veggies. Pressure canners can at a much higher temperature using steam instead of submerging the jars in water. The higher temperature kills of much more potentially hazardous bacteria and that is why low acid foods are so much safer when pressure canned. Fun thing I learned is that you can put soaked (not cooked) beans, spices, and raw meat into a jar, pressure can it, and then you have completely cooked and preserved and sealed CHILI! Guys, that’s amazing. I had no idea. Same thing with meat; raw meat pressure canned makes a completely cooked and preserved jar of meat ready for the shelf.
Really, at this point, I am already glad I went to the meeting/class. Canned chili folks. Canned. Chili. What’s better?
Smoked Meats: Alright. Home smoked meats may just be better than almost effortless canned chili. Aaaalmost.
Kudos to you if you can actually read my handwriting. And disregard my obvious misspelling of cellar and Himalayan… I was writing really fast with a stinky sharpie. So someone invented a stovetop smoker. Genius! I want one! There are a few ways to naturally cure and smoke foods; I will just list them here and then put a few sources at the end of this post that you can look into or google search.
When using salt to cure foods, they don’t mean white table salt. You’re looking for Himalayan salt, Celtic salt, or curing salt. You can also use some sort of a “celery cure” which is composed of celery and whey and works similar to nitrates. I have never tried it, but there is a great source listed below of a local woman who loves the celery cure and her blog, Stitching Hearts Together.
There are two types of smoking, a hot smoke where the meat sits over the heat, and a cold smoke where the meat sits away/above/to the side of the heat source. The smoke penetrates and permeates through the meat and cures it completely. Smoked meat can last for a very, very long time and (if done correctly) needs no further preservation. Think of those sticks of Hickory Farms summer sausage. The ones that come in the gift boxes with cheese and crackers. Same thing only better and healthier. Store smoked meats in a cool, dark place with good air circulation like a root cellar.
Cheeses: cure and wax. Easy peasy. Hard cheeses are your best bet for preserving.
Fermentation: We have talked about fermented foods here before like sourdough and ginger bug sodas, but the most common fermented food would have to be sauerkraut. You can even make a fermented veggie mix using some sort of lacto-fermented starter (like whey). For some reason, and hopefully someone more enlightened can fill us in on the reason behind it, you want to have 1/2 of each jar of lacto-fermented veggies to be full of leafy greens. I wish I had heard why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that leafy greens help hold on to the necessary bacteria to ferment the batch. Also, soaked and fermented oats do not need to be cooked. Cool.
Long Term Storage: Look into Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers and canning (water bath or pressure canning). Dehydration does preserve foods well, but not for long periods of time without using the Mylar bags which can increase a shelf life to about 20 years.
I hope I wasn’t too long winded! I was just so excited about learning and re-learning so many things in the course of two hours. I sure am glad I took notes and drew sad little pictures to remind myself of things.