Waste Not, Want Not : Food Preservation and Preparation

canning-3-150x150How many times have you scraped food off your plate and thought to yourself, “Man, do we waste so much food,” or  money down the drain so to speak?  How much food have you thrown away out of your refrigerator because it wasn’t eaten in time and just sat there rotting?  Again, money down the drain.  I know I have done it hundreds of times.  I have even spent so much money on different bowls that are *suppose* to help food stay fresher longer,but most don’t work and I was tired of wasting money.  In doing all of these things, I was inspired to learn ways to save money and food which in turn, lead me to Food Preservation and Preparation. Food preservation means the treating and handling of food to stop or slow down food spoilage or bacteria growth.  There are many different ways to preserve food.  (listed below) The object of food preservation, aside from storing your foods and making them last longer, is to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast and fungi.  If food is not preserved correctly it can cause botulism and other sickness that you don’t want to experience.  That is a scary thought for me, but following instructions carefully on the way you choose to preserve your food is ultimately up to you.  Safety first. Utah’s University offers many different ways and recipes for food preservation.  I will discuss a few different ways to preserve foods, but the way you choose to do this is up to you and may require more research on your part, as it would be impossible for me to cover all of them in one article. Here are different methods of preserving food for you to choose from:

  • Drying: one of the oldest food preservative techniques that reduces water activity to prevent bacteria growth
  • Vacuum Packing: my preferred method 🙂 The storage of food in a vacuum sealed bag or jar.
  • Curing/Salting: draws out moisture in meat through a process called osmosis.  The meat is cured with salt or sugar or both.
  • Sugaring: Used to preserve fruits
  • Smoking: Used by exposing meat to smoke off of materials such as wood
  • Pickling: Pickling is a method of preserving food in an edible anti-microbial liquid. Typical pickling agents include brine (high in salt), vinegar, alcohol, and vegetable oil, especially olive oil but also many other oils.
  • Canning and Bottling: Canning involves cooking food, sealing it in sterile cans or jars, and boiling the containers to kill or weaken any remaining bacteria as a form of sterilization.
  • Jellying: Food may be preserved by cooking in a material that solidifies to form a gel. Such materials include gelatine, agar, maize flour and arrowroot flour.
  • Potting: A traditional British way of preserving meat (particularly shrimp) is by setting it in a pot and sealing it with a layer of fat. Also common is potted chicken liver; compare pâté.
  • De-Hydration: Removing of moisture from food
  • Freeze Drying:  To preserve food by rapid freezing and vacuum drying.

Some of these methods can be found at http://www.wikipedia.org/ fruitFood preservation is very important to our survival.  Not only did our mothers and grandmothers can/jar food for a longer store, so do our local grocery stores.  Everyday you pass by these old techniques on the isles and shelves.  Amazingly enough, it is not as hard as it sounds to preserve food.  Having a garden is one very good reason to learn how to do so.  Our garden often produces much more than our family can eat and I end up giving many of our food items to neighbors so it won’t spoil.  (It is also a great way to get to know your neighbors 🙂 )  Another great place to buy foods to preserve is the farmers market. These foods are typically grown organically and taste much better than store bought fruits and vegetables.  I myself prefer the farmers market when I am buying foods to preserve for the simple fact that the money goes into a persons pocket and not a corporation, but that’s an entirely separate issue.  This is a great beginning to a healthier way to live and to be more financially responsible when it comes to food selection.  Imagine buying a bushel of peaches at your local farmers market for half of what you would pay at a store and jarring them!  The next time you want peaches, instead of paying over two dollars for a small can you would have a whole big jar of them pre-made.  Or my personal favorite, apple pie filling, mmmmmm.  In this article I have chosen to discuss food dehydration ans a source of preserving your foods. Dehydrating: There are many different benefits to food dehydration.  Dehydrating is another low cost way to preserve foods that you can’t or don’t want to jar.  Or perhaps you have an over abundance of a fruit or vegetables and no way to can them, then this might be the way to go for you!  This way is very good for a person who doesn’t have a lot of space to store foods and is also a worry free way to save your foods and not be concerned with botulism. Selection and Preparation:

  • Select your fruits or vegetables carefully.  You don’t want any that are bruised.  You want fruits that are ripe and ready to eat.
  • Cut your food selections into pieces as you would serve them.  For example, you would slice bananas, but with apples you could slice them or cut them into rings.  Keep food evenly sliced is size and in thickness.  Slices cut at about 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch usually dry more quickly than thicker cut slices.
  • To prevent browning, try to stem your foods or coat light colored fruits and vegetables with acids such as lemon juice or a  product called Fruit Fresh before drying.
  • Most fruits need some sort of preparation before drying.  Most fruits do not need to be peeled before drying, but things such as cherries or tomatoes have a waxy peel so would need to be cracked also known as blanched.  Blanching means to scald or parboil in water or steam in order to remove the skin.  Apples are peeled, cored and sliced. Peaches would be cut in half and pitted.  Here is a good place to get an idea of how to prepare different sorts of fruits.

Drying Process :

  • Dehydration Equipment:  Selecting the right equipment that is good for you is important.  The three most common ways to dehydrate are using a conventional oven, a store bought dehydrator or using the sun.  We use a solar oven often but not always. You can make your own or purchase one pre-made, but that can get pricey.  If you purchase one please make sure to read the directions.  Drying times with each method will vary.
  • You want to maintain a temperature of 130F-140F degrees.  The important thing to have is air circulation.  The circulating air removes the moisture from your foods to prevent spoilage. The drying temps of 130F-140F allow for fast removal of moisture to seal in flavor and nutritional values.  If you don’t have proper air circulation or the temperatures are not correct, that will allow unwanted changes in your food you might not like, such as texture, color or flavor changes.
  • If dried correctly, your food  should be leathery, hard or brittle.

Conditioning Your Fruit: This process is done AFTER you dry your fruit

  • Conditioning is a process used to equalize the moisture to reduce the risk of mold growth.
  • When you remove your fruit from your dehydrator, it might still contain some moisture due to its positioning or thickness in the machine.
  • After being dried, allow the fruit to condition for about 8-10 days.  To condition the fruit, take the fruit that has cooled completely and pack it *loosely* in plastic or glass jars.  Seal the container and let it condition.  The excess moisture will be absorbed by the drier pieces.
  • Gently shake the jars daily to loosen the fruit so it doesn’t become compacted.
  • Check the moisture in the jar.  If you begin to see condensation in your jar, remove the fruit and return it to your dehydrator.
  • After conditioning you may then package and store your fruit.

Packaging Your Fruits and Vegetables:

  • The amount of food you package in one container is completely up to you. We like to package ours in amounts we think we might eat, because once your food is re-exposed to air and moisture, the quality of the food and its nutrients will lower.
  • Choosing how you package your food can depend on what you are packaging. Metal cans, glass jars or plastic containers are all acceptable ways for storing dried foods. Plastic bags are acceptable as well, but are not mouse, bugs or pet proof. Foods that have been sulfured should not touch metal cans so make sure and place it in a bag first and then in the metal container.

Storing Your Finished Products:

  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place and use within 6-12 months after packaging.  Most dried fruit will last about a year if stored at 60F and 6 months at 80F.  I would not recommend storing in the garage.
  • Storing your foods in glass jars or containers is ideal so you can check your foods moisture frequently.  If you see any condensation but no spoilage then eat immediately or re-dry.  Anything with mold or that smells bad should be thrown away.

dehydrating   You are now on your way to dehydrating foods and learning many other methods of preserving your foods.  I hope this article will help you see how easy it is to save money and store your food for much longer than you would normally store it.  Eating healthier is always our main goal when preparing food for ourselves and our family.  I assure you that this is a much healthier and a tastier way to live and hope you enjoy your learning process.  Please feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments that may help others.  I would love to hear about your new adventures as you begin to preserve your own foods.  Keep it Spicy.

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