Recently the question was posed to me about preserving foods in a crisis that outlasted the current supply of food stores. This was a survival question that seemed to have a basic answer until there were conditions placed on the preservation methods. I needed to come up with a solution to preserve foods without using modern methods, and solar power was out of the mix. This added complexity to the equation.
I set out to research the problem and was amazed at how out of touch I am with our recent history. Modern refrigeration is… well… exactly that modern! We have not had these luxuries for very long, and prior to the refrigerator, most of our food stores were preserved. As it turns out there are many solutions to food preservation that do not use electricity or solar for the outcome.
One of the easiest ways to prepare meat for the long haul is to soak it in salt water for a few days. The chemistry behind brining is simple. The salt in the water attacks the water molecules in the meat; this removes the moisture from the meat and prevents the microorganisms from forming and spoiling the animal protein. A perfect example of brined meat is pastrami and corned beef. When brining meat you can add spices to add flavor, or simply use salt. For this process you will need a lot of salt, the good news is that you can use just about any kind of salt. The amount of slat that is needed will vary but if you plan to rely on this method for many years you should consider moving to an area that has large slat deposits.
On a side note, a more efficient method may be to actually salt the meat and hang it, by all accounts it seems that a coarse salt works best for this. Also keeping the meat cool will help aid in the preservation of the meat.
If you are in a cooler climate and can build a smoke house or use an existing structure as a smoke house cold smoking is a decent method. You need to keep the overall temperature below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and for some meats much lower. If you are in a hot southern climate this may not work. The main idea is to lower the humidity and reduce the moisture content slowly over a few weeks. The result is a well-preserved piece of meat that will last at lower temperatures.
Not so long ago many vegetables were air dried, if your survival takes place in a cabin and you are able to grow your own food you can string some types of fresh produce up and air dry them. String beans work well for this type of preservation. If insects become a problem you can cover them with cheesecloth or some form of light paper. Just avoid plastic, as this will help retain moisture and possibly destroy your vegetables.
Other vegetables like potatoes and onions will preserve well in a cellar. If you do not have a cellar and you are in a survival situation, you can always make a rudimentary underground shelter. By digging a hole in the ground that is at least four or five feet deep, you will have the perfect shelter, the only thing that you will want to avoid is moisture so it is imperative that your survival cellar has proper ventilation to keep the air dry.
If you ever find yourself in need of a technique to preserve meat and are not prepared with emergency food storage, these methods will help get you through until civilization gets back on its feet. If you foresee the crash of modern civilization you might want to get good at these techniques, they will be a lucrative trade after a complete melt down. The good news is that none of these preservation methods are experimental, all of them have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years, and we have just lost touch with many of them.
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