The dilemma in a SHTF scenario is how to have food supplies that will last, and how to preserve the food you acquire. All food is susceptible to mold, bacteria, and insects if exposed to moisture and warm temperatures. Therefore, measures must be taken to keep food in a state that allows it to last as long as possible.
Food preservation these days is simple. Our dry food sits on a shelf, while fruits, veggies, and dairy are in the refrigerator. Meat is stacked in a deep freeze so we can thaw it out whenever we are ready. We have three freezers full of meat. However, these methods become difficult if we have no electricity or if that electricity is limited. There are primitive food preservation methods that have been used for thousands of years. In this article we will cover ways to preserve your food without electricity.
The process of fermentation is one that is not discussed much, but is used by most civilizations. It is accomplished by combining yeast and sugars in a way that preserves the liquid and produces alcohol. Whether used for trading or for yourself, knowing how to complete this process is valuable. You can ferment fruits, vegetables, sugar, or milk. You simply add more sugar or honey until the yeast can no longer survive in the alcohol produced. The products produced can range from medicinal wines to products used to kill bacteria in water or wounds.
The practice of freezing food can be much more difficult without electricity. When it comes to meat and fish, freezing is by far the best way to preserve your proteins. To keep the food fresh, you will need temperatures at 30F or below. To do this you will likely need to pile snow or ice to create a chamber for storing your food. This would only work during winter months in most parts of the world. If you are worried about animals and you happen to have weather that keeps the air temperature below 30F, you can hang your food in a bear bag. This would need to be at least 10 feet off the ground.
When I was a child, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ house in the Ozark Mountains. They had an enormous garden that was easily larger than their house. Most of the fruits and vegetables that were yielded ended up in jars lining the walls of their garage. Canning ensured that they would always have a food supply even if the garden had an off year.
Fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish can all be canned if it is done properly. I started my canning career by making sweet pickles and then expanded from there. We have canned everything from tomatoes to peaches to bacon to venison. For any type of canning (water bath, pressure canning), you will need mason jars of appropriate size, lids, rings, and jar tongs to remove the jars from hot water. Fruits and vegetables can be canned using a large pot with boiling water. Meats typically require a pressure canner to get a good finished product. It should also be noted that dents in the lids or rings can be an issue along with any nicks along the lip of the jar. If a good seal is not created, the food will not be safe to eat.
Canning is an art form that can take years and years to perfect. By adding sugar, salt, herbs, and spices you can manipulate the flavor of the finished product in several ways. For basic canning of vegetables you will need to wash the jars, lids, and rings thoroughly. You will then need to heat all of those elements in a large pot with boiling water. While still hot, add your prepared vegetables and liquids to the jar. Apply your lid and ring and submerge the jars in boiling water with at least one inch of water above the lid. After 10 minutes, use the tongs to remove the jars and set them on a towel.
Let them sit and cool for a while and then check to make sure the lid is sucked in versus bulging out. If the jar and lid do not have a good seal, you will need to try and re-submerge the jar to create a better seal.
While cooling your foods does not preserve them nearly as well as freezing them, there is always a need to keep them cool to preserve them for shorter periods of time. Without electricity, your refrigerator is out of the question. Cooling is easy during the winter, but how do you keep your foods cool in the summer months? Try a zeer pot, also known as an evaporation cooler. For years I looked for a way to keep food cool in the summer without electricity, and then I found this method.
This design actually works with the same principle as an electric refrigerator. For this project you will need two large clay pots with one slightly larger than the other. Put a layer of sand in the bottom of the larger pot and set the smaller pot on top. Then fill in the gap between the two pots with sand.
Douse the sand with water and place your food inside the smaller pot. Cover with a white towel and place the whole device in a breezy, sunny area. The evaporating water will cool the contents by about 30F, which should keep it in the safe range to preserve your food for a while. You will need to keep adding water to the sand to keep it moist.
By far my favorite method by which to preserve food is dehydration. By removing moisture from foods, you eliminate the potential for mold and bacteria to grow. It also leaves your food in a form that is lightweight and takes up little space. Not all foods will dehydrate well, so you may have to blanch, boil, or pickle the foods before you dehydrate them. You can dehydrate foods by smoking, sun-drying, and using an electric dehydrator. For this article we will skip the dehydrator and focus on methods that require no electricity.
Sun-drying food is the easiest method by which you can dehydrate. For this process you will need to cut your food as thin as possible. It needs to be ¼ inch thick or less. Scoring both sides of the food will further help with the dehydration process. You can either build a rack on which you can place your food, or you can string up your strips of food with cordage.
Ideally, you want to put your food in a spot that has direct sunlight but is also breezy. This will keep the flies away. It should be high enough that animals cannot reach it. Generally, it will take several days to sun dry foods.
You will know it is done when it has the consistency of jerky. When you squeeze the food, no moisture should come out. You can speed up the process by adding salt and spices.
Smoking is my favorite method for preserving food. This process dries out the food and also adds a pleasant smoky flavor. The smoke also helps eliminate bacteria, and the heat dries out the food faster.
To smoke your food you will still want to cut it into strips that are less than ¼ inch thick. Build a fire and let it burn down to coals. Build a tripod above the coals and either build racks or use cordage to suspend the food. You want the heat to be mild enough to avoid actually cooking it. You should be able to hold your hand above the coals at the height of the food for eight seconds before having to move it. It typically takes eight to ten hours to smoke most foods. You can add salt and spices to speed up the process. If you want to hold in the smoke better, you can wrap a blanket or tarp around the tripod. Just be careful that it does not melt or catch on fire.
There are two other ways to dry meat that are a not quite as common. Curing meat is the process of using salt and sodium nitrate to draw moisture out of meat. A mixture of salt, curing salt, and spices are rubbed all over the meat and then it is cooled for a week. Then the meat is rinsed, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung for anywhere from a few weeks to several years to dry and age the meat. Salting is the process of completely encasing meat in a thick layer of salt for several days. The salt draw the moisture out of the meat creating a hard shell of salt. After the meat is done drying, the shell is broken and the meat rinsed and dried.
As you can see, there are plenty of primitive methods for preserving foods without electricity. The key to using these processes is having some practice before you actually need to rely upon them. Take the time to try out these techniques now, and start to build your preserved food supply. With a little effort and experience, you will stay fed when SHTF.