How to Preserve Food like the Native Americans

In the world where refrigeration is widely available, many of us don’t really think about preserving food much, because quite frankly the refrigerator does it for us. Survivalists however are aware of the fact that when the grid goes down, some if not all of the food we have in the fridge will spoil.

That’s why storage and preservation are necessary steps in survival preparation. We can learn a lot about food preservation from the Native Americans. Let’s see how to preserve food from a people who lived off of the land.

Sun-Dried Fruits, Vegetables and Meats

Using the heat of the sun to preserve foods by drying them out was the most widely used method. Simply they would prepare a spot and lay out the fruits and vegetables to dry; turning them often in order to make sure they dehydrated evenly.

These days we have many dehydration machines that we can use to dehydrate our foods, so we don’t really need to use such primitive methods as the Native American did. But for the sake of example, let’s see how to preserve fruits and vegetables by sun drying.


Fruits and vegetables are very easy to prepare and take little prep time. It is important that if you are going to use the sun drying method, to make sure you have a clean spot that has at least 8 hours of direct sunlight. Gather the fruits that you want to dehydrate and cut them according to your desired length and size. Acquire a large and flat plate or platter to lay your fruits out on.

Some people opt to use a drying tray that’s made specifically for sun drying foods. The choice is up to you. Once you have your surface, then lay them out and wait for the sun to do its job. Post someone to guard duty, making sure the insects, animals and birds don’t scoop in for the easy meal. Among the easier fruits to sun dry are:

  • Wild Berries
  • Apples
  • Strawberries


Once you’ve dried the desired amount of fruits, store them in mason jars or vacuum sealed bags. Sun-dried and stored in a cool dark place prolongs shelf life, extending the life of the berries far beyond their original fresh state. You can retrieve these items at a later date and use them for snacking or meal preparation.


Vegetables tend to have more water so their drying process may take a longer time. Corn is very easy to dehydrate. The best way to dry out corn is to take it a stalk of corn and cut the kernels off of it and spread it out on a flat plate. The sun will dry it completely and leave a tasty treat. Among other vegetables that are good for dehydrating are:

  • Squash
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Beans


Once these items have been dried, store them in mason jars or vacuum seal them and place into your survival food pantry. The key to preserving the foods that you dry is storing them in a cool and dark place. When planning out your pantry, this was a main factor. Food is best preserved when it’s stored away from direct sunlight and in a cool climate. It’s suggested that food is stored in temperatures at 60F or less.

Granted the Native Americans did not have mason jars or any apparatus to vacuum seal bags, but they did realize the need to keep their foods in cool and dark places. Many Natives who had settled a certain areas stored their foods in cool dark caves or cellars that they’d dug out.

Example of Fruit and Vegetable Drying

The Home Farm Ideas’ Youtube channel has a great video on sun drying fruits and vegetables on a rack. See how to do it easily here:


Meats are very tricky. The Native Americans learned over time how best to prepare and dry meats. What they learned was that the thinner the meat the easier it is to preserve. Then the idea of slicing the meat into thin pieces and drying across a rock became widely popular. Doing it this way gave them the ability to dry the meat in a quicker amount of time. It was also easy to pack away, carry with them, and store. Jerky meats are the product of this idea.

In order to use this method, it is very important that you have a clean place to lay out the meat that you want to dry. Then once you’ve selected a sunny clean place, proceed to slice the meats into very thin strips. Longer strips are favored over short thick strips. Thick strip will not work. Aim for thin bacon like strips of the meat. Here are a few types of meat that you can sun dry:

  • Deer
  • Rabbit

When you cut these thinly and lay them out to sun dry, after they have dried you can eat on these for a long time. You can pack the jerky in day packs, fanny packs for quick access to protein and you can also think about long term storage and vacuum sealing jerky strips in packs to access later.

The Invention of Pemmican

Over time, when the Natives found the need to go in search of their food, they needed to pack some foods to go with them. Along with nuts and berries and fruits, they also packed some of the meats that they had dried. They took the meats and mixed them with animal fats and spices and packed it to carry with them.

This was sort of like a fast food for them and they called it pemmican. Pemmican was a brilliant invention and the people enjoyed its quick preparation and its nutritional benefits. It is an ultimate survival food. If stored right, pemmican could last up to 20 years!

Watch this informative video about pemmican, by Jas Townsend and Son:

Smoked Meats

The process of smoking meats has been used for several centuries. People still smoke meats now to preserve the freshness. Native Americans in particular smoked the fish that they caught. Fish such as salmon and trout, does not last very so some type of preservation method was in order. No doubt they sun dried it, but dehydrating it robs it of its flavor. So the idea of smoking the fish was born.

How to Smoke Meats

The key to smoking meat is to expose it to a low indirect heat for a long period of time while smoking it. This is achieved by building a small fire and placing the meats on a rack above the heat source. Once the meat has been placed on the smoking rack, then it’s time to start placing kindling wood underneath it so that the smoke will infuse the meat.

The best smoking method that you can use virtually anywhere is a small grill. Layer the grill bottom with hot coals, add your grate, and place the meats on a section of the grill grate that is not in the line of direct heat. The key to properly smoking your meats so you can preserve them is to make sure the smoke is infused into your meat by means of indirect heat. Once your meats have been smoked you can continue to eat off of it for a few days.

Smoking meats is a favorite, with smoking fish like salmon comes in at a close second. You may choose to simply season it with salt and pepper before smoking or you can come up with your own flavorings and rubs to apply or infuse before the smoking process begins. It’s totally up to you.

In this video, Christopher Humphrey shared how he smoked a pork butt on a charcoal grill and infused it with deep rich smoked flavor.

Smoked Fish (Salmon)

Because of the thickness of its flesh, salmon is a favorite when choosing a type of fish to smoke. The Native Americans used salmon more frequently than any other caught fish to smoke and preserve. Here’s a great video on how to smoke salmon. Again like the meats, choice of seasoning it up to you.

The Native Americans were a people known for their ability to live off of the land, and make use of it without having a great impact on it. Their methods have withstood the test of time and is still being used today. They were experts with a lot of things that pertained to the land and nature. They adapted and changed their methods over time in order to make sure that their people survived. And that’s the goal of any survivalist. To preserve and extend the lives of his own. Taking these tips and incorporating them into your survival food preparation will help you to extend the shelf life of your foods and increase your life expectancy as a result.

About Mira J. Ross

Mira has been prepping for 10 years. Living in the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta with her 3 children, she's preparing not just for SHTF events but also for everyday emergencies.

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