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When we think of food preservation, a lot of times the first thing that comes to mind is pantry shelves filled with home-canned foods in glass jars. And, while canning is definitely a great way to preserve the harvest, there are several other ways to preserve food without canning at all.
Sometimes it can start to seem as though if you really want to live an old-fashioned simple life or be a homesteader putting up the food from your garden harvest then you need to can most of your own food. But if you’re just getting started with old-fashioned living or if you don’t have a lot of extra money to buy a pressure canner or other canning supplies or you aren’t ready yet to learn about the safety precautions for how to can your food properly, then it can start to feel like you can’t be a “real” homesteader until you learn how to can your own food.
The thing is, though, that even though there are definitely many great benefits to canning, there are several other ways that you can preserve food and people have been preserving food for many, many years before canning even existed. When you think about it, canning is actually a relatively new method of food preservation because it wasn’t even something that was common until the mid 19th century. Before that time people used other methods to preserve their harvest to last through the winter.
Here’s an overview of a few different ideas for how you can preserve the food from your garden harvest or from a farm stand without using the canning method of preservation.
Ways to Preserve Food Without Canning
Drying or dehydrating is one of the simplest methods of food preservation, and it’s one that you can use for several different types of food. I tend to use drying the most often for drying my own herbs from the garden and for drying beans to use for homemade baked beans. You can dry many other foods, too, and modern dehydrators make the drying process even easier and faster if you have access to one of those. Or, if you’re like me and you don’t have a dehydrator, then you can still dry many foods the old-fashioned way by air-drying them or by using low heat such as an oven on the lowest setting or even using the sun like with traditional sun-dried tomatoes.
This is a semi-modern method of food preservation. I say semi-modern because people in earlier centuries who lived in climates with cold winters could certainly have taken advantage of the freezing winter temperatures to preserve some of their food.
In our modern context, though, we can enjoy the convenience of using a freezer year-around, and we aren’t limited to preserving food in that way just in the winter time. Freezing is a very easy way to preserve food for a long time, and it can work well for both vegetables and fruits and even for things like homemade jams and jellies, homemade tomato sauce, etc.
The one drawback to using a freezer is that you are dependent on having some sort of power source to keep the freezer running, and if you lose electricity for an extended period of time then you could potentially have the food in your freezer thaw out and spoil unless you have a backup power source.
Cold Temperature and Room Temperature Storage
Some vegetables need hardly preparation at all for storing for several weeks or even months in a cool place or even just at room temperature. In earlier centuries, many different types of vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions potatoes, cabbage, etc. could have been stored for months in the cool temperatures of a root cellar.
For those of us in the modern day, we can sometimes replicate the conditions of a root cellar by using a refrigerator or by storing vegetables in a basement or unheated room that doesn’t drop below freezing temperatures. Some vegetables might not keep for quite as long if the temperature and humidity aren’t ideal, but usually it’s possible to find a spot that’s close enough to keep root vegetables fresh for a decent amount of time without any canning or other methods of preservation.
Other vegetables, such as winter squash and garlic, can keep for quite a while at room temperature if they are properly cured after harvesting to make sure that the skins have fully dried. So, if you are growing root crops, you can store vegetables for the winter without much work at all as long as you have a place where you can keep them close to the right temperature and humidity levels.
Apples are another food that can be kept in cold storage for months if you have the space in a refrigerator or a cold room that doesn’t go below freezing. If you choose the right varieties of apples, you can store apples for the winter and even for longer! I’ve had some varieties of apples keep in a fridge for the whole winter and even into the spring and summer. They aren’t usually as good for fresh eating when that much time has gone by, but they are still perfectly fine for baking or for making sauce.
Pickling is an old-fashioned method of food preservation that I have never personally tried mainly because I don’t really enjoy the taste of pickled foods. Pickling usually involves preserving food in some type of vinegar or brine to keep the food from spoiling. Foods that are preserved using a traditional vinegar or brine method are a way to keep food fresh without having to use a canner as long as you don’t mind the stronger flavors of the pickled foods.
Fermenting is another old-fashioned preservation method that I haven’t had much experience with doing personally, but it’s one that could be a good option for preserving some types of food. Fermenting can include things such as traditional fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, homemade apple cider vinegar, and even cultured dairy foods like cheeses and buttermilk, etc.
So, even if you aren’t ready to try preserving your own food with a water-bath or pressure canner, there are still several other ways that you can keep food fresh for a long time. I’ve actually never tried canning my own food before. I might give it a try eventually, but for now I’ve been doing all of my preserving with drying, freezing, or storing root crops in cool temperatures. There are lots of great options for preserving the harvest whether or not you decide to can your food.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.