Heritage Preserving

Traditional preservation does not actually include canning, but we have included it here, because of the value for preserving seasonal harvests in a simple to use manner.

  • We DRY a lot of foods. This is probably the most common traditional preservation method, being used for fruits, vegetables, and meats, and naturally occurring with grains, nuts, and legumes. We don't freeze dry, it is neither economical, nor efficient, and we simply do not have the time or money to fuss with it.
  • We FREEZE a lot of foods. Also a traditional method, freezing was used by northern civilizations to store some foods through the winter.
  • We COOL STORE some foods. The traditional is a root cellar. We use a basement, or a refrigerator, and sometimes a front or back porch area. Appropriate for potatoes, apples, cabbages, squash, onions, and other similar crops, and for smoked or cured meats.
  • We CURE, PICKLE, or CULTURE some foods. Traditionally this is why we have pickles, kraut, cheese, ham, sausage, and other foods that are treated with salt or aged in a way that encourages beneficial microbial growth.
  • We SMOKE some foods, in combination with drying or curing. Another longstanding traditional preservation method.
  • We DO SOME oil or fat pack foods, but are careful about what we do, because some either do not store long enough to be worth the trouble, or they have too high a risk of deadly peripheral contamination to be worth it.
  • We CAN many foods, a lot of them pressure canned, for quick fix, grab and go meals, and to make some meats more digestible (production breed meats are hard for me to digest unless the proteins are changed by cooking processes, and high heat is one thing that works). We are careful about methods used, and pay attention to nutrient loss. We use MANY "not recommended" methods, because our experiences have taught us that the government is not the only, or even the best, arbiter of safety where food is concerned! We use recommendations from around the world, and we learn the science, and figure out WHY things are tricky, and then develop methods for compensating. Our food is good, it is safe, and it is a huge benefit to us every day.

People have been preserving and storing food for as long as they have been eating food. Healthy food preservation is part skill, and part art, but once you get going on it, it really ISN'T all that hard!

Canning Hash

A rebel recipe for canning hash in a pressure canner.

One of the easiest things I've ever done, once the food was chopped! I used a very basic recipe, but you can do this with pretty much any hash, since the timing is based on the timing of the meat (only adding corn would lengthen it).

  • Potatoes (I don't know how much! I used about a dozen good sized potatoes)
    Peel and dice them - I dice them small. I don't want to have to re-chop once I open the jar. Ok, if you like the peels, leave them on!
  • Corned Beef - raw or cooked, it does not matter, but raw will end up much more firm. I used about 3 lbs home cured.
    Dice about the same size as the spuds.
  • Onions - I used one large
    Chop fine

Toss all of that into a large container and mixed it all up. Pack into jars. As many as it takes. I recommend pints. They are easy to handle. Wide mouth is easier to get the hash out of, but I've done it in narrow mouth.

When I say PACK, I mean PACK. Fill the jar about half full, shake it down and then press the food in tighter. Add more, press, add more, press, until the jar is full. You can leave about half an inch headspace with this, because it does not siphon, it does not have enough moisture to do so (it will make enough to keep the food moist).

Pressure Can at 10 lbs pressure, adjusted for altitude, for 75 minutes for pints.

This is good fried after opening (in butter or bacon fat!), with an egg or two cracked over the top and cooked in after the hash gets crispy.

For Plaid Pajamas Hash, reduce the amount of potatoes by about half, and add carrots, celery, cabbage, green pepper, red pepper, and diced tomatoes (drained well).

Salt Curing Meats

This morning, after I got up, I tended to four pieces of meat, in the fridge, which are salt curing. 1 Maple Black Forest Loin Ham, 1 Boysenberry Rosemary Loin Ham, and 2 pieces of dry cure maple Hog Jowl Bacon.

The process is fairly simple, and using the process I use, the end product is only salty on the outside, richly flavorful on the inside, which is safe to eat raw like proscuitto, or which you can cook, and then use like wet cure ham. This is SIMILAR to a salt box curing, but you don't bury the meat in the salt, you just rub the salt on the outside, and for a shorter period of time, so the saltiness is greatly reduced. The secondary drying is done by hanging, rather than by salt.

Downstairs in the basement, I have two crocheted net bags hanging from a beam - one contains a Black Forest Loin Ham (no maple), the other contains a small Boneless Picnic Ham. (Which were, by the way, amazingly delicious.)

I use small meat pieces, boneless. This makes it fast to cure, and easy to handle, and more certain that it will cure well to the center. I cannot yet raise my own pork or beef, so I am using purchased meats, and loins, chuck, and other pieces are often on sale, and work great.

They get salted down with a mixture of kosher sea salt, sugar, spices, and a tiny bit of nitrates (I've done them without and they do not turn out as well), and put into a ziplock baggie. That goes in the fridge, where it is turned and drained daily, and where I re-salt every other day. After a week, or about the time they stop draining significantly, I take them out of the baggie, scrape or rinse the salt off (depending on the recipe and type of ham), and then let it air dry in the fridge for another week. It then gets cased in melted fat to keep it from drying too much, since we are in a very dry climate. After the fat hardens, I wrap it in a piece of clean old t-shirt fabric to keep bugs and dust off, and put it into the crocheted net bag to hang it. Some people just hang it with a meat hook without a covering, but it is very dusty here, and bugs can be a problem.

It hangs for about 2 weeks (for this size meat pieces), and then we get to use it. They can continue to hang while parts are used, you just cut off what you need and leave the rest hanging.

I do dry cure instead of wet cure because it takes less space, and after the initial curing phase, can move out of the fridge and be stored for several months.

We DO have a cool basement, which helps, since you don't want it at a high temp where it hangs. You can cure it initially without a fridge but it is riskier, they used to cure them in the smokehouse in the cool fall temps.

The end result is complex, mellow, salty enough to satisfy the palette but not overwhelm it. Amazing meat!

Differences Between a Freeze Dryer and a Dehydrator

The dehydrator can dry many foods, but there are certain ones that don't work well. A freeze dryer can dry those foods, but it is a more complex process. These foods include strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, and a few others which simply do better freeze dried instead of dehydrated.

A dehydrator shrinks the foods when drying them. The freeze dryer retains them at close to the normal size. So dehydration is a more compact storage method, freeze drying is just lighter in weight but does not save space.

A dehydrator is a simple piece of equipment. It has a fan and a heater. The more complex ones have a timer and temperature control. You can get one that will work really well for about $40. Some people spend more - but I have not been able to find a reason to do so, other than wanting one in stainless, or needing white plastic instead of transparent plastic (which off-gasses less and irritates my lungs less), because the cheap ones worked just as well as the expensive ones (I have used many kinds). A decent sized one (with 5-7 trays) will do 5-10 lbs of food, depending on how it is cut and how it is organized. I can do 10 lbs of apples easily in a 6 tray model.

A freeze dryer is a complicated piece of equipment. A small one is about the size of a washing machine (Ok, so they have smaller models now, but not a lot smaller, and they all have an external pump that is pretty good sized that you have to have room for also), but the drying chamber is about the size of your average small dehydrator (it can process 5-15 lbs of food, depending on the size of the unit). It takes a LOT of space for the amount of food you get out of it. It is more complicated to use, and FAR more costly. They are finally down to around $1500 for those small ones (thousands more for bigger ones), they may or may not come down more, because they are simply a complex piece of equipment.

A dehydrator requires no maintenance, and very little in the way of troubleshooting. They are simple to operate, simple to clean up, simple to figure out how to adjust. You generally have an on-off switch. Some have timers, some have heat settings. That is as complicated as it gets.

A freeze dryer is a different thing entirely. It requires maintenance after every load, requires oil and oil changes, has multiple parts and complex settings, gaskets that fail, filters to maintain. Parts break down regularly, or need replacement for maintenance regularly. It operates with a computer panel with multiple settings to adjust, and if things are not set properly, the cycle does weird things. There is a learning curve, and if you don't adjust and work things correctly, it can get messy (as in, oil leaks). Troubleshooting a batch that didn't dry well is a common occurrence, and involves some knowledge of what went wrong, and how to adjust to compensate.

A dehydrator is fairly economical to use. The heating element does not use a lot of electricity, nor does the fan. Foods dry typically overnight, or in 24 hours for high moisture foods.

A freeze dryer can take 72 hours per batch (generally takes more than 1 day), and uses freezing, vacuuming, heating, and fans - it can run through multiple repetitive cycles of freezing and drying for a single batch. It uses more energy to operate, and each cycle is quite a bit longer. Enough that if you are running the thing with back to back loads for weeks (many people do), you are going to see the difference in your electric bill (the Harvest Right company lists operational costs at about $1.20 to almost $3 per day in energy usage - multiply that by the number of days you think you'd use it per year, and remember that many things take more than 1 day). Many people pre-freeze the food, to shorten the cycles, and if you do that, you always need to have room in your freezer for the trays also. The company says that the unit notifies you when the food is done, but reports from users suggest this feature is far from perfect, and troubleshooting is a common occurrence.

A dehydrator has a small fan that produces some noise. It can be in operation anywhere in the house and not be a disruption.

A freeze dryer is fairly noisy. According to Harvest Right (the maker of home freeze dryers), it is as loud as a "noisy dishwasher". You are going to want to have a place to put it where the noise will not bother you.

The argument is made that freeze dried foods store for 15 to 20 years. Some do, some do not. Higher fat foods won't store as long. I've seen (and eaten) freeze dried foods after 20 years. The color has paled, the flavor has gone stale or bitter, and some of them no longer rehydrate well. Very similar to dehydrated foods, but those that I've used after long term storage have actually been in better condition.

Dehydrated foods store just as well, and for just as long, but take WAY less space. Those foods that do not dehydrate well do well with other preservation methods - berries generally can well or are wonderful in jams, preserves, and syrup. I've also eaten home canned foods that were 20 years old (we look for color changes and texture changes, as well as indications of spoilage - where there are no significant indications of the food breaking down, it is safe to eat - storage conditions radically affect storage life), and they were in as good condition as the freeze dried foods, sometimes better. Storing home preserved foods in a cool, dry, and dark environment will dramatically increase storage life, whether you dry, can, or freeze dry, and storage conditions probably have a greater affect on storage life than the method you choose.

Dehydrated foods rehydrate best with hot water, and are fully rehydrated in about 30 minutes. They CAN be rehydrated using cold water, it will take several hours, or overnight, to do it though. They are simple to use if added to meals in progress, and allowed to cook along with the fresh ingredients. Other dehydrated foods are commonly used dry for tasty snacks.

Freeze dried foods are less popular for snacks. The initial feel when you put them on your tongue, or if you chew them right away, is kind of squeaky crunchy. But they go to goo pretty fast, and don't really end up having the intense flavor of dehydrated foods, because the flavor is not concentrated. They rehydrate BEST with hot water, but can be rehydrated with cold water, and generally rehydrate faster than dehydrated foods. Thicker freeze dried foods will not rehydrate well into the center, and those with sauces will often not rehydrate well, because the outside absorbs the water, and then the sauce keeps the water from penetrating well into the center of more dense pieces of food. They have their place in emergency storage where heat is limited.

I can find no justification for the incredible cost and energy usage, and fuss and bother of a home freeze dryer. I have limited physical energy, and extremely limited finances, so I have to be very careful where I use those resources, and want to be sure that whatever I do, I am getting maximum value and results for the expenditure. Other methods of preservation are running rings around freeze drying in terms of economy and simplicity!

I heard someone say, "You can freeze dry ice cream and have ice cream all year even if you have no freezer." Well, that's just silly, of course you cannot! Freeze dried ice cream is not ice cream. It is styrofoam type candy! It is not cold. It cannot be rehydrated back into ice cream! It is just a novelty, not in any way essential or even relevant to what it started out as!

I have noticed that many people who get a freeze dryer are not doing it for practical reasons, but because they are enchanted with the idea of freeze drying everything in the house. I know many canning addicts also, who will can things just because they CAN (pun intended). I've never been that way, I want to know that my effort is necessary or beneficial, and if it is not, I do not do it! Freeze drying is too costly and time consuming for me to do just for a trendy hobby.

If you are thinking about one, I suggest you join a group on FaceBook or elsewhere for using a freeze dryer, and see whether it still sounds like a manageable thing. If so, great. If not, don't apologize, just walk away!

I used to think I wanted a freeze dryer until I heard people talking about actually using one. I no longer have any desire to own one!

Canning Tamales - Yeah!

Canning Tamales!

First, the education part. Because if you don't GET this part, you can have a disaster.

Tamales EXPAND during the canning process. It is VERY important that you not over-fill jars, and that you pay attention to the headspace required. If you have too little headspace, the tamales will push out of the jar, either causing a lid to bulge, or causing the corn flour to escape during processing. If the corn flour pushes out of the jar, you end up with a mess in your canner, and failed seals. The seals may LOOK good, and then pop a week or two later, when you aren't paying attention, causing loss and spoilage.

Tamales need liquid, and absorb liquid during processing or cooking. So the sauce ratios need to be followed also. You start with watery stuff, you end with sauce.

If you do it right, you get nice plump tamales in a jar, with a nice chili sauce around them. If you do it wrong, you get blown lids, messy jars and canner, and no liquid on the tamales. This is like canning dry beans. Smart people can manage it.

Canned Tamales

(I don't know EXACTLY how much it makes, I just filled the jars until I ran out of ingredients. I got four jars and a few extra tamales to cook on the stovetop to sample.)

RECOMMEND Wide Mouth Tapered 1 1/2 Pint Jars! If you use Pint jars, you have to make REALLY short tamales.

You also need EITHER Parchment paper, OR Corn Husks. Parchment paper is a little more compact, but the softer inner corn husks will also work well.

SOAK corn husks for about half an hour in warm water when you are ready to assemble the tamales.

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • 1 lb beef (can be a solid piece, or chunks, whatever)
  • Mild peppers (such as Anaheim or green chiles) - you need about 1, cooked and mashed
  • Sprinkle of salt

Wrapper:

  • 3 cups Masa Flour (find this in the Mexican Food section, it may be called Tamale Flour, you want the Corn flour not meal)
  • Salt
  • Chili Powder (I used about 2 tsp)
  • Cayenne (optional)
  • Black pepper

Sauce:

  • 1 cup V-8 or Tomato Juice (do NOT substitute sauce it is too thick)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cook the beef until it is tender and pulls apart. Shred it and add the mild pepper. Toss to mix.

Put the Masa Flour in a bowl, and add about 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper, and the chili powder. Add a sprinkle of cayenne if you like.

Add cold WATER to make a pasty dough. It should hold together, and you should be able to press it out flat. If it is too soft, don't' worry, it won't hurt anything (it is just a little harder to press out). Just make sure there is no dry flour in the bowl.

MIX the sauce ingredients together - I used a jar so I could pour it into the canning jars.

If using Parchment Paper, CUT pieces about 6" X 6" (or a smidge larger).

Assembly:

Lay out a piece of parchment paper or a corn husk. Press out some of the dough in a rectangle about 3" X 4", in one corner of the husk (on the wide end) or paper (go 3"X3" if you are using pint jars). The dough should be about 1/4" thick, or a little less.

Put a bit of beef down the center, the long way on the dough.

Roll the tamale up (so you get a 4" long tamale), and fold the bottom end of the paper or husk up.

Place the tamale into the jar.

IMPORTANT!!!

Make your tamales narrow! They need to be about 1" in diameter when finished! Do NOT go bigger! You can play around with the thickness of the dough (thinner dough) to get more meat in it if you like, but don't make a bigger tamale.

Place FOUR tamales into the jar. NO MORE! They will expand to fill the jar! There should be lots of wiggle room around them.

Make SURE that you have a FULL 1 1/2 inches of space above the top of the tamales! This is vital! They GROW! They will expand during canning, and then shrink back down just a little, you will need every bit of headspace.

FILL the jar with sauce, up to the little seam line just below the bottom lip on the jar - you need a full 1" headspace for the sauce. The tamales should be covered in sauce.

Process jars in a Pressure Canner, for 90 minutes for pint and a half jars, or 75 minutes for pints. Standard pressure adjusted for altitude.

If you are feeling Festive, you may press 1 olive into the meat in the middle of each tamale.

Enjoy!

Notice

The information on this site is presented for informational purposes only, and consists of the opinions and experiences of the site authors. It is not to be construed as medical advice or to be used to diagnose or treat any illness. Seek the assistance of a medical professional in implementing any nutritional changes with the goal of treating any medical condition. The historical and nutritional information presented here can be verified by a simple web search.

 

 

 


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