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Preserving Food without a Refrigerator

By Larraine Roulston:

As homesteaders in Canada’s Peace River District, my grandparents hunted for meat, and planted fruit trees and vegetables. Without refrigeration, my granny also had to store enough of their harvest to last the family until the next growing season. One method was the use of a root cellar and the other was to start preserving when the produce was fresh.

Canning foods in the summer to preserve the freshest local produce can be somewhat daunting to start.  There is the purchase of

Picture from http://www.wholehomenews.com
Picture from http://www.wholehomenews.com

canning and the sterilization equipment.  You can reuse the jars and screw on lids year after year, but to keep the food properly preserved, you require new seals. Once you master this art, it becomes much easier. I believe the best way to learn is by helping someone who does it regularly. I had the opportunity to watch my mother make her Sweet 6-Day Pickles and help my mother-in-law make her special homemade chili sauce. My daughter is lucky also to have a wonderful mother-in-law who delights in enlisting her help to make delicious strawberry jam. Today, my mother still recalls her mom preserving moose meat.

For low acid foods such as meats and most vegetables, you need a pressure canner. A water bath canner is used for pickles, jams, jelly or fruits that are all high acid foods. Counter top fermenting is a good way to provide nutrition year-round, as almost any vegetable can be used (such as making sauerkraut from cabbage). With a dehydrator or an oven, one can dry herbs, fruits and vegetables; and make kale chips, fruit leather, soup mixes or vegetable crackers.

Pressure-CannerBy preserving your own winter supply, you are assured that there are no artificial additives. Most canning recipes require minimal ingredients such as additional sugar or lemon. For pickles, vinegar, salt and spices are needed. By canning tomatoes, for example, you would have that fresh tomato flavor in all your soups, salsas and spaghetti sauces. Tomatoes can be crushed, halved or kept whole, with or without their skins, then packed into a jar.

A family outing to pick produce supports your local farmer. My friend Sue, who operates Living Brightly (a small family farm in Ontario), decided this year to encourage people to pick and pull from her rows of produce. She was totally amazed at how much children loved and learned from this experience. Buying large baskets of produce will save money also, as you will not have to purchase small quantities later. Children who are tasked to help preserve not only will have a better appreciate for the different seasons, but also should retain the skill.

If canning seems too hard, dehydrating method might be a good option. Dehydration is an alternative to canning and freezing fruits, mushrooms and vegetables. The advantage with dehydrating is that it’s fairly easy, it’s a low-cost way to preserve food and requires less storage space than canned goods. Here is a link to learn more about how to dehydrate food for preservation.

There is food security in food preservation, as you can be assured that storing food for future consumption results in less dependency on the supermarket. There is the good feeling that your food travelled fewer miles to your table, too. As everyone loves homemade preserves, they also make the perfect gift.

If violent storms are to be the way of the future, with possible long-term power outages, I feel there is an opportunity for those who preserve foods to teach others so that more of us can relearn these techniques of our ancestors.

In the past I have helped Sue plant, weed and harvest. This autumn I shall wander up to her farm to learn more from this amazing woman about what I can do to lessen my reliance on the supermarket.

Larraine Roulston authors the Pee Wee Castle Compost series at www.castlecompost.com 

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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One comment

  1. Too many years ago, my mother used to jam and can fruits and vegetables. I was permitted to watch only, as she didn’t like little hands in the mix. She learned to jam pomegranates and apricots from her long time friend. I remember them melting wax to use to seal the jars.
    I learned because I was curious. I wanted ‘fresh’ strawberries in the winter. So I started with strawberry jam. My daughter toiled right next to me (my son had no interest in the making, just the eating). We made many mistakes along the way. We learned to call jam that hadn’t jammed ‘sauces’. I learned just recently (why didn’t anyone tell me?) that there is a pectin that is especially for low sugar jamming. I have made a lot of strawberry jam over the years, some from strawberries we picked ourselves in a field that overlooks the ocean. This last batch, I decided it was time to experiment again. I added cranberry sauce to the strawberries and jammed it. The taste was wonderful, but because I hadn’t used enough sugar, and hadn’t discovered the low sugar pectin, it came out in a delicious sauce.
    Just last week, I bought extra nectarins and peaches, cut in pieces, and jammed those with just a cup of sugar, a lot of shakes of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. It tastes just like summer! And they look so pretty on the shelf!
    Every time I jam, I think of those women who were pioneers. Jamming had to be a family affair as water would have to be drawn or carried up to their jamming station. Wood would have to be available and plentiful. Sugar was hard to come by, so I’ve wondered what they used. There was no convenient box of pectin, so they used the natural pectin in the seeds. I’ve often thought of just how tired they must have been once the canning and jamming was done. Their hands had to have been so rough and dry and cracked from being in water and over open flames. And they still had to make that bread or cake that the jam would be used with.
    So each time I jam or can, I honor them in my heart.
    My next jamming session will be with peaches before they disappear from the market. And lemon curd, because I love lemon curd.
    Again, Larraine, thanks for the article…I’m glad to know there are others out there who are jamming and canning.

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