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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why Preserve Food?

There's lots of talk about preserving around the blogosphere lately, but some people probably push thoughts of that aside, figuring that preserving can't possibly apply to them. Preserving, after all, is for people with large farms or gardens who've harvested enough food that they can't possibly eat it all, so they preserve the excess. Alternatively, they think that in order to preserve food, one must first spend money special equipment, again making it irrelevant to the average Jane.
Preserving is for everyone and has many benefits. Here's why you should preserve food, even if you're not a farmer or gardener, and how you can do it even without investing in expensive equipment.

Why Preserve?
Isn't it annoying when a little forethought and planning could save you lots of money and make your life better but you blew it? That happened to me lately.
I have a dehydrator sitting in my home, taking up room and rarely used. My husband chides me, asking what the point was in building my dehydrator if I don't put it to use? I never bothered, because I was waiting for "rock bottom prices" before I would use the dehydrator.
Of course, as luck would have it, I currently have no dehydrated veggies in the house and produce prices are through the roof throughout the region.
Had I thought ahead to the possibility of inflated veggie prices, I would have preserved vegetables bought at normal prices, even if I wasn't able to buy them at a steal. If you preserve vegetables that you get either from a garden or bought at normal prices, when they're no longer available at the standard prices (let alone sale prices), you have the ability to use those foods instead of needing to buy more expensive fresh produce or even going without.

Another benefit of preserving your own food is if something comes up, like an illness in the family, a broken car, or bad weather, and you can't make it to the grocery store, you still have enough food in the house that, together with your non perishables in your stockpile, you'll be able to ride out the storm.

Fortunately, I do have a little bit of produce in my freezer. Corn that I cut off the cob and fresh green beans that I froze is all I have in there, but at least it's a start!

Food Preserving For Everyone
Lest you think food preservation requires a great layout in cash, I thought I'd mention some ways in which you can preserve even without needing to lay out much money (if any) to buy special food preservation equipment.
Four common ways of home preserving are:
Dehydrating, canning, freezing, and pickling.


Canning. I haven't ventured forth with canning yet, because this is the method that takes the greatest initial outlay for equipment, but if your local craigslist or thrift stores are well stocked, you might be able to start canning without needing to spend too much money on equipment.

Dehydrating. At first, when I heard about dehydrating food, I assumed that this was not an option for me, as dehydrators can cost upward of 100 dollars, and I wasn't sure that the food savings would be enough to make such a purchase cost efficient. I did discover how to make my own homemade dehydrator that cost me but a few dollars to make.
One reason I didn't dehydrate more foods was because I didn't do enough research to know how to rehydrate my food into tasty dishes. Dehydrate2store.com is a great website with lots of tips and advice with plenty of videos to teach you the ins and outs of dehydrating, but the best thing about it is that it has a bunch of recipes using dehydrated foods, so now I know how to put all those dehydrated foods to use!
I read a bit about how to make a solar dehydrator and I am contemplating making one of those as well. Perhaps I can rig up my current dehydrator to some solar cooking equipment and dehydrate the food that way.

Freezing is another terrific way to preserve your food. Many foods that you might not have considered can be frozen and used at a later date. Carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, tomatoes and apples are just some foods off the top of my head that can be frozen and preserved. My post on how to salvage accidentally frozen foods can give you a nice idea of which foods will work frozen (and perhaps should even be intentionally frozen).
Freezing for preservation doesn't require a second freezer in most cases. Dividing food into smaller quantities and spreading them in an organized fashion throughout your freezer will enable you to preserve large quantities of food in your freezer for a later date. Keeping a list of your freezer inventory and where things are exactly may help you if your freezer is especially packed.
 The plus is a packed freezer will lower the cost of running the machine as well.

Pickling is a fun way to preserve foods but has its downsides. If you're salt pickling (lacto-fermenting) your foods, the pickles will continue to ferment if they're kept at room temperature. Once the pickles are ready, they either need to be refrigerated or kept in a cold dark place (like a cellar/basement, which I don't have in my tiny apartment) until eaten. I don't pickle things for long term preservation because I need the fridge space for other things, but it is still an option.

My goal now is as soon as produce prices go down to numbers that I am comfortable paying, buying large quantities of each and dehydrating some of everything, so I'll never need to go without vegetables or pay 8 times my usual as the prices locally are hovering at now. Preserving food is thinking long term. Using frugal strategies to plan for the future allows you to save much money in the long run.

Do you preserve any foods? Do you use any special equipment? What do you preserve and how do you do it? Do you feel preserving food saves you money?

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