Apr 13

Buttering and churning for dairy preservation.

Butter is quite easily and economically made at home, especially with a blender or food processer. Salted butter can be stored for weeks and even months at proper temperature. Canned butter can last as long as any other canned product. Butter has long been regarded by my people as an essential part of eggs and toast for breakfast. Butter is half of the justification for having refrigeration in the first place, the other half being to preserve medicines and serums for other arguably just as important life-saving activity.

So from the prepper or survivalist or self-sufficiency perspective, it looks like the butter-churn is coming back into fashion. Compared to other farm chores, it’s a welcome chance to sit down. It’s certainly more pleasant that actually obtaining the milk from the cow. Remember, with dairy processing, proper food handling and sanitation is really important. The critical phase of milk handling is the moment it comes out of the cow and into our environment. We need to cool it quickly and consume it or process it by any method here described. Raw milk can be strained and put into sanitized steel, glass or plastic containers for cooling, and can hang out in a proper root cellar for a week or longer. The cream will rise to the surface and can be used to richen certain things, used for butter or cheeses and the lower fat milk below consumed with your Wheaties. The nice thing about milk is we don’t have to wonder if it’s bad. Everything in us knows when we have a mouth full of bad milk, the nose knows it as soon as that milk comes close. Imagine being the man with the last box of Wheaties on planet Earth and you get to be the last man who can said you did when they say “better eat your Wheaties, men” and you had them with lowfat milk. You are gonna have a leg up on that day.

Apr 13

Curdling and cheesing as long term food storage methods.

Curdling and cheesing is our way of making dairy product last longer. Cheesing can involve almost every art of food preservation previous to it and then some. Cheesing itself, curdling is ancient. In this we induce a change by chemical agents (usually acids or enzymes) in which the curds (solid product) get separated from the whey (liquid byproduct) in a process of rapid dehydration. The curds can be processed in any number of ways for long term storage. What most of us think of as cheese gets pressed and aged.

Cheese making illustrated.

A cheesing site with lots of specific tips.

The levels of processing are hierarchical in terms of long term storage. At the shortest term is fresh. Curdling to remove H2O leaves a longer lasting product. Cheesing removes more H2O so it’s product lasts even longer, especially when salt is added. Aging cheeses can remove even more moisture and also allow for all kinds of GOOD fungi and bacteria which not only can flavor our cheeses but set up even more hostile environments for other micro-nasties we don’t want in our lives. Going one step further, we dip cheeses in hot wax for storage which puts a disinfected and air-tight layer around the cheese, even further inhibiting decay. Finally, cheeses can be canned, making a truly long term storable food. Canned cheese and butter can be bought from numerous suppliers. It’s amazing to thing the stuff starts as a liquid.

Storage terms or longevity of cheese is pretty much up in the air. Most of the cheese-making world considers maximum term to be about 10 years but French people would argue. For my cheeseworth, about 5 years produces some pretty sharp cheddar. There’s some older stuff that’s just sublime at parties but I wouldn’t eat it day to day. Cheese tends to harden and crumble over time as fats slowly sweat out. Younger, more elastic and milder cheeses are good for sandwiches.

Apr 13

Comparison chart for freeze dried vs. dehydrated foods for long term storage.

Note that we assume these foods are packaged oxygen free for long term storage.

Method Term Flavor Nutrition Complexity Cost Needs H2O? Compact?
Dehydrated 20+ years Good Good Fair to good Cheap Yes Yes
Freeze dried 20+ years Great Great Fair to great Pricey Yes No
Apr 13

Freeze drying: the ultimate long term storage food?

Just as packaged, dehydrated foods were the survival food of the 20th century, freeze dried foods are all the rage today. We get all the longevity, the light weight, the interesting recipes and we get better flavor and nutritional quality. We don’t get the compact form of dehydration and like dehydration, most dehydrated foods need rehydration which ups your water requirements, but it’s still great stuff for survival food.

Freeze drying is getting pretty high tech indeed. I think some guy called what’s-his-name invented it. Clarenece Birdseye. Anyways, remember how the crystallization of water in freezing tends to screw up the texture and nutritional content of food? Bird-man found a way that by rapidly freezing things really really cold–using stuff like liquid nitrogen–like colder than stuff normally gets on planet Earth, he managed to not only get around these problems but he found a way to extract tons of this frozen water out of the product when it heated back up to what we think of as normal freezing temperatures. With this technique we exceeded most previous preservation methods except the Pueblo dwellers who’s sprits still laugh at us and say “hope you liked the beans” which still happen to germinate. Unfortunately it’s a really high tech process involving highly specialized processing and equipment. We cannot freeze dry food at home.

Some argument exists as to the methods of freeze drying and whether some of them leave behind anything undesirable in our food. At this point there are many reputable vendors to choose from who pledge to sell us a quality product.

Apr 13

Field-dressing and butchering a carcass.

Preservation begins as soon as the organism is some kind of definition of “dead” which describes the cessation of respiration of an organism. It’s a rather imprecise definition as many cells of bodies and many cells hanging out on bodies continue to respire long after consciousness has left (Elvis has left the building) but we’ll leave such up to the mystics for now. What you need for dressing, gutting, skinning and butchering involves the following:

  • A very sharp short knife.
  • A very sharp long knife.
  • A meat saw. There’s no way to deliver nicely cut steaks and chops without a meat saw.
  • Your wet stones and strops. You will need to sharpen your blade to maintain that perfect edge.
  • A decent knowledge of the animal’s anatomy and if it has musk-sacks. You want to know where those are on a male animal and you want to avoid them. You can ruin a whole carcass if you slice one of those. Talk about rancid. Remember how rancid bear fat was used to attract human females? Male wild animals use the same trick.
  • A baby-sitter. Children like to name the animals. They don’t like to remember the name when eating the animal or it’s method of dispatch.

In brief your job here has 5 parts: cut, hang, bleed, gut, skin. So we start by cutting the animal deeply across the throat if that wasn’t their method of dispatch to begin with, severing the carotid arteries. The you hang the animal by it’s rear feet (or ankles more appropriately with a hook though their achilles tendons) and let the animal bleed out all it’s gonna. Catch the blood in a bucket for all kinds of uses if you want. I like to decapitate the animal at this point because it’s often easier to invert the animal following this point. You are ready to gut the animal.

Insert your long knife into the rectum and begin cutting around the abdomen and towards the rib cage, then right up (or down) through the middle of the rib cage and not stopping until you are through the chest and throat area. Whatever is inside of that body cavity comes out into a garbage can below. It can be lined in case you want to save the entrails for any number or purposes. And then you are ready to skin the animal. Watch for musk sacks on male animals. They will ruin your kill.

From there you can leave the carcass hang for days or even weeks in your root cellar and just age a bit. Meat’s fibers break down chemically as it ages and becomes more tender. And from there you can take it any way you want from leaving the carcass intact or going ahead and butchering and packaging the parts for freezing or drying or smoking or salting or what-have-you. Generally with a large animal you want to use all of the techniques as they each result in different flavors and have different resistances to composition. If one method fails you hopefully have meats preserved differently that made it.


With the above we’re kind of forced to know how to butcher. OK the guys in the supermarket with the white coats on, they don’t even know how to butcher anymore. It’s a real art but you don’t have to be the world’s greatest to reduce a full size animal into more manageable chunks. But I tend to take a lot of things for granted, and in this case, I can’t remember when I first dressed and butchered an animal. I don’t remember learning it. I think I probably saw it done so many times it was like picking up the phone was for us old people who remember phones when they were attached to walls. Nobody had to show us, when we got tall enough to pick the damn thing up is when the trouble started. Nowadays people have phones attached to their bodies. Now I’m not going to get too deep into butchery here. But in brief, if you have to, it’s cut, hang, bleed, gut, skin, dry.

Here is a really excellent paper on meat preservation. which is from a grassroots perspective. It includes a very basic butchering diagram.

Apr 13

Salting and salt packing foods for long term storage.

A lot of microbiotics don’t like salty environment so begin with but salting has an effect similar to drying and smoking. Salt induces a peritonic response in the cells of meat. The cells of meat, alive or dead, still have cellular membranes that contain their moisture among other things. Salt puts them into a state of dehydration such that the cell walls harden and moisture tends not to come out and be available for the micronasty pool party. Now some will argue that this happens because of H2O exiting the cells by osmosis, but they are correct. Osmosis is one of those acey-deucey kind of phenomena: do minerals head AWAY from concentration or does H2O move TOWARDS dehydration? They both kinda happen at the same time. There is some factor of some micronasties just not being able to tolerate that saline an environment because it makes the H2O and minerals in their cells go crazy coping too, but the main effect or salt is this dehydrating (or hypermineralizing) effect.

Foods we traditionally salt are meats and seafood. The technique is rubbing salt (sea salt is good, we don’t use iodized salt) and spices if desired thickly into the meat on all sides. The resulting product can be dried, smoked or salt-packed which is placing pieces of salted meat into a container, packing meat and more salt in layers and so the meat isn’t touching the sides of the container and sealing it. The advantage here is the meat just keep desiccating and dehydrating over time. Since salt packing meat is a pretty manual process, a wide-mouth container is used. Metal and metal lids are not recommended for salt packing because of the corrosive nature of salt. Glass containers with wax or fat seals may be your reference. There are commercial curing agents in the supermarket for curing meat but I’ve never seen them used.

Brining meats for long term storage.

Brining is another salt reservation method for meat and fish. Brined meats are immersed and sealed into a saturated saline solution. This means the level of salt is at the point where no more can be dissolved in the solution. That’s over 3 pounds of salt per gallon of water. That’s a lotta salt. Again, we use non-iodized salt. Brining is used on raw or cooked meats and can last for many years. You can use your canning equipment for this method but as with salt packing we avoid metal containers and lids because of the corrosive nature of all that salt.

Jerking meats for long term preservation and storage.

Jerking is a hybrid of smoking and drying salting meat. Salt your meat then smoke it and you have a much more durable food that can last years. It’s light, it’s ready to eat and it’s concentrated calories. It can be shredded and dropped into stew if you are sick to the point of tears of vegetable stew. Many people are only familiar with the strip-jerky found in stores today up on the counter, but some people still do jerk whole animals. Whole cows and horses and buffalo. This is traditionally done with the animal hanging in front of you. So the…ah…equipment is a bit different for a whole animal and there’s a lot more patience involved as we let nature do her work but it’s exactly the same besides that. For the most part, you want to stay more basic and make your cuts as even as you can, salting and smoking different cuts in batches. Moisture content for jerky is pretty much where you want it to be, but to be a durable long-term food you want it down below 15% in my estimation. Hanging your jerked meats in the root cellar is a find way of storing it.

Apr 13

Smoking of foods for long term preservation.

Smoking happened when the sun first got serious competition in the heating industry. It’s doing the same thing as sun-drying or fire-drying but it’s not just the heat we’re after, it’s the smoke itself too. It’s faster than sun drying plus if you use the right woods it leaves a really appealing flavor particularly in meats, fish and cheeses. Cheeeeeeeeses. With the heat cranked up to about 120-140 °F, not a lot of micronasties can survive so the food actually approaches something close to the modern definition of sanitary.

Smoking dehydrates the outside layers of meat to form a kind of barrier on the outside so you don’t have to totally overcook things. The inside of meat is basically sterile until it’s in advanced decomposition and literally permeated by micro-nasties. With some woods like manzanita and pine, the pitch itself is a deterrent to microbials.

Nowadays they do all the commercial smoking of meats in smokehouses. In the old days, people used to just smoke meat in smokehouses. Often it was the same house known in other parts of the year as the “sugar shack”, which, contrary to contemporary belief, was not a house of lust and sin but rather a place where you boiled down maple sap to make syrup and maple sugar. It was typically a small structure which was designed to accommodate fire on the floor 24×7 and not burn down so the floors were generally stone. They were basically hearths, fireplaces that you stood inside of with the fire and the chimney was a hole in the roof. I’m really not thinking OSHA would approve of this working environment so just tell the building inspector it’s a children’s play house. The kids will agree, little animals that they are. There are few set global standards for how dry or what internal temperature should be achieved in smoking.

Smoking and drying racks.

A basic smoke house.

But before there were smoke houses there were much simpler and handier ways of smoking or drying and that’s a simple rack you fashion out of branches and saplings. You can tie them together with twine you make out of willow, hickory bark, the fibers from our Agave plants here in the desert or my favorite trick of running to the hardware store for a ball of twine. There’s no real official way to make a smoking rack, just get the meat over the heat.

Longer term storage of dried and smoked meats.

People these days will tell you it just can’t or shouldn’t be done. Hooey. Dried and smoked meats can do very well in root cellars but humidity can be a problem there. In the case of larger pieces of meats, mold is allowed to grow on the outer surface, and cuts are taken deeper, and the freshly exposed meat surface just grows more mold. The interior of the meat, the meat on the inside is, I suspect, essentially sterile. I believe this is why we have such a long tradition transporting and storing meat as the whole carcass rather than vacu-packing final cuts for sale in supermarkets as we do today. Getting back to the focus, some meats can do well in dry shade, and “shade houses” used to be common in the Southwest. It’s a trick we picked up from the natives. These are above-ground structures that provide semi-shade. They work well in low-humidity environments. In general, if your smoked or dried meat starts rehydrating or even worse, moisture begins to condense on their surfaces, then you are starting to become concerned about too much moisture in that storage environment.

Apr 13

Candying foods for long term storage.

Why does it have to be boring? A neat twist on drying stuff like apple chips and pineapple and ginger and rhubarb and other interesting flavors is candying which combines drying them to around 20% moisture content and then sugaring the foods so that remaining surface moisture is bound up in sugar crystals which micro-nasties have a hard time getting into. Sugared fruits in dry storage can last years but they generally get eaten pretty quickly so I really can’t say how many years. Delicacies are very nice to have in long term storage. Candying is similar to brining in that the food goes into a completely saturated solution so the mineral (salt in the case of brining and sugar in the case of candying) is literally crystallizing around the surface of the food.

Apr 13

Dehydration of foods for long term storage.

Dehydrated foods are the survival food of the 20th century. The choice of backpackers for it’s light-weight and low volume, it’s long term shelf life and the ability to create pre-prepared entrees with multiple ingredients including meats, vegetables and dairy, dehydrated packaged foods were the rage.

Dehydration could have been talked about along with drying and desiccation but it’s kind of held to a certain standard these days. Drying is anything drier than the food was at harvest. Food which has been dehydrated is held to be at very low moisture levels. We manage to preserve higher nutritional values in food desiccation stored for the long term with dehydration than with other methods. It is possible to dehydrate food on your own using solar, fire or other heat source but in some areas, the ambient humidity is just working against you every step of the way. From handling food in atmosphere to the containers you put it into, some places are just too dang soggy. That could present some challenges.

Dehydrated foods offer many advantages. We can have almost anything in dehydrated food: eggs, cheese, juices, meat, prepared entrees, any kind of plant crops, they just have to be “rehydrated” for use after storage. However, it’s important to note that most dehydrated long term storage foods are packaged as “single-foods”. In other words you will likely be buying large packages or cans of peas and that’s all there is in there. It’s generally not pre-packaged entrees like we get with a lot of freeze dried survival foods. Ultimately a well planned store of dehydrated foods such as are found in the commercial packages offers more options for long term sustenance. Dehydrated food is also cheaper, it’s about the cheapest (or low-cost, rather) food you can get. I generally favor dehydrated and dried foods for long term storage for all of these reasons.

Apr 13

Determining moisture content of foods in storage.

Obviously there’s scientifical instruments to get precise measures but at home we combine measurement with observation. Your basic “dried fruit” at around 20% moisture content is still flexible. Down around dehydration levels, 3%, it’s brittle and snappy (apple chips! Yum!). Dried fruit has, for lack of better description, a desiccated look to it. Properly sundried peppers should make a “tap” sound when bounced off a surface. Beef Jerky at around 12% is still flexible. Weighing food is a good method of calculating how much H2O is gone if you have a scale because we calculate H2O content in food by weight rather than volume but when you have several tons of food, this can be a heck of a chore.

For grains and stuff like dried beans, moisture content becomes pretty crucial. Experience is the old mountain method, but there’s a bit of hedging of bets going on. With drying of seed grains, moisture content massively effects their viability so we’d pull seeds from drying in batches, marking how long each batch had dried on the paper envelopes we kept them in and from what dates so we kind of had a bracket. At least some of the seeds were reasonably sure to be just about perfect. Oddly, preserving seeds, which are food for a germinating young plant, is pretty much like preserving our own food even though in much of this discussion, seeds are our food. Moisture, heat, sunlight are our mutual enemies as far as long term seed storage or even preservation until next season.

However, with weight we can do a decent job of determining moisture content in our food as it’s drying, and we can extrapolate by comparing it to the rest of our stocks by observation of color, texture, smell and flavor. And we can continue to “bracket” our drying to further insure our protection.

To roughly determine moisture content of your drying foods, we can use the following method.

  1. Weigh a portion of the food before drying.
  2. Immediately start drying this portion to whatever point you think is good.
  3. Weight it again.
  4. Subtract the dry weight from the wet weight, divide this by dry weight and multiply the result by 100.
  5. This will be the moisture content in %.
  6. So the percentage of water in a food is ((wet-dry)/wet)*100.
  7. From here you can use your senses to determine your rough moisture content by comparing color, texture and weight for
    the rest of this type of food for that drying session.
  8. Be aware your drying times will vary from day to day (or day to night) depending on humidity.

Scales for determining moisture content of long term food stores and commerce.

It becomes pretty obvious that some things like grain grinders or mills come in handy for long term storage foods. Scales are really handy too. Keep your eyes peeled for old, still functional scales. Obviously the big ones we want are getting hard to find. Smaller scales force us to weigh a single shipment or harvest multiple times leading to increased inaccuracy. Take care to clean, lubricate and calibrate your scales or you’ll be running around in circles. For commerce, barter and packaging we also have to be accurate. For measuring H2O content we have to be really accurate. Postal scales were designed to be accurate to within 1 gram and should be calibratable. These come in many different sizes.