Macaroni with tomato meat sauce. Blue background. Shallow depth of field.
Long before the advent of electricity, mankind has always found creative food preservation methods in order to get through the barren times. Some of these storage methods added only a few weeks to the life of the food. Some were meant to last through a few months of winter. And yet other preservation methods were intended for much longer-term. I’m reminded of Joseph storing grain through the seven good years in order to get his people through the seven years of famine.
There’s a lot we can learn from our ancestors on food preservation without electricity. If the grid ever goes down for a long period of time, it would be nice to know how to put-up the food we have so that it doesn’t spoil, as well as how to store a future harvest.
Here are 10 ways to preserve food off grid, in no particular order. Some are drying techniques, some are non-electric refrigeration alternatives, and some use liquid to keep food in jars long term.
There are plenty of DIY solar dehydrator plans that you can find online. These air-tight boxes use warm air flow generated from the sun to dehydrate large amounts of fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, and even meat without using any electricity. A solar All American Sun Oven is another great option if you’d rather just buy a small unit. It’ll cook food in the sun, but will also dehydrate as well.
When dried completely and stored in an airtight container, dehydrated foods will generally last for 6-12 months.
Although typically canning is done over an electric stove, it can just as easily be done on a propane stove or even over an open flame. Knowing the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning, as well as having jars and reusable canning lids is a must if you plan on using canning as a long term method of food preservation. The great thing about home canned foods is that they don’t require any electricity to keep them stored, and they’ll be good for several years. Almost anything you buy at the store in a can can be canned at home (say that last bit five times fast), with the exception of really thick products like cream of – soups and refried beans, which are too thick to get heated adequately at home.
Meats, beans, soup, stew, chili, vegetables, fruits, and anything pickled can be canned and stored long term. Home canned goods are best when used within the first year for taste and nutritional value, but even five or ten years down the road they’ll still be safe to eat as long as the seal is still intact.
Fermentation has been used since the beginning of time as a safe method of food preservation. Chopped veggies packed in glass jars or ceramic crocks in a salty brine will keep for several weeks. Jars stored in cooler temps will last even longer. An added bonus of eating fermented foods is that they are a fantastic source of probiotics, and will help build good gut health giving your immune system a welcomed boost.
All kinds of meat and even some cheeses can be smoked for short term preservation. Food can be smoked in a homemade or store-bought smokehouse, on a grill, or even hung over a fire in a more primitive manner. The key is to keep the meat away from the heat of the flame so that it doesn’t cook, and allowing it to dry for several days in the cooled-off rising smoke.
I’m definitely no expert on smoking meat. It’s something I’ve yet to try, so I can’t offer too much commentary from experience. From what I’ve read smoked meats will only last for a few days without refrigeration, but perhaps there’s another step to making this a longer-term solution. It’s definitely worth researching more. I welcome any additional advice from you experienced smokers out there!
Frontier men and women used spring houses, or sometimes well houses, for natural refrigeration. A stone building was usually built over a natural spring, allowing the water to flow through the building via troughs. Jugs of milk, crocks of fermented foods, and other items were stored in the troughs and kept cold as the water flowed around them. Hanging meat, fruits and vegetables were also kept on shelves in spring houses year round. You can read more interesting information about spring house refrigeration HERE. Spring houses were used to keep foods cool for short term food preservation.
A really cool way to preserve meat long term without the use of electricity is to salt cure it. This was widely used in the old days by settlers and ship crews as a way to preserve butchered meats through the year. By thoroughly covering raw meat with salt and draining it off for about two weeks before hanging it to age you are able to prevent bacteria from growing, enabling the meat to be stored at room temperature for several months at a time.
Some foods can be hung up on a string to dry and preserved like that for several months. The pioneers oftentimes hung foods next to the fireplace to help them dry out more quickly. Apples, green beans, peppers, and many herbs are a few examples of foods which can be hung in this way.
Root cellars are a great way to preserve foods for months longer than they would normally last. These underground rooms stay cool in the summertime and above freezing in the wintertime, making them a great year-round food storage option. Fruits, vegetables, and canned goods do well when stored in a root cellar.
Zeer pots are a popular method of off-grid refrigeration used in Africa. Two terra cotta pots can be put together with a layer of moist sand between them to create a small mini fridge using evaporative cooling. This won’t get cool enough to keep meat, but it will add a little more time to produce that would have otherwise spoiled more quickly.
If you have a way to make or harvest ice, an old fashioned style ice box might be a great off-grid refrigeration option for you. It’s basically like a glorified cooler, with one side for food storage and the other side for ice. Ice can be stored in an ice house between layers of sawdust, and used to restock the ice box in the kitchen.
These are just a few ways I’ve discovered to preserve food in the event of a grid down situation. Tell us if you know of another way to keep food without the use of electricity.
We may never have to go back to the old ways of doing things, but don’t you think it’s wise to have the knowledge to do so… just in case? It never hurts to be prepared!
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