Ok folks, if you really want to be vegan on a budget we need to talk about preserving food. Yes, I mean things like pickling, fermenting, cellaring, dehydrating and canning veggies or sauces like your grandma used to do. And today there are other, more high tech, methods you can use to get the job done as well. For example vacuum sealing and freezing foods are fast, simple and inexpensive ways to keep food from spoiling.
You may be wondering why you’d want to learn how to preserve food when we live in a world where every grocery is filled with canned, frozen or heat’n eat foods. There are two reasons… cost and nutrition!
Food other folks make and package for you is far more expensive than when you do it for yourself. Especially vegan foods because they are still in relatively low demand. As demand (and therefore production) increases costs will come down. But in the mean time it’s going to be WAY CHEAPER for you to process your own food.
When you are good at preserving food you can take advantage of sales when you find them. Also, foods that are in season are far less expensive especially when you buy them in bulk or from a farmers market. So knowing how to keep a bushel of apples, tomatoes or cucumbers from spoiling is a budget saving skill to have.
As to nutrition… it’s pretty self explanatory. Even when the cost of vegan hot dogs comes way down they still aren’t going to be all that good for you. And folks who make foods for the masses will still have to add preservatives and other things to make them shelf stable that you may prefer not to eat. YOUR spaghetti sauce is always going to be tastier and more nutritious than what you can get in the store.
Great! Now that you know why preserving food yourself is a good idea let’s talk a little bit about how to do it. There are dozens of methods for preserving food, some of them ancient and some very modern and high tech. To keep this post from being so long that no one will ever read it we are going to give you a brief overview of the most commonly used ways to preserve food. Then in the weeks to come we’ll dive deep into each method in a post of their very own. Let’s get started…
Preserving Food Via Canning
Canning preserves your food by pasteurizing your food then vacuum sealing it into glass jars. What that means is you need to heat it to a specific temperature and keep it at that temperature for a specific length of time. How hot it needs to be and how long it has to stay there depends on the type and volume of food being canned. Canning isn’t hard but you can’t “wing it” you’ll need a canning guide and some supplies like glass jars and rings (that you can reuse) and one time use sealing lids. Canned foods stored in a cool dry place will retain their quality for at least a year.
Preserving Food Via Freezing
Freezing keeps your food from spoiling by reducing the temperature to a point were bacteria becomes dormant. Yes, it’s bacteria on and in your food that “rots” it and makes it go bad. True freezing for really long term storage requires a temperature of at least 0°F. This is just not possible with home freezers which usually keep foods between 10°F – 32°F. So you’ll want to use the food in your freezer with in a few months. Storing food in the freezer is super simple. I’m sure you already get the basics of it. But here are two tips for getting the most out of your freezer. Use freezer bags NOT storage bags and freeze foods FAST. You can do this by keeping them in small batches like ice cube trays or larger but shallow layers.
Dehydrating food preserves it by removing the water that bacteria need to grow. This will keep your food from spoiling for a very long time IF you get all the water out. Folks used to dehydrate or “dry” their foods by stringing them on thread and hanging the strings from the rafters in warm dry rooms, often near fire places like in the kitchen. This method is very low tech and can still be done easily if you live in a dryish climate. Luckily we are not dependent on the weather these days because appliances like dehydrators are readily available and don’t cost too much. This also lets us make yummy foods like fruit leathers!
Preserving Food Via Pickling
Pickling preserves your veggies by soaking them in a bath of alcohol (like apricots soaked in brandy), salt or acid. The dill pickles we are all so familiar with are just cucumbers stored in spiced vinegar (which is an acid). Pickling is super easy but can be unsafe if you are careless with the prep work or if they are stored at room temperature without also canning them. For this reason we recommend you get yourself proper equipment and a pickling guide. Then plan to partner your pickling with canning, fermenting or refrigeration at the very least.
Preserving Food Via Fermenting
When you ferment your food you preserve it by culturing or growing “good bacteria” in it to keep the “bad bacteria” from growing. Wine and sauerkraut are fermented foods many of you will be familiar with. Just about all veggies can be fermented in one way or another and a great many recipes are available. As a rule fermenting doesn’t require much in the way of specialized equipment but each method is different and requires different stuff to get the job done. Just be sure to get a fermentation guide because attention to detail is important if you want to avoid LARGE messes and get the tastiest results.
Preserving Food Via Vacuum Sealing
This is the most high tech food preservation method we’re going to talk about here. Basically what you are going to do is put your food into a bag and remove ALL the air from it. Just like you, bacteria needs oxygen to grow so when you pull it all out of the bag it can’t grow and spoil our food. As a bonus vacuum sealed food packages take up a lot less space and many can be kept at room temperature. So this method is really good for folks who like to hike or camp. For added protection you can toss vacuum sealed foods into the fridge or freezer where they will keep a VERY long time. The only draw back is a vacuum sealing appliance and special bags (specific to the machine you purchase) are required.
WARNING: these machines are always shown being used with a hunk of meat. Don’t be grossed out or turned off. You can use it with your lovely vegan food too.
Preserving Food Via Cellaring
Probably the least known to us today but the best known to our grandparents or great grandparents is cellaring food to keep it fresh for a long time. It is also the lowest tech way to preserve food. Basically, cellaring means you store your food in a temperature, humidity and light controlled environment. If you think of a wine cellar or a root cellar you get the idea. With the proper environmental conditions you can keep whole foods such as apples, potatoes, cabbages and squash for six months or more.
So you see, there are plenty of easy ways for you to stretch your food dollar and keep your family well fed with highly nutritious food and still be vegan on a budget. No, home preserving isn’t some sort of arcane art lost to the mists of time. With a tiny bit of effort you’ll be preserving food like a pro!
Some Stuff To Have YOU Preserving Food Like A Pro!
Ball Complete Book of Home PreservingFoodSaver V2244 Vacuum Sealing System with Starter KitThe Home Preserving Bible (Living Free Guides)Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and CookerFoolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments, and MoreNesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-75A