Home canning is more popular than ever, but its popularity is not without consequences. Supply chain problems that began last fall have continued to plague gardeners hoping to preserve their crops.
The global pandemic has both increased interest in home canning and led to smaller production lines at manufacturers such as Newell Brands, Mason Ball and Kerr jar and canning manufacturers. These factors have led to a shortage of canning rings and lids, which has frustrated many canning candidates. The good news? If you still want to try food preservation, canning isn’t the only way to do it.
Cool storage is the simplest home preservation option. Before the invention of canning or refrigeration, it was the preferred method of preserving food. Cool or room temperature storage involves storing produce in a dry but cooler place in your home, such as an unheated pantry, porch, basement, or root cellar. Not all fruits or vegetables are suitable for cool storage; Generally, root vegetables or thicker skinned products such as carrots, potatoes, onion, garlic, squash, and apples are best suited for cool storage.
Pickles in the fridge
Most microbes cannot survive in a highly acidic environment, so vinegar (and other acids) is an essential part of canning. However, you don’t need any special lids or rings to make pickles in the fridge. You can follow your favorite pickle recipe and, instead of processing the jars in a pot, put them in the fridge. Of course, the number of jars of pickles you prepare will be limited by the space available in your refrigerator.
Fermentation helps create several foods such as cheese, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, and even vinegar. Similar to pickling with vinegar, the fermentation process turns low-acid foods into high-acid foods. This process occurs through the use of starter cultures, salt or whey. The process takes place at room temperature and once fermentation has taken place, the food is shelf stable. However, fermented foods should be kept in a cool place or in the refrigerator to make them last longer. Getting started with fermentation is easy, especially if you get a fermentation kit.
Drying / Dehydration
Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving food and it is very versatile. You can air dry the food in the sun or under a sheltered porch. For faster results, use a commercial dehydrator or an oven. Dried foods do not require refrigeration, but should be stored in a cool, dry place. The National Center for Home Food Preservation claims that dried food can be stored for a year at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Freezing is the easiest way to store food. Frozen products can be stored in the freezer for eight months to a year. However, it depends on how you prepare and package the products. To prolong the life of the freezer, it is essential to remove as much air as possible from the bag or storage container before freezing. This step will help prevent freezer burn. A commercial vacuum sealer and vacuum bags are great tools to help you with this task.
Freeze drying allows you to store foods that are otherwise difficult to store such as dairy products, whole meals, and leftovers. Lyophilization, or freeze-drying, removes water from food after freezing it and placing it under vacuum. This process allows ice to pass directly from solid to vapor, bypassing the liquid phase and making food stable for years. However, the freeze-drying process is significantly more complicated and expensive than other home food preservation methods. For example, you will need to invest in a freeze dryer, which can cost several thousand dollars.
Salt and sugar
Most people agree that salt is a natural preservative, but so does sugar. Both substances extract liquid from food and inhibit the growth of microbes. Salt and sugar can be used to preserve products and meats. Because sugar and salt alter the flavor of foods, they are not necessarily the best method for every type of food. Some traditional salt foods include ham, lemons, and beef jerky. Foods commonly preserved in sugar include ginger, cherries, and citrus peel.
Oil and alcohol
Oil and alcohol have also been used for decades to preserve objects. As with salt and sugar, alcohol absorbs moisture from foods, inhibiting microbial growth. Preserving foods in oil works by blocking the air after the item is completely submerged. Both methods work well and can maintain a long shelf life of food for months, depending on the quality of the oil or alcohol and the natural acidity of the food.