Saturday, June 11, 2011

Storing Emergency Food

For thousands of years successful cultures have stored excess food during good years to tide them over during lean years. That's not a bad idea and something we should copy. Food storage is a science and an art. The science is chemistry and physics, the art is in the selection of what to store. Not all food stores well.  There are several storage methods available and your own individual situation will dictate which you can use.  This post will concentrate on freezing.

Freezing.  The most common way for modern, industrialized people to store food is by freezing. Freezing is convenient but neither cheap nor a long term solution. Refrigeration, to include freezers, are your most expensive-to-run appliances in your house.  If you are concerned about food security you probably are not in a financial position to replace your older, less efficient refrigerator or freezer.  But if you can, buy down to a smaller size and choose a chest type freezer over an upright.  Keeping the freezer and refrigerator full also cuts down on how often it runs.  Dry foods will keep nearly forever in a freezer but other foods will eventually suffer from freezer burn.  This happens when the moisture in the food, mainly meats, is pulled out of the food item by the cold, dry air.  You have probably noticed ice crystals in the freezer bag or tupperware type container.  That came out of your food. 

I mainly use my freezer to store leftovers and vegetables that I harvested in bulk or bought in bulk. I do freeze meat but try to store only small quantities so that it is used up before it is damaged.  The leftovers that I freeze are future ingredients for soups and stews; all other leftovers get eaten in a day or two after preparation.

Potatoes.  When I have more potatoes than I can eat before they lose quality, I freeze them.  This is what I do.  I dice up the potatoes as for hash browns or homefries.  Then I put them in a large mixing bowl and spray them with cooking spray (usually olive oil cooking spray) and stir them until they all have a light coat of oil.  Next, I microwave them, two minutes at a time and then stirring them, until they are cooked through but not soft.  The oil spray keeps them from sticking together. Then I dump them onto a cookie sheet, spread them out in a single layer, and put the tray in the freezer.  This freezes the diced potatoes separately.  Now you can put them in a freezer storage bag or plastic storage container and put back in the freezer.  This

method allows you to take out how much you want to cook instead of one giant clump.  These will keep up to three months.     Vegetables.  Most vegetables don't freeze well because of the high moisture content.  What comes out of the freezer will be fine for cooking but you're not going to be able to thaw them out and add to a salad or eat raw.  The freezing process damages the cell walls and the veggies will be soft. The Colorado State University recommends the following:
     Freezing is an excellent way to preserve fresh vegetables. The quality of frozen vegetables depends on the quality of the fresh products and how they are handled from the time they are picked until they are ready to eat. It is important to get the product from the Garden to the freezer in as short a time as possible. It is important, also, to start with high-quality vegetables, as freezing will not improve the product's quality.
     Blanching and prompt cooling are necessary steps in preparing practically every vegetable, except herbs and green peppers, for freezing. The reason is that heating slows or stops the enzyme action. Enzymes help vegetables grow and mature. After maturation, however, they cause loss of quality, flavor, color, texture and nutrients. If vegetables are not heated enough, the enzymes continue to be active during frozen storage and may cause the vegetables to toughen or develop off-flavors and colors. Blanching also wilts or softens vegetables, making them easier to pack. It destroys some bacteria and helps remove any surface dirt.

Blanching Vegetables

Most vegetables may be blanched in boiling water or steam.

Blanching in Boiling Water

To blanch vegetables in boiling water, bring at least 1 gallon of water to a rapid boil in a blancher or large kettle with a lid. Lower a pound of prepared vegetables placed in a metal basket or cheesecloth bag into the boiling water and cover with a lid. Start counting time as soon as the vegetables are in the boiling water. Follow the recommended blanching time for each vegetable (Look up on Internet or order one of the books shown below). Underblanching may stimulate enzyme activity and could be worse than no blanching. Prolonged blanching causes loss of vitamins, minerals, flavor and color.

Steam Blanching

Heating in steam is another way to blanch vegetables. Steam blanching takes somewhat longer than water blanching but helps retain water-soluble vitamins. Steam-blanching times are given in Table 1 for those vegetables that steam most successfully.
    To steam vegetables, bring 1 to 2 inches of water to a rolling boil in a kettle with a tight-fitting lid and a rack that holds a steaming basket or cheesecloth bag at least 3 inches above the bottom of the kettle. Put a single layer of vegetables in the basket or bag so steam can reach all parts quickly. Place the basket or bag on the rack in the kettle, cover and keep heat on high. Start counting steaming time as soon as the lid is on.
Other ways to heat particular foods before freezing include heating pumpkin, sweet potatoes and winter squash in a pressure cooker or oven; heating mushrooms in fat in a fry pan; and simmering tomatoes on a range.
    After vegetables are heated, cool quickly and thoroughly to stop the cooking. To cool vegetables heated in boiling water or steam, plunge the basket of vegetables immediately into a large quantity of cold water that is 60 degrees Farenheit or below. Change water frequently or use cold running or iced water. Use about 1 pound of ice for each pound of vegetables. It takes about as long to cool the food as to heat it. When vegetables are cooled, remove from the water and drain thoroughly.

I often freeze diced peppers on trays, just like my potatoes, and store them in freezer bags or tupperware type containers.  These I'll use in cooking (I use a lot of peppers and onions in my cooking.).

You want to remove as much air as possible from whatever container you use and those vacuum bag system are ideal if you are going to freeze a lot.

Gravies, juices, waters:  I like soups and stews and so I accumulate my ingredients over a period of weeks and months.  I maintain a couple plastic storage containers in the freezer and add stuff as it comes available.  I save the pan drippings, left over gravy and meat juices, and the water left over after cooking vegetables. It is all eventually going into the same pot so I make no attempt to segregate it as I accumulate it.  I just pour it into the container until it is full and then I start a new one.  Bits of left over meats and vegetables aalso go into these containers.  Since they are surrounded in frozen gravy or juice there is no worry about freezer burn.  This stuff will keep for months, until you have enough for a big batch of "garbage soup".  By the time I am ready to make a pot of soup all I need to buy is a can of beef broth and a can of diced tomatoes.  Everything else comes from these containers with some added potatoes and maybe some dry beans and/or noodles.  I generally can make a gallon and a half of nutritious soup for less than two dollars using this method.  Add in some corn bread (really cheap to make) and you have a great meal for maybe 25-50 cents a serving.
    You can freeze milk and eggs too.  The only time I freeze milk is if I have some in the house when I go on leave and being a cheapy I won't just pour it down the drain.  Real eggs can be cracked into an ice cube tray (whole or scrambled) and frozen then tapped out into a storage container. I also will cook scrambled eggs for my morning egg, ham, and cheese bagel and freeze them between wax paper so I can quickly make my breakfast sandwich.
    Berries:  I feeze strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries on trays if I want to use them in baking or smoothies.  If I am going to make jellies and jams I'll just throw them all in one container since I will cook large quantities at one time to juice.  To save space, I'll cook down lots of juice for jelly and just freeze the juice.  Right now I have two half gallon containers of elder berry juice in my freezer waiting for a rainy day when I feel like making another batch of jelly.  I made six pint jars in the fall and still have one left; this is one of my all-time favorite jelly flavors and I know eveything that went into it (elderberry juice, lemon juice, sugar, pectin).
    Breads.  Breads also don't freeze well.  If you have an opportunity to get some really cheap bread, go ahead and freeze it.  It will be good to eat as bread for a week or so.  After that, consider it better to be used as french toast, croutons, bread filling, etc.  I grew up on bread bought at the Day Old store and then frozen; I won't eat it today.  I live across the street from a Dutch grocery store and I buy a half loaf of fresh bread every other day.  I'm not sure what I will do when I move back to the states; I like fresh, real bread.

Follow these general rules when freezing:
  • Freezing can retain quality, but not increase it. Begin with good quality food.
  • Try to prevent air from coming in contact with the food, which allows moisture to escape. Both of these will dry things out and can ‘burn‘ them.
  • Freeze foods as quickly as possible; small portions freeze faster. This will minimize the size of ice crystals that will form, limiting the damage to the food when thawed.
  • Foods should be slightly undercooked when frozen if they are to be reheated when thawed.
  • Only put as much food in the freezer as will freeze within the next 24 hours or so (usually about 2-3lb per cubic foot of freezer space).
  • Label things so you know what they are and when they were frozen.

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