I've been trying different kinds of food preservation. I've been focusing on techniques that result in foods that don't need to be refrigerated after they've been prepared.
I started with canning. Jackie Clay at Backwoods Home Magazine was my inspiration with her Full Meal canning. Instead of doing a jar of peaches, you do beef stew. It's fast food, you know what's in it, and it keeps for years and years.
I've done the aforementioned beef stew, salsa verde (pork in green chile sauce - sucked!), clam chowder, BBQ pulled pork, and tons of chili con carne. You pop a lid, 1 minute in the microwave, and you have a great meal. It works well with college students in the house.
I have also canned beef - both chunks and hamburger (the burger is better, IMO) - pork stock, veggie stock and simply awesome strawberry jam.
The problem with canning - glass jarring, really - is three-fold: It takes a lot of fuel to produce, you need some specialized equipment (pressure canner, jars, lids, etc) and the product isn't very portable. You can't realistically fill your backpack up with a week's worth of canned soup, for instance.
Drying foods seemed like it might be a solution. It would address at least 1 of those three problems. Portability would be greatly enhanced. And, depending upon the technique used, the other two problems - fuel consumption and specialized equipment - could be eliminated or lessened.
I've made jerky for the past couple of years. I've always taken some sort of low-fat chunk of meat - like London broil - sliced it, marinated it, then put it in the dehydrator.
The product has been very well received. It is usually all eaten in a couple of days. Because of the process used, it also has very good storage longevity as well.
I made a batch for a fishing trip this past June. I had a package I had forgotten in some bags I was going through this past weekend. I cut it open, and it was just as good as the day I made it.
I decided to try making jerky from ground meat. I had a couple of un-cooked pieces of pork and beef left over from two other meals. I cut it up into chunks in preparation for grinding.
I broke out my Family Grain Mill and attached the meat grinding attachment. I put the meat through it once, and it was still too coarse. I ran it through again, and it was the perfect consistency. Very smooth and both meats were fully incorporated in the bowl.
I decided to break it into two different piles to try two recipes I got off the Internet.
Both recipes had directions for drying the meat. They suggested taking a ball of the meat, and using a rolling pin to produce a thin slab of meat. Instead, I used this jerky-making gun that I picked up at Wally World for $5. You fill the tube with the mix, and it squirts out perfect strips, right on to the dehydrator trays.
My dehydrator has 6 trays. I was able to get about 3 pounds of meat mix into the whole thing. After one hour, you need to open up the dehydrator, flip each strip of meat, and dab them with a paper towel to sop up some of the oil that seeps from the meat. This is not something I've had to do with the whole-meat version.
The strips dry for another 4 hours (5 hours total), and you end up with a bunch of perfectly formed strips.
I weighed the jerky afterwords, and it had reduced in weight by two-thirds - my 3 lbs of meat mix was now 1 lb of jerky.
One batch was a "standard" mix. I'm not too crazy about it. To me, it tastes like dried meat loaf! I think it was the Worcestershire sauce in the mix. The teriyaki/hot sauce batch was excellent.
It is supposed to last for up to 2 months in a zip lock bag. I'd expect it to last longer if I put it into a vacuum bag like I did with the whole-meat jerky I mentioned earlier.
Accept The Challenge
Aside from saving you tons of money, preserving your own foods gives you a skill that can be used if a true disaster or emergency ever hits. Protein, in particular, degrades very quickly without some sort of preservative addition or process. Teach yourself how to can (jar), dehydrate, smoke, pickle and cure. Preserve your bounty.
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