By Naomi Broderick
No one can see into the future, but we can prepare for all eventualities. Living in unsure times as we do, safety and foresight top the “to do” lists. Living in a home equipped with a state of the art security system such as those offered by ADT Billings, Montana, makes us feel securer in regards to unwanted guests, but we also have to be prepared to face catastrophes like severe weather conditions, terrorist attacks, war and any number of other things that can lead to Armageddon. That is why the methods of preserving food and storing it in a way to give it a longer shelf life is becoming more and more important.
Seeking new methods and technologies and having ready-made freeze dried food options, has let us forget about our ancestors. They didn’t have a refrigerator or a freezer, they didn’t have electric stoves to do their canning; they didn’t always have canning jars either. Yet they managed to travel across this immense country by horse and wagon, through festering heat and bone-chilling cold, without starving. I think it’s time to find out how they did it and how we can adapt some of their very efficient methods in our modern times. After all, if we are forced to start over, our so carefully horded supplies will only last for a limited amount of time. Then what? We are going to have to be savvy to survive.
When herding cattle across the plains, cowboys were surrounded by “fresh meat”, but it wasn’t meant for their consumption. They had trail cooks following them with the chuck wagon. Trail cooks were feeding hardworking, hungry men, the type you don’t want to upset with unsubstantial grub. Without refrigeration, there are not a lot of preservation options for the long haul. Drying was the best method. Some cooks mixed dried beef, grease, chile peppers and salt together and then formed them into stackable bricks. This was a great way to keep meat from spoiling and it was easy to rehydrate them in water. They used this concoction to make savory, hot stews, adding beans or rice as fillers. This is an easy method for conserving a meal and is easy to portion and to prepare.
If the worst-case scenario comes to pass, you won’t be able to rely on your oven or electric dehydrator. However, you can use mother-nature to help you accomplish the task at hand. To dehydrate meat, it’s important to cut it into very thin strips. The thinner you cut the meat, the better it will dry. For the next step you can go two ways here:
A) If you still have salt, rub the salt into the meat strips, this will help preserve it longer, or
B) If you’ve run out of salt, leave the strips as they are and continue with the process
Thread a sewing needle with thin string, best is fishing line. Using the needle, thread the meat onto the fishing line, leaving at least 1” spaces between the slices, and plenty of room on both ends. Make sure you choose a dry, well ventilated spot to hang the meat for drying. Since the meat, (and any other food you plan on drying) will attract insects. Make a protective cover, using mosquito net, to protect your food from insects. The net should not touch the meat, because that would allow the flies to land and lay their eggs on the exposed food. The meat is ready when it is brittle to the touch. The cooler and darker the place where you store the dried meat, the longer it will be preserved. Avoid sunny areas.
Fruits like apples, pears and peaches are best cut into wedges or rings, with skin, and strung up on the line, just as the meat was. The procedure is the same. The smaller the wedges or rings, the faster the drying process will be completed.
Peas and beans are best dried spread out on a flat surface and exposed to the sun. Turning them over every few days will make for easier and evener drying.
The best storage containers for your dried goods are cloth bags. You can easily make these out of cheesecloth. This way they don’t collect humidity, because they can “breathe” through the bag and insects will have a harder time getting in. Hanging the bags in an aerated, dry area will also help avoid the forming of mold or condensation, extending the shelf-life.
These are just a few examples of old food preservation methods you can apply in an emergency. There are many more and they are definitely worth looking up. Another great source of information is talking to your seniors. Some of our grandparents have seen tough times and had to make due with very little. Pick their brains, they’ll enjoy the company and you’ll learn more than you might think.
B.W. Richardson said: ”Preserve and treat food as you would your body, remembering that in time food will be your body.”