Preserving Produce without Heat

I have only been growing my own vegetables and preserving them for a few years now. The first thing I thought of was heat canning, and have spent a number of hours getting water to boil. This was not entirely satisfactory to me, however, because it just didn't seem very efficient. Heat intensive processes are inefficient at small scale, such as my kitchen.

So this year I ditched the water canning and decided to try other methods.

As a bit of background, I have been keenly interested in the fossil energy inputs to the entire modern food system and previously wrote a summary of my studies on The Oil Drum.

A key graphic from that article is re-posted here:

And a high resolution version is here:

Clearly, much energy is invested in processing fresh food to be stored for later consumption. A lot of energy is also spent getting processed food into stores and homes. I am generally in favor of local economic systems, as these cut down dramatically on transportation demands. But local doesn't have to mean within your own home, and for some kinds of work ultra-small scale may be counter-productive. I don't want the advantages of shortened transport distances eliminated by engaging in a high energy processing method.

For example, it may be less energy consuming to buy bread from the store, which may have been baked a hundred miles away, than to fire up your own oven for a single loaf. Perhaps ideally there's a bakery in every neighborhood. But the point is that I suspect what is true for bread is true for many household processes.

So, back to fruits and vegetables. I have access to a big garden and local farms with excess supplies of fresh produce. I have radically shortened the supply chain, and now I want to perform preservation work in my home kitchen using this home or locally grown food. What methods don't require high, and likely fossil fuel produced, heat?

To address this precise question, I opened the book Keeping Food Fresh and basically followed their guidelines for drying, lacto fermenting and preserving in olive oil. They don't have a single chapter on water bath canning, and in fact start with examples of how to store food in the ground or cellar. In other words, the first rule of thumb is avoid the need for processing altogether.

When planning my mini-farm and garden, I consider the availability of produce year-round and grow crops that store in their natural form or do fine outdoors in our winters. I live in northwestern CA, at ca. 40 degrees latitude at 1400 ft elevation. It is snowing right now, which happens a few times each year.

In mid December, for example, these were the crops available to my CSA members that were harvested the same day: carrot, parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke, leek, chard, kale, and tree collard. And these were the crops grown in the summer and pulled out of passively cooled storage: onion, potato, garlic, and winter squash. I also distributed a jar of solar-dried tomatoes to each customer.

Here's what the baskets looked like.

Okay, back to the subject of preservation. My favorite is drying. Not everything does well with drying, but some of the most abundant fruits and vegetables, such as apples and tomatoes, perform well. This year my farm devoted a lot of effort towards drying and the associated equipment. In California I can take advantage of low summer humidity. Many foods can simply be placed on screened trays outside (see top image). Towards the end of the summer and early fall as the day length shortens and relative humidity increases, drying may require more concentrated heat. A couple friends of the farm build specialized food drying cabinets with a heat collection chamber, and these did a fantastic job.

This is what one of the driers looks like. The black box at the top holds the screened trays of produce. The slanted front piece is a heat collector. Here is a good web source for descriptions and plans of solar cookers, dryers, root cellars and stills.

(Caution, please don't drool on your keyboards when viewing the images below)

While you can't taste the results of all this work, here's what the various jars in my pantry look like.

These are solar-dried fruits and veggies. High acid fruits and vegetables maintain their nutrient quality when dry, and of course these are very light weight for storage and transportation. Shown are onions, tomatoes, pears and peppers.

Lacto fermentation is a fascinating process. All you need is salt and chlorine free water. Here are examples of pickles, a vegetable medley including beets, and shredded zucchini. Nutrient levels in low acidity vegetables are kept high by lacto fermenting.

Olive oil is a more expensive preservative. But the oil isn't lost, just borrowed while preserving and becoming a flavored oil when the vegetables are consumed. Many vegetables are sauteed briefly in vinegar before storage in oil. Shown are sweet pepper, tomatoes and a vegetable medley including carrots. Onions and garlic and herbs are often mixed into these.

(Confession time: When I am supposed to be making dinner I sometimes get caught standing by the counter for several minutes at a time spooning the preserved-in-oil veggies onto bread and spoiling my appetite. A bottle of beer is typically at the scene too.)

I am sure many readers are much more experienced than I am at low energy input food preservation techniques. Please take the time to share some of your knowledge and answer any questions that arise.

After this went on-line, I received a note from the publisher that the book I referenced is republished with a new title: Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning. It can be found in print on Amazon and other retail outlets. Link to Amazon below.

Thanks for starting us off, Jason.

Here are a couple other books to get people going, too:

  • Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation (Paperback)
  • The Solar Food Dryer: How to Make and Use Your Own Low-Cost, High Performance, Sun-Powered Food Dehydrator

Now I just need a garden...(in a condo, no land).

Are you a member of the condo board? Think about becoming one.

You can try to get your neighbors, other condo owners, in on the act.

Get them involved in making a rooftop garden and other container gardening (and composting and root cellaring) options.

See what you can get started. You'd be amazed at what you can accomplish for less time that you currently spend going to the supermarket. (The food's fresher/better and usually cheaper too once you get it going.)

Joining a food co-op with a local farmer is also a good alternative.

It seems to me that most condos are eventually going to have to transform themselves into something more like co-housing communities, whether they want to or not. The book Supurbia! has some good ideas on how such a transformation might gradually be brought about. I am doubtful if the vision of the authors would work in most suburban neighborhoods, for for condos it just might.

Hi, msbpodcast. I realize I used the wrong word, technically we belong to a homeowners association and we live in a non-detached unit with two floors, sloped roof -- and no land owned by each unit holder.

We actually have a bit of land around us that the association owns but there is no soil at all. It's a mix of clay and rock (and it's on a slope!). Some neighbors and I looked at it and just shook our heads. We could build some raised beds, perhaps, but I decided to look into local CSA's that encourage participation by the partial owners first. Thanks for the encouragement, I'm not giving up yet. In fact, I'm on the steering committee for The 10,000 Garden Project, which I'll write about in a future Campfire post.

Slopes? Orchards!

aangel: I have both books, they are good.

I would like to proceed with building the solar food dryer per the plans in the book, but am hung up on the steel plate that it calls for. Have you built one? Did you have any trouble making it yourself? Or is there someplace or somebody I should look to? (I'm OK with the woodworking part of it, but have very little experience or skill when it comes to metal work.)

I own the books, too, but they are currently on the shelf waiting for their project day to arrive!

Try Biltmore Metals they deal in scrap and would know who fabricates locally. Alternatively, call AB Tech they might do it or they will know who can do it.

Thankyou for this uplifting (and beautiful) post.

Despite having a miniscule yard, I am completely fascinated with all things related to growing and preserving your own food. Our family of 5 ate our own delicious pears and apples every day this fall based on 3 trees growing in the strip of land between our sidewalk and the street.

By choosing trees that ripen at different times, storing one box of apples wrapped in newspaper and leaving the keeper apples on the tree until the first freeze we were able to keep our daily home-grown fruit habit going for three full months. Delicious!

-- Jon

It is all a lot of fun, I agree. Each year is so different too.

Last year I had a great year with pears and apples, but not this year, so I worked on other things. Three years ago the blackberries were fantastic, but nothing as good since. We still eat some of the old jams and look forward to the next big year for that food source.

Since Nate asked for some philosophy I'll toss some in. Nate likes to talk about dopamine and happiness and addiction, etc., and the fact that these systems are hijacked by modern stimuli and we get on this consumption treadmill. I like to say we need to find new habits, or addictions, that are sustainable.

One of these could be becoming a "foodie" so to speak. Not in some ultra gourmet-import-Russian sturgeon-eggs-and-french-goose-livers kind of way, but in making your own concoctions and sharing with friends and neighbors doing the same. There's a bit of a proud barter situation going on around here where we swap stuff. I have a jar of dry tomatoes and my friend has killer jam, etc. Just this evening I got about 5 gallons of awesome apple cider vinegar. I own a demi-jar and fermentation carboys and an apple press and my friends had a whole bunch of apple trees bursting with fruit. Last year they made the juice, fermented it, drank some of that (which they also shared but it is long gone) and then made vinegar too. Vinegar takes a long time so the gratification is delayed by over a year. And so the memories and anticipation and planning involved are great fun and we have meals to look forward to for years with a great batch like that.

There you have it! The novelty fix and social bonding fix all in one.

A friend of mine has 100 gallons of hard cider right up on Sherwood Rd---
I can't wait! We collected Champaign bottles from the Sausalito Art show, and have the necessary containers.
It is a social bonding and trading what you have--
It has been a persimmons and tomato year for me.

Jason, assuming nothing is heat treated when sealing your jars, any problems with fungi, bacteria, etc. in the air space, surface, lid, etc? Any dangers we should be aware of?

Aren't jars an energy intensive method of storage also? Couldn't earthenware jars be used? Probably easier to produce locally using wood fired kilns as a sustainable energy source.

Just thinking that its not much use building a lifeboat that's reliant on the sinking ship for buoyancy :)

"Last year I had a great year with pears and apples, but not this year, so I worked on other things. Three years ago the blackberries were fantastic, but nothing as good since. We still eat some of the old jams and look forward to the next big year for that food source."

Don't forget, you need to prune and trim your fruit trees and blackberry for maximum production. Contact your local land grant college for more information.



While I am happy for your trees (and you) be aware that in most places, the space between the sidewalk and the road has a perpetual easement to the county/city/state so they can run utilities and other items through there. If you get lucky, your tress won't be careful though.


I can't offer any experience yet, but I am having a root cellar installed in my basement tomorrow. I used a book called Root Cellaring (I can't remember the authors' names) as my source, and it is basically an insulated room with a cold air intake and second air outlet to keep the room cool and keep the air from becoming stale.

I am also very interested in drying foods, but I attended a workshop on food preservation, and was told that here in the Midwest, it is too humid to use solar drying effectively. Of course, I manage to dry herbs and preserve garlic and onions in braids without too much trouble from the humidity, but I have been reluctant to purchase an electric food dryer because, like you, I would like to get away from fossil fuel inputs for food storage. It's got to be a lot more energy efficient than canning or freezing, though, so I may change my mind!

Vegetables I am still digging from the garden, even here in the frozen Midwest: parsnips, rutabagas and turnips. I still had a little arugala and spinach and cilantro until we got snow this week. The next thing I hope to experiment with is a cold frame. Four-Season Harvest is a book about getting vegetables nearly year-round, even in Maine, so I'm optimistic I can, with patience, trial and error, have some success with that.

We put one in a couple of years ago. It's about 6' wide, by 5' high, by three feet deep. We have a 4" intake duct from the back of the house (North) to the bottom of the root cellar, with a damper in the duct and a booster fan. The exhaust duct goes to the garage (minor problem when I'm working on something smelly in the garage.) It also has a booster fan. The two booster fans are wired to a solid-state switch, which is wired to power for the fans and a thermostat. It took me a while to find a thermostat that was dumb enough to cool to low temperatures (think cheap!). Most of them wouldn't accept an AC temp below 60F. The thermostat is mounted approximately in the middle of the root cellar on the bottom of a shelf. Costs were ~$25 each for the duct fans, $25 or so for the duct work and damper, $40 or so for the plastic, styrofoam, and tarp, ~$20 for the thermostat, ~$75 for the switch (bought years ago), and maybe another $25 for the other electrical stuff. The pantry shelving was there already, but it shouldn't have cost too much.

The root cellar is in the northeast corner of the basement, so two of its walls and the floor are concrete. That makes a nice thermal mass. One side wall is shared with pantry shelving, and I put in styrofoam panels and plastic sheet to insulate between them. The ceiling is covered with plastic sheet and styrofoam panels except for the corner where the exhaust duct goes up. The front of the root cellar, where we get access to the shelves, has styrofoam panels for part of it, a sheet of plastic that covers the whole front, with a tarp that covers that. I have nails placed where the tarp grommets go to hold the plastic and tarp tight against the walls.

In the fall, I put the power for the fans on a timer, so the thermostat turns on the switch when the cellar is too warm, but the timer only allows the fans to run at night. Around mid November the fans aren't needed anymore. Around mid December I have to start closing the intake damper or it would get too cold in the root cellar.

Last year we found that potatoes, onions, squash, and citrus fruit kept darn near all winter in there. The only problem was the squash getting soft spots. That's because the root cellar was too cold. The room the root cellar is in (the pantry) stays around 50, which is a better temperature for the squash and pumpkins. Ideally, we could put apples in the root cellar too, but apples off-gas ethylene, which is supposed to cause potatoes to start growing. The apples seem to do OK in the pantry outside of the root cellar, but we go through them pretty fast so it's hard to say. We tried keeping bok choy in the root cellar last year, in boxes lined with plastic with a layer of damp peat in the bottom that we rooted them in. Unfortunately, we kept the box lids closed and didn't do an adequate job of removing slugs when we put them in, so we ended up with something fit only for the compost bin.

This year we put potatoes and citrus in there, as well as our first honey from our bees and last spring's maple syrup from our tree. Those don't need the cold, but we figured it wouldn't hurt.

> here in the Midwest, it is too humid to use solar drying effectively

It is apparently too humid for most solar dryer designs. But by serendipity someone at the web site came up with a design for "A Solar Food Dryer That Works! (even in the humid upper-Midwest)". Since I don't live in the upper Midwest I can't say much about it, but maybe it will solve your problem.

Beautiful work!

I made a 5' diameter parabolic mirror by tying plastic greenhouse panels onto a discarded rattan chair and coating with aluminum foil. A 12" rim from a children's bicycle is suspended at the focus with wires.

Three quart jars of tomatoes or pickled peppers in a black enameled pot without adding any water to the pot will make an excellent seal after two hours in the summer sun. I don't know what the temperature reaches in the jars.

The enameled pot alone with one quart of water will boil in 10 minutes at midday.

A cookie tray at the focus will dry halved tomatoes in two summer days here in Ohio, diced peppers or onions in a single day.

I've been fooling around with parabolic reflectors and large fresnel lenses and have discovered that an inexpensive pair of welding goggles keeps the dazzles away.
Here's a link to a neat little program that helps you calculate parabolic curves and their focii.

I have done some water canning in a solar box oven but it is a bit unreliable. Parabolic seems a good way to go.

TOD could be the new online Renaissance whereby you have know a little of everything from thermodynamics to pickling. Here's a no-vacuum way of making salsa di pomodoro with surplus tomatoes. The heat source can be a wood fire or propane stove. I just bought some beer in long necked (26 oz) bottles as a Christmas present for the garbage bloke but maybe I'll use them for salsa.

I also just discovered that if you don't like the sourness of some pickled foods you can rinse them in a vegetable strainer before serving. I have a lot more ideas like borlotti bean burgers and storing potatoes in egg cartons but research is ongoing. I guess those who don't want to exchange campfire ideas can skip the segment.

A friend who lacto ferments will often take her pickles out and place in fresh water for a day before eating. She otherwise finds them too salty.

I had lacto fermented sauerkraut tonight for dinner that I made 2 years ago. I sauteed it with this years onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and home made sausage. Yum. I do soak and rinse the kraut well before using, and if no other salt goes into the dish, it's just about right.

You can also do lacto-fermentation using whey in place of most or all of the salt. If you make your own yogurt or cheese, you'll have plenty of whey around...

Hey, that's an interesting idea...I have kefir and could let it go long enough to develop a whey. Any recipes/proportions to share?

I usually use 1/4 cup whey; 1 tbl salt per quart of lacto fermented vegetables.

Jason -

I belong to a CSA in the Hudson Valley of NY. Over the summer we had a workshop on wild fermentation by a guy named Sandor Katz - he's put out a couple books on the subject and demonstrated the preparation of kimchi at the CSA. I tried some of my own and it came out pretty good...

Here's a link to his website - he's a great guy and I think he'd definitely reply if you tried to get ahold of him for help with recipes etc.:

There's also a list of some of his upcoming presentations on the website.

Hope this helps.

I have used a ratio of 3 parts whey to 1 part salt instead of all salt and it has worked great with both sauerkraut and kimchi. I think that the final product is better than using all salt because it is not so briney.

You can take a one gallon pickle with a fairly wide mouth. Punch a hole in the lid. Put a wine water valve in the hole. Load it up with cabbage and kosher salt(or other types like sea salt) . Put in enough water to come up to near top. Lay some large cabbage leaves on top to keep the smaller shredded cabbage from fouling you lock.

Sit it on the counter in the kitchen and watch it work. Put a plate under it. In no time at all you have sauerkraut. Just put the gallon jar in the icebox and take out what you need each time.

I got a crock and used to use that but a couple gallon jars are far easier and you can watch it better. Add some carrots,some cucumbers,cabbage hearts...etc.

The agents that cause fermentation are supposed to be very good for the flora/fauna in your digestive system. Best to drink the juice raw right out of the container or draw some off. You can cook the solid but that destroys the microbes ,,so I drink the liquid raw for the benefits. And cook the rest with pork chops or whatever.

Store brought sauerkraut is NOT real kraut. The German army marched with kraut and that sustained them. It stored well and traveled well and along with brats or other sausages? It doesn't get any better.


I'm not sure how this Campfire thingy is supposed to work.

Here is a KEY post by Jason. Its about preserving. Can I post a comment that isn't about preserving?

I saw the opening post above about guidelines and decided that wasn't the place to make a detail campfire like comment.

So I made the following post on todays DB after not seeing the new Campfire come I am pasting it here as well.

Its about...well here it is...if I should do otherwise then please tell me what to do rather than not be 'ontopic' in this scenario.

Back many years ago I built a house down in the start of the Ozark Uplift. About 3 large valleys into the uplift from St. Louis.

On this minifarm I had a choice on the type of septic system and was convinced that a new style was a good choice sense you usually ran into bedrock if you dug very deep. In fact my neighbor later had to blast a septic tank hole but the problem was with the field..and the perc factor.

So the choice was a air driven aerobic,anaberic septic tank which required no field. The output just flushed out right on the ground and no problem if you had the acreage for it and it went only on your land.

The saleman would even volunteer to catch and drink a glass of water from the outflow pipe. It ran off a timer which controlled the motor that injected air into one of the chambers. The resulting output was indeed clear water but I didn't care to taste. It ran out and soon settled into the ground. Down below on the creek bottom was my garden and I oft thought to pipe it down there for the plants to get moisture. Never did that but now looking at the Compost Tea makers I realize that this was exactly the same. Perfect microbes and all the flora/fauna needed.

Right now I wish I had one on my present location. I would certainly not have to try to use humanure and urine since that would all be nicely taken care of by the tank.

Besides they may have gone out of business. The motor was not that big to draw much current and ran only intermittently.

Nice idea Bob Shaw if your reading this. How to utilize waste for replacing nutrients in the soil of one's garden. It was also the perfect answer for my son't house in Raleigh,NC since all the neighborhood had septic systems and private wells. But he has since moved on...oh well.


This forum will by definition be kind of free-form, but comments should generally relate to the topic-du-jour, which tonight is food preserving. If you are interested in developing your idea on septic/nutrient recycling into a guest post, send it in by all means...

A good topic.

I love to use a pressure canner myself. And have about 4 of them I have picked up at yard sales and auctions.

Its far better than water bath canning since you can use a lot less heat and also be sure the product is safe but you must follow procedures very carefully.

Mine are medium and large size. Most have guages. Also variable pressure weights.

I mostly only do tomatoes,pickles and a few other items. I save my corn to grind and the beans and peas dry naturally. I Ihave to try to make my potatoes last over the winter and then use the sprouting ones for my new crop. This works well but I need a root cellar yet its a lot of trouble to dig those big holes in the ground so I keep mine in the bathroom where I don't put in much heat.

In my bathroom is also a big square hole in the concrete for a shower that I have not reinstalled. This leads right to the soil under the concrete pad. And I just opened it up and bit and can put quite a few potatoes down there. Not too much moisture but a nice underground temperature. I also intend to use it to make my homebrew beer and let it ferment. Beer needs ground temperature to work properly and not over ferment.

So ground corn either as meal and/or grits. Dried beans and peas. Potatoes almost year round. This is a lot of what we lived on back as a child on the farm.

The thing is this about farm life here in the area where its neither too cold nor too hot. We stored our stuff for the winter and so during the cold season? We just hunkered down and ate what we stored/canned. We went out to do the 'chores',feed the mules, feed the cows,milk the cows, collect eggs if any, carry in wood and draw water. Beyond that winter was a relaxing time spent around the woodstove. We hardly worked then. Sometimes we spent shelling out pecans mostly. Just hanging out. If you were young you played in the snow. Helped chop pond ice. Built a snowman. Simple country things.

Right now this is exactly how I am living. Sitting by my wood heater. Using it to warm my leftovers. Drying my clothes by it. Ironing them on the top of it ,,if need be. Catching up on my reading and chess.Repairing my pipe collection,smoking those pipes. Drinking beer and alcohol. Only going to town for absolute necessities. Very little of that. Rigging up a new wireless network. Tuning up my new Blackberry Storm. And so on.

I visit almost not at all.

So many folks could perhaps not live as I do but this is the way I was raised and for me its very peaceful. I sometimes walk in the woods with my dogs.

So life is about how I like it and I am far down the road to sustainability by living in the old ways. I have many homemade quilts and 2 feather beds(down comforters now called) so I can't get cold at nite after the fire goes out.

Now comes spring I won't be inside all that much. Spring , summer and fall is all outdoors work.

My only sin is going to the movies away off in the nearest small city. Or spin a DVD on my ThinkPad.

Airdale-life is good..if only the politicos would get a real clue as to what we will have to do in this rapidly failing country. Bring back the farmers markets,quit taxing us to death,quit taking away our freedoms,shut down big ag,and on and on and on....

PS. What we need I fear we are not going to have the leadership to make it happen...its too far way off the normalcy of this culture.
I don't think Obama can take us there but I am willing to let him take a shot at it...perhaps he will only get that one very important shot and thats all. It will have to be 'Back to the Past Future' for sure. Preserving food for the masses? I just don't see. Many wifes are unsure about how to light a range,,let alone cook a skillet of cornbread. Grind some meal??Your kidding ,right?

Airdale, you sound a bit like the guys in this little video from Kentucky.

Just got in from work, roads are bad. Kicked the fire back up and made some french toast with some bread that had gone a bit beyond. Ha! airdale, just poured my Jim Beam and ice, threw another log on, had to move the plott hound away from the wood stove to do it. Damn dog likes to sleep with his head almost under the wood stove. "Life good" I hear ya. a man can't go wrong when you have a good dog.

Here's mine. He'd kill for me, and is a total wimp with the cats. He actually likes them, they are company for him. They tease him constantly.

Don in Maine

.......quit taking away our freedoms,shut down big ag.......

Ilike your style Airdale but this I don't get. Isn't it freedom that created big ag in the first place and would'nt shutting it down mean depriving the participants of their freedom to do what they please?


I do not mean to defend Airdale's statement as I have some issues with it also. But it is always fair to remember that ones "freedom to do what they please" has limits that are bound by the damage that can result to the public good. Sort of like when I am not allowed to fire up ....Well, never mind that.

One of the issues with industrical ag is that it does not have to pay for the true costs of its activites, nor are they reflected in the prices of its goods. Not, in my opinion, an appropriate situation. If those costs were properly reflected I suspect a few of the practioners would exercise their "feedom" to find alternate forms of work. Perhaps.


Freedom in farming? Not if you take the subsidies. That means you have a crop 'basis' and you can draw operating loans on that depending on what the USDA set the floor at for each grain. Wheat AFAIK never had a basis or subsidy. But grain was at such a low price you had to 'farm the soil office' to make ends meet.

Now with prices above the 'floor' you can sell as you wish and not fuss with the usda.Its called 'wildcatting' and a lot of it is going on now I hear tell.

But the USDA used to not let you break new ground. Thats sorta gone by the wayside as they turn a blind eye. Yet the USDA has total hands on control mostly or has for many years via each Farm Bill.

So the farmer must gee and haw as he must and has to do what they tell him in many cases. With the higher prices and fluctations it cuts both ways. A farmer has to almost be an accountant.

Because if you 'inputs' get away from you then your crops leave you just running in place. So they must watch the markets like a hawk and sometimes the speculators just 'buy this crop' meaning they are colluding to make the market as they wish. Sounds wrong but thats what farmers tell me all the time.

The probem I have with farmers is when its lean the want money and support yet when they have a bumper crop and make a lot they pay it back? No!....

So the story is that when you bury a farmer you can't get his outstretched hands to lie beside his body. The keep holding their hands out even while dead!!

Yet you gotta love them for the system is always whacking them alongside the head and they work like a rented mule day after day after day. Winter they kick back.

Yet I have a bone to pick with most of them for they are destroying this land and down deep inside they know it but....well my pappy raised 14 children on rented land. My buddy can't hardy raise one son farming 3,000 acres. So something went crazy.

Yet without farmers we would be dead men walking. I just hate the monculture thing and know that we lived better way back when. With stock,mules,cattle,chickens,goats and whatever else..oh hogs.

Yes much better. No Ipods of course. So hey thats living hell.



Hi Airdale, Nice piece. I'm taking all kinds of notes from this episode.

...I don't think Obama can take us there but I am willing to let him take a shot at it...

No, He's not going to take us where you would like him to because he doesn't understand that kind of connection to the land. Even if he did, the wheels of the machine he's operating move too slowly. I do think he'll do better than the alternative.

Big ag's like big bank or big oil: life of it's own, give it a wide berth. The government does have some great resources that will likely improve. Here's one:

My feeling is that it's in our hands, the communities, to build it. Is there anyone in your neighborhood like minded?

Cat fan

Thanks for a very nice article!

I hadn't even thought about preserving food in olive oil. My older relatives are (were) all Norwegian, and I don't think olive oil is used much there. I take it you don't even have to seal the jars--just saute the vegetables, put them in the jar, and put the lid on, without worrying about high temperatures.

Right, the oil keeps the air off the veggies, so the seal isn't all that important. This is nice because when doing water bath canning you have to worry about the quality of the seal and supposedly throw out old lids (at least the ones made nowadays). I was so bothered by this! A lid just looks like a lot of good metal and it is disposable...but not if you use the lids for storing dry, fermented, salted, oiled foods, etc. The seal need not be perfect.

Does California make olive oil? Or is it all imported? Could one use soybean oil other than imparting a different taste?

California is a big grower of olives for canning and oil. Especially in the northern Sacramento valley where the soils are rocky in places. The traditional orchards are being replaced in may places by olive hedges. The trees are planted close together and cropped to be only ca. 4 ft high. They produce at a young age and can be harvested by machines.

In Mendocino County there are several olive orchards, most of them new. Winery people appear to be diversifying and a local processing plant exists. The olives I have seen are hand picked here Now is about the harvest time. Olives are picked at different stages of ripeness and then blended for desired flavor balance. The "hot" oils have more immature olives while the blander, smooth oils more mature ones.

The olives here apparently are not as productive as in the Sacramento Valley but they produce very high quality oils. I can attest to this. I buy about 4-5 gallons of olive oil per year from local farms and I have never tasted anything like it. Similar to the difference between a store bought tomato and one in its prime from your own yard.

I don't know specifically about soybean oil. I suspect it would be alright but I am hoping anybody with experience can chime in.

I attended UC Davis for graduate school, and witnessed massive amounts of squashed olives along the bike path on the north edge of campus (Russell Blvd). Sometimes you would see someone gathering/picking olives there. In general, you could get an agricultural education just by examining the various pulps on the ground there (tomatoes, sugar beets, and black walnuts just outside of town, olives and figs? near campus, snails (ugh) on busy bike pathes on campus, and chestnuts by the Chemistry building.)

This is the way we do our chili peppers, the bonus is the oil takes on some of their heat. Serious oil to use for a stir fry. Chuckle !!

Don in Maine


I never throw out lids, I use my empty canning jars to store my grain, vacuum sealed with pump n' seal (manually) or electrically sealed with the large mouth jar attachment of the FoodSaver. I also have a huge electric dehydrator that I hope to keep using even after outages start, since hopefully they'll be scheduled at first. This is how coal shortages were handled in World War I in Freiburg Germany -- coal gas and coal generated electricity were only available meal times. Perhaps the same will be true of natural gas, we'll see...

I'm not handy, so I hope that those who are, will start making and selling sun drying equipment, parabolic and other solar cookers.

Does anyone know of a list serve that discusses solar cooking? I'm having trouble getting mine over 200 degrees now at 38 degrees north in California. Is it the angle of the sun, or do I have a lousy solar cooker?

A wealth of information.


Our older relatives are Norwegian -- in fact our family origins are from north of the Arctic circle. Food preservation is dried cod, soaked in lye, called lutefisk. The folks, even the young ones, still remember the kegs of lutefisk on the front porch. They still make lefse- not the potato kind (that would be so new world)- they use just dark grains-- I'm not even sure which, but not wheat. These dried disks of flour mash thatlast quite a while. We eat them with Jgetost (sp?)a goats milk whey carmalized cheese.

Thanks for starting this thread.

I did a lot of water bath canning last year and also bought the largest pressure canner known to man. It holds 17 quarts. Of course- it is too large for indoors, so now I have to build a summer kitchen. I plan on using it for our old laying hens- stewed chicken.

I tried drying veggies, but met with various problems. Our climate is very humid and in the fall the daylight is drastically shorter. Will try again next year. I'd like to get a smokehouse going as well. My grandma made the best smoked "wurst" (German side) I've ever tasted in my life.

Thanks for your comments. I remember gjetost cheese growing up. My grandparents always had it, but my parents didn't. I ate lutefisk a few times when I attended St. Olaf College, but my mother didn't care for it, so she didn't fix it. (She liked mixes and all of the "modern" things.) Of course, lefse was always very popular, but not the potato kind. I was taught that that was just not right!

gotta turn in ,but here's solar dryer i am building;


i experimented with drying some pears this year & they are yummy. drying makes lotsa sense in conserving energy & i think time too.

also to conserve energy & harvest time re canning i freeze tomatos-currently - then cook em down on the woodstove during colder spells to sauce/paste, etc. 2 pots on it now. i found i have to put a metal spacer under the pot or i get an almost burnt taste, even with no scorching.


Hey creg, looks like your link is local only to your particular machine.


creg, that's one great site dude. Pukka!

Thanks for posting this. Really nice pictures and I am glad you bring up a solar dryer design that works better in humid climates.

The cost of the metal screen is, as you note, very high. We found some used polyethylene screen but it is difficult to find food grade versions, which are white instead of colored, which is apparently to make them more UV resistant. So I am not sure how long the food grade type will work in a solar dryer. Getting a LOT of folks interested in building drying trays at the same time is needed to bulk purchase those 100' rolls, or having a bunch of money and stockpiling.

jason i corresponded about the screen [not my design BTW]& he uses regular[not food grade] stainless & has for yrs. w/ no signs of corroding. i agree the stainless price is a big deal [app. $300 for 4'x8' sheet]& polyethylene is to me too flimsy- stretches + the heat/uv issues. my neighbor suggested 312[foodgrade] stainless -.035 welding wire[mig/tig i think] which can be strung on the [2' sq. for me] woven as close as desired on the food tray frames. we traded for a 500-1000' roll he had. i may simply use nails or even additionally weave it. somewhat labor intensive but i'll bet it will go quick once i get one designed/done.

i agree this would be one of the most important preservation tools one could have post peak & if i had the extra cash i'd stockpile the screen too.

i'll keep u posted on the project.thanks.

Creg, Thanks for the link on the screening. I am thinking of making a simple window box dryer and setting it on the sill inside, maybe using a solar fan to promote air circulation. If it doesn't get quite hot enough I could use my electric dryer for part of the cycle. Jason, what is the screening material under the tomatoes in your illustration?

A polyethylene, considered food grade since it lacks the UV stabilizing colors, e.g. charcoal. Same sort of material used in food grade plastic buckets I believe.

I know nothing about this but...

...would it be possible to simply use several layers of chicken-wire, each one offset by 1/8th of an inch or so? You might need to replace it more often, but it should be relatively easy to come by..

Just a thought :)

Great construction Creg...I bookmarked it and gotta build one this summer.

As to how they dried stuff here way back..I had this older fella farmer a few roads over. His son married my cousin so we had something in common but he was a contentious old cuss.

He told me 'we just put sliced apples up on the tin roof.Yeah they got 'specky' from the flies but we just pretended it was pepper."

Didn't always have screens back then you see.

Wonder if pepper came about just so's you couldn't tell if it were pepper or fly specks.

We hung sausage and hams in a smokehouse which was not insect tight at all but we did it during a cold spell and then put then in a straw filled gunny sack and hung them. Put some borax around the tied knot at the top to prevent later fly invasion. Took a ham down and it had a fine white powder mold on it that verified it was done right.

I got two hams right now. Salt cured and hickory smoked that I fetched from Muhlenberg County a few weeks ago. They are best I had in a long time. Still eating on one an another for Christmas. I eat a lot of hogmeat. Well it doesn't take much of smoked salted country ham to do ya.

Airdale-btw a good smoke house is the best way to keep meats like bacon, and hams and sausage. My buddy just slaughter4ed a nice hog. They put up some homemade sausage and its hanging right now..Going to eat it for Christmas breakfast. If you eat homemade pork sausage you won't be able to stand storebrought again.

PS. And it keeps for ever and ever.

btw one older fella in texas interviewed in 2000 re best invention chose 'screen wire'. he said the small town he was from had to close the house around dark & the screens allowed such a new world to the small town; porches, cooler, etc.

Great dryer, please keep the site active.

I can't tell you how nice it is to find this information at TOD. Amid all the depressing threads, I can really look forward to seeing how this develops. Good Job!

My wife and I recently moved away from a population center. We live on 10 acres and have a little garden patch that did us pretty proud this last season. We had tomatoes coming out our ears. I was using a pressure canner to process all the food. The whole time I was preparing and preserving the foods, I kept asking myself, "How the heck am I going to accomplish this when the energy inputs aren't there/affordable anymore." Can you believe I actually felt guilty firing up the electric cooktop to heat up the pressure canner?

The fruits of my labor have been thoroughly worth it. There's nothing better than making a fresh batch of pasta dough from scratch and serving it with homegrown, homemade tomato sauce.

This coming season, I'm looking at building an earth oven. Kiko Denzer has a book available called, (of all things) "Earth Ovens." If they are made properly, they stay hot enough to cook with for hours. You can cook a whole pizza in 2-3 minutes because it uses convection, radiation, conduction to heat the food. Our modern ranges aren't quite as thorough. These earth ovens are wood fired so you'd have to find that energy source. So far that hasn't been a problem for us, as we are in the middle of timber country and there is more than enough downed wood to heat the house without having to specifically harvest trees.

Take Care,


My solar dehydrator is my car (and sometimes my neighbors' cars!). I've only done fruit so far, but it's dead easy. Slice 'em up, put 'em on a rack in the car, flip 'em once. Usually takes about 2 days to fully dry, depending. And when we dry the gorgeous summer strawberries that we get around here, the car smells like heaven!

Good deal, I like this idea. For those of you who want to try dehydrating on a budget a simple electric dehydrator is easy to build. Get a cookie sheet, paint the underside black. Now find a cardboard box that the cookie sheet perfectly seals the top. Cover the inside of of the box with aluminum foil. Drop in a 10 watt incandescent bulb and wiring. And off you go. If you are not used to dried food this is an easy way to start.

I used a variation of this for years, just a plywood box instead of the cardboard and a standard porcelain light fixture. As the kids grew up we always had large glass jars just full of dried apple slices, I swear, it was their favorite snack, great in pancakes as well.

Don in Maine

Both ideas are very creative!

I will sheepishly admit that my father and I both practically jumped to the phone when one day the commercial for this dehydrator came on:

Food Dehydrator

We had visions of beef jerky and even better — turkey jerky. Teriyaki turkey jerky became our favorite. Soy sauce and brown sugar and sometimes even red pepper flakes. Just wonderful.

Although we used it mainly for jerky's, we also learned how to make dried banana slices and other sliced fruits. If I recall correctly, pretreating the food in various solutions was the secret.

The design was so simple that when it arrived we both thought, "Jeez, we could have made that." But in the heat of the moment, we just had visions of turkey jerky in our heads. Actually, though simple it was well designed. The very top has an adjustable opening to let out moist air that made a difference with different foods. Either it had to be open or closed (can't remember) when making yogurt, which we also made.

Actually, a quick google turned up the user manual.

Here is the table of contents:

It appears it was more versatile than I remember!

I was just looking through the recipes and this one was wonderful:

Slice bananas into lemon juice or ascorbic acid. Drain on paper towel. Arrange on tray. Sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Dry to shiny crispness.

It does run on electricity so it doesn't quite match up with the post, but hopefully the glazed banana cinnamon chip recipe makes up for my digression :-).

I wonder where that dehydrator has gotten to...

I made jerky once too. Use very lean meat and salt a bit then treat like the vegetables. Easy!

Deer jerky done right is very good. If not done right it molds real fast.

I heard tell the Apaches sliced beef very thin in strips,covered it with powdered hot pepper and dried it in the sun. These were some tough dudes.


You must not be a spice-lover; that sounds heavenly to me.  (Then again, I eat Thai food at Thai levels of heat.)

Quick thought on pressure canning, find a gasket less canner. While I can make leathers for a hand pump from some old belts, I cannot make the gasket for most pressure canners on the market, gasket less are more expensive but well worth it.

Don in Maine

great photo of drying tomatoes... yum

i live on vancouver island.. a very wet place. nonetheless our indiginous people found enough solar energy to dry all their many, salal, blackberry, snowberry, salmonberry, and they also smoke-dried all their by economising on the sun's power

ah, you have it good in norhtern Cal. but the sun shines even in the wettest places

jason--- i particularly appreciated your analysis --and graph--- of the energy input-output of food....You asked the question: "Am i preserving better by baking bread, or by buying bread? How many kilojewels does it take for the factory on the mainland to make, bake, and ship bread over on the ferry? ..Is it less than what it takes me to fire up my oven?"

i have often tried to calculate these differences, until i got a headache sometimes (or a sore throat arguing it)

but... its not ALWAYS economic.. there are other factors.. you see, how many hot energetic kilojewels do I produce -underline produce- through my homebakers satisfaction -underline satisfaction-?. Do you see what I mean? This factor: the amount of sun's energy which I, as a living being,am able to transform into foodstuff through my (ultimately) solar powered enthusism/ I made my own bread, my family is eating it.. thay feel good i feel good we all feel connected..

That's the catch-word these days in American politics: "connect/. People are saying "connect the dots', so -and-so connected the dots,...saw the bigger picture

well, anyway, while i am here posting, what about Vilstock? I would like to read what your writers have to say about him as Obama-elect Minister of Agriculture. (personally, Michael Pollan is my hero)

i must go! >>your article on FOOD amidst an OIL ENERGY website struck me!!

pls write back and i will send pictures and stories of my condominium garden, and how i fight Strata for the right to grow vegetables on their manicured lawn, and hang my laundry in their pristine skies.

A friend of mine who went through WWII in Germany as a child reports that his relatives were forced out of their Estonian home and migrated to southern Bavaria. He would visit and loved the woods and their new lives, but they had stepped down from quasi Aristocrats to peasantry.

Anyhow, regarding bread...The family build a special bread house, which was a giant oven that would be fired up once a month. A huge vat of dough would be made and then enough loaves for a month were baked on a single day and stacked like wood! They did get stale eventually, but it wasn't so bad since you'd dip it in soup, slather with butter or bake into puddings, etc.

Now imagine a community/neighborhood bread house like that. Best of both worlds--energy efficient and social bonding at once.

Great post Jason : ) Thanks! keep up the great work

I find this post and the comments extremely relevant to TOD. It is actually helpfull in preparing. It covers everything ELP style. Thanks a lot.

Great ideas.
Have been thinking about low energy food preservation from my 'scientific' health preservation perspective - ex agri scientist with my own long term cardiovascular condition (I keep very fit).
We can grow some very useful fruit and vegetables in NE of England, UK, and we have managed to extend growing and storage seasons. We do excellent crucifers, as well as cress and kale and berries and apples. These continue to get a very good 'health' press in nutritional science studies.
Freezing, even with latest modern low-energy device is not a brilliant answer to inter-seasonal storage, but might be considered a baseline for effective preservation. I think some attention needs to be given to preserving not just the flavor and calories, but the markers for health promoting 'phytonutrients', or at least the ones we know about.
The following patent disclosure outlines some of the issues and some data in preserving such nutrients. I have never used a microwave but am contemplating some occasional use for lowish volumes of very high value veg/fruit. Needs more knowledge on my part. I am in touch with some young lab chemists in a low-cost part of the world, and I hope they might put some work in relevant to 'cottage industry' growing - if they get the funding.

re corn i have experimented 2 yrs. now w/ growing for cornmeal for storage longevity. i this am ate fresh ground corn from summer of 07. is good, not quite as creamy as 08 corn. of course cornbread can be made & i do but with a double boiler & woodstove it is easier time & energy wise to cook mush/grits/polenta the 3hrs. or so it takes.

chickens will get the extra, older corn, doesn't have to be shelled or anything , throw it in cob & all just provide sand ; i put some in an old tire[ 80 yr. old neighbor's input that works!]

i notice the corn crosspollinates readily & trying some non cornmeal[ i think the word is dent corn for cornmeal- airdale i bet knows] corn for cornmeal it wasn't good & i could tell some ears had crosspollinated. so this summer i grew only cornmeal type corn; it was good -chewy- fresh.

to grind a corona grinder[$25] is adequate; but after grinding 2 or 3 lbs. u know why watermills evolved in most locals. i hope to set up a bike assisted grinder.

I think it is important to find a corn variety for your area and stick with it. Experiment a bit but then pick a favorite. We have relatively short growing seasons around here and the nights are cool. So far the best for me has been "Painted Mountain" which doesn't get very tall, but it ripens fast. It really sucks to have a bunch of unripe corn when the freeze starts arriving and the mold gets in the ears.

Most field corn here is #2 yellow dent corn. A few grow some popcorn. There is also flint corn but I understand its pretty tough stuff.

For mostly the food market somewhere else they must grow white corn but the farmers say the graineries are hard to deal with on this.

The #2 is usually for animal feed I understand but I bet a lot goes to Mexico as food corn.

Those who are more discriminating prefer white corn for food yet you can buy yellow meal as well as white meal. Grits most usually are white tortillas. yet tostados seem to me to be yellow. Not sure.

But the Mexicans always grew then own open pollen corn. Now they are in trouble due to the pricing all bets are off...

But for me? I grow Silver Queen and Golden Queen for roasting ears and kernel corn....both hybrids and can't come back 'true to form'.

And I grow Truckers Favorite yellow corn heirloom and White Hickory open pollen as well. These I save for grinding. Tough to eat on the cob but can be done..gotta hit it just right..yets that what we ate way hybrids then.

So I have 4 bunches of corn in my garden. Seperated as much as I can yet some still crosses over.

I let it dry on the stalk and get it in before the fall rains start. Put it in sacks and hang up in the barn to keep mice away and let it get real dry..then shell it later and store it in 5 gal plastic buckets. It will store a long time and moisture below say 10% means not insects will hatch in it. Same moisture level as wheat.

This just works for me here in Ky..not sure about the rest of the country.

Airdale-btw some will pick and eat field corn. I myself have but only once of late. Its not that good but they say it won't hurt you...not going to take that chance.

Wonderful (and apppetizing - I'm hungry now ;-)) post, Jason - thanks so much.

One of the interesting and important things about this is that what is low energy depends to a large degree on your climate - for example, the single lowest energy method of food preservation in my location is root cellaring/making use of natural refrigeration - probably not as big in Jason's area. Dehydrating, on the other hand, is a great low energy mechanism for us in the summer, but for fall crops, requires more energy - although if the timing works we can make use of ambient stove heat. Lactofermentation is great all year round. Season extension is good, but it requires more resources in my climate than it probably does in Jason's. Water bath and pressure canning, on the other hand, aren't the losses that they would be for Jason, since our climate requires supplemental heating - I try and do most of my canning in fall, when cooking down apple butter or canning up a chicken and its broth make good use of hot surfaces on our cookstove anyway. A lot depends on your region and climate.

I admit, I wish that we had a local source of olive oil - I do preserve some things in oil, and have experimented with making confit (goose preserved in its own fat - yum!) but... Although I have read that oilseed pumpkins were grown in germany in the 19th century and their pressed oil was considered the local equivalent of olive oil. I've occasionally wondered if I could start a local pumpkinseed oil industry.

Here's a post (more from my regional perspective) about what the lowest energy methods of food preservation are.

And again, Jason, thank you for the inspiration and the amazing pictures!

Link on pumpkinseed oil...

Yes, folks certainly need to think about their location. I don't need to fire up the wood stove until November and by then the summer produce is shot. I know some people cook with the wood stove and once it is hot it stays hot so why not boil a lot of water.

Making apple butter would be good use of wood heat here too since many apples are late fall ripening. In fact, I should look for a lug of apples at the farmers' market today. Whoever invented the apple corer-peeler-slicer should have some bronze monument created in their honor and a national holiday declared on their birthday.

I should mention that Sharon was on my radio show and we discussed these sort of topics:

In world war I, animal bones, acorns, chestnuts, and the pits and seeds of fruit were used to make cooking oil

Acorn oil is almost the equivilent of olive oil. Dont forget to leech them of tanins first though.

The indians made a milky oily kind of cooking thing out of hickory nuts. Called it hickory milk. Today its a very very high priced chef sorta thing.

I got lots of hickories but shelling and squeezing the juice? No way.

Yes they boiled food in it I read.


Excellent article. I've experimented with solar food drying without the solar "supercharger" will some success, though will be building one that can also be used as a solar window heater in the winter.

While this article is helpful, the 1000 word limit seems artificially short; does it have to be strictly enforced?

This article is what I would call a "minimum publishable unit." It is UNDER 1000 words. We will have an article on the longish side on Saturday. There's no "rule" about this, just editorial preferences. Shoot for 1000-1500 words but if you double that and it is a breeze to read and holds the wisdom of an ancient sage it should pass muster. See the advice Nate provided on what editors will look for.

Jason, thanks for a terrific and useful article! Here in south Texas, we've spent the past three years or so planting mostly fruit of various kinds and now are beginning to get harvests sizeable enough that preservation techniques are becoming a priority.

While the energy output required for such preservation is important to us, so is the nutritional outcome, and I would be very interested in more information on the subject.

But for instance: We have a Hachiya Japanese persimmon tree that's becoming pretty darn prolific. The persimmon slices apparently make a wonderful tasting snack. However, one raw persimmon provides something over half of the typical adult's so-called daily requirement of Vitamin A and 21% of Vitamin C, as well as 8% of Vitamin B6 and lesser amounts of a whole string of vitamins and minerals. But, according to (which gets its figures from USDA), the dried equivalent of persimmon only returns 5% of the Vitamin A requirement, and loses all the Vitamin C, the Vitamin B6 and every one of the other trace vitamins.

This may not hold true for other fruits - or fewer nutrients may be lost in the drying process than for persimmons. But it would be interesting to be able to compare fresh vs dried vs frozen vs canned as far as nutrients go.

Bob Dunn
Richmond, Texas

That's been my interest in a primitive vacuum dehydration means mentioned down thread. Delicate nutrients are sensitive to heat and prone to oxidation. If the dehydration method I laid out would work, an adaptation of the seed storage discussed (pdf warning) here could be used with my proposed apparatus to vacuum seal in jars instead of conventional canning. There would be water vapor at low pressure left in the jars instead of air at low pressure.

Don't have a lot of time right now and I know I'm late to the thread but I would strongly suggest you all start some vinegar.

It is very easy, you can make it out of wine, beer, apple cider, and more.

It is very healthy and is great food preservative.

"Vinegar Connoisseurs International"

And to make vinegar you first have to make ethanol! This could be a whole other post indeed. Any takers?

As I noted in another response, I just came across a lot of vinegar and will likely do more preserving in that next year.

"And to make vinegar you first have to make ethanol!"

Well not quite ethanol, just wine strength which as DarDog pointed out below is very easy.

I have a keg with tap of red wine vinegar and I just keep pouring in the last of a bottle of wine thats sat around too long (a condition that is happening less often lately but....

This stuff is sooooo good on salad, on lentil soup, on anything, hell I'm going to try it on my cornflakes.


I used to hate those pickled eggs they used to sell in British fish and chip shops but I guess if I had to I could force one down for the nutritional value :)

You can also preserve in alcohol. Dont forget to drink your flavoured booze after eating whatever it was you preserved in it.

In Finland they preserve blueberries in mead. The resulting purple wine is called Witches love potion.

Ahhh what we do with boiled eggs is after you use the last pickled cucumbers in your canned pickles you drops some boiled eggs in it and put back in the icebox. Or do it with canned beet juice after eating the beets. Its mighty good.

We also do pickled pigs feet in vinegar and bologna. Find that at all roadside convience stores around chere. Likes of hired help eat dinner at convience stores,,,once country stores. They all do fried fish and chicken and potato wedges...etc.

But boiled eggs in old pickle juice is right up there with pate fois gras.

I also like Cherry Bombs. Marachino cherries soaking in a jug of vodka.


Thanks Jason. Yes, I know I can buy the books, but there's not much point till I get back to the States. Do you know off the top of your head some of the storage periods for the food you are putting up?


I've recently been writing about this and can pass on this table.

Storage Life
sugar, salt
beans, whole grains
oils, non-fat powdered milk
5 years
dried fruits
2-3 years
raw nuts, dry yeast, jams, canned fruits, pickles
18 months
oils, nut butters
1 year
storage produce (potatoes, garlic, onions, winter squash)—*only if cooler
than 70 degrees F.
6 months*

Recent LDS research has suggested that dry beans, whole grains and powdered milk will last more than 30 years, with a slight decline in nutritional value, actually. I have to go hunt for the link, though.

There's no reason that canned high acid food shouldn't also last much longer than 18 months - I've eaten many multi-year old canned fruits, and they are fine to eat. There is a loss of nutritional value, but my own research suggests it doesn't become negative for quite some time.

My Hubbard squashes last an entire year - so for every generality there are plenty of useful exceptions ;-). These aren't so much criticisms of Jason's very useful table, just observations.

One important note - brown rice is not, as most people believe, a whole grain - it has had its hull removed, and thus has a comparatively brief storage life, 6months to a year. I know you didn't say it was, but it is such a common misperception...


My son & I recently enjoyed 3 quarts of pickled chilis that my wife & I canned in 1977, long before our son was born. They were delicious. There's one quart left - no telling when we'll open it.

I've eaten brown rice that's been stored in glass jars or in plastic buckets for several years. In fact, it's our routine practice to eat older food first. It may taste (& be) a bit staler than newer rice but it's still perfectly edible. We usually mix brown rice 1:1 with barley, since they both cook for the same amount of time in the same amount of water. Barley stores as well & as long as rice does.

Hi Sharon,
I'd love to see your reference of storage length. These are probably on the short side. The book I found these in says for 70F temperature.

Are you sure about brown rice? I believe it has a short life because the skin hasn't been removed and this contains oils that go rancid. White rice has this skin rubbed off and thus lasts longer.

I'm still hunting for the LDS link - I know I have it somewhere. But yes, I'm absolutely sure about Brown Rice - the issue is that Brown rice has had its hull removed, but not the germ. When the germ is exposed to air, the oils in it go rancid quite quickly. If you take the germ off, and make white rice, you don't have the same issues - but the problem comes because the germ was removed from the protective hull.

If you could buy unhulled rice (sometimes called "paddy" rice), that should store as long as wheat. Unfortunately, in the US it is incredibly hard to find - I have one source that isn't selling right now but might eventually. There's a plan somewhere on the net (I'll add that to my links to locate) for converting a corona mill to a rice huller.


Another good book that everyone should get and refer to is Coleman's Four Season Harvest. There are a lot of crops that you can leave in the garden (under the soil, like parsnips, carrots, or sunchokes; covered with straw, like leeks, collards, or kale; or under plastic or glass or protection, like spinach, chard, lettuce, and many brassicas). We've gotten spoiled having supermarkets where one can get anything, any time of the year. In the past, people adjusted their diets toward eating what was seasonally available; we will probably have to go back to that. Part of the secret is having some fresh things growing year round, not just in the summer.

If you don't have a root cellar, a lot of things can be stored in a "clamp" or "silo", like apples, root crops, and cabbages. I have also found that things like beets can be stored by simply putting them in moist sand in a 5 gal. barrel, and keeping the barrel in a sheltered location up against the house.

I don't mind doing some canning, though. Being able to open up a jar of peaches or green beans or sweet corn or tomatoes in the middle of the winter is useful. I second the comment someone else made about getting a gasketless pressure canner.

I've been ciphering over a means of low cost/energy vacuum dehydration. Suppose you have three vessels like pressure cookers daisychained,

         ____B_____           _________           _____E_____F
        /          \         /         \         /
       /            \       /           \       /
   +-------+        +-------+           +-------+ 
   |       |        |       |           |       |
   |  A    |        |  C    |           |  D    |  
   |       |        |       |           |       |
   |       |        |       |           |       |
   |       |        |       |           |       |
   +-------+        +-------+           +-------+

A  -  vessel of warm water
B  -  valve
C  -  vessel of food to be dehydrated
D  -  condenser vessel
E  -  valve
F  -  faucet or steam aspirator

You have warm water in vessel A, you apply a vacuum via the aspirator F, water in vessel A boils, steam purges the air from the system. The whole system would probably have to be the same temperature as vessel A to prevent condensation in the air purging stage (I'll arbitrarily say 120 def F, boiling point of water at about 1.7 psi - a pressure achievable with simple aspirators). Once air is purged from the system, you close off valves B and E. You apply low grade heat to vessel C, and maybe some evaporative cooling to vessel D. I was thinking you could dehydrate food at a relatively low temperature in the presence of very little oxygen with this means. A temperature differential of 30 def F between vessels C and D should be achievable without much energy input.

Your opening about bread struck me. I remember visiting a small town in Morocco where households walked their dough down a street to a community bakery, sharing the heat. I have thought about similar options here in the Midwest, perhaps using a wood-fired brick oven. It would be fired up on a widely-known schedule and people could bring whatever they want to bake. Your post motivated me to google "community brick oven" and voila! Someone just started one in October in Pittsburgh!

Fired Up: A community oven rises in Braddock

The first community oven in the Pittsburgh area is on a parking lot directly across the street from U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson plant, the only working blast furnace remaining from Pittsburgh's steel-making days. The oven is one more piece in the puzzle that is the re-purposing of Braddock as an artist's destination and once-again-vibrant community.

In the olden days, community ovens would not be just for bread - people would bring bean pots to bake as well.

Brilliant! Thanks for the link.

Not sure if this thread is still current but will make a post about food preservation anyway, since I've been doing it all my adult life:

We have one of those food dehydrators with the round plastic trays and use it sometimes, especially in winter. But I have had success simply laying the sliced food on aluminum window screens & leaving it in the sun. Sometimes a second screen is needed to cover the drying food to keep flies off. Mostly I've dried vegetables or fruit this way but would sometimes buy turkey wings on sale, boil them, strip the meat off the bone and dry it on screens. My point is that drying food is easy and no elaborate drying apparatus is necessary, except perhaps in an extremely humid environment.

Sauerkraut is easy to make. Ceramic crocks for making it in is something everyone should acquire, unless their lifestyle is completely mobile. These crocks can be used for wine or beer making also. 2, 5 & 10 gallon crocks are handy sizes to have.

We no longer freeze food, except temporarily in the small freezer in the fridge. In the past we had a large chest type freezer but it used too much electricity and the food was liable to thawing & rotting during extended power outages. To my mind, freezing isn't a viable method of preserving large amounts of food for prolonged periods of time.

Maintaining a constant pressure in a pressure canner on a woodburning stove is a bit of an acquired skill. The fire gets hot & the pressure goes up so you close the damper and the whole works cools down & the pressure drops. The inexperienced are liable to chase the pressure up & down, which tends to blow liquid out of the jars. But with practice it's possible to get good at maintaining a constant pressure. You just need to get familiar with your stove & keep at it until it becomes easy - like a lot of other things in life. The hot water bath canner isn't so tricky.

The first time I ever tried to make dandelion wine it turned to vinegar! I was disgusted & threw it out but upon reflection realize that that was a hasty move. Dandelion vinegar is probably delicious. Since then I've made all kinds of 'country' wines, from everything from mulberries to rice & raisins. Making one's own wine &/or beer is pretty easy. In the future, operating a still may prove lucrative, or at least make one popular with the neighbors.

My wife & I kept a sourdough culture going for many years, in a bean crock with a lid kept behind the woodstove. It wasn't the same culture all that time however, as the culture would sometimes die & need to be reestablished. Now we use commercial yeast & my wife makes bread in the bread machine. We aren't as young as we once were, altho if necessary, we could go back to the old ways of our youth.

We procure wheat, usually for free, from local farmers. We store it in 5 gallon plastic buckets in which we place a chunk of dry ice. As soon as the ice sublimates we seal the bucket to exclude O2. This keeps the wheat fresh longer. Much of this wheat goes for poultry feed but we also have a wheat cleaner made from PVC pipe & powered by an electric shop vac. The vac blows the chaff out the top while the heavier grain drops out the bottom into a bucket. The wheat usually needs 2 or 3 trips thru the cleaner & even then a little bit of chaff remains. Roughage. Wheat can be cooked in a pressure cooker or it can be ground in a hand cranked flour mill that costs about $60.

I also obtain corn, usually for free again, and crack it in a hand cranked mill for poultry feed. The mill is adjustable & can also make finer corn meal for tortillas & corn bread. A Corona corn grinder costs about $40.

Probably the simplest foods to 'preserve' are potatos, onions, pumpkins, winter squash, etc., which simply needs to be kept cool & dry. Every couple weeks during winter, one needs to go thru this produce & remove anything starting to rot, least it spoil the whole pile. I don't have a cellar so keep bulk food in milk crates covered with a blanket in the unheated sunroom. I keep enuf to last until the next growing season this way. Some years we may run out of onions, say, or potatos, a couple months before harvesting the next years crop, but not usually.

Another thing to consider is that any landowner ought to manage property for high wildlife habitat values. Rabbits, rock squirrels, deer & Gambels quail are abundant where I live and while we seldom harvest this wild game, we may someday be obliged to do so.

RE: Freezing

I would think the best bet would be one of those DC-powered Sundanzer chest freezers, plus a few batteries, plus a solar panel, plus controller. That is the only way I would depend upon a freezer for substantial long-term food storage.

But don't get rid of old freezers, they can make highly efficient refrigerators, on the order of only 100Whr per day, easy to obtain with a solar panel and car battery:

I tried that, low energy use, but quite a lot of condensation.
more details

Are you in a high or low humidity area?

It's in a basement, in Vermont. Fairly humid. But the ambient air may not be the real source of most of the humidity (a seldom-opened chest freezer does not exchange much air). I put some humidity-emitting things in it (raw fruits and vegetables). Maybe that's it. But that's what I wanted it for.

Maybe you could handle that with silica gel or calcium chloride.  Exchange the dessicant every so often and dry it out.

Several years ago we a had a multiday thread on food preservation in DB. Back when there were more engineers here with back of the envelope calculations and postings. Infinitepossiblilities, since banned, threw out a slew. The question I was asking was what was more energy efficient, home canning or freezing? Community kitchens and the like are great, but most us will not have access. We are left with stovetop pressure canners, or freezing.

I don't recall the estimate per quart jar in kwh. Assumptions were 6 jars per canning, 1.5 gallon at 65 degrees water for bath, others. It became messy with different assumptions for length of time for different foods, energy for freezing plastic bags, whether a blanching required, etc. Then we tried, or speculated, on the energy required for industrial processes.

I got a “Kill-a-Watt” meter and hooked it up to our deep freezes. We freeze 3 chest freezers a year of home grown vegetables, meat, fish and fruit. They are kept in the cellar, and though I can't recall off the top of my head the numbers, it was better for me freezing than canning if there was no blanching required and assuming 9 mos in the freezer.

But that eliminates the taste of canned foods. Can't have that. We canned over 70 qts this year, along with pints of preserves and over 3 cubic feet of dried apples and pears stuffed in plastic bread bags. They last quite awhile, maybe past 2 yrs. Your mileage may vary.

The kicker for us is tomatoes. They come on like gangbusters, but not till the end of the season. Drying is hard, time consuming, and doesn't near handle the amount of fruit. You can't eat them all, direct freezing is too space intensive. So sauce them. Now there's an energy intensive process. Gets absurd on the stovetop, to bad they don't ripen in December when you can use the excess heat. I understand the commercial production uses only Romas and next year we switch to just 2 table variety plants, the others Roma. Any thoughts on varieties for sauce?

I have similar issues with late season tomatoes. In the book I reference there are recipes for lacto fermented tomato sauce and for making pastes (e.g., tomato balls) that look promising. Wanted to try them this year but didn't get to that.

All our tomatoes are late season-even the seedling Early Girl won't ripen till mid-late August, and first frost is usually second week of September. I use the trick of planting in tires to increase soil temp, but can't seem to speed them up. Interestingly to me, the tire's volunteer plants from the previous season's fruit are only a week or two behind, providing a backup. Given the robustness of the seedling plants, one would expect earlier fruit maturation, but they seem to hang forever after blossoming. I believe that June and the first week of July are too chilly in the night for anything but vegetative growth.

One point for this post not covered is boxes, esp for root cellars. Used cardboard bushel boxes seem fine, until that potato or apple rots in the bottom unseen. You pick up the box, and presto, the contents are all over the cellar. I make wood boxes from cedar fencing and lath, and it works great for many years. You can find it cheap, the fencing is usually sold rough milled at 5/8's thick, so there is plenty of strength, but yet thin, rot resistant, and light weight. Use 2 12" pieces 1x6 for each end, 3 20" pieces 1x4 for the bottom, and 20" lath for the sides. Leave 3/4"+ spacing between pieces for breathing. Present cost per bushel-size box about $2.50, made 20 more this winter. You can stack them 4 or 5 high in the cellar so saves space. If you're looking long term for your gardening or orchard, it's well worth it.


Another word on containers-I've found the grey "dish bussing" basins for the restaurant trade invaluable. Extremely rugged and durable, easy to disinfect. Use them for collecting basins when pressing juice, for berry picking, or for meat cuts or hamburger collection when butchering. Sold in larger cities at restaurant or food supply houses, ~$7. On that line, I like the "Langers" juice jugs for cider. Prob Langers only out west, but sure there are others back east. Very durable,frozen many times without cracking. Plastic milk jugs take less space, but may crack after 3 or 4 freezings. With disinfection, I use a 40 gallon hard plastic "sheep" trough-low sides. Fill it 4/5's full, add a gallon of bleach, and immerse 20-25 jugs for a day. Rinse, and it's almost factory clean.

Romas make fine ketchup or tomato sauce but they are a bit too sweet for salsa picante, to my taste. One year I used them for making salsa & even tho I added no sugar or honey, the salsa was just too sweet. Some people like a sweet salsa but personally I don't like my salsa to be too sweet, salty or vinegary.

Drying food is great, but be careful with that oil preservation. If you're going to preserve food anaerobically, you need to read up on and understand the risks of botulism. I'm surprised nobody else has brought this up - the fact that one of these ways of preserving fresh food can create basically undetectable paralyzing neurotoxins is a pretty big deal.

Thanks for that link. The recipes I have seen for storing in oil first call for a vinegar sautee when the food is low acid. I doubt all risks can be eliminated, but people should know what they are doing and why.

Definitely a big deal. We will almost certainly sees more deaths from botulism as we begin to do more home canning. From the Center for Disease Control:

Botulism can be prevented. Foodborne botulism has often been from home-canned foods with low acid content, such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn. However, outbreaks of botulism from more unusual sources such as chopped garlic in oil, chile peppers, tomatoes, carrot juice, improperly handled baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, and home-canned or fermented fish. Persons who do home canning should follow strict hygienic procedures to reduce contamination of foods. Oils infused with garlic or herbs should be refrigerated.

Much more here:

There is a largish magazine put out by Ball...called I think The Ball Blue Book...on Canning?

Its the best I have used. Along with freebie handouts from the Ag Extension Agent office.

You must definitely know exactly what you are about with canning. Low acid tomatoes are killers. Open pollen heirloom usually have enough acid but I also throw a tsp of lemon juice in if concerned. Then a tbp of canning salt. I put a quart in the icebox..then drink off the juice of a morning or make a Red Dog..with a bottle of beer and then cook with the rest of whats left.

Kernel corn and tomatoes make succotash. Food of our fathers.

With corn bread and white beans? You are in nirvana. Some fried potatoes...can't be better. Some canned Lime Cucumber slices.
Then some smoked country bacon...on the side. For desert you got banana pudding. Who wants to go out to eat anyway.

Now my wife didn't like to cook so I do my own cooking..G.N. Beans on my woodheater take all day but they are the best. And I sit them on top of a brick it the fires too hot. Put that brick under your quilt on a cold night like we used to do.


How do you test the acidity of tomatoes? and how acidic is safe?

Re: bread: I like the slow, no-kneed method:
See also:

I try to remember to start a slow bread Friday nights - you need to plan ahead and be around for the last parts of the process. But otherwise it's very easy. Here in Vermont, half the year we need heat anyway, thus firing up the (propane) oven is "free". I've tried baking one loaf over the top of the wood stove but the bottom burnt before the top of the loaf was done. Perhaps baking it INSIDE the wood stove might work, after it collects embers but cools off a bit - need to build a simple rack to keep the container (cast iron with lid) off the embers.

I have heard of people making a baking oven to sit on top of their hardwood stoves.

I did a search on "stove top oven" and found this, for example:

Something I want to try because I had the same problem with the no-kneed bread burning on the bottom. Would love to know if anybody has made this sort of thing work.

I found a sheetmetal box type of "dutch oven" designed for camping, in a yard sale, complete with a thermometer built in. Thought that would work on top of the wood stove, but at least with the type of stove I have it only got to about 250 degrees F, not hot enough for baking I would think. My wood stove is not designed for cooking, when the damper is shut the combustion air goes out the back, and there is a not-so-hot dead air space in the top of the stove between the closed damper and the top surface. Perhaps adding insulation to that oven, as done in the article you linked, might help.

wow! this post keeps on pumping!

When we talk about food, people feel connected and empowered. Food is something we can still control as consumers. Food is basic to existing, next to breathing and water in importance. Its something we can get involved in and feel political about. I hope this post never stops! That would be a vote of confidence for the importance of this subject!

thank you jason. bravo!

Food is basic to existing...

It's said that food, sex & death are the only things people are truly interested in.

I, too, feel that this thread is a welcome change of pace for TOD. My thanks also to Jason & the editors for it.

I would recommend checking out your local University extension service. In Eugene Oregon they offer Master Food Safety and Master Food Preserver programs, covering everything from canning to preserving with salt, etc. Most important is the food safety aspect.