Food storage is important on the homestead. One of the advantages of homesteading is the ability to produce much of your own high-quality food, but if you can’t save that food and maintain the quality and freshness, you lose that benefit.
From a monetary standpoint, food storage is also important. Food that isn’t stored properly and goes bad is like money poured down the drain. Pure waste. Also, one of the best ways to save money on the foods you have to buy is by buying them in bulk, but there again, you have to be able to properly store the extra to keep the quality and freshness intact, or you aren’t saving money at all.
We use a variety of methods to store food, depending on the type of food and how long we expect to have to store it.
Here are a few basic guidelines (this is a work in progress, so please bear with us!)
Storing fresh fruits
Strawberries – one of our favorite preserves! These are often made into jams or preserves and sealed in canning jars. I’ve also made very nice freezer jam from strawberries. Sometimes we freeze berries whole and store them in plastic bags in order to use later in making fruit smoothies or homemade strawberry ice cream.
Blueberries – these are frozen whole and stored in a plastic bag. They make great frozen snacks as-is, or we often toss a handful in as we make fruit smoothies.
Blackberries – made into jam or preserves and stored in canning jars
Peaches – can be frozen in slices, stored in plastic bags and used later to make ice cream. Also makes a wonderful jelly stored in canning jar.
I usually have 5 pounds or more of a cheese at any time. I used to shred them and store them in plastic bags in the freezer in small quantities, which worked fine for hard cheeses that I planned to use in Mexican dishes. Mozzarella and soft cheeses tended to clump up though, and never stayed shredded. I have started putting them in wide-mouthed canning jars and vacuum sealing them, then storing them in the freezer. This works very well, as even the very soft shredded cheeses come apart easily once they thaw.
I still often store large block cheeses by vacuum sealing them in plastic bags and freezing them. If the cheese is going to be eaten within a fairly reasonable time (usually a month) a block can be vacuum sealed in a bag and stored in the fridge. Vacuum sealing cheese prevents it from molding for a very long time, and works especially well on blocks.
Those times we have excess milk from milking (that doesn’t get used up making something else) we sometimes store it by freezing it in a container that is large enough to freeze it in 4-8 ounce cubes. When thawed, it must be stirred. It won’t be the same as fresh milk, and you probably won’t want to drink it, but it is fine for use in cooking or anything you might want to add milk to. We usually like to freeze extra goat milk quickly since we have a buck pen not too far from our does and the milk doesn’t taste fresh as long as it would if they were isolated.
I used to vacuum seal meat, but it will eventually get freezerburn. I am so glad I remembered what my grandma used to do for frozen meat, and went looking for a large roll of freezer paper. It’s not always easy to find these days, but is by far (in my opinion) the best way to store meat in the freezer long term. If you are packing a lot of meat (I usually am), you may want to tear off and stack a lot of sheets of freezer paper, shiny side up. Make sure you will have access to tape. Do NOT rinse the meat, but just lay it on the shiny side of the freezer paper. Wrap it similar to the way you would a present, overlapping the pieces fairly tightly and taping. Fold the ends in to make a “tail” and wrap it over the seam. You want the paper to sit tight against the meat without a lot of air (none if possible) and seal it well with tape. I love freezer paper for wrapping meat. It keeps the meat fresh for a very long time, gives you a great surface to write whatever you need and won’t fade (I was always trying to read what I wrote on those plastic bags), and if you shape the meat as “bricks” you can stack a lot of them in your freezer space. I try to keep an empty shelf in the freezer so I can lay the just-wrapped meat out and let it freeze quickly, then stack it in the place it belongs.
Storing flour / cornmeal
I often buy flour and cornmeal in 25-50 pound sacks. The main problem with them is that weevils can hatch out and ruin the flour, so when I first bring it home, I place it in the deep freeze for 3 days or so. That generally prevents weevils. If your freezer is at ALL moist, you want to wrap them in plastic before doing this, as some freezers will cause your flour to get wet and can ruin it. If I have enough space in my freezer, I will often leave the flour in there in 10 pound bags, taking each one out as my canister is emptied. That way I can be assured of it being fresh. If you need to store larger quantities or for a longer time, you may want to look into plastic food-grade barrels with sealed bags inside and moisture packets to absorb moisture, but this works fine for me with the limited amount I buy at a time.
I often store my sugar the same way when I buy it in a 25-50 pound bag, but I’ve found a local grocery store sells 10 pound bags for the same price per pound, so I usually only buy 10-20 pounds at a time.
Storing Dry beans
I often buy dry beans in large quantities (and hope to have a good harvest myself soon!). I freeze these for a few days, just like the flour, to prevent insect problems. When I take them out of the freezer, I let them set at room temperature for a day before I seal them up, to prevent any moisture problems. Then I vacuum-seal them in quart-sized mason jars, since a quart of beans makes a perfect-sized pot for me. If I happen to want to cook more, it’s no trouble to simply open two quarts, and I usually seal a few pints as well just in case I want 1-1/2 pots’ worth.
I love storing things vacuum sealed in mason jars, since that prevents any possibility of problems with insects, mice, etc. and also keeps the food fresh longer than it would stay otherwise. I use various sizes of canning jars (and even regular jars with canning-size lids) to store all sorts of things: chocolate chips, whole oats, marshmallows, spices, nuts, herbal teas, dried fruits and berries, candies, graham cracker crumbs, etc. Many things that I don’t need to use daily, but keep on hand for baking. What I have found it doesn’t work well with is powdered sugar … I can never get a good seal (or it doesn’t last) so I have to keep rings on those jars.
I use the same method for storing salads and shredded coconut in the fridge.
I also used canning jars (not usually vacuum sealed) to put up cooked beans, soups, and other “wet” foods in the freezer.
Tomatoes are a special category. They can be canned, of course, in the normal way (because of the new lower-acid varieties it is safer to use a new canning book/chart rather than an old one, since the recommendations have changed). But I have also found that I really like to put tomatoes up in the freezer. Usually I blanch them for JUST a minute, but sometimes I just wash and chop them, and freeze them in batches. I usually try to separate out the tomatoes from their juice and freeze them relatively dry, then some bits separate with juice, so that I use the juice for chili, soup, or making sauce and can have the tomatoes to use in Mexican dishes and the like. They aren’t quite like fresh tomatoes, but they are as close as you can come that I have found.
More to come:
Canning, making preserves.
Drying/dehydrating (especially fruits, tomatoes, herbs, meats ie homemade jerky)
Preparing dough ahead and freezing it for fresh bread, pizza crust, rolls.
Cooking meals in advance and freezing in portions for quick meals later.
Kitchen tools and supplies