6 Simple Food Preservation Methods

Learn the simple wisdom of putting food by to keep your household stocked with fresh, nutritious fare year-round.

  • Berries freeze well as is. Just rinse, spin or pat dry, and freeze!
    Photo Courtesy iStock
  • Fill your pantry with canned, pickled, fermented and other preserved foods to get you through winter.
    Photo Courtesy StockFood
  • Preserve food at the peak of harvest to put away for the cold months.
    Photo Courtesy StockFood

By now, you’ve probably heard about the multiple benefits of eating locally and seasonally—more nutritious food, better prices and better flavor, not to mention supporting local farmers over the industrial farming complex. And while eating seasonally during summer may not present too much of a challenge, things get a bit more difficult as autumn and winter set in. One of the best ways to eat a local, seasonal diet year-round is to preserve some foods during their most abundant time (just look at what’s piled up at the farmer’s market). We humans have preserved food for the lean months for eons as a matter of necessity, and thus we’ve invented a wide array of time-tested ways to keep food around longer, many of them very basic. Here are our top six simple ways to preserve food for winter. Try the recipes we’ve provided as a jumping-off point for experimentation, then look to the extensive resources at the end of this article to learn much more in-depth information on the many methods of food preservation.

1. Preservation Method: Fermentation

With the fascinating science of fermentation, you can control spoilage. In other words, the foods you preserve by fermenting them will technically still spoil, “age” or “ripen,” but they’ll do so with friendly­—even beneficial—microbes rather than hostile ones. Lucky for us, generations of people before us have paved the way, and their secrets are mostly low-tech.

Fermented foods are created by allowing one type of microbe to act on a food substance in order to convert some of its components into alcohols or acids. Alcohols are fermented by yeasts, while most foods are fermented by lactic acid bacteria. Some mold-ripened cheeses are created by the work of fungi, and other cheeses are fermented by the work of bacterial cultures. This family of preserved foods includes some of the world’s greatest culinary treasures, including bread, cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, chocolate, beer, coffee, wine and a whole host of cured meats, to name but a few.

The bacteria, yeasts and fungi necessary to ferment different foods can be naturally occurring or wild, as it was for each of these marvelous foods to have been discovered in the first place. Or it can be purposefully cultured with ingredients obtained via cheesemaking or home brew suppliers. To try fermentation at home, start with the simple recipe for sauerkraut below.

Featured Recipe: Simple Sauerkraut 

2. Preservation Method: Acidification

Many foods last longer if they are simply dunked in a bath of vinegar. Just as vinegar rids dirty clothes and kitchen countertops of infectious germs, it can be put to the same—though tastier—use with fruits, vegetables and herbs. The most famous vinegar-preserved foods are cucumbers (though some cucumber pickles are actually fermented), but many other foods are delicious in vinegar, too—turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, leeks, kale, garlic scapes, Swiss chard, green beans, cauliflower, zucchini, peppers, asparagus, cantaloupe and green tomatoes are just some of the options that are delicious when pickled. From balsamic and apple cider to rice and champagne, a wide world of vinegar flavors awaits. The recipe above provides a supersimple way to preserve fresh cucumbers using acidification.

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