Buying or growing food in bulk is a proven way to stretch your food dollars. But there is one catch: in order to reap the most financial benefit from bulk foods, you need to know how to preserve them for the longest time possible.
Learning to freeze, can, and dry your foods — along with proper dry good storage practices — will allow you to preserve your locally sourced bounty for several months to a year, possibly longer. And while these methods can take some initial time investment, in the long run you’ll not only save money, but also the time (and gas) you would have spent on repeated shopping trips.
Freezing food is often the easiest method of preservation, especially for meats, but it does have limitations. Air and moisture cause freezer burn, and are the greatest enemies of frozen foods; you’ll need to learn how to prepare and package foods to minimize freezer burn damage. You’ll also want to learn about which foods freeze best, where to store foods in your freezer, how long you can keep foods in your freezer, and how to safely defrost your frozen foods.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers a wealth of information about freezing foods here.
Home canning is once again popular, and canning jars, tools and resources are readily available. Essentially, there are two kinds of canning: heat-processing in a boiling water canner for high-acid foods (e.g., canned tomatoes or most fruits); and pressure canning for low acid foods (e.g., green beans, chicken, or fish). It is CRITICAL that you learn how to can properly to avoid potentially life-threatening food spoilage. Remember, botulism BAD! Don’t let this warning scare you away; good canning skills are easy to learn. Our grandmothers learned to can safely and so can we.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers a free copy of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2009 revision) that you can download here.
A spiral-bound book version is also available for purchase from Purdue University’s The Education Store.
Drying has been used as a food preservation method for millennia, and it is still a wonderful way to preserve an amazing range of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and even meats. While you can invest in a dehydrator to dry your foods, you can also achieve similar results in your home oven. One of the most exciting things about dried foods is that you can combine them to create your own seasoning, soup, and convenience food mixes, WITHOUT the additives used in most commercially prepared processed foods, and possibly at a substantial savings.
Take a look at the drying tips provided by The National Center for Home Food Preservation, here.
It’s also a good idea to learn proper techniques for storing bulk-purchased dry goods, including flour, grains, dried beans and more. In general, it is important to keep dry goods in containers impervious to moisture and air (glass or BPA-free plastic containers will do the trick), and to store those containers in a dark, cool area with low humidity. Because most grain products (flour, for instance) have the potential to carry microscopic larvae of weevils or other insects, freezing for 30 days before long-term dry storage is often recommended. Some grain products, like whole-wheat flours, have higher fat contents and can turn rancid over time; permanently storing these items in your freezer will best maintain their quality.
A quick web search will turn up dozens of resources to help you determine the best way to store just about any bulk foods you purchase, maximizing your savings and ensuring that you always have a bounty of healthy, high-quality food in your home.
About the Author
Lorrie Wehr is an Indianapolis writer and sometimes-artist who believes sharing good food is the key to a good life.