Food preservation can be as easy or as hard as you make it. For me, my goals were to minimize food waste and to save money. I’m not going to pretend that I can tell you how to do it all in one blog post, so I just want to share what works for me.
I used to hang bundles of herbs up to dry them. One day I wanted to make beef jerky, because I really like it, and it’s expensive. I got a food dehydrator that cost about 20.00. The jerky was great but I started learning more and more about drying food.
Today I dry a lot of foods. If I use half an onion, I might dry the other half if I don’t think I will use it. Dried onions make THE BEST onion powder if you have a mortar that you can powder them in. I dry herbs, okra (It’s great to buy it cheap in the summer, and then throw in gumbo in the winter!) and tomatoes. There are lots of books and websites on drying food.
Ask on Freecycle for a food dehydrator. Lots of people get one as a gift or buy one and never use it again.
Personally I don’t find home canning to be that big a savings strategy for most things unless you already have the jars, equipment and perhaps a garden or source of free food to preserve. One exception is if you like a specialty food that is more expensive to buy. We have chickens. I have a lot of eggs. I think they are pretty gross, but my husband LOVES pickled eggs. Have you priced pickled eggs lately? 18.00 or more A JAR?
I can salsa, peppers, pickles, tomatoes, muscadine jelly (Muscadines are great for inflammation!) and blackberry jam. I grow everything but the muscadines, which I pay just a bit to pick. If you like peppers, buy them in season or grow them and they are a lot cheaper than the small cans in the stores. Canning is something that is a POTENTIAL money saver – you have to weigh costs of equipment and what you actually LIKE to see if it is worth it for you or not. It’s also more time-consuming and takes a lot more work than drying and freezing. Sometimes it is much more efficient and it costs less to just BUY a can of tomatoes on sale.
The freezer is easy and that’s where it’s possible to really save serious bucks. I have a chest freezer and a side by side and both of mine are packed. Things can be frozen that you probably never dreamed of – cheese, milk, cooked meats.
So many foods are so easy to cook. I freeze bell peppers and onions already sliced, so when I cook, I just grab a container and pour some out. No prep! Freezing can save you TIME as well as money. For instance – have you priced a red pepper lately? 2.29 EACH? Well I found a bunch of HUGE beauties 3/2.00 at the farmer’s market and I picked out the best, and I froze them. The following week I got yellow peppers for that and froze them too.
When I get a great deal on meats or cheese or dairy, I freeze them. It helps me to never have to pay full retail price. Ask someone in your grocery store’s meat department when they put out the marked down meats. Walmart is supposed to put them out at 3, but it’s not always what happens in reality. I find most of the clerks are in the same boat as I am and understand my needs when I ask. It can be very helpful just to say “My family is on a super tight budget-about 30.00 a week for all of us – can you tell me anything to help me save here, like could you package me half pounds of meat so I can use these coupons or tell me when you put out marked down meats or order me –insert what you want—?” Most people want to help. Use that.
Here’s some trivia for you: Freezing has another advantage for people with active, raging allergic conditions – as my friends all know, I have autoimmunity to my blood serum that causes almost constant hives. Well, freezing meats help decrease the level of histamine that’s in it. It helps those of us who have these bad sorts of allergies that have high levels of histamine to freeze our meat before we cook it!