Preserving for Fun and Possible Profit
Too often I read articles or listen to other preppers talk about how much it costs to be prepared. So far as I know, no one has talked about how we can make money while building skills and prepping at the same time. We’re here primarily to learn how to better ourselves and stay alive no matter what the world has in store… no one said we couldn’t try to make a little $$ on the side, right? Preserving food in times of plenty used to be mandatory for our ancestors and played a major part of the human experience up until the last hundred years or so.
In fact, a great many of the foods we enjoy now only exist because of this preservation centric philosophy. Pickles, jams, vinegar, and cheese are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. Unlocking the secrets of these preservation techniques gives us the skills not only to take on the world but also to create a unique product we can market to others.
So, first thing first, we can’t start any entrepreneurial enterprise without knowing what it is we hope to accomplish. Food is one of the most basic resources we need to survive, more over it can be a source of great pleasure with the right skills and ingredients. Certainly, in a survival situation a great meal can do wonders for morale, not to mention the physical benefits of keeping you alive. Spices and preserves provide that little something extra that turns a chicken breast or a can of tuna into something that you eat to live in to a meal you can't wait to enjoy.
Canning is a great place to start our adventures in preservation, as it can be done in nearly any kitchen so long as your stove top works. There are two main ways to safely preserve food while canning, the first is the boiling water bath method. The second method is pressure canning, which provides more utility but requires special equipment, thus a higher initial investment, so we will leave it for another day.
Canning in a boiling water bath is easier to start but is limited to more acidic foods. Properly pickled vegetables and fruits for jellies and jams are typically the items preserved using this method. All that is required is a deep pot, a narrow flat spatula, lids, a lid wand, jar lifter, jar funnel, the jars themselves and a rack (if no rack is available, clean cotton dish towels can be used to wrap the jars during the boiling). This prevents the jars from knocking around during the boiling process so that they don't break.
The canning pot should be large enough to submerge the jar entirely with an inch or two of water overtop and for efficiency’s sake wide enough to fit more than one jar at a time. This last thing is not as necessary but it is helpful, but be careful not to go too wide. You don't want the pot to hang over the burner by more than a few inches, so to ensure you are heating evenly throughout the pot.
Mason or Ball jars are purpose built jars for the method of preservation, as such I would highly recommend you use them. While you may think to repurpose other glass jars like mayonnaise, pickle or baby food jars, as you are the resourceful type, I would discourage this. These jars are often not heat treated and may not have the mouths to reseal properly, thus negating the whole purpose of what you're doing here. Cracks, outright breaking, or poor seals not only waste the preserved foods inside but could potentially injure you.
The lids themselves are usually two part lids with a flat disk often rimmed with some kind of sealing material (often single use) and a screw band that can be reused if they are maintained to prevent rust. The lid wand has a magnetic head that allows you to boil the lids and retrieve them without touching as they are hot and your hands are never entirely sanitary. Leading us to the jar lifter which, as the name implies, is used to lift the jars from the boiling water bath without touching the over 200 degree jars. Do I really need to explain why you need that?
To start you will need to bring a pot of water to a simmer with clean glass jars inside it, adding water to the jars keeps them from floating. The idea here is to get the glass warm, not necessarily boiling hot but warm enough that they won’t crack when the hot food is introduced to the jars. If you have access to a dishwasher this can be a two in one solution of cleaning and heating but if not a second pot will work just fine.
Fill the pot you're going to use for canning with water and place the rack down (if you have one) then bring to a simmer while covered until you're ready to add the food-filled jars to the bath. You could also use old screw bands or a cake cooling rack on the bottom rather than buy a purpose built canning rack or as stated above you could wrap the jars with towels.
Take the glass jars out of the hot bath with the jar lifter draining all the water inside, then add your food for preservation to them. Recipes abound for exactly what to make and how, they should also provide specifics on how much space to leave up top and how long to boil them. As you add the preserves to the jar use the spatula to remove air bubbles and ensure the proper headspace in the jar.
Ensure you have a clean rim and any excess food is wiped away. When the rim is clean put the flat disk on making sure it’s centered so the sealing compound makes contact. Add the screw band on screwing until it is “fingertip” tight (don’t manhandle it too much as you don't want to crank the screw band down tight at this stage).
Just add the jars to the simmering water as you fill them and make sure the water covers the lid by one to two inches. I really shouldn’t have to mention you should use the jar lifter to put them in but this is the Internet and I’m sure I just saved someone some pain. Once the canning pot is full (or you’ve canned everything) bring the whole thing to a boil, start the timer only after the boil is established… more heat is better than not enough.
Once you’ve reached the proper time limits turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let everything sit for 15 to 30 minutes, as glass does not take to thermal shocks well. Allowing it to gradually cool from the boil in the pot allows them to survive removal intact. Next, set out a dry towel and place the jars on it so there’s an insulating layer between the cool countertop and the glass. Leave them upright and undisturbed for a minimum of twelve hours (better yet, for a a full day if you can).
At the end of the waiting period, test the seal by pushing in the center of the lid; ensure there is no flexing. You should also remove the screw band and try to remove the flat disk with your hands, if it doesn’t come off you have a good seal. If the jar fails any part of this check process you can attempt to process it again immediately or refrigerate it instead. Properly canned jars can last upwards of a year if kept in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Now that we’ve learned how to create our own preserves we need to figure out what to do with them. The easy and obvious answer is that we’re keeping this for us, but if we find that we’re making extra there certainly is a market for these kind of old world delights. In much of the United States there are “cottage food” laws that allow for the selling of homemade jams and jellies, without having licensed kitchen or inspections. Check your local laws and regulations as everywhere is a little different on what you can and cannot do.
Farmers markets are everywhere, in my small town there are no fewer than three, and they are great places to start. These are community-driven businesses that thrive on the story; you can sell these homemade preserves and meet some great people in the exchange. If not there, try a roadside stand, which can be a quant and charming draw for some folks who happen by. Worst-case scenario you can always resort to friends and family when you’re looking for a good home for your hard work.
Keep on Prepping!