#12 – No Power, No Problem! Food Preservation Unplugged

Published by: The Ready Life

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What We Covered

What to do with freezer food when the power goes out? And what are the best non-electric options for preserving your food?

Get the scoop on all this and more, in this practical episode!


00:00 – Intro
01:34 – Food Planning Calculator
02:44 – The Problem
03:54 – The Options For Food Preservation
06:37 – Freezing
09:19 – Canning
15:39 – Dehydrating
19:39 – Vacuum Sealing
20:37 – Culturing / Fermenting
21:48 – Salting & Smoking
22:08 – Root Cellars & Cold Rooms
24:29 – Bucket Storage
26:07 – What To Do With Freezer Food During A Power Outage (Blackout)
28:11 – Food Storage Planning

Important Links


Hi, I’m Nick Meisner. And I’m Lisa, his wife. Welcome back to the Ready Life podcast, where we show you how to make your home as independent as possible for things like water, power, heat, and food.

You know, back in episode five, we showed you how to figure out how much food you need to store for your family. But today, we want to talk about different methods of actually storing your food. And specifically, we’re going to focus on options that don’t require electricity.

We all love our electric options for storing food. I mean, I remember as a kid, let’s go put up the corn. We all put it in the freezer. But today, we’re going to actually look at what to do with all that food in your freezer, especially if you are faced with a blackout. Because as soon as that power goes out, guess what? You lose all your food that you worked so hard to put up.

That’s right, that’s right. But first, before you start storing food, you’ll wanna know how much of it you need. And that’s why we’re giving away a free food storage calculator so that you can customize and dial in the real world amounts that you’re gonna need of each ingredient. And it’s based upon the Eat What You Store and Store What You Eat method, which really revolutionized the way that we figure our food storage needs.

I mean, it was… Yeah, it was. It was a game changer for us. So if you wanna increase your family’s food security level, but you don’t wanna waste money by storing a bunch of food that you wouldn’t actually eat, then you can download this free food planner at thereadylife.com forward slash food. All lowercase, all one word, thereadylife.com forward slash food planner. Or you can go to the show notes for today, thereadylife.com forward slash 12, episode 12.

Wow. Okay, so back to our topic. You lost your power. You’re staring at your full freezer. What do you do now, right? I remember as a kid when we would lose power. I remember there was like a list of things my mom would do right away. The first thing is she would run to the bathroom and she’d fill a bathtub full of water. So that way we would have water.

Anyway, then the second thing was I remember no opening the freezer because with the freezer above the, with the upright freezer rather, you open that door and all the cold air just rushes out because cold sinks. Yeah. And so don’t open the freezer, don’t open the fridge. It’s not just with an upright, it’s just that happens more readily with an upright. Even a chest freezer, obviously the more you open and close it, the faster the cold air is going to warm up. Yeah.

So anyway, today we’re going to look at different things that you can do with all that food in your freezer. And yeah, ways that you can preserve your food. especially if you’re faced with a blackout. So anyhow, before we look at ways though that you can save your freezer, it might be helpful to just kind of go through a list of the different ways that people actually preserve their food. Because before we can know what our options are, we gotta know what’s out there, right?

So here’s just a quick list of some of the things, some of the different ways people preserve their food. Right, so the first one obviously is the one we’ve already mentioned, freezing. Yeah, that’s right, freezing. But then there’s some others like canning, either water bath or pressure canning. Yeah, yeah. We also dehydrate our food. So there’s a number of different types of food that are great dehydrated.

And also there’s a really big fad going on right now with freeze dried food. And I’ll have to say I like fruit that’s been freeze-dried, but I’m not crazy about some of the vegetables and other foods that are freeze-dried. But, you know, some people really love that freeze-dried food, so that is one of the methods, too, for preserving food. Right. And then there’s vacuum sealing that you can use. It’s not usually used by itself. It’s usually used in conjunction with another food preservation method, but it is something that’s used. Yes, yes.

Also, one of the old-school, like, old-fashioned methods of preserving food was using culturing or fermenting. They would, for example, sauerkraut. We still use that today. But sauerkraut was one of the ways that they would preserve cabbage in great big huge crocks. And they’d fill the crock with salt water. And then they would pound the cabbage down into the water. And then, yeah, it would ferment. But it would stay good in the root cellar for a year, I think. Right. And salting, you know, with a salt brine, that kind of thing, that’s used sometimes. Also smoking for preserving meat and things like that. Folks use it for that. Yes. Yep. Also buckets and mylar bags.

You’ve probably heard a little bit about that for storing some of your dry goods like wheat and oats and beans, rice, things like that, right into buckets. Now we’re not going to talk about that necessarily on this podcast. in our discussion today. Well, we’re not gonna go into great depth into any of these. Yeah, that’s true. Because the topic is preserving food without electricity. But we’re just, quick overview, you know, a couple others that come to mind, curing like onions and garlic, where you, you know, hang them upside down in a dry place and they just dry out. And then what’s the last one? Root cellaring and cold rooms, which we’ll talk a little bit about that. Right. So. Just a quick word about each of these.

So with freezing, we’ve already talked a little bit about that. If you don’t have electricity, then this obviously isn’t a great option. However, I must interject that if you have your own power system, then you’re not as- A good guy. Just saying. You’re not as likely to have a blackout or lose your power due to- you know, power lines down, trees across them, somebody hits a power pole, or any number of reasons that power outages can happen.

That’s not near, it’s possible, you know, anything manmade can break, but it’s a lot less likely to happen with an off-grid system. However- We did have one blackout, I just remembered thinking. Really? When we switched out the inverter. Oh, well that- We had to turn the power off. That was a planned- A planned blackout. Maintenance, yes.

But anyhow, it can happen. And here’s the thing, even if you have reliable power, your freezer can break. That’s true. Anything manmade can go down. And that’s the challenge with freezing is you’re depending upon electricity and some kind of a device constantly to keep that food from going bad. And so anyhow…

Because of these reasons, we don’t put a lot of emphasis on freezing in our food storage plan. We kind of use the freezer as more of a luxury, where it’s the things that we really like frozen, like for instance frozen blueberries are one of my favorite things. These are a few of my favorite things. Frozen blueberries right here.

And so we’ll use it for things like that where we can stock up on them when there’s a sale. on something and we want to stock up on it, we’ll use the freezer for situations like that or things that we really like frozen, but we try and not make it a primary part of our food storage methods. Yeah.

I will say there are some things, like he mentioned, like peas. I cannot stand canned peas. I’m sorry, but they’re awful in my own personal little preference opinion. So peas go in the freezer. They just do. And so there may be some things for you that you feel the same way about, but just recognize that you want to try and pull away from using the freezer as your primary source of storing your food, because it is manmade and it is something that you could lose.

So don’t make that your primary method of storing your food. Right. So what other? methods of food preservation. What’s the next one we want to talk about? Well, the next one is canning. Canning is one of those things where you put it in a jar, you can it up, make sure it’s sealed really well, and then it goes on the shelf. And it’s so easy to use.

I even do up my beans like that just because I’m a busy mom. And sometimes we run into situations where I just need to grab and go. So yeah, canned food is one of the best ways. to preserve a lot of the options except peas. Now, let’s say when you started out canning, you felt a little intimidated by it, didn’t you? I was very intimidated about canning.

Sticking those jars down into that boiling hot water was very intimidating. But you know, learning alongside somebody who already knows how to do canning is a really great way to get started with that. Because once you get… the fear and you learn some of the tips and tricks to avoid breaking jars or you realize that breaking a jar isn’t earth-shattering.

You know it can be a lot of fun to put up your own applesauce and your own jam and your own salsa and canned tomatoes and yeah so canning is a great way to preserve food. And it does not have to use electricity. It can. You know, if your stove is an electric stove, then yes, you could say it requires electricity.

But as long as you have a gas stove, then it doesn’t require electricity in order to can that food up. And even probably the bigger thing here is that once the food is canned, it doesn’t take electricity to keep it good. Once it’s canned, it’s canned. No problems there. But if you’re facing the blackout and your freezer is full of food, you don’t want to lose all that corn you put up or all those blueberries, then you can make jam or you can the corn up during the blackout as long as you have a heat source that you can use to can your food up with. disposing of, or not disposing of, preserving that food from your freezer in that kind of a situation.

Yeah. Because you can put away a lot of food very quickly with the canner. Some of the other methods, they can take a little while. And we’ll get into some of the others like dehydrating. Yes, you could do some of that. But when you’ve got a bunch of food, that would take a lot of dehydrator space to put that away with the canner. Yeah. Man, you can lay it away. If you’ve got several of you working on it, you can become an assembly line and just plumb do it. Yeah, so maybe you’re thinking, okay, well, I’ve got a propane stove. I can go ahead and do that. But what if you don’t have a propane stove?

Build a fire under it outside. Seriously. That’s true. I mean, it’s not ideal. That’s true. It’s not consistent like your stove and all of that, but it can certainly be done. I mean, as far as that goes, I know folks that… got in a pinch one time where they had a whole bunch of food, a whole bunch of produce out in the orchards and fruit that they needed to put up and it was going to go bad fast. And so they actually got a 55 gallon drum, propped it up on some concrete blocks, put some water in it, and then they took the produce, stuffed it in the jars with whatever else they were putting in the jars, put them in the 55 gallon drum, filled that thing up with and built a fire underneath the 55 gallon drum and they water bath canned a whole 55 gallon drum full of jars at one time. That’s crazy. Once again, not ideal, but it can be done for water bath. Now that’s not pressure canning. No, pressure canning’s it.

Yeah, if it was something you needed to pressure can, then that’s a whole nother animal. You need to use a pressure canner, but anyhow, there’s options. So another option that you may not have thought of if you do have an electric stove, is if you are somebody who enjoys camping, you probably have a camp stove. I’ve had, I’ve actually used a propane little, we had a propane tank and plugged the propane tank and we canned outside, it was too hot. And I needed to put up some produce and I didn’t wanna do it in the house. And so we just drug our kitchen table outside onto our porch, set up this propane burner. camp burner on our table and I canned up all of that produce outside. Now you’re not talking about a little backpacking stove. No, not a little backpacking stove. You’re talking about a glamping kind of stove. Yes, yes. Okay. Yeah, not a backpacking stove. This is a, you know, a regular camp stove.

And of course the other option is wood stove. You could can on a wood stove if you had it going. Hopefully it’s not dead middle of summer, maybe it’s fall and it’s starting to get a little chilly. Or winter time. Yeah, but you’re not gonna have fresh produce to preserve, but if your freezer went out or something like that, yeah, that’s true. So that’s a great way to can, you’ve canned on a wood-cooked stove and it’s really nice, you’ve got lots of surface area. Yeah, you can bring stuff to boil real fast on a wood stove.

Now you might be thinking well, but I don’t have a wood cook stove That’s okay. I cook on top of our regular wood stove all the time We had a wood cook stove for the first What two years of our married life in the rental that we lived in and we plan to get a wood cook stove As soon as we rebuild but we don’t currently have one and so we just have a standard wood stove blaze king blaze king that heats our home and I cook and dehydrate things on top of that all the time so just because yours isn’t a wood-cooked stove don’t think that you can’t use it to cook on because you can right that’s right and you mentioned dehydrating that brings us to our next option of dehydration and this may or may not be a good option depending on what you have 

If you have a wood stove and you got it going, then that’s a great option. But I mean, you can even dry in a propane oven as far as that goes. Yeah. Just, what do you do? Turn it as low as it’ll go, right? And leave the door propped open. Well, actually ours has got a pretty good vent on it, so I don’t even leave the door propped open. But you’ll have to just kind of keep an eye on it if you’re gonna dry a bunch of food, pull all the cookie sheets out. I dry on top of our… wood stove during the wintertime all the time, especially granola, because our family likes a lot of granola. So I just dehydrate the granola on top of the wood stove, but I also do it in the summertime. I’ll do it in the wood stove or in our propane stove. It’s not as good, by the way. I like it better dehydrated on the wood stove. But yes, you can dehydrate in your regular oven as long as you can turn it down really, really low. and just keep a really close eye on it. If it’s starting to get too hot, then just open the oden door crack so that way it doesn’t get too hot in there.

And of course, I guess I was kind of ignoring the obvious option, all of the plethora of electric dehydrators out there, because we’re talking about non-electric food preservation methods. But I should at least mention that. But then. There’s one of our favorite options. Yeah, I was just going to say, I remember that first summer when we were married and we were given a boatload of cherries and a bunch of other things. And I didn’t have enough space in our oven. Or maybe our oven wasn’t working. We were using the wood cook stove. And of course, during the middle of summer, you don’t want to run your wood cook stove unless you absolutely have to.

So we actually built out of just junk that we found laying around in the area, we built a solar dehydrator. And it was really pretty simple. We had metal roofing. There was a panel of metal roofing. And then you had kind of propped it up on a rock or something outside. So it was at an angle. Facing the sun. And then we found a old window that wasn’t being used. Just a piece of glass. large piece of glass and he built a frame that was the same size as the glass. Out of 2×4? Yeah, just out of 2x4s or 2x6s, whatever we had laying around.

And then we set the wood frame on top of the metal roofing and then the window on top of the frame. And then we put a little fan. A fan. Because we tried it without the fan, but it seemed like we were concerned that the humidity level inside of our frame might get a little bit too high. So we put a little fan to blow on it. And of course, metal roofing has ribs and plenty of space for air to flow through. And that did a really good job. Yeah, so we would just put, I’d put the food on the cookie sheets and then I would just set them down inside, under the window on top of the metal roofing. And yeah, I think at one point it was, the humidity was getting too low or something. So we actually kind of plugged up a few of the holes for the. could be. I don’t remember. Anyway.

That’s how you control the temperature is by ventilation. Oh, that’s right. The temperature was getting too low. That’s what it was. So we plugged up some of the holes with toilet paper towels. But we’ll link. We actually did a blog post on it. So we’ll link to that in the show notes. If you go to thereadylife.com forward slash 12, the number 12, we’ll tell you about it there. Yeah. So think outside the box sometimes. When you have a situation, just look around and see what you can. come up with.

Right. Then there’s, of course, vacuum sealing. This is great for nuts and seeds that you might be storing in the freezer. But obviously, vacuum sealers use electricity. And so not a great option for the topic of today. Except, do you remember you found on Amazon that little? Battery-powered one. Battery-powered one that you could vacuum seal. in a jar. It’s true, but once you run the battery down. Yeah. You have to have more batteries on. Right. So if we’re talking strictly non-electric, then that would not qualify.

But vacuum sealing can be a great option, especially used in conjunction with dehydration or freezing or things like that. But it’s also great. We like it in jars, like Lisa said, for nuts and seeds and things like that. And you can just vacuum seal the lid right on the jar, and it’s great. Culturing. Yeah, so culturing is a method actually that was used hundreds of years ago before they really had efficient refrigerators. They would store, like I’ve actually done quite a number of vegetables, cabbage, carrots, beets. You mentioned sauerkraut earlier.

So if you’ve got a bunch of stuff, of course this isn’t necessarily from a freezer. I’m not sure how. Culturing would work if you were pulling stuff out of a freezer, but if you’ve got fresh stuff, you can use culturing to preserve it and then put it into like a cold room or a basement or something. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But yeah, that’s actually a great way to take care of some of your fresh stuff that might be in your fridge. Yeah, it is non-electric, but I’m just thinking you typically with cultured food, aren’t you typically? keeping it in a fairly cool environment.

Not while you’re culturing it. But afterwards, I mean. But after you culture it, yes. You usually put it into the fridge. So you would want to have a cold room or a root cellar or something that you can put it into afterwards. So that could be an option. Then, of course, salting and smoking. Like we mentioned, those are often used for preserving meat, non-electric, and been used for a long, long time, and can work. quite well. And then root cellaring, cold rooms. Yeah, yeah. So root cellars are amazing. And if you have one, I’m turning green with envy here.

We are going to build ourselves a root cellar before long, but we don’t currently have one. But I remember your mom actually, she came up with a genius idea. She used one of the bedrooms in the house that was well insulated and she would just open the window at night so the cold air would come in and then she would close the window and cover the window so that way the heat wouldn’t come into that room that works in our northern climate yeah it works in northern more northern climates anyway but sometimes if you think outside the box like if in a cold a cool garage if a garage stays nice and cool you’re around for the most part ours doesn’t but If you have a basement, basements are really great.

They often say damp and cool, and you can use a corner in your basement as like a cool room. Right, that’s our plan is we’re planning to rebuild soon. Our old house is falling apart as we’ve shared before. And so we plan to put a basement root cellar under it. And because in our climate where we have feet of snow on the ground for months, a outdoor root cellar would be not particularly user friendly, you know, more challenging in the wintertime, trudging through the snow to grab something from it. It would be a little more challenging. So we decided to just, you know, we’ll focus on other methods for now and do the root cellar when we can.

But yeah, a cold room is a great option if you’ve got an extra room and. and don’t have a root cellar at the moment. Yeah, or a basement. Basements are great for that. Right. Storing some of those things. So of all of these, though, really, the main one that requires electricity on an ongoing basis is the freezing. That’s true. With the rest of them, for the most part, once you’ve done it, then it’s good to go. It’s just the actual doing of it that’s requires electricity for some of them, like the dehydrating or this or that.

Oh, buckets. Did we mention buckets? We mentioned it in our list earlier, but… As far as electrical usage with the bucket methods, at least the bucket methods that we use don’t require electricity because basically we’re filling the buckets up with fairly stable stuff like… beans, and rice, and grains, and things like this. And then you can use oxygen absorber packets, drop them in, and put the lid on, and the oxygen absorbers will eat up the oxygen in the bucket and create a bit of a vacuum. So it’s, I guess you might say, kind of a modified vacuum seal method. Vacuum sealing. But the other method that we really like is filling the bucket with nitrogen. which is an inert gas that displaces the oxygen because the nitrogen is heavier than air and that gets the oxygen out and it’s a great way for doing storage like this.

So no electricity required per se, but you do have to have on hand oxygen absorber packets or nitrogen or something of that sort. So, you know, six of one half dozen of another, I guess. If you have some of those on hand, then you’d be good to go. during a blackout for using that kind of method. But that’s where that really comes in handy, is if you’re using that as part of your regular food storage method, then you don’t have to worry about those buckets when the power goes out, because that food is just going to be fine. Yep.

As you can see, there’s a lot of options out there. Yep. But since most of us like freezers, and we probably are using one. What do you do if you experience a blackout, or your freezer dies, or you’re in danger of losing all of that food in the freezer? Well, you mentioned this earlier, and I really think that canning is going to be your primary turn to in that kind of a situation. Or dehydrating. Yes, but. If you’ve got the space and depending on what the items are that you have in your freezer. Because you’re going to have a boatload of food, potentially a boatload of food, that’s bad in a short period of time.

Yeah. So the quickest way would be to can it up. But if you had some materials lying around and it was nice, sunny, hot weather, and you’re in a dry climate, I don’t know that our solar dehydrator would work as well in the southeast where it’s really humid. I think in a lower humidity climate, it’s at its best. That’s true. But if you’re in that kind of a climate and you had a lot of materials lying around, maybe you could. come up with enough space to dehydrate all of it. But I think for most folks, canning is gonna be your best turn too.

So you just wanna make sure that you’ve got plenty of jars on hand for dealing with that. I know before we got married, I stumbled upon a special at, where was it? I think it was Walmart of all places. And they had a palette of jars that. got rained on. Somebody had left it out and it got rained on and the boxes were coming apart. So they sold those things at crazy sale. I don’t remember what the price was, but it was a killer deal. And I thought, well, this is my chance to stock up. And I got like 500 jars and they’ve served us well for years. And now everyone knows why I married him. For my jars. Didn’t marry me for my car. It was for my jars. That’s right.

Anyhow, we’re talking about storing food, but what are you actually storing? What are the items that you’re storing and how much of them are you storing? How do you know how much you need? And like I mentioned at the beginning, we really advocate the rotating pantry method where you eat what you store and you store what you eat. And that way you aren’t storing awful tasting food. and you’re only storing the foods that you would normally eat that your family likes. Nothing goes bad and you don’t waste a bunch of money on all of this. So if that sounds like something that you’d like to do, then you really should download our food planning calculator at thereadylife.com forward slash food planner and also we’ll link to it in the show notes for today on this episode and that’s thereadylife.com

That calculator is a great tool, but if you want to understand the whole theory of this method, the process that you work through, then go to thereadylife.com forward slash 5, the number 5, and that’ll take you to our episode where we went through this whole system, this whole method, and I think you’ll find that super useful. Yes. Yep. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. And we will see you on the next podcast.

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