S1E35 - Casandra on Food Preserveration
Margaret talks to Casandra about canning, drying, and other means by which to preserve food.
Margaret Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I'm your host, Margaret Killjoy. And this episode we're going to be talking about food preservation and specifically canning and dried food storage and some other things. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts and here's a jingle from another show on the network. Duh daaaaa.
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Margaret Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then maybe a little bit about your experience with prepping, like, I don't know, if you like work for any prepping podcasts that people might like, if you want to shout them out, but also your experience a little bit about what we're going to be talking about today.
Casandra Yeah, my name is Casandra and I use they or she pronouns. Um, I don't know, I've always been interested in foraging and gardening and preserving food and I happen to work for this really cool prepping podcast called Live Like the World is Dying.
Margaret Casandra is our transcriptionist and we've been talking—I've been bugging them more and more about food preservation. And finally I was like, can I just have you on the podcast? And then you have to listen to the sound of your own voice as you transcribe it. And they said yes, which was nice of them. So okay, so most of your experience in terms of food preservation is canning, is that right?
Salem Speaker 2 Yeah, that's—I think the two things that I do most are drying and canning, but I also do some fermenting and, like, salt preserving.
Margaret Cool. Okay, well, let's talk about all of it. Do you want to talk about the different methods of food preservation and which ones are appropriate for which foods and what you like the most?
Casandra Yes, I think there, there are two things that I think about when I'm deciding how to preserve something and one is, drying, for instance, is good for like really long-term storage. But—and it's also good because the food is lightweight, right? So it's very portable. But in my day to day life, I'm much more likely to use like canned food. So ease of use is another consideration when I'm deciding how to preserve something. And different food is best preserved in different ways. And that's something we can talk about when we get into canning especially a little bit later. Like acidity, how juicy something is, those things all come into play.
Margaret Okay. Why preserve food? I mean, like, obviously, you could just go to the supermarket and buy the food instead of canning it or preserving in other ways. Like, I mean, that sort of—that part's sort of a joke. But what is it that appeals to you about DIY preservation of food, like what got you into it?
Casandra Um, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and there are certain times of year where food is really abundant and accessible. And it just at a certain point seems silly to me to not take advantage of that if I could. You know, so if I have access to, you know, dozens of pounds of green beans once a year, why not can it instead of going out and buying it in the winter?
Margaret Okay, so what are the methods of preserving food? You've mentioned some of them, but is it possible that we could get a list of just, like, what—there's canning, salting, pickling, drying, what am I missing? Smoking? Curing? Is that what you would call that?
Casandra Yeah, I guess smoking and curing could—smoking is like a form of curing I think. Freezing. What else? Did we say fermenting already?
Margaret No, we haven't put that one yet.
Margaret Okay, should we just go through them and talk about why each one's great?
Casandra Yes, yeah, we can definitely do that. It's hard to like, it's hard to talk about them all at once because they're all so different so...
Margaret Well, so if possible, I mean, like—one of the things I'm really curious about is that, like, when you look at green beans, you're like, okay, green beans belong in a can. And then when you look at something else, you're like, oh, that belongs fermented. You know, hops, obviously. But what, um—is it just the different methods just work for different foods, if you like are working with meats you're mostly interested in curing them or freezing them or something? Like, how does all this work? How do you how do you decide?
Casandra I decide based on what I like to eat most. So like, which preservation method I'm most likely to use because I'm not interested in wasting food. And then also just like, which is the most accessible to me. So for something like green beans, I don't know, I guess you could dry them, but I don't think that would taste particularly. good. So I want to preserve them in a way that tastes really good that I'm actually likely to use throughout the year. And then also space, I think space is a huge issue. So my pantry is only so large so there are certain things that it makes more sense for me to dry like nuts, right? I'm not going to can walnuts, though I suppose you could. I'm just going to dry them and store them in a bin.
Margaret Does it just take up less space because there's like fewer individual jars taking up space.
Casandra Mm hmm. Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
Margaret Okay. What, um, what's like the easiest to get into and/or what's cheapest?
Casandra Probably drying? Drying probably or salt curing because, you know, all you need to salt preserve something is salt.
Casandra Um, but the drying as well. You know, you can sun dry or you can, like, create some trays for yourself and some airflow, you don't need a particular tool to dry something effectively.
Margaret Okay, what, uh—you said that drying tends to make things last longest. Like, what's the kind of like, scale there? Okay, so like, because you were saying how, okay, so you're saying how it's hard to talk about all of them at once because each one has like all these different pros and cons. So I'm trying to, like get you to talk about the pros and cons of different ones. But so like, what's the, like, you know, hierarchy of how long food can last. Like I know, for example, in my own limited research into this, I'm like, oh, I can store dried beans, dried rice, etc., for like, 30 years, right? But I'm under the impression that canning has a shorter shelf life than that. And in my head, of course, like it would be, like, freezing, there's a long shelf life as long as you have electricity, and then like cured food, it's like maybe not as lonh. But this might be my, like, my my weird, like, obviously, like, storing meat isn't as good or something. You know, my own non-meat-eating bias which I will attempt to not bring into this particular episode of the show because everyone's gonna make up their own minds about what they want to eat. But so what, um, so if drying last longest, what last least long and what—where is everything else in the middle?
Casandra Um, yes. I don't even know if drying last longest, honestly, because you hear about like, fermented or cured eggs that are found that are, you know, hundreds of years old and stuff—or like kimchi, like jars of kimchi that are still good after hundreds of years. So.
Margaret Oh lord, okay.
Casandra Yeah, yeah, so, you know, fermenting can be very long lived as well. But, but yeah, drying, as long as the thing stays dry and like bugs and mice don't get to it, as long as it's properly sealed, that's probably the longest—longest-term. And then the shortest—what would be the shortest? I think it's probably either canned or frozen. Like, food can be frozen for a long time—sorry—food can't be frozen for a long time but, like, it starts to taste like freezer at a certain point. So that's like my least favorite method, personally.
Margaret What does that mean? Is that, like, I've heard that like if you store things in the freezer for a long time it starts to like take on the taste of everything around it. Or is there like a specific, like, just as the cell walls burst of frozenness and whatever—I don't know anything about the science of any of this.
Casandra I don't know about the science of freezing. I'm not sure. I just know that, like, you know, if I lose a bag of green beans in the back of the freezer, a year and a half later the green beans don't really taste like green beans anymore. They kind of tastes like freezer.
Casandra Which is gross. I don't want freezer beans. I'm also very anti-freezer just because we had—we had a, I guess a climate event here in February that knocked out power at my house for about 10 days. And so everything in the fridge in the freezer was compromised. And it sucked, and I lost a lot of food, and it was very stressful. But all of my canned goods and all of my dry goods were perfectly fine.
Margaret That's a really important point.
Margaret I know that's, like, classic prepper style is to have the deep freeze in your garage full of, like, you know, ideally some deer or something like that. But it always seems like it just requires so much electricity to maintain.
Casandra Yeah, and if, yeah. It's also—I mean, I think when we're talking about preparing for disasters, there's the preparing in place versus preparing to move. Um, and so something like freezing makes sense for preparing in place, but—and canning as well. But if you're preparing to move, then something like dried or cured makes more sense.
Casandra But even with freezing, like, when our power was out, I didn't thaw out frozen food and try to cook it over my wood stove, you know. It was much easier for me to just like open a can of soup that I had canned from the year before and warm it up. So even if I'm thinking about preparing in place, things like canning make more sense to me.
Margaret Yeah. No, such a—being in place versus going—I don't really have anything deep to say about that, I just, I think about that a lot. And there's a reason that all the, like, food you put in your, like, go bag is usually, you know, dried backpacker meals where you add water or whatever, you know.
Casandra Yeah. Which is good, in an emergency, but it's not super sustainable. So yeah.
Margaret Yeah. At the beginning of the COVID crisis when I was, like, alone all the time and I didn't know what's happening so I just didn't go into town and I just, like, ate through my—ate through my own food stores. You know, I definitely was very reliant on canned goods, canned soups in particular. And then also, like, when I lived out of a backpack and traveled I did rely on cans then but I relied on cans, like, you know, I don't like carry two or three or something like cans of chili or something. This wasn't a DIY canning. This was, you know, Amy's chili.
Casandra Right. And that's the other thing too is, like, Amy's chili in a tin can is—it's heavier than dried food, but it's sturdy. But I'm not gonna, like, put glass jars of food in a go bag, right?
Casandra That would be catastrophe waiting to happen.
Margaret Yeah, I learned the hard way that, like, several times I tried, when I lived out of a backpack I always like want it to travel with, like, this jar of almond butter, but it was glass. Or for a while I decided I was gonna be that asshole who lived out of a backpack and had a brandy snifter. And when I say for a while I mean, like, 24 hours?
Casandra 'Til it broke?
Margaret Yeah. The jar of almond butter didn't last as long as that, and that was a little bit more of a desperate thing, because when I dropped it I was like, that's all the calories that I have on me.
Casandra Oh, God. Yeah.
Margaret And I genuinely don't remember—I remember looking at it and staring at it and being like, do I pull out shards of glass? Or do I just not eat? Oh, yeah, I'm just I don't remember which one I picked.
Casandra Oh no.
Margaret I'm alive so I probably picked not eating the almond butter. Okay, so that's a good point. So is it possible to can and non-glass jars? Like okay, my head like canning requires mason jars. Which people buy in bulk. And they're, like, not crazy cheap, but I haven't looked in a long time.
Casandra I know that historically people have used tin cans, but maybe this is a conversation we could get into right now. But, like, modern food safety guidelines, everything I've read is glass jars. But the good news is, once you purchase the jar, this isn't—this isn't prepping like, you know, storing something away for 30 years and like stocking in bulk. This is, like, something that you do yearly and you're rotating through your food so you're reusing your supplies.
Margaret Which actually, probably—and now I'm just purely conjecturing—is like a better way to do any kind of prepping anyways, like, it's like reminding yourself that it's very rarely for the long haul. It's usually for situations like what you had happen where, you know, you lost power for 10 days.
Casandra I mean even just part of your daily life. Like I'm—the main purpose of me doing things like canning and saving dry food is to eat throughout the year, not to prepare for disaster. But, you know, when there is a disaster I'm already prepared so, because it's just part of my daily life.
Margaret Well and I guess that's like the yearly cycle that I mean, I grew up completely alienated from, you know, I ate the same things every season of the year. But that's not really the way that humanity evolved.
Casandra Yeah. I mean, the nice thing about preserving food is that you don't have to eat the same things because you've preserved them for a different season. But it is cyclical, because, like, right now it's green bean season. So my weekends are canning green beans or tomatoes. And in a few months, it'll be nut season, so that's what I'm focusing on. But it gives me what I need for the rest of the year.
Margaret Okay, so I'm going to try and make this a pun but it's not going to work very well. Let's get into the nuts and bolts—but there's no bolts and food—of this. And let's talk about canning. Let's talk about, like, how do you get started canning? What is canning? Like, you know, I mean, if—clearly it's not just the can of Amy's chili, it's something else.
Casandra Yeah, so canning is preserving food in a glass jar, in liquid. And you're doing that by using heat and pressure to cook the food inside of it. Like, you're raising it to a particular temperature to destroy microbes and bacteria and things like that. And then it's also creating a vacuum seal. And that's what makes it shelf-stable.
Margaret Okay. How do you do it?
Casandra Hooray for shelf-stable food. There are different ways. So um, let's see. I think maybe I want to give my food safety spiel first before—
Margaret Yeah. Okay, cool.
Casandra So, yeah, so I worked in the food industry for a long time and I feel really comfortable with food safety. But I think that it's wise, if someone doesn't feel comfortable with food safety to, you know, do some research or learn from someone or take a class or something because botulism is fatal. However, canning is really safe if it's done properly. And so as long as you understand what properly mean, you're gonna be fine. And then the anecdote I like to give is that—Let's see—my my grandpa's mom—when I was learning to cat I was really nervous about food safety. And my grandpa was, like, don't worry about it because his mom used to can everything they ate in a two-tiered steam canter, which is just, like, outlandish. And she would do it on a wood stove, like, manually regulating the heat. And she would can everything from like meat to vegetables to fruit, which we'll learn in a second why that's absolutely insane. And, you know, she had 18 kids and none of them died of botulism. So—
Margaret That's—I mean, by that number, one of them would have died of botulism. Even if someone—anyway, yeah.
Casandra So I'm not saying like not to be safe, but just to know that, like, statistically you'll be okay, especially if you do what you're supposed to do. So.
Margaret Okay, so take the warning seriously, is what your—
Casandra Yeah, I think it was important for me to hear that like, no, really, you're gonna be okay. Because if you look at like the USDA website, or the like national—what's it called?—National Center for Home Food Preservation website. I swear, it's like every other paragraph, they're trying to scare you about botulism. Anyway, it feels like every other paragraph they're trying to warn you about botulism. And it feels really, like, anxiety-inducing. So it's something to be aware of but not to be afraid of, if that makes sense.
Margaret What is botulism actually, do you know?
Casandra Um, let's see. I think it's it's a bacteria that produces a toxin that is fatal. And the reason it's so scary is because most food spoilage you can see or smell, but botulism, you can't.
Casandra Um, and it can even be fatal just with, like, skin contact.
Margaret Oh, wow.
Casandra Yeah, so it's it's very scary, but it—I don't know. I don't want to terrify people.
Margaret Well, how do you not make it?
Margaret I was reading something that's like has something to do with, like, whether or not there's oxygen or something?
Casandra Yep, yep. So it—botulism grows in an anaerobic environment, which means no oxygen. I think that's correct. I—so I learned from my grandma. That's the other part of the disclaimer. So the science is not something that I know a ton of out, which is fine. But the point is that if you follow proper, like, sterilization and follow recipes that are approved, you'll be fine. So you asked like three times what canning is and how to do it. So maybe—
Margaret Yeah yeah yeah.
Casandra Okay, so there are two different—there are three different types of canners. And they're used are different acidities. So the acidity of a food is important because the microorganisms in acidic food are killed at a lower temperature than non-acidic food. So for acidic food—and that means, like, fruits, pickled things that have like a vinegar brine—those are canned in a water bath canner or a steam canner. And then non-acidic foods like vegetables, meats, things like that are canned in a pressure canner because it helps them get to higher heat.
Margaret Where do tomatoes fall in, are they acidic are they—
Casandra So tomatoes are tricky because you—they're right on the edge of acidic and non-acidic. So if you add an acid to them, like lemon juice or citric acid, you can can them as if they're acidic, but if you don't, you have to put them in a pressure canner. And for a long time, whoever regulates canning shit, said that steam canning was not safe.
Casandra But recently—I think it was Wisconsin University—some school in Wisconsin did a study and found that it is safe, which is great because I prefer it to waterbath canning, and it's how I learned to can.
Margaret And it also, I mean was this, was the test subjects just all 18 of your great grandmother's children, or? Because I think that's a large enough sample size.
Casandra I think so too. They also used the wood stove. No, so the difference between water bath canning and steam canning is water bath canning, you're just taking a big ass pot, and you're submerging your jars and water, and that's what creates the heat and the pressure and the vacuum seal. But it's really unwieldly because you're having to, like, deal with a big ass pot of boiling water. So steam canning is creating the same effect, but just with steam, so the amount of water you need is much smaller. So that's how I learned and that's what I prefer. It's very quick. And then pressure canning takes a special tool called a pressure canner.
Margaret You can't just put it in a pressure cooker.
Casandra No, but you can use your pressure canner for pressure cooking, if that makes sense.
Casandra But pressure canners have—there are two different types, and don't ask me to explain the difference in detail because I won't be able to—but there's a weighted gauge canner and a dial gauge canner. And I believe what I use is a dial gauge. So it has this special gauge on top that tells you how much pressure you're creating within the canner.
Margaret So is the basic idea that all this food goes into a jar, the lid goes on the jar, and then you're trying to create enough pressure and heat to both cook the food and seal it? How does it seal it? Like is it, like, creating like a pressure difference inside and outside? That's like sucking the lid down onto it, or?
Casandra Yeah, yeah, that's my understanding. And it gets sciency especially with pressure canning because altitude impacts—
Margaret Of course it does.
Casandra Impacts the pressure in canning time. But that's why it's—so that's one of the benefits of following—let's talk about this actually, this will be useful. So, what makes a good canning recipe? Because it's important to follow good canning recipes. And they'll include things like how to make sure your food is acidic enough. They'll included chart based on altitude telling you what pressure you need, and also how long to can things. They'll tell you how and whether that changes depending on your jar size. So they'll outline everything like that in the recipe. So it's not, like, an equation you have to figure out every time you can a thing—unless you're changing altitude constantly, which would be, I don't know, adventurous.
Margaret Would you say it would be jarring?
Casandra Yes. Yes, it would be jarring. Yeah, once you know your altitude, it's very easy. And they're, like, companies like Bell jars put out entire books full of charts and recipes and things like that.
Margaret Okay, is there something special about like—like, I've never canned anything, but at various points I've looked at how to do basically everything. And I remember when I was looking at canning and a long time ago, I think I got shy—I think I got scared away by the botulism thing, honestly. And it was like something about, like, if you use the spatula—you use like a rubber spatula when you put the food in the jar, and if you don't do it right then you like murder everyone you know.
Casandra Yeah, so there are some basic safety considerations. So maybe let's, like, pretend we're canning something.
Margaret Okay. Is it green beans?
Casandra Yeah, let's can some green beans and we'll walk through the steps. So. So we're just canning plain green beans, which means that they're not acidic. So we're doing them in a pressure canner. So first you prep your food. So if we're prepping green beans, that means I'm snapping all the ends off. And I'm washing them and I'm, you know, I'm making sure none of them are, like, moldy or anything like that. And then I'm getting a pot going to prep my jars and my lids. The thing about jars is that they're glass. And the thing about glass is that if you put a hot thing into a cold glass thing, the glass thing will shatter, right?
Margaret Yeah. Which is why you don't drink coffee out of mason jars. Well, people do, but why?
Casandra But then they make the ones with the handles as if you're supposed to, you know?
Margaret Yeah, that's a good point.
Casandra Yeah, that's sketchy. Anyway, so sterilizing your jars and heating them up is sort of all done in the same step, you just toss everything in a big pot and put water in it, and you boil it for 10 minutes.
Margaret Okay, and that's not the pressure canner, that's just a pot of water on the stove.
Casandra Yep. And, you know, if you were to read like a canning website or something, they—people have all different methods for heating up and sterilizing their jars. I just think that that's like the quickest and the thing that I do because then they're both warm and sterile. So we're doing green beans. So, let's see, what I'm going to do next is take the jars out of the sterilized water. And I'm going to pack them full of these green beans. So we're putting all of our green beans in a jar, and we're doing something called raw packing, which means that the green beans are raw when I put them in the jar as opposed to cooked. And differrent recipes will tell you, you know what you should be doing. And then I pour warm liquid over them—in this case, it's just water—because if there are air gaps in the jar, that means that there's a chance air will get trapped, which you know, botulism and spoilage and things like that. But it also means there's a chance that the jars won't seal properly.
Casandra Recipes, use something called headspace. So your recipe will specify how much headspace to leave in a jar. And that means the space between the top of your food and liquid and the top of the jar. And so they've timed their recipe based on the headspace. So if the recipe says 1/2in headspace but I leave, you know, an inch and a half, it probably won't seal because it's not in the canner long enough to like vacuum all have that air out. Does that make sense?
Margaret Yeah. And then you murder everyone, you know?
Casandra Hopefully they just won't seal and you try again. Botulism comes after the jar has sealed, and that's when things go poorly. Yeah, so anyway, so we've got our beans and our liquid in a jar. We wipe the rims of the jar because that's where the seal happens. So we want to make sure there's nothing like impeding that.
Margaret Okay. Oh, like a little piece of dirt or something that would keep it from—or like a green bean stem.
Casandra Yes, exactly. For things that are, like, chunkier, that's when your spatula technique comes in because you want to make sure there's there aren't any air pockets. Then you put your lids and your rings on. And then everything's really hot, so you make sure you use gloves and appropriate tools and load everything into your pressure canner with, I don't know, I think it's an inch of water. It depends on your canner. And then you seal it up and you start your canning.
Margaret Are those, like, electric systems or they like stovetop,
Casandra Stovetop, I've never seen an electric one, but I wouldn't be shocked if that existed.
Margaret No I just didn't—I've never seen one of these things, so I struggle to visualize it. Okay, so it's in the pressure canner and we start, and then you leave it for some length of time that is specified in the recipe?
Casandra Yep, yep. And, you know, different canners come with specific instructions to make sure that your weight is correct and your pressure is correct and things like that. So I won't, like, try to detail that out because it depends on the tool you're using. But assuming your weight and your pressure are correct, then you just set your timer once it's up to pressure and leave it in.
Margaret Okay. Is this, like, are they usually like around an hour, or is this like three days? Or what's—
Casandra It depends on the food and how acidic it is. So something like meat takes, let's see, like the the bone broth recipe I use—the canning recipe—takes like an hour and a half in the pressure. But something like tomato sauce takes 15 minutes.
Margaret Oh, because it's so acidic?
Margaret Okay. Cool.
Casandra You know, that means that, like, on tomato day, I can get through a bunch of batches but on broth canning day I can't, so.
Margaret Yeah. What about tomato bone broth canning? Nevermind. Okay.
Casandra The lesson is not to—not to combine recipes.
Margaret See, I think that this is, like—you know, I've never been like a baker. I've technically baked things, but I'm not very good at following directions specifically. My mom isn't any good at this either. I hope my mom isn't—I have no idea if my mom's listening to the podcast. You know, it's like, I'll start a recipe and then somewhere along the way, maybe halfway, three quarters of the way through, I'm just going to do something different. I don't know why. And so I've always been a terrible baker. So maybe canning isn't the food preservation method that I'm specifically going to get into.
Casandra I'm in the same way though.
Margaret Okay. Okay.
Casandra And here's the thing. So like, with—there are so many fancy canning recipes. Like bourbon peach preserves, and—you know, like, people get ridiculously fancy. And those are never the recipes I use because I would be tempted to experiment. So when I—personally when I'm canning, I'm just canning, like, the most basic ingredients so that—like plain, just in water, I don't even use salt. So when it's time for me to cook later in the year, I can experiment because I haven't, you know, I haven't, like, made all of my beans into different like fancy bean recipes already. They're just plain beans. I don't know if that makes sense, but...
Margaret No, no, no, that makes sense. Okay, I think you've sold me on canning—this is—I mean, clearly our job is to sell me on each of these things, one after the other. Okay, so canning is good for something that you're going to cycle through at home. And so that's something that you grow or get access to at one time of year, so you can have access to it at another time of year. And you said you can also, like, can soups—is like the next level up of like the classic bachelor thing where you make a whole bunch of soup on Sunday and put it in the freezer and then just, like, eat that soup all week.
Casandra I mean, I do that. So I—soup is why I can, because my kid loves soup and that's just like what we eat during the winter. So I'll get off work and forget to have planned anything. So I'll just open a jar of broth and a jar of stew meat and a jar of potato—you know, I just throw it all into a pot. But that's like seven quarts of food into a single pot, so I think I'm doing both.
Casandra So we have soup for a week, but it's from pre-canned food.
Margaret There's—I really wish I was on my puns and jokes better today. But somewhere there's a soup for our family joke.
Casandra I'm sure there is.
Margaret Hopefully someone will just tell it to me later on Twitter in a way that is either very charming or very annoying.
Casandra You'll have to send it to me.
Margaret Okay, so that kind of covers canning. Now everyone who's listened is capable of making up their own recipes and so let's move on from there to—what's next? What do you like the most after canning?
Margaret Drying. Okay.
Casandra What do you want to know about drying, Margaret?
Margaret Well, I mean, okay, so like, I feel like there's two parts to it. And maybe I'm totally wrong about this, but there's both the, like, drying of the food and then the storing of the dried food. Does that seem like?
Casandra And then the preparing of the dried food.
Margaret Oh, yeah, no cooking is totally beyond anything.
Casandra It's not like a can where you can just open it and heat it up.
Margaret Yeah, you're right. Yeah, I mean, it's like—oh, so that means I should probably just make canned beans. I've always felt like a terrible prepper because I'm, like, I have all these like dried beans. Then I'm like, I hate soaking beans. I definitely just eat canned beans.
Casandra See, that's why I do both. So I get my, like, 50 pound bags of black beans, right? And I keep them in five gallon buckets. But then I rotate through them. So I will can large batches of them. So I'm only having to think about soaking them once, right? And then the cans and then I buy more dry beans to replace the ones I used, and then I have cans. Does that make sense?
Margaret Yeah. So you can soaked beans, not dried beans, right?
Casandra Yeah, well, they're dried and then you soak them so—and it's actually, going through the soaking process and then pressure cooking, essentially, makes them more digestible. So, I don't know. It's my favorite.
Margaret Okay. Yeah. Cuz like, it's like, one of the reasons I've given—it's really, I mean, people have probably noticed that I haven't done a lot of episodes about food. And it's not because I, like, think that like this other stuff is cooler. It's because, like, food growing, preservation, and preparation, like, intimidate the hell out of me. And, you know, I'm convinced that I can't grow anything because—I said this in like one of the last episodes—because I tried to plant a pine tree when I was a kid and I failed or whatever, you know. And I'm really excited to get to talk about this, basically, even though it's very embarrassing that I'm, like, in my mind I'm like, oh, yeah, when you soak beans overnight they always—you soak them forever and they always end up still just a little bit, a little bit crunchy.
Casandra Because you still have to cook them.
Margaret Well, yeah. But—ah, and then the pressure cooker being the way to—okay.
Casandra But we were talking about drying food.
Margaret Yes. Right. Okay, so yeah, so okay. So there's three different parts to it, there's the drying of the food, the storing of the dried food, and the the preparation of the dried food. Let's not too much get into the preparation of the dried food today. But let's talk about the, like, the drying and the storing. And I'm really sad about this storing because it's the only thing that I've, like, done any of at all and done some research about. So.
Casandra You probably know much more than me about the storage, but—
Margaret Only in that I took a lot of notes like last week.
Casandra Oh Good!
Margaret But okay, how do you dry food?
Casandra Um, so I use just a really cheap food dehydrator, like the cheapest one I could find on Amazon. There are really fancy dehydrators you can get. You don't have to buy a dehydrator at all, you can just, you know, set things out on trays and rotate them and, like, put a fan near them so there's airflow.
Margaret When you say set things out, you mean like in the sun?
Casandra Um, I guess if you want it sun dried, but I—in general, if I'm preserving food, I try to keep it out of sunlight.
Margaret Okay, that makes sense.
Casandra That's maybe—we didn't talk about canning and how long things are shelf stable, but generally, if food is exposed to sunlight, it affects its shelf stability. So.
Casandra Um, but yeah, airflow is the—temperature and airflow are the major factors for drying food. So, especially if something's very juicy, you want it to be lower temperature with lots of airflow because if the outside of it dries before the inside, it's bad news. I guess it can cause mold for whatever's on the inside if it doesn't fully dry, but if it does fully dry, it means that like, say you're drying cranberries or something, they're rockhard instead of that, like, nice, tender, dryness. I can speak. So yeah, most of hydrators will come with like settings for different types of food. And you can look those up online as well. Like which foods need more heat, which foods want less heat.
Margaret How much does humidity affect this? Like I—where I live it's basically I live inside a cloud. All of the South is just a cloud for all of the summer and so, like, I can't even dry clothes on the line unless they're in the direct sunlight. So I assume I would have to use—I would have to use one of these, like, what are they, electric? The ones that you're talking about?
Casandra Yeah, I imagine so. I live in a not humid place. So I haven't had to think about that. Also storage, I imagine that you probably have more trouble with food storage.
Margaret I do.
Casandra Yeah. But, you know, then there are things that apparently great if you have a higher humidity, like—what I'm sure you're super interested in—salt curing meat is, apparently a higher humidity is better so—
Margaret Oh, really?
Casandra There's that.
Margaret I wonder what I can salt cure.
Margaret Just slabs of seitan. It sounds terrible. Okay.
Casandra The things that that I mostly dry are nuts and seeds because I grow a lot of sunflowers and also I live in the Pacific Northwest. So it's, like, filbert and walnut territory, acorn territory.
Margaret Do you have to prepare—the only one of these things I know anything about is acorns. And I know that you have to do a lot of work to get the tannins out of acorns. You do that before you drive them in this case?
Casandra You know, I've actually heard—and I'm planning to try this this year—but I've heard that it's actually quicker to get the tannins out if you dry them first because then, when you introduce water to flush the tannins out, it can, like, fully saturate the nut meat.
Casandra Does that make sense? So you're getting rid of all the moisture first, and then when you introduce fresh water to the nuts, it can penetrate into the like flesh.
Margaret Okay. Because yeah, it takes forever to flush acorns.
Casandra It does. If you—I mean, you have a stream, so that would be much, much less time intensive. For folks who don't know, acorns are delicious, but only if they're not full of tannins.
Margaret Which is like, what, a natural preservative or something that's in them that, in order to human edible, you have to get rid of.
Casandra Yeah, I mean, there are tannins and lots of food. It's the thing that makes sour food sour or like astringent food astringent, but, you know, the amount that's in the average acorn can give you a tummy ache.
Margaret Okay, so is this, like, is this one of the ways that you would—because I assume basically all the nuts I eat in my life are, like, dried nuts, right? Because I'm not going around eating fresh nuts. So this is like one of the main ways, if you wanted to make the nuts that you grow taste like the nuts people are used to eating, you would dry them first in this way, right?
Casandra Like acorns or just?
Margaret Oh sorry. I was going back to like, you know, the other nuts?
Casandra Yeah, yeah.
Margaret Cashews. I don't know. You didn't say cashews, I was just thinking about cashews. Because I like cashews.
Casandra I think cashews are actually way different. Have you seen a cashew plant?
Margaret All of the nuts look really weird in the wild. I struggle to understand them. This is the most embarrassing episode I'll ever put out. It's just like, I'm this crazy person who lives in the woods. And I don't know anything about plants.
Casandra Because cashew is part of a fruit, right? It's not, like, in a hard shell like a walnut. Anyway. Let's not talk about cashews.
Margaret Let's not talk about cashews. I'll pretend like I know what filberts are and talk about them.
Casandra A filter is just—I think it's actually a different species than a hazelnut, but it's what we call hazelnuts here.
Margaret Okay, cool.
Casandra So like filberts and walnuts, things that have a hard shell that you crack the shell open, and then—you can eat it fresh. It's delicious, fresh. But if you want to store it, you just dry it.
Casandra And some nuts you dry in the shell like walnuts, but some you don't have to.
Margaret Okay. And so drying is like a little bit simpler. It's like—
Margaret If you're drying walnuts, you look at the article that says "this is how you dry walnuts," and you put them in your dryer and you dry them.
Casandra I mean, I don't even put nuts in a dryer, because they're already so dry.
Margaret You just leave them out.
Casandra Yeah, I just—like, I put a blanket on the floor in front of my fireplace in the winter and just have a, like, mound of nuts that I—
Casandra Like, rotate. So, but if you're doing something that's, like, quicker to spoil, I guess, like fruit or vegetables, than a dehydrator might be the solution for you.
Margaret Okay, how long—like, what are some of the advantages of drying food? I mean, obviously, like, certain foods, like nuts and things, like that's like almost, like, the way that you you store them, right? But it's like, I don't know a ton about, like, dried fruits—I suppose I know fruits a bit—but like dried vegetables, and, you know, is this, uh, like, how long do they last? Like, what is good about this method?
Casandra I think it's good because it's smaller so it's easier to store, right? It's also lighter. So that goes back to our conversation about, you know, preparing to be on the move as opposed to being stationary. For things that are snackable it's nice to have snacks, so like dried fruits, dried seeds, things like that. Um, I—there are a few vegetables that I routinely dry because I routinely use them. Garlic is one. I guess alliums. Can we call the allium family of vegetable? Garlic and onions are two of them because I don't really can them. You could ferment them, especially fermented garlic is really popular, I just don't do it. Um, but, like, the number of times I've gone to make soup in the winter and not had garlic or onions is embarrassing. But if I have them dried, I can just toss in a handful and it's delicious.
Margaret Okay, but like, so if you dry—how long does dried fruit last? How long do dried vegetables last? Like, is it, like, good enough to last you—kike most of these food preservation methods are sort of, like, meant to kind of get you until—set you up so that the next time—until the next harvest of the same thing. Is that kind of the general idea, like, so that you have this thing that lasts, like, hopefully almost a year, or?
Casandra Oh, they can last—I mean, I have like dried onions, dried plums in my pantry that have been there for two years and are perfectly good. The thing about, like, everything other than canning, is that if something goes bad, you can see it or smell it. So it's good until it, you know, it's good until you can see or smell that it isn't good anymore. And that depends on, you know, how you've stored it. Do you put—is it in direct sunlight? Is it totally dry? Is it in a hot place? A cool place? Things like that. But it lasts a long time. That's a really vague answer. I think you were looking for something more specific.
Margaret I mean, it's fine. We don't have to have, like, a chart—an audio chart of, like, you know, column A, the fruit, column B, how long it lasts with each different method. Okay, that's how you would organize the data anyway.
Casandra It seems like there should be more to it, right? Like, there should be more to talk about with dried food. But it's so simple. You just—
Casandra But storage you wanted to talk about and I feel like you probably know more about storage can I do.
Margaret Well, only because, like, I came into this with this "I don't know how to make food" thing, right? And, you know, I just remember a couple years ago a food scientist friend of mine was like—this was maybe like four or five years ago—was like, hey, I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but the supply chain on food is looking a little bit precarious this year, or whatever. So I was like, okay, I'm gonna just start having some, like, five gallon buckets of like beans and rice around. And that was probably what started me on the journey that you're all along for with me today. And so I just would go and buy, you know, basically prepper food, right? Ideally, the ones with like the least markup or whatever, but just, you know, five gallon buckets or huge cans of stuff that's like freeze dried or whatever and it's like meant to last 30 to 50 years on a shelf. And so I was doing that. And—but then I realized as I started to kind of, like, scale this, and more people are asking me for my recommendation. And I don't want to just be like, oh, go to Amazon, because that's the main place to buy Augason Farm stuff, you know—ans go for this company I don't know anything about. And instead realized, was like, well, there has to be a way to just, like, put rice in a five gallon bucket. It's like not quite as easy as that. You can do that and that'll last for a fairly long time, again, depending on your conditions, especially humidity and sunlight, as you mentioned, and oxygen is actually one of the biggest ways that, like, long shelf life foods go bad. And so the thing I've been researching, and I'll probably make a YouTube video about in the next week or so, is how to store dried goods for like long term storage, which is less the like—I feel like, in my head, there's like two tiers of food storage. And there's the more important one, which is what you're talking about and the, like, the things that you can cycle through and to get you through any given interruption. And then there's the sort of deep storage stuff where, I don't know, I don't see a reason for most people not to have, like, a month or two of food sitting in five gallon buckets in their basement, you know, that just sit there and you can pass them on to your kids. And—who will be like, really? Why are you giving this to me? But—actually, that's very optimistic to think that they won't immediately understand the need for such things.
Margaret And I like to imagine that will be around for 30 to 50 years from now. That seems optimistic, but I like it. So long term food storage, you can make beans and rice and many other things last 30-50 years. And the main way going at the moment—there's a lot of different ways to do it—but basically it's like the main way that people are doing right now and in prepper world, and it's mostly, I think pioneered by the Mormons. A lot of the information you can get about this—and if you live in Utah, apparently there're these stores will they'll just sell you really cheap beans and rice, and some of them are open to people who aren't in the church. But you basically, you put them into mylar bags, which are plastic bags with like an aluminum layer—which isn't technically the definition of mylar but, like, when you say mylar bag, it's what you mean—and you heat seal the bags. You put in the dried food, and then you put in oxygen absorbers. I always thought you put in desiccant because I think that humidity all of the time. The instruments that I built last year, some of them aren't even playable right now because the warping because the stupid humidity. I don't understand how a mountain dulcimer was invented in Appalachia and has such a thin soundboard. Anyway. So, but you don't put in desiccants necessarily—actually, in general, you don't. It actually seems to be contraindicated. But instead you put in oxygen absorbers that are sized to the size of bag, and you got to do it kind of quick, because obviously when you open up the oxygen absorber starts absorbing oxygen. And what it is is like little iron fillings that are absorbing that are oxidizing and making rust, I think, and they're in little sealed packets that air can go in, but rust pellets can't come out. You drop it in, you heat seal the bag, you can either get like a little flash sealer for like 25 bucks, or you can use a household iron, or you can use a hair—you know, it's like, I have a feeling that people making these things don't actually do this because I've seen people say straightening iron or curling iron. But um, you can seal it with heat. And then it is sealed. And then that doesn't keep like animals and stuff out, so then you put it in a bucket. So really, long story short, you take a mylar bag, at least five mil thick—mil is not millimeter, it's, I don't know, .001 or something, I don't remember. Millionth of an inch or 1,000th of an inch or something. You put in the oxygen absorber, you heat seal it, you put it in the bucket, and you're good. And it seems kind of simple. And it's a lot cheaper per five gallon bucket of beans and rice then going and getting the pre made stuff.
Margaret But being able to do it with stuff that you dry yourself—again, like, different things are gonna last different lengths of time. And oh, and you can only do this with stuff that's, like, less than 10% water content. You know, it has to be like way more dried. So you can't just like put in your, like, dried fruit and stuff. It's like almost all like rice and beans and oats and other things. And then there's like weird stuff where like brown rice is actually harder to preserve than white rice because brown rice has, like—which is much better, of course, in general—has more stuff, like more oils in it that can go bad. That's what I've learned, but you should correct me if that's what you're about to do.
Casandra No, no, I was just gonna say I've heard of people—or I've seen something called dry canning. I haven't actually tried it. But it's something similar, except you're using jars and you're using an oven to, yeah, create a seal—a hot seal on the jars. And it's supposed to make dried food last longer. I've never personally understood the purpose of things like that just because I rotate. So it's just like a part of my life and routine. But yeah.
Margaret Just having some deep storage, you know, like—but okay, this actually makes me—why are mason jars clear? Because isn't sunlight the enemy of, like, all food preservation?
Casandra Yeah, I guess so I honestly—I have no idea. They make fancy, like, tinted jars, but they're much more expensive. I imagine it's just because it's more expensive to make tinted glass. But like traditionally you're not keeping your jars on a shelf in direct sunlight. You're keeping them, like, in your basement or your root cellar or something like that.
Margaret Okay, so we've been talking almost an hour, and obviously there's still several methods of food preservation left, but maybe we won't go into the details about any of the other ones—unless, is, like, is there like one more that you want to like quick like shout out? Like hey, look how great salting is, or pickling, or, I don't know.
Casandra Yeah. I mean, fermenting and pickling is amazing. And that's, like, an episode in and of itself. And I think that it's really like trendy right now, so probably accessible for people to find information on. And then salt preserving and sugar—I can't eat sugar, so I don't do sugar preserving. But those two methods are surprisingly simple. And I'm just beginning to experiment with salt preserving, but I love it. So, I dunno. Check it out.
Margaret Is it just like you take the thing and you pack it in salt and then you're like, it's good.
Casandra Kinda, yeah. Kinda, yeah.
Margaret That's cool.
Casandra I mean, there's more to it than that, but basically.
Margaret Okay, well, I don't know. You've sold me on far more food preservation instead of just looking at it from this, like—you know, as much as I want to like try and sell you on deep storage, I think that that's like the far and away least useful aspect and like the one that ties most into, like, the bunker mentality that I supposedly shit talk all the time. You know, and so this, like, this—these methods of cycling through appeal quite a bit to me. Is there any—are there any like last thoughts on food preservation or anything else about any of this that you want to you want to bring up?
Casandra Just that once you start digging into it, you'll probably be shocked by how many things you can can from, you know, butter to water. So.
Margaret Wait, really?
Casandra To whole chickens. So it's pretty flexible and pretty fun once you get the basic down. Canned water.
Margaret I'm laughing about the canned chicken because I'm imagining, like, the chicken like coming out and running away when you opening up the can 15 years later. Alright, well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. And also, you know, thanks for helping make the show accessible. And, I don't know, I really appreciate that, and I appreciate all the work that you've done with that.
Casandra You're welcome. I'm dreading transcribing this, but I will do it. So.
Margaret I appreciate it. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you got out of this as much as I did. I didn't know anything. I mean, well I didn't know anything compared to what I now know. And I'm excited to eat green beans, I mean, prepare green beans. No, I'm mostly just excited to eat green beans. I really like green beans. I'm really glad that was the example food we used. If you liked this episode or this podcast, you should tell people about it and tell people about it on the internet. Well, tell about it in real life. But if you tell people about it on the internet, all the like weird algorithms will like make other people know about it if you like, and comment, and subscribe, and do all the stuff. And you can also support me directly on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. And there's a bunch of like zines and other things up there. And they're behind a paywall, but if you live off of less money than we make off of the Patreon, then you should just message us and—or me, I guess, on any social media platform, and I will give you access to all the content for free because the main point is to put out content and I really just appreciate everyone's support helps me do that. And in particular, I want to thank Sean and Hugh and Dana, Chelsea, Eleanor, Mike, Starro, Cat J, the Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, and Nora. And also I would be remiss not to tell you that I have a book available for pre-order. AK Press is republishing a new edition of my book, A Country of Ghosts, which is an anarchist utopian book. And if you're listening to this podcast, you probably have like a vague idea of what I'm talking about when I talk about anarchy like that. But if you don't, or if you do, you might like this book, A Country of Ghosts. And if you hate the government and capitalism, you might like it. And if you hate the government but like capitalism, or if you like capitalism but hate the government, then I would challenge you to read this book anyway, because you might learn that both of those are very interrelated things and you're kind of only doing it halfway and you have to destroy the Ring of Power and it must be—don't be a Boromir. You should throw the Ring of Power into the—into the fires of Mount Doom. Anyway, you should tell me about the fun foods that you all prepare, because I will be jealous. Or I'll start canning my own foods and I'll talk to you all soon.
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