Most of us don’t remember a time when 21st century style refrigeration wasn’t an option available to us. These days we go to the store, buy whatever we need, then take it home and throw it in a refrigerator or freezer. While this is the lifestyle we’re used to, things weren’t always that easy.
‘Old-time’ storage methods involved a number of processes used for preservation purposes, and often required a designated space or room with its own specific conditions in which to hold the food. Listed below are a number of examples of how exactly these types of methods would have been carried out; feel free to substitute ‘old-time’ with ‘off-grid’ any time you like.
The answer to refrigeration without refrigerators lies in cold water. Food would be placed in a large metal box that was immersed in cold water from a spring, or pumped from either a creek or deep underground. Another solution would be tapping into the same water source to fill and drain a brick-and-mortar tub containing your canned goods. Either of these solutions are optimal for chilling things like eggs, dairy, and meats.
For this method, food would simply be stored in an outbuilding or attic during the cold winter months. This would allow for the freezing of fish, game, and livestock to be butchered and preserved for the later months, as long as the meat was hung to protect it from pests.
Covered with timber and earth, root cellars are deep pits with shelf-lined walls and a sand, dirt, or stone floor. The natural moisture and cool surroundings will maintain the low temperature needed to preserve food. Obviously there aren’t any rules on what you can and can not put in here, but these cellars are typically used to store canned goods, winter roots, and some fruits.
The ingredient you wished to can would be placed in a vacuum-sealed glass jar, and then the jar put in boiling water for a time to kill and prevent bacteria from growing. Due to their antifungal and antibacterial properties, salt or vinegar are sometimes added.
Corn, herbs, and string beans are the most common candidates for this method. For herbs, simply bunch them up and hang them from your kitchen ceiling; they’re out of the way and easily accessible when you need them. With corn, you simply fill up a barrel or a sack and place them in a safe, dry location, like an attic. As for the string beans (any and all varieties), you’ll thread these onto a string and hang them to achieve a leathery feel; those will be taken down and soaked in water for a day or two before use.
This is the process of the good microbes growing and killing the bad microbes. It isn’t the first idea that springs to mind when you’re considering outside-the-box food preservation, but it’s relatively easy and there a plenty of examples of what you can make with it. Yogurt, wine, beer, pickles, cheese, and sauerkraut are just a few possibilities. Many of these could even be kept in your root cellar.
A real smokehouse is a walk-in building made of stone or brick with a tin roof and an external firebox and pipe to let smoke enter and exit through a chimney. Pork shoulders and bellies, turkeys, hams, and other meats would be hung from large hooks in the ceiling rafters, and a curing or dry salt process would usually be involved.
While dry-salting would simply be a salt-based ‘rub’, curing involves a brine solution being used as a marinade or being directly injected into the meat. What with all the conditions- the salt-curing, low temperature heat-drying, smoke, and enclosed space- meats could even be stored in the smokehouse after the process is finished