Letter Re: Advice for Newbie on Food Dehydrating, Canning, and Storage

I started reading SurvivalBlog just two months ago,following a recommendation by an elder at my Baptist church. Your blog has become a daily habit. I just recently signed up for $3 a month for the 10 Cent Challenge. Right now, I’m “peeling back the onion layers”–going through the [SurvivalBlog] archives. I am blown away by how much knowledge you have amassed there, all free. Thank you!

I’m feeling more than a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of what I now realize that I need to do, to prepare for my family [for] disasters. I wasn’t raised on a farm, or even in the suburbs with a vegetable garden. (Although I now live in the ‘burbs, I’ve never planted anything but flowers and ornamental bushes.) At the core, I’m from the Microwave Swanson’s Dinners and Pop-Tarts culture. I don’t have Clue One about how to do canning or dehydration of fruits and veg[etables]. Where do I start? What brand of home sealer or vacuum packer gizmo do you recommend?

Most importantly: My wife and I have two teenage boys, and they eat like horses. I have a pretty big budget (I’m in middle management and make six figures), so I don’t mind just buying most of what I need off the shelf–although I would like to get one of the Excalibur dehydration units that you mentioned. That sounds like a fun project my family on weekends. But for the storage food, I really don’t know where to start. Can I buy most of my food for storage at a “club” store like Sam’s Club or Costco? (We are already Costco members.)

Also, how to I calculate the storage [life] of foods? (I don’t want anything to go bad before we use it up.)

Thanks for your time, and all that you do in putting SurvivalBlog together. It is an amazing resource. – Bruce L.

JWR Replies: Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just make a “list of lists” and start preparing systematically. A good starting point is to get a copy of my “Rawles Gets You Ready” preparedness course. It is tailored for someone walking into a Costco–or similar “Big Box” store–and buying a one year food supply right off the shelf. I even organized it based on the layout of a Costco store, and I talked specifically about what items are available in each section of the store. There are a surprising number of foods sold at “Big Box” stores that have long storage lives. The course binder includes an appendix on the anticipated storage life of dozens of different foods, and it differentiates between the various packaging methods.

Home canning is a subject that would take a book to explain in detail, so for this letter I’ll suffice with a couple of good references: The first is the book The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, from Sasquatch Books. Be sure to get the ninth or later edition. Mentioned at our Bookshelf page, and also available through our Catalog page if you can’t find a copy locally.) The second book on canning that I recommend is Keeping The Harvest. by Nancy Thurber, Gretchen Mead, and Nancy Chioffi. (Published by Storey Books.)

I do indeed recommend the Excalibur brand dehydrator. If buying one of them these days, I would opt for their big 600 watt ED-2900 model. We have a smaller, older model here at the Rawles Ranch that has been in regular use for about 20 years. And I expect it to last 20 more! (They are quite sturdy.)

For packaging the foods that you dehydrate, I recommend the Food Saver brand vacuum sealer, made by Tilia. These, coincidentally, are available at Costco stores. Stock up on plenty of extra bags. We prefer to buy the bag material in continuous rolls. We just cut them to size, as needed. We also use ours quite a bit to evacuate the air from canning jars, using the Mason Jar Adaptors. We use large 2 quart Mason-type jars to vacuum pack lots of foods–mostly grains, beans, and dehydrated goodies. OBTW, as a back-up for periods when grid power is not available, I also recommend buying a Tilia hand-pump sealer. They are a bit more time consuming to use than the 120 VAC “Food Saver”, but they work well and cost just $20 if you shop around.