Friday, August 31, 2012

Preserving Foods

There are so many ways of preserving foods.  There is dehydrating, canning, pickling, salting, jerking, brining and the list goes on.  Almost every year the government comes out with new standards for safely preserving your foods.  Sometimes it's a new way of doing things and other times its just an adjustment on time or temperature.  I always contact my local Farm Office to see if there are any new adjustments I need to make prior to starting my canning season or dehydration season.

 I do a lot of canning and dehydrating during the summer and the things I froze fresh but didn't have time to can or dehydrate during the summer I will do during the winter.  I take advantage of the section some stores have where they will put produce that is starting to turn brown or is a day past the date.  This is a great way to get things like mushrooms, apples, bananas, potatoes, etc at a greatly reduced price and bring them home to process.  I never pass up a box of mushrooms marked down to 99 cents.  I bring them home and clean them up then dehydrate.  You can do the same thing with any fruit or vegetable.  I have 3 dehydrators, all are garage sale purchases and one I got free.  They all work just fine and I have had one of them for about 30 years. 

Today I want to discuss preserving things like eggs, butter, milk and meats.  Yes, eggs can be preserved !  So can milk, butter and meats.  We will go into each type of food and how its done.  Let's start with eggs.

When eggs are laid by the hen they have a protective coating on them which nature has designed to protect the embryo inside from bacteria.  Today many people buy their eggs at a store.  The hens that laid those eggs have never seen a rooster and their eggs will not be fertile but they still are laid with that protective coating.  In these large factory egg farms the eggs are collected and washed before going to the store.  The protective coating once gone allows the egg to quickly deteriorate unless it is refrigerated and even then it usually has to be consumed within a few weeks.

Below is a factory farm, this is where most "grocery store" eggs come from.
 
 
 Eggs are washed and scanned with a computer/laser for defects
 
 

 
Hens below are real free range hens not the kind the grocery stores call "Free Range".
 
 
The hens below are commercial "Free Range" laying hens for brown eggs.  Many people see brown eggs in the cartons and visualize something like the picture above.  The reality is the picture below.
 
 
The home grown variety eggs from the back yard chicken coop usually are not washed right away unless they have some dirt on them.  They will keep in your kitchen on the counter for quite awhile as long as they are not washed and in your refrigerator for several weeks.

Did you ever wonder how to tell if your eggs were fresh or not?  Here is a quick way to tell:  Fill a container with several inches of cold water, it's better if it's a flat bottomed container like a pot.  Gently drop your eggs in the water a few at a time.  If the egg floats to the top it is full of gas and has started the process of breaking down inside the shell.  It will probably be an off color if not green and it will smell quite bad.   If the egg lays on it's side at the bottom of the container it is quite fresh. If it is standing on it's small end but not floating, it's still good  (it's just not as fresh but still edible). 


I hard boil those that stand on their small end as they peel easier than a fresh egg.  I generally boil the eggs, take the pot off the heat source and let it cool down with the eggs still in the water.  After the eggs are very cool I find they peel much easier. 

Going on to preserving fresh eggs.  There are a couple ways to do it.  You can break them into a bowl, beat them as you would for say scrambled eggs then put them in containers and freeze them. You should label how many eggs you have and the date as they should be used within 6 months. You can also break each egg into an old fashioned ice cube tray, freeze and then put them in either a freezer bag or container.  Lable and date.



You can pickle them too!  Hard boil them and peel, put them in hot, clean jars.  In a small pan put about 2 cups of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of pickling spice and bring to a scald not a boil.  In the jar with the eggs put 1 teaspoon of salt, one clove of garlic and if you like some heat add a half or a whole hot pepper.  Pour the vinegar over the eggs to cover making sure you get some of those pickling spices in the jar as well.  Tap the jar to remove the air and put on a lid.  Date the jar on the lid and put in the refrigerator for 3 weeks to allow the spices to mingle with the egg.  These will keep a long time in the refrigerator, I don't know how long exactly as they don't really last much past that 4th week at my house..

The last way I have to tell you about egg preservation is oiling.  You will need a bottle of mineral oil and fresh eggs and the cartons they come in.  If you are using your own hen's eggs you will need to either buy some cartons online or ask your friends to save their cartons for you. 
 


You begin by examining your eggs carefully.  Look for any tiny cracks or lines, these eggs are not good for preserving, they already have a bacteria breech and are probably already contaminated.  I wouldn't eat them myself as cracked eggs sometimes get salmonella.



 Once you have made sure your eggs are crack free, pour a small amount of mineral oil into a small container and dip the end of the egg into it.  With your hands then rub the oil over the entire egg and put the egg back into the egg carton, small side down.   Date the carton.

 
 Now is the interesting part. Store these eggs somewhere the temperature is most constant and under 80 degrees F. I suggest about 75F or under. Once a week for the first 8 weeks gently turn the cartons over and re stack them all upside down, then next week rotate right side up. After 8 weeks you can reduce the rotation to once a month. Each time you rotate your eggs be sure to visually examine them for cracks, discoloration or smell. Discard any eggs that don't look or smell right.
 


 These eggs will stay good and usable for about 6-8 months.  I recently used some eggs that I preserved in February to make a very large cake.  You could not tell the difference between the preserved eggs and the fresh eggs.  I water tested the eggs I wanted to use and they all stayed on the bottom of the pot.  They did stand on the small end but they were still quite good.  Below is an egg I took from the carton under it (8/29/12).  This egg is a few days over 5 months old, stored on my kitchen counter.  As you can see the yolk is still intact, high (less fresh eggs flatten as they get older) and in good color, there is no smell at all as it should be.

 
Below, the egg on the left is one I just pulled out of the chicken coop, the one on the right is the same egg as above and 5 months old.  As you can see there is little difference.  The darker color of the egg on the right is not an issue.  Anyone that has hens can tell you some eggs are yellow and some are orange. A lot has to do with the chickens' diet and breed.  Many commercial egg farms add marigold flower petals to their chicken feed to make the yolks an orange color.  Much like some butcher markets add a red dye to the meat to make it look "fresh".  (now illegal in many states).  Both eggs have a spot on them, the one on the left the spot is at about 12 o'clock while the egg on the right is in the center.  These spots tell me the eggs are fertile as I have a rooster in the coop so that I can incubate or let a hen hatch the eggs as I need to replenish my stock. 
 
 

 
 
 
Wether the eggs are fertileor infertile it has no effect on the taste of the egg.  Some people prefer fertile eggs as they supposedly have more protien and more food value but I do not know if this is accurate or not.  Eggs are a good source of protein anyway and the opinion of "experts" change so often regarding eggs that we just eat them as we want.  What you decide to do regarding your particular diet is between you and your Doctor.  I won't get into an egg debate!
 
It is so much better to make a cake with a real egg than a powdered egg.  Powdered eggs are better than no eggs but not too tasty to eat are they? 

Powdered eggs on the left and real eggs on the right

 
Next blog we will discuss canning meats and butter.

1 comment:

  1. I never thought of saving eggs before. I just always rush around trying to figure out what else we can make with eggs! Cake anyone? I loved the pictures and description of the free range chickens, I've told people about the commercial free range chickens and no one believes me! I also don't think they believe me about the chicken in a box though.

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