As the days start to grow longer, the chooks egg production also starts to pick up. Soon we have more eggs each day than we can eat. Lime water is a traditional and affordable way to store your surplus eggs for when the chooks go off the lay again. All you need is Hydrated Lime, water, a food grade container (preferably with a lid) and of course lots of eggs.
Hydrated Lime (calcium hydroxide) is also know as Pickling Lime or Slacked Lime, it is a natural product and available in large bags from farm supply stores.
Water should be room temp and (if from a town supply) filtered.
A food grade container can be anything which has a large enough opening to gently lower the eggs into, from large jars to a large bucket with a lid. While the jars look good on the shelf, we find a 10 to 15 litre food grade bucket is more practical and convenient.
Eggs need to be clean and unwashed so they still have the protective coating (bloom) on the shell, for this reason bought egg are not suitable. Also make sure there are no cracks in the shells and that the chooks have adequate calcium in their diet for good strong shells.
The ratio of lime to water is about 30g to 1 litre (1oz to 1 quart) we just use a 1/3 cup of lime per litre of water, which is a slightly higher ratio but easy to measure out.
Measure the water into the container and stir in correct amount of lime. If you roughly half full the container you can top up with more lime and water mix if needed. The lime will settle, this is fine, but if topping up make sure the lime is well mixed in the new water before adding.
Gently lower the eggs into the water and position across the base of the container. If you can, try to place the eggs pointy side down as this means the air pocket inside the egg has less contact with the egg white. Some people claim this produces a better stored egg but others feel it is not necessary so don’t fuss too much.
Fresh eggs can be added as you get them, just make sure the eggs remain covered with the lime water. Once the container is full it can be stored in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Just be aware to keep it away from extremes in temperature, like high heat or freezing.
Generally most people will just need to store the eggs to cover the cooler months while their chooks are off the lay, but eggs can last 2 years or more if stored correctly.
To use the eggs remove the amount you need and wash the lime water off the shells. You can use the float test for freshness while washing the eggs (if it sinks its good, if it floats discard). We break each egg into a bowl first and check before using, but have not had a bad egg yet.
We find the eggs are just as good as fresh for most purposes. But as the time of storage extends some people prefer to just use the eggs in baking etc as they say they taste a little different. This would be something you would need to trial yourself and see if you can taste a difference.
NOTE. I saw this advice which I haven’t tried yet. “If you are going to hard boil the water glassed eggs, first do a pin prick through the shell. After sitting in the lime water solution, the egg shells are no longer porous, and will quickly pop when you start to boil or steam the eggs.”
In many countries fruits and vegetables which are able to be stored long term were put in root cellars. These were sometimes located under the house and may have incorporated the cool larder, but in their most basic form they were dug out pits with an earth bermed roof away from the house or the more basic ‘clamp’ (roots crops stored on the ground with straw or bracken and covered with soil). Root cellars utilised the natural cooling, insulation and humidity of the earth to keep crops from freezing over winter and reduce spoilage in summer. As most areas of New Zealand are able to grow root crops and hold them in the ground all through winter, root cellars are not really used here. However, earth bermed pits were used by Māori for storing kumara (rua kūmara) as they will rot if left in the wet cold ground.
Usually these fruit and vegetables (below) are only being stored over the cooler months, which means they can be stored in a suitable shed or under the house, in an unheated room, even on a veranda or back porch as long as humidity can be loosely managed and they are (mostly) kept in the dark. Air flow is important in most cases to prevent a build-up of moisture which can cause rotting and to reduce build ups of ethylene gas (a natural ripening gas emitted by apples and other fruits and vegetables like onions and garlic etc) The use of untreated wood for shelving and boxes or bins has the added benefits of natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Having a dirt or gravel floor in your outdoor storage spaces helps to regulate humidity levels and can provide good drainage. If your main storage space is outside of the house consider using a cool cupboard inside and restock it occasionally from the outside stores. This means when the weather gets stormy or you are busy there is a food store close at hand.
Conditions for storing depend on the produce but they are mostly divided into those which need high humidity (as in root cellars or cool sheds) and those which need low humidity (like in a pantry). Choose only undamaged fruit or vegetables for long term storage.
High Humidity crops
For maximum apple storage life, make sure that you harvest the apples when they are mature, but not fully ripe. That is because apples will continue to ripen while in storage, so ripe or overripe apples will quickly become soft and floury. As they ripen apples give of ethylene gas, this gas speeds up the ripening process of apples and any other fruit or vege around them so ventilation is important. Apples store well at low temperatures, 4°C is a pretty good temp for most apples. Above this and they will ripen faster, below and some varieties can suffer chill damage. Humidity should be at 90 to 95% but as this can be hard to maintain wrapping the apples in newspaper can help retain moisture. Then layer the apples in crates, boxes or even drawers, preferably in a way in which you can easily check for rot, cardboard between the layers can help with this. Apples stored this way can last 2 to 7 months depending on the variety, tart crisp apples generally store longer.
Pears can be stored much the same as apples, the European pears such as ‘Bartlet’ ‘Packham’ ‘Beurre Bosc’ and ‘Winter Nelis’ should be picked firm and slightly under ripe. Stored like apples they should last 1 to 3 months. Remove from cold storage about a week before eating so they can finish ripening.
Asian pears or Nashi however should be left on the tree until their colour changes and they are sweet, crunchy and juicy. Store as above for 1 to 3 months.
Most other fruits (stone fruit, berries etc) have short fresh storage periods and are best bottled, dried or frozen to preserve the harvest.
Late crop Potatoes are the ones which you store for use through winter and are dug once the plants die back. There are a few ideas on what to do with potatoes once dug, some say leave them in the sun for about a day and a half to allow the skins to cure. Others say to cure in a dark place for 10 to 14 days at about 7 to 15°C. Once cured potatoes can be stored in a cool dark airy place for 4 to 6 months or more depending on the variety. Keep the potatoes separate from apples and other fruit or veges, like onions and garlic, which produce ethylene, a ripening gas, as it can cause the potatoes to sprout early. If storing in sacks, hessian or paper is best as it allows the potatoes to ‘breathe’, otherwise crates or boxes can be used, and layers of paper, sacking, straw or bracken etc can be used to cover to keep out the light. The bracken or straw is also thought to absorb some of the ethylene gas and therefore prolong storage time. Sprinkling lime on each layer of potatoes is thought to prevent mold and rotting and also stop the potatoes from sprouting.
Carrots, beets and parsnips
It most places these root vegetables will store well in the ground and you can spread a thick layer of straw over the top of them if you are in an area with very low temperatures where the ground freezes. If you would rather store inside, or need the space in the garden these crops can be layered in damp sand, saw dust, peat or moss. For carrots and parsnips remove all the green leaves and stems, for beets cut back the stems to about 2 to 5 cm, try and keep the beets roots intact. Make sure they are not touching each other in the layers.
Carrots should last 4 to 6 months, beets 3 to 5 months and parsnips 1 to 2 months.
Turnips, radish (black spanish, daikon etc) and swedes can be stored the same way but it is often recommended they are stored outside due to their strong smell.
We choose to keep most of our roots crops in the ground, the carrot tops can look a bit ratty but the carrots are good, beetroot, turnips, parsnips and radish just keep on growing. The photos below show some of our mid winter crops.
Cabbages can be dug up, leaving the stem and roots intact, remove any ratty leaves so there is just a firm head. These can then be hung upside down, put in bins or individually wrapped and put on a shelf. Unless your storage room is very airy in is a good idea to store them away from other foods like apples as their smell can taint other produce. Red cabbages and late crop cabbages are ment to store better, lasting 3 to 4 months or more.
Low Humidity Crops (Dry Storage)
When the tops start droop, bend them all over and leave for a couple more days, then the onions are ready to be pulled. Once harvested onions need to be dried before storing, this can be done by leaving them on the ground for a couple of days if the weather is good. Or by spreading them single layer on a rack or the floor in a protected area. Its needs to be warm, dry and breezy so that the skins and neck of the onion dry. Turning occasionally can help speed up the process. Once fully dry trim the roots and necks (if not hanging them), put aside to use first any which are damaged or with green necks. The rest can be stored by hanging in ‘strings’, or in onion sacks, baskets or boxes as long as the air can circulate around the onions. Pungent thick-skinned onions store better than the thin-skinned sweet onions, so choose a variety like Pukekohe Longkeeper for long term storage. Onions should store for 5 to 8 months.
We harvest the garlic when the leaves are 50/50 dry/green, check a couple of bulbs and if they are a good size harvest before the cloves start to separate. Brush off any loose dirt and spread out to dry in a shady dry airy place, turning occasionally, or after a couple of days tie in loose bundles and hang till fully dry. Once dry the garlic can be plaited or trimmed and stored in baskets or boxes. Garlic can be easily stored for 5 to 8 months, but should last a year or until you harvest the next seasons crop, though it may start to deteriorate. If you see cloves starting to sprout or wrinkle use these ones first and remove any which are breaking down.
Harvest pumpkins after the plants have died down but before the first frosts. Leave the stalk on, we generally cut them where they meet the vine. If the stalk breaks off use these ones first as they will not store well. Wipe of any dirt and if the weather is good leave them outside to cure, this hardens the skin, heals any wounds from harvesting and lets them ripen and develop more flavour. If the weather is not good put them in a warm spot for up to 2 weeks. Once cured move to a cool dry place and store on wooden shelves, an old wire-wove bed base, cardboard or hang in nets. Pumpkins be stored for at least three to six months. Choose varieties which are especially for long storage such as the tough skinned ‘Ironbark’ pumpkins like Triamble, Queensland blue and Marina di Chioggia
Squash, Kamokamo and even mature marrows can be stored this way too.
Only store undamaged kumara and once dug spread them out in a cool airy place to let the skins cure for a week or so. It is better not to wash them as you want the skins to stay dry once harvested. Then move to a dry dark place, kumara can be layered in boxes with paper, straw, hay, sawdust, silver fern or bracken fronds between the layers or wrap each one individually in paper. Dampness must be avoided or they will rot. If stored right they should last 4 to 6 months, try to avoid really low temperatures, 12 to 18 °C is preferable.
Yams can be stored at room temperature for several months. For longer storage choose the best tubers and store in dry sand, sawdust, or in between layers of bracken or hay etc in a cool dark place. Yams can be stored for about 5 to 6 months or more.
Fiona Sutherland’s Root cellar.
This is an example of a root cellar in Wairarapa, New Zealand, made from a concrete tank. Fiona explains how they have made it…
“Essentially it is a concrete tank 1800mm high x 1600mm wide, with some tweaks buried into a bank and then topped up. We aimed for 3m underground. It has two vents, one pipe to the bottom for air in and one at the top for air out.
There are 6 x 100mm wide holes in the bottom so as to have a connection with the earth, supposed to produce a better outcome so they say. A refrigerated door to keep it cool.
So far, we are tracking well at 95% humidity and 6C, it takes time for the concrete to cool down so we are sure we will get down to 4C. The timber shelving is being made.”
For more food storage ideas check out our other articles…
In smaller household’s wooden kitchen dressers often fulfilled the job of the pantry and meat safes or ice boxes were used for foods which needed a cooler storage space. Meat safes were a common feature on many colonial New Zealand houses. Often it was in the form of a small cupboard built on the southern wall of the house accessed through a cupboard door in the kitchen wall. The use of slatted shelves and ventilation kept the cool air circulating around the food stuffs inside. Louvred boards kept the rain out while still maintaining the air movement through the mesh covered opening. It is interesting to note that some houses in New Zealand were built with these on the northern side of the house, which really defeated the purpose of the meat safe. It is thought that the builders had not considered the difference in compass orientation from their practices in the Northern hemisphere.
Other variations of these cool cupboards were the freestanding wooden or metal ‘meat safes’ or ‘pie safes’ which were constructed similar to the built-in meat safe. These had the benefit of being able to be moved if necessary, depending on the season. Larger cool cupboards which were built into the interior kitchen cabinetry seem to have been built later in the twentieth centry possibly circa 1940’s to 1950’s. Often these would be floor to ceiling cupboards with a vent under the house and another vent either into the ceiling or out through the wall. They relied on convection currents to remain cool, the warm air rises and exits through the top vents, which pulls the cool air up through the bottom vent. Several smaller cupboard doors were common to prevent cool air loss when accessing the food stuffs inside and slatted shelves to allow for maximum airflow. Obviously, these cupboard systems worked best for meat and dairy during the cooler months, but by wrapping food in damp cloths or placing them on stone slabs the cooling could be extended. However, in some places over winter the exterior meat safes occasionally became freezers, as outside temperatures plunged below freezing. More often these days the cool cupboard is used to store fruit and vegetables, and can in fact be a handy addition to a homesteading kitchen.
The ice box was more of a precursor to our modern refrigerator, which had a compartment on top for placing large blocks of ice. The cupboard below this was kept cool as it slowly melted, often these were free standing, but some were plumbed in so the run off was diverted outside or down a drain. Ice boxes were usually only appropriate for town houses as the ice would be delivered by the ‘iceman’ in blocks cut to fit the household’s icebox.
In hot, dry areas versions of a Coolgardie safe were used, this could be a wooden safe similar to a meat safe with a container of water on top. A hessian cloth or sack would be placed with an end in the water and draped over the safe, where it would slowly draw the water from the container. Usually, the safe would be on a veranda or other airy place so that any breeze would pass through the wet hessian and evaporate the water. This process would cool the air inside the safe and any extra water would fall into a tray below the safe. For larger cool storage areas, the same principles were used in an airy room. It would be hung with hessian curtains which would be soaked in water or have their hems sitting in trays of water. The evaporation and air movement would cool the room allowing perishable food items to be stored longer.
Evaporative cooling is used in many hot countries for low tech refrigeration, the zeer pot is simply a large clay pot with a smaller clay pot inside, the space between the two pots is filled with damp sand and a wet cloth placed over the top. The pot must be placed in a dry, airy space to allow for evaporation. This system has also been used in a large double brick walled structures with damp sand between the brick walls and a cloth, wood or woven cover. But evaporative cooling can only work in areas where humidity is below 40% and maximum daily temperatures are higher than 25°C.
On a still more basic level we have the camping trick of putting your perishables in a water proof container and popping them in an onion sack (tied to something) in flowing water or lowering them into the well (if you have one). While most people these days have easy access to electrical refrigeration understanding and utilising other methods can expand your cool storage capabilities and can provide better food security and preservation for low or no power situations.
For more food storage ideas check out our other articles…
The ‘dry’ larder was more like today’s larder or pantry, this was where the grain, dried fruits, cooked pastries, dried meats and even some types of hard cheeses were stored. The word pantry originated from the Latin word ’panis’ (bread). In medieval times the bread was stored in the ‘panetrie’ (bread chest or closet) and in large households this was maintained by the ‘pantler’. But by the seventeenth century its function had expanded from a closet to a small room in which many foods were stored. It would be situated in a cool area with low humidity (dry) in or near the kitchen and often was vented to the outside. This is where the cross over between the words larder and pantry would have originated, as the dry larder merged with the panetrie.
In smaller household’s wooden kitchen dressers often fulfilled the job of the pantry, some with tilting bins for flour or grain. Later when built in cabinetry became popular these wooden bins were still used in the kitchen and in more modern times these old bins could often be found stuffed with plastic bags!
So, what about today’s pantry?
While many kitchens may have a large pantry style cupboard built in, is it really suitable if you are planning on preserving a large amount of your harvest. The basic requirements for long term dry and canned or bottled food storage are dry, cool and dark. Airflow or ventilation can help keep the room dry and cool as long as it is not drawing air from a damp environment. While laundries are often used for extra storage, they are probably too damp for optimal storage, even cupboards near the bathroom can be too damp. The same can apply to garages and other outside sheds, if you are using these spaces keep an eye on metal lids for rust and for any signs of condensation on or in containers storing bulk foods etc. It is considered best to keep most stored foods below 20°C, but as many foods like flours, nuts, garlic and onions last longer at lower temperatures it is handy to try and achieve this for the whole storage area. Onions and garlic prefer temps of 10 to 15°C, flour is better at even lower temps (freezing flour will increase its storage time to about a year) so finding a balance which works for the type of food stored is best. Cooler temperatures can also help with lessoning insect issues. Light, especially direct sunlight shortens the shelf life of many foods, so make sure the pantry/storage area is dark most of the time.
But there are another couple of factors to consider, the quantity of food you are hoping to store and the weight of it. For example: a 1 litre Agee jar takes up about 10 cm2 of room on the shelf, if you needed to store 50 jars that would be 500cm2 or 1m of shelving 50cm deep. If we were to use recycled jam jars, they would need about 7.5cm2, at 50 jars that would be 375cm2 or 1m of shelving 37.5cm deep. You might be thinking 50 jars is a lot of jars… but say we made enough bottles of tomato sauce for the year, 1 per week, 52 bottles, bottled apples say another 30 large jars, jam x 20 (because you always give some away, right?) chutneys and relishes x 20, beetroot x 10, peaches x 30 large jars, plums x 30 large jars, tomatoes x 40 jars, that’s about 5 metres of 40 to 50 cm wide shelving just there and I haven’t even started on the pressure canning. For our family of four at home, we would probably have to allow for storage of say 500 jars and bottles or more. Then we have to add in the storage of staples like baking items, nuts, dried fruits, dried mushrooms, herbs and spices, teas and coffee, sweeteners, vinegar etc. Some of these are stored in large buckets on the floor, most are in jars for air tight storage. We also have baskets of onions and garlic in our main pantry, this all takes up space.
Then there is the weight of all this, a full 1 litre Agee jar of cooked apple weighs about 1.4kgs, 50 of these jars would weigh 70kg on their 1 metre shelf, that’s a lot of weight for the shelf to carry. Which means thicker shelving and extra bracing if you are planning on storing your bottled goods in this manner. A full reused jam jar weighs just about 500g, which would be 25kg for 50 jars. Storing heavy jars in stackable crates, bins or wooden boxes may be a preferable option and in earthquake prone areas this is a really good storage method. Just make sure the preserves are well labelled and still easily accessible or transfer some to the pantry shelving occasionally, it can be very frustrating having to rummage for something among the stacks of jars.
Earthquake proofing is certainly worth doing if you live in a shaky area, though there seems to be quite a few differing ideas on what is suitable. I have seen tiny ‘lips’ on the edges of shelves or very low wires about 1 cm up, these might stop the jars jiggling off the shelf. But we have experienced quite a few big jolts and prolonged shaking so prefer to go for a higher taunt wire stretched from wall to wall. It’s a bit of a compromise between protection and functionally as we still want easy access to our pantry items. We figure if it shakes so bad most of our jars fall off the shelf with the wire there, then we will probably have bigger issues to worry about than broken jars of food. Which kind of raises the old saying ‘Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket’, using a variety of food storage methods gives you more protection against loses.
For more food storage ideas check out our other articles…
Storing food in fat is virtually unheard of these days but this method of food preservation is actually the origin of the of the word larder. We tend to think of a larder in the same context as a pantry, but historically they are in fact two distinctly different food storage spaces.
The larder was a cool room or cellar where meat was stored. Often this meat was submerged in lard in large crocks or barrels. The chunks of meat or whole sausages were partially cooked and then placed in the container and covered with warm rendered lard. This would be repeated until the whole container was full of meat surrounded and separated by the lard. It would then be covered and stored in the larder until needed. This space was also often used for storing uncooked meat, cheeses, hanging game, such as rabbit, duck or pheasants and also storing vegetable or fruit which needed higher humidity levels. To achieve higher humidity in the larder they were often in earth floored or earth walled cellars.
The Pātaka was the Māori version of the larder, except it was above ground on stilts to protect the stored foods from rats. These elevated huts use the air flow through gaps in the walls and had large overhanging eaves to keep food cooler and dry. Pātaka often held seeds, dried foods and meat stored in fat in gourds and pōhā (Southern bull kelp bags). This method was often used for Mutton birds (tītī) packing them into the pōhā and covering with their own fat, though these days salt curing is more common.
Which leads us back, through this little history lesson, to meat stored in fat as a food preservation method. We were fortunate to spend an hour or so chatting with a local kaumātua. He told us of his father repurposing wooden tea chests to make meat storage containers. His mother would partially cook the meat and put it in the boxes (probably on a bed of fat) then rendered fat would be poured over the meat. The fat would seal any small gaps and completely surround the meat, stopping all air and bacteria from contact with the meat. These boxes would then be covered and stored in a cool outhouse until needed.
This method of meat storage many would find shocking in today’s germophobic and fatphobic culture. But it is in fact a very ancient practice, many cultures store meat in this manner. An example being ‘Confit’ a French method of salt cured meat such as duck, goose, pork etc. Which is poached it in its own fat, then stored covered in that same fat. Stored in a cool dry place this meat will be good for at least six months.
Salting and/or cooking the meat first is necessary to kill any existing bacteria, then immersing it completely in hot fat to seal the meat from any further exposure. A simple method is to use hot sterilised jars and place the hot meat in surrounding it with hot rendered fat as you go. Many homesteaders use this method for storing meat patties. A small amount of fat would be poured into the base of the jar, a cooked meat patty is placed on the fat layer and more fat poured to cover it. This would be repeated until the jar was full to within an inch from its rim and topped off with a final layer of fat. A sterilised lid would be put on and the jar left to cool before being moved into cool storage place like a traditional larder or cellar.
Rillettes is another well-known recipe where pork is seasoned and simmered in its own fat until it is falling apart. The pork is then shredded and packed into sterilised jars with the rendered lard, making sure the meat is fully covered to seal it. These practices were best done in the cooler months, usually autumn processing for winter and spring eating. The fat needs to remain in a solid state to preserve the food, high temperatures can melt the fat which could result in spoilage. However, this method can apply to simply storing your cooking or soap making fat for the year. We render all excess fat and store it in sterilized jars in the pantry, the jars seal and are perfectly fine as we open them to use over the following months.
Larding is also a traditional method for aging cheddar cheeses, called ‘clothbinding’ the cheeses were wrapped in coarsely woven cheesecloth and then smeared with lard. The lard impedes air’s access to the surface of the cheese, which limits the extent of fungal growth while aging and preserves the cheese for longer periods. Once completely covered the cheese is stored in a cool, humid environment, with occasional flipping and wiping of the outside with a dry cloth to further limit fungal growth.
As rendered fat is used in all these preservation methods it’s important to know how rendering is done. There are different names for the fat depending on the animal, lard is from pigs, tallow or dripping is from beef and lamb. You can also render the fat of poultry and render butter into ghee.
Chop the fresh or frozen fat into small pieces or mince batches of frozen fat in a food processor or mincer. You can trim any meat off the fat, but don’t worry too much.
Heat at a very low temperature, about 100 °C, you don’t want to burn the fat, but you do want any water to evaporate. A slow cooker, roasting dish in the oven or a heavy bottomed pot on the stove will work.
Cook until you have liquid fat with small browned solid fat lumps. This can take a few hours.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before filtering through a cloth lined metal funnel directly into hot steralised jars. (Do not use plastic as the heat from the fat can melt it) if you don’t have a metal funnel you can strain through a cloth lined sieve into a pyrex jug and then pour into the jars. Metal lids can be put on hot or plastic lids once the jar cools. The fat with be golden coloured while hot but will turn creamy white as it cools. (If you wish to store the fat in plastic it is best let it cool somewhat before pouring it into the container)
We store our jarred fat at room temperature or in a cool cupboard as it is shelf stable if rendered properly. Once opened the jar is usually put in the fridge, you can also store in the freezer if you want.
For more food storage ideas check out our other articles…