Kosher Salt This salt is not really, in itself, kosher, but is used in “kashering” meat to make the flesh kosher for eating. This involves first soaking the meat then rubbing it with the salt to draw out the blood which is not-kosher and is subsequently washed off along with the salt. The remaining meat is then kosher. What makes it of interest for food storage and preservation is that it is generally pure salt suitable for canning, pickling and meat curing. It is of a larger grain size than table or canning salt, and usually rolled to make the grains flaked for easier dissolving. Frequently it is slightly cheaper than canning salt and usually easier to find in urban/suburban areas.
NOTE: Not all brands of kosher salt are exactly alike. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is the only brand that I’m aware of that is not flaked, but still in its unaltered crystal form. The Morton brand of Coarse Kosher Salt has “yellow prussiate of soda” added to it as an anti-caking agent. Morton still recommends it for pickling and even gives a kosher dill recipe on the box so I presume that this particular anti-caking agent does not cause cloudiness in pickling solutions.
Whether flaked or in its unaltered crystal form, kosher salt takes up more volume for an eqivalent amount of mass than does canning salt. If it is important to get a very precise amount of salt in your pickling or curing recipe you may want to weigh the salt to get the correct amount.
Sea Salt This type of salt comes in about as many different varieties as coffee and from about as many different places around the world. The “gourmet” versions can be rather expensive. In general, the types sold in grocery stores, natural food markets and gourmet shops have been purified enough to use in food. It’s not suitable for food preservation, though, because the mineral content it contains (other than the sodium chloride) may cause discoloration of the food.
Rock or Ice Cream Salt This type of salt comes in large chunky crystals and is intended primarily for use in home ice cream churns to lower the temperature of the ice filled water in which the churn sits. It’s also sometimes used in icing down beer kegs or watermelons. It is used in food preservation by some, but none of the brands I have been able to find label it as food grade nor specifically mention its use in foods so I would not use it for this purpose.
Solar Salt This is also sometimes confusingly called “sea salt”. It is not, however, the same thing as the sea salt found in food stores. Most importantly, it is not food grade. It’s main purpose is for use in water softeners. The reason it is called “solar” and sometimes “sea salt” is that it is produced by evaporation of sea water in large ponds in various arid areas of the world. This salt type is not purified and still contains the desiccated remains of whatever aquatic life might have been trapped in it. Those organic remains might react with the proteins in the foods you are attempting to preserve and cause it to spoil.
Halite For those of us fortunate enough to live in areas warm enough not need it, halite is the salt that is used on roads to melt snow and ice. It, too, is not food grade and should not be used in food preservation. This form of salt is also frequently called rock salt, like the rock salt above, but neither are suitable for food use.
These are various other kinds of metal salts such as potassium chloride used to substitute for the ordinary sodium chloride salt we are familiar with. They have their uses, but should not be used in foods undergoing a heated preservation processing, as they can cause the product to taste bad. Even the heat from normal cooking is sometimes sufficient to cause this.
There is vinegar and then there is vinegar and it is not all alike. The active ingredient in all vinegars is acetic acid, but what the sour stuff is made from can vary widely. The most common vinegar is the white distilled variety which is actually just diluted distilled acetic acid and not true vinegar at all. It keeps pretty much indefinitely if tightly sealed in a plastic or glass bottle with a *plastic* cap. The enamel coated metal caps always seem to get eaten by the acid over time. It is usually about 5-6% acetic acid and for pickling it is the type most often called for.
The next most common variety is apple cider vinegar. There are two kinds of this type. A “cider flavored” distilled acetic acid type and a true cider vinegar fermented from hard cider. Either will store indefinitely at room temperature until a sediment begins to appear on the bottom. Stored vinegar will sometimes develop a cloudy substance. This is called a “mother of vinegar” and it is harmless. As long as the liquid does not begin to smell foul it can be filtered out through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and rebottled in a clean container. The mother can even be used to make more vinegar. If it begins to smell bad, however, it’s gone over and should be tossed out.
The more exotic wine vinegars, balsalmic and other types all can be stored like cider vinegar. Age and exposure to light and air, however, eventually begin to take their toll on their delicate flavors. Tightly capped in a cool, dark cabinet or refrigerator is best for their storage.
Yeast is just not a product you can stow away and forget about until you need it next year. It is, after all, a living organism and if it’s not alive at the time you need it, you won’t get any use out of it. This ancient leavening, brewing, fermenting agent is a single celled microscopic fungus. When we incorporate it into our bread dough, beer wort or fruit juice it begins to reproduce madly (we hope) and produce several by-products. If you’re baking, the by-product you want is carbon dioxide which is trapped by the dough and subsequently causes it to rise. In brewing or vintning what is wanted is the ethyl alcohol and, if the drink is to be carbonated, the carbon dioxide.
Almost all yeasts used for these purposes are in the same genus (Saccharomyces or “sugar fungi”), but several different species have evolved and some are more suitable for a particular task than others. It’s entirely possible to use grocery store bread yeast to brew beer or ferment wine, but the results may leave a great deal to be desired. It’s also possible to use yeast from beer brewing to make bread and from what I’ve read the results were pretty much indistinguishable from bread yeast.
Leaving aside the brewing and vintning yeasts which are really outside the scope of this FAQ I am going to concentrate on bread yeast. It comes in two generally available forms; compressed or fresh and dried, sometimes called granular or instant active dry yeast. They are different genetic strains of the same species, but have different characteristics.
Compressed yeast is only partly dried (about 70% moisture) and requires refrigeration and keeps even better in the deep freeze. If kept in an air- and moisture-tight container to prevent it from desiccating this type of yeast will keep for a year in the freezer (0 degs F or less, but only about two weeks (maybe a bit more) in the refrigerator. Unless your kitchen is rather chilly it will not keep on the shelf. It should not have a mottled color or a sour odor.
Dried yeast has only an 8% moisture content and comes packed in foil envelopes. The smaller single use packets are not generally vacuum packed, but the larger commercial sized “bricks” of about a pound or two each generally are. They can last for months on the shelf, up till the expiration date which should be clearly stamped on the package. If packaged in the same manner as recommended for compressed yeast above and kept in the refrigerator or freezer it can last for several years. The larger packs of yeast should be transferred to an air and moisture tight container after opening.
Either type of yeast can be tested for viability by “proofing” it. This is nothing more than mixing a small amount of the yeast with an equal amount of sugar in warm water (105-115 deg F for dried; 95 deg F for fresh). Within about five minutes active yeast will become bubbly and begin to expand (at normal room temperature). Yeast which only slowly becomes active can still be used, but you will have to use more of it. If it shows no activity at all, it’s dead and should be thrown out.
There is another means of providing yeast for baking besides buying it from the grocery store and that is by using a sourdough starter. I’m not going to address it here, but I will point out that it has a newsgroup all its own (rec.food.sourdough) and several FAQ’s devoted to it. Drop in and read for awhile and you’ll learn more than you thought you could ever want to know.
Since most folks interested in preparedness of one sort or another are planning for families, real or as yet hypothetical, I thought it important to include something on infant formula. Most baby food that comes in jars can be treated like canned goods of types meant for adults. Formula, though, is something else. I have to admit, that not yet having kids of my own, I’ve not given this much thought before so the below is taken from the book KEEPING FOOD FRESH, by Janet Bailey (see book list). In the future, if some of you readers will send it to me and/or I come up with more information from my own researches I want to expand this section on infant/child food storage.
Prepared infant formula is primarily water and nonfat cow’s milk. Among other ingredients, it contains sweeteners; sometimes lactose which is milk sugar; and sometimes corn syrup or other sugars. Coconut and soybean oils are common; vitamin and mineral supplements are universal. A few brands contain mono- and diglycerides, chemicals that keep the liquid from separating.
Buying and Storing Infant Formula
Canned liquid infant formula comes either ready to eat or in a concentrate to be diluted with water. Cans and packing cases are clearly marked with a “use by” date.
Unopened cans stored in a cool, dry place keep well from twelve to eighteen months (longer than the baby is an infant).
After the can is opened, measure out the amount of formula you need, cover the can and store in the refrigerator. It will keep no more than 48 hrs at 40 deg F. Never return leftover formula from the bottle to the storage container and do not store half used bottles.
You can pre-measure the whole can-full into sterilized baby bottles, seal them, and store them in the refrigerator, but forty eight hours is still the limit. To keep full bottles from tipping over in the refrigerator, slip them into a carton from a six-pack of soda pop bottles.
In examining the offerings at my local grocer I see that infant formula is also offered as a dry powder to be mixed by the parent. I could not come to a ready idea of how long the formula powder might be good on the shelf since it seemed to vary radically depending on exact type and manufacturer. The shortest use-by date was only a year, but some had use-by dates three years into the future. Clearly, this is an area that is going to need much investigation. I hope some of our knowledgeable readers out there will be able to help out.