10 Easy Techniques to Preserve Foods on your Boat

Food preservation is to prevent the growth of microorganisms, or other microorganisms, as well as slowing the oxidation of fats that cause rancidity. You can preserve foods inexpensively by using canning, freezing, vacuum sealing or drying techniques. Modern-day food preservation methods, such as water-bath canning, help you can and preserve with ease. 

We use a number of different techniques on Our Dreamtime. You will find as I that some techniques work better than others depending on your situation at the time. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean I wouldn't use the dehydrator as we don't have the power source but iI might can or make a jam out of the amazing chilli I just picked up at the markets.

These are 10 easy ways you can preserve food on your boat 

1. Canning. There are two ways to can your food. The first is a water bath method, which is used for acidic fruits, jams, jellies, syrups, and pickling. Water bath canning is immersing canning jars with food in a bath of boiling water. This is a great way to get your feet wet with canning. 

Canning of Jams and Jellies is cost effective when fruit is in season.

The second canning method is a pressure canner and the only safe way to can non-acidic food, vegetables, salsas, meat, soups, and sauces. The pressure canner allows the jars to reach a higher temperature than just boiling water. It also takes a lot less energy and time to pressure can food than it does heating up the water bath canner. This is our main and preferred way to can. 

2. Dehydrating. Dehydrated food takes very little storage space. It’s light weight enough to take with you on the go. To prolong its shelf life, it should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area. We dehydrate our herbs the old fashioned way, by hanging them in a warm dark area, but we use an electric dehydrator for our fruits and vegetables. The drawback to this is power and time. Unless our have reliable power for long periods of time you really can only do this prior to leaving port. However it is a great way to store fruit and vegetables for long periods. You can dehydrate meat as well, using a meat rub you can have amazing beef jerky.

Its always handy to have dehydrated produce onboard. It extends your times between provisioning.

3. Cold storage or bilge storage. This simply requires a cool, damp, and dark area for root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, cabbage, and apples. Winter squash and pumpkins prefer it a bit warmer and drier. Extra sharp cheese in black wax, and hard cheeses like parmesan kept very well in dry bilges, without refrigeration. I think this is my favorite way of preserving food because it honestly requires very little work on my part. 

Biges are made for cold storage. Just make sure you rotate produce often

4. Freezing. Freezing food allows it to keep for many months and sometimes years if packaged properly. We use a deep freezer for our beef, chicken, and some fruits and vegetables. Many foods can be frozen that people don’t typically think of. You can freeze butter, milk, cheese, and even eggs. Yep, you read that right. When eggs are hard to come by on the high seas you can provision early and put some of the eggs into the freezer to use later. 

It is amazing what you can freeze.

5. Salt Curing. Before refrigeration and the invention of the Mason jar in 1858, salt was used to cure meat. Salt draws the moisture out of the food. This is excellent for pork and fish, but can be done with beef as well. You’ll need quite a bit of salt, some glass jars, and/or crocks. 

You will need lots of salt and heavy crocks or glass jars for this technique

6. Immersion in Alcohol. Many foods can be immersed in alcohol to preserve them. Herbs and fruits are immersed in alcohol to create extracts. We make our own mint, vanilla, and lemon extracts this way. Your summer fruit can also be preserved in alcohol for summer baking.

Preserved fruits also make lovely gifts.

7. Preserving foods in oil is nothing new. Mediterranean people have a love of storing cheeses in olive oil which is handy way of keeping food fresh in a warm climate. This is a simple technique for storing cheese on a boat. 

8. Smoking. Smoking is another older way of preserving food. But it works and works well because we still use it in our modern times. So when you catch an abundance of fish, this would be a good skill to have so you could create your own smoke flavored fish.

With the knowledge on smoking, cryovac sealing and freezing
we had many options on preserving this fish for many months.

9. Pickling I love pickle foods. It is when you add sugar and vinegar to a pot of boiling water and simmer it all together. Then you pack whatever you are pickling into a jar and cover it with the liquid. The liquid mixture helps prolong the life of the food that you are pickling.  However, my personal favourites to pickle are jalapenos, banana peppers, cucumbers, and radishes. You’ll have to try a few recipes to find your favourites too. Following is my favourite way to pickle but be creative with your own taste sensations.

Pickling foods is so satisfying and they have so many uses in the galley

10. Vacuum sealing your food is a great way to preserve it. It is super easy as well. You’ll need a cryovac machine, then you just place the food in the bags and seal. The vacuum sealer method does help to avoid freezer burn on frozen items. It's an ideal method for storing dehydrated food. We also use it for dry storage goods, like flour oats etc... we vacuum seal so that they stay fresh and insects don't breed. Soft cheeses like Edam and Gouda were okay in unbroken waxed rounds then cryovaced. When at all possible we cryovac the cheeses. Once open place into the fridge. 

When provisioning for long haul sailing we cryovac everything that goes
into the freezer it stops freezer burn and produce lasts longer

Each method works better for certain crops and foods better than others. Learning which works best for you and situation is key in creating your own real food pantry.

Here are a couple of recipes for you to try:

Pickling is the process of preserving or expanding the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. 

In my experience, there is no fence sitting in the gherkin debate. You either love them or hate them. While Josh falls very firmly into the haters category I am a ‘can’t get enough ...... I love them with cheese I love them with meats I will just eat them straight from the bottle. One of my favourite lunches growing up was the "Ploughman's Lunch" a ploughman's lunch is not complete without pickles. Cool, briny pickles straight from the fridge are one of the simplest pleasures of summer. Quick pickling is also a brilliant solution for preserving a plethora of vegetables from the market or your garden.

Pickles taste amazing! You can pickle pretty much any veggie, not just cucumbers: tomatillos, carrots, okra, beets, peppers, turnips, avocado. So grab some veggies, vinegar, a few spices and follow this bare bones easy recipe, you can also add pickling spices such as coriander and mustard seeds, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Always delicious, but not mandatory. Whatever tickles your pickle.

Dig out your two biggest cooking pots — one for preparing the pickled vegetables and another for the sterilising process. You'll want to use the larger pot for boiling and sealing the jars. One 2cm of water should keep the jars covered at all times. 


1 kg gherkins
1/4 cup plain salt not iodised
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
Pickling spice
Fresh dill

You can also add other vegetables that you fancy ... I love Sweet peppers, onions, radish and garlic in my pickle mix. 

Pickling Spice

2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
6 whole cloves

Lets get Cooking

Tie Pickling Spice into a muslin cloth. 

Wash, pat dry and trim the gherkins at both ends, then place them in a large clean bowl/tray, sprinkle on the salt and store in a cool place until the salt has liquidised (a few hours)

When you are ready to go, bring to the boil the water and vinegar. Once boiling add pickling spice in muslin cloth and simmer for 5 minutes.

Rinse the gherkins with boiling water, drain and then rinse again. Put the gherkins (and other vegetables of choice) into hot jars that have been sterilised and add fresh dill.

Fill the jars almost to the top with the water/vinegar liquid and run a knife around inside the jar to get rid of any air bubbles. Top up the jar with liquid until it is just overflowing and using a cloth (as the jars will be very hot) tightly screw on the lids.

Wipe down the jars and leave to cool on the bench.

Gherkins will be ready in around three weeks. Put the jar in the fridge for a few hours to cool before eating.

Get creative! Pickling provides great opportunity to play with a variety of herb, spice, and flavour combos. Blend together a few favourites to create your own pickling recipe others will envy. Just keep in mind that herbs like celery seed, turmeric, and garlic pack a heavy punch, so integrate them gingerly. Always taste your spice mixture and pickling liquid before bottling, and remember that flavours continue to age and marinate after the jars are sealed.

For some great canning recipes www.geniuskitchen.com/tropic/canning

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