Preserving Dried Fruits

fruit header

Have you ever noticed how quickly fresh fruit seems to go out of date? By drying fruit, it extends the length of time during which it’s still suitable to eat – sometimes by up to a year. Dried fruits are great, tasty snacks, and they’re high in energy. You can dry almost any type of fruit, but the most common include apples, pears, apricots, strawberries and pineapple.

To begin with, some fruits need to be pre-treated before they are dried. These include common fruits such as pears, peaches, apples and apricots. There are many different techniques which you can use to pre-treat your fruit, but the simplest is by simply combining equal parts of water and lemon juice (from a bottle is fine), then placing the fruit in this mixture. It should be left for 10 minutes or so, before being placed on the drying tray. By pre-treating fruit in this way, it will give your dried fruit a much better color, and also reduce the amount of vitamins that are lost during the drying process. In addition, you will be able to store and eat your dried fruit for longer periods of time.

It isn’t strictly necessary to peel your fruit before drying it, but it can help with thefruit process, as often the skin makes it difficult to remove moisture. Thinly, evenly sliced fruit works the best, as it will dry quickly and evenly. These sliced pieces of fruit should be placed on a tray inside a special food dehydrator, and make sure that none of the slices overlap. For the first hour, the fruit should be kept at a temperature of about 145ºF, after which the temperature can be reduced slightly.

There are several other methods which you can use to dry fruit, but using a dehydrator is by far the easiest and most reliable method. You can use your oven, as long as you’re able to set it to the correct temperature; convection ovens work effectively, as their fans move the air inside the oven around. Drying fruit outside of an oven at room temperature is possible, but very tricky, as the levels of humidity, temperature and air flow all have to be finely balanced. The same is true for drying fruit in the sun, as humidity levels may mean that there is too much moisture in the air for the fruit to dry properly.

Condition Fruit in JarsNevertheless, once your fruit has dried, it should be conditioned before being stored. Conditioning is the process by which all the remaining moisture within the fruit (which should be at about 20%) is distributed evenly amongst all the pieces. To do so, it is simply a case of packing it loosely into a glass jar for around a week to 10 days. By shaking the container daily, you will help to distribute the moisture evenly, but if any condensation does appear then the fruit will need to be dried some more.

Once your fruit has been properly dried, it can be stored in home canning jars, or plastic bags or containers for freezing. Luckily, dried fruits require less storage space than home canned foods, as well as less effort!

As you can see, preserving fruit by drying it is such a simple technique. With minimal effort, preparation and storage, you now have all the tools you need to create a delicious, healthy snack which will last for ages!

Survival Mirrors – Survival Gear

Survival Mirrors Tips and How to Use Them

Survival Mirror

Those new to personal survival tactics and gear may not appreciate how important the lowly mirror can be in times of trouble. A survival mirror can be of great value if you are out in the wild, injured, stranded or lost and need to signal your whereabouts to others. In fact, very few other items can perform this particular task as well as a good mirror.

Mirrors have been used for centuries as signaling devices for one reason: they work. When your GPS device runs out of battery; your mirror will still work. When your cell phone is out of range/service, your mirror will still work. Your survival mirror will work anything, as long as it has a light source to reflect. Inexpensive, reliable, and easy to use. What more could you want?

While mirror signaling can be done just about anywhere, there are two places where it really shines (no pun intended). In mountainous, wooded terrain, nothing beats a mirror for alerting your position to those who may be searching for you, especially those who may be overhead in aircraft. Bright reflections are easy to spot from the air, even through relatively dense canopies.

The second application is for those who may be stranded on large bodies of water. Because there is virtually nothing obscuring its refection, a mirror signal can be seen for miles and miles over water. This makes it much easier for other people to see you, even though they may not be able to see your boat (or you if you are floating in the water).

How To Buy a Survival Mirror

When it comes survival mirrors, quality does matter to a certain degree. You can find very good quality mirrors online or at the better outdoor gear stores, but you can also find some very cheap, inferior mirrors on the market as well. The best advice for those shopping for a good survival mirror is to shop with reputable vendors.

It is always better to get a survival mirror that is includes retro-reflective aimers. Some good brands to look for include:

The 2 inch by 3 inch Survival Mirror by Coghlans and the 2 by 3 inch Signal Mirror by S.I. Howard Glass.

The Rothco 2 inch by 3 inch Signal Mirror is also a very popular cost friendly option.

You can find some very good plastic mirrors as well. These are lightweight, very durable, and most of them float (important for those on the water). It should be noted that plastic mirrors do not reflect quite as well as glass mirrors (they reflect about 90 percent of what glass does), but they are still very effective and cost less.

If you want a lot of added security while you are out and about, consider adding a survival mirror to your gear. Once you have one, spend some time getting to know it and how it works, and you will much better equipped for facing future problems. The last thing anyone wants to see is help passing them by because they could not get their rescuer’s attention when they needed to do so.

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Home Fermentation of Vegetables: A Modern Resurgence of Classic Preservation Techniques

Home Fermentation of Vegetables: A Modern Resurgence of Classic Preservation Techniques

Egyptian Fermentation Containers

Egyptian Fermentation Containers

For thousands of years, people have been fermenting their home-grown vegetables for their own consumption. It started out due to the need to preserve foods for as long as possible without modern refrigeration. Since then, the popularity of fermented foods has increased and decreased, but lately many more people have been returning to old techniques.

Essentially, fermented vegetables are ‘the flavorful space between fresh and rotten’; at least The Art of Fermentation author Sandor Katz thinks so. They are actually vegetables which have had their starches and sugars converted into lactic acid – a naturally-formed preservative which stops ‘bad’ bacteria from growing. It sounds gross, but fermented vegetables taste great! Some common examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, pickles, kefir – even ketchup and mayonnaise started out their lives as fermented foods before they became mass produced.

It is believed that thousands of years ago, wine, cheese and bread were the original fermented foods. Alcohol probably started it all off over 7,000 years ago in what is now known as Iraq (formerly Babylon). In addition, hunter-gatherers may have eaten fermented and rotting fruits when food was scarce. Having to continue to eat this over time would have led them to develop a taste for fermented fruits. Evidence of bread (another fermented food) has been found in 3,500 year-old Egyptian tombs, and fermented milk and meat products are also thought to have been invented in Babylon.

These fermentation techniques and recipes were passed down through the generations, being developed as they went, to become what they are today. You may think you know a lot about modern bread and alcohol fermenting techniques, but when it comes to vegetables, there’s a big difference in how they were fermented in the past to the techniques used today.

One modern technique is to ferment the vegetables in a clay crock, before transferring them to jars, but a far quicker and tastier option is to simple ferment the vegetables while already in glass Mason jars.

Modern Fermentation of Cabbage (Sauerkraut)

Almost any vegetables can be fermented, but cabbage is a great starting point. It is important to remember that fermentation intensifies flavors, so onion, garlic and some herbs will be too overpowering. The washed and shredded vegetables need to be squeezed until their juices come out, then a little salt, celery juice or starter culture (such as kefir grains or whey, for example) should be added. Salt is the traditional ingredient; its purpose is to inhibit the growth of bacteria which will cause the food to putrefy. The more salt that is used, the slower the fermentation process will be. Next, once placed in the jar, the vegetables must be pushed down firmly to remove all oxygen, which unwanted bacteria need to grow. Within the jar, the vegetables should be weighed down (covering them with a cabbage leaf is perfect), before the lid is tightly sealed. The jars need to be kept in a warm environment – room temperature should be fine – in order for the fermentation process to take place. The length of time that this will take varies from a couple of days to a few weeks. To a large extent it depends on taste, so keep tasting it by dipping in a sterilized spoon. Once it’s ready, it can be moved to the refrigerator and enjoyed!

With improving knowledge and technology, fermenting vegetables at home is becoming easier, quicker and more efficient. Techniques have changed a lot since the cavemen tried this out, but the principle and some of the ingredients remain the same to this day. As you can see, home fermentation of vegetables is actually a surprisingly simple process, so you have no excuse not to test out this time-honored, classic tradition yourself!

Home Canning Vegetables for the Self Sustained Family

Home Canning Vegetables

As a child, my parents had a huge garden. We were not poor but were far from rich. My mother canned everything. Heck, one year we had so many tomatoes, she made homeade ketchup for my one brother who ate everything with ketchup on it. She grew up on a farm during the 40’s and 50’s. I suppose it was in her genes. We spent numerous hours during the summer as “endentured servants” weeding and picking vegetables. I swore when I was an adult I would never have a garden or can anything. As an adult, I have come to realize that my parents actually had a lot of sense. Also, they saved a lot of “cents” with the garden and mom’s canning.

Growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs can be a rewarding experience. It is a lot of work yet fun. The sense of satisfaction you get when you see something that you have planted and nurtured grow into something delicious is incredible! Gardening is a wonderful way of gaining quality family time by getting kids to interact with gardening. Although, I will admit total failure in that department! In order to turn this hobby into something more serious, such as to become a self-sustained family it is a good idea to start canning your vegetables. This will make them last as long as possible as well as add a variety to your diet.

Despite the name ‘canning’, food is usually preserved and stored in glass mason jars. These jars are available from a wide variety of retailers. By using the canning method, your food has a shelf-life of about one year, which is hundreds of times longer than fresh food. An additional benefit to canning is you will know exactly what you are putting into the food you serve your family. Not only are home canned vegetables healthier they can also be tastier than store-bought canned food.

The process is actually rather simple. There are two types of canning methods, water bath canning and pressure canning. I’ll cover pressure canning later in the article. For water bath canning, all you need is a large pot filled with boiling water. Most big box stores sell the familiar grey speckled canning pots. You need to make sure you have thoroughly washed and sterilized your jars, lids and rings. This can be done by washing in the jars hot soapy water and rinsing thoroughly with hot water or you can simply run them through the dishwasher. For the lids and rings, simply put them in a pot of boiling water with the heat turned off. Do not boil them, simply submerge them in the boiling water until you need them. If you are using a hot pack recipe where you will be filling the jars with something like boiled tomatoe sauce, you need to fill jars with hot water until ready to fill.

Prepare your recipe and fill jars, leaving at least an inch of head space. Once the jars have been filled, carefully wipe off the mouth of the jar with a sterile cloth and secure the lid with the metal band. The jars are then put in the water bath canner and completely covered with hot water. Bring to a boil and process for the period of time designated in your recipe. The type of food being preserved and the size of the jars you are using will determine process times. The time can vary between anything from a few minutes to over an hour. Sealing the jars in this way not only kills bacteria, it also removes extra air from the jar. This allows the food to last longer and ensure it is less likely to spoil.

The most important thing to be aware of when home canning is the use of proper sanitation. When you are home canning, there is a possibility of botulism if items are not properly processed. You have to use the proper canning method for yoour food items as well. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that can cause serious illness, paralysis and even death. While it is a rare occurrence in high acid foods, it can occur in low acid foods if the proper method is not used. The bacteria that causes botulism cannot be killed by using water bath canner, so low acid foods need to be processed in a pressure canner. Using a pressure canner is the only way to be certain the bacteria are killed, as the temperature reaches far higher points than the water bath method canning water does due to the pressure. This is essential, as botulism is usually undetectable. You should not eat any canned items that appear cloudy or have a slightly sour smell or taste.

Take care to avoid endangering yourself, your family and others, by using a pressure canner for all low acid foods. Remember however, this only applies to foods that are not very acidic. High-acid foods such as tomatoes are acidic enough to kill the bacteria, whereas foods like beans, corn, meat, fish and poultry are not. It is not necessary to use a pressure canner for high acid foods. Most high acid recipes will include the processing time for it. Low acid recipes will always include a time and pressure at which to process the jars.

The internet is filled with countless recipes, tips and suggestions on how to prepare your canned food items. However, the best way for you to master it all is just to jump right in and try things out! As long as you are careful and follow the basic guidelines, then you are well on your way to becoming a home canning aficionado!

Tips for First Concealed Carry Weapon for Women

Weapon Tips for First Concealed Carry for Women

Concealed Carry for WomenIt is common knowledge that more women are now carrying concealed weapons than ever before. The primary reason for this increase is self-protection. With violent crimes on the rise, it only makes sense that women want to be able to protect themselves and their families. For many women, however, knowledge of what type of pistol to carry may be lacking. This article looks at some of the most important issues all women need to address before they purchase their first concealed carry weapon.

Concealed Carry Site and Size

Before you purchase your weapon determine where on your person you will carry the weapon. Where you carry the weapon will determine the best size of weapon for you. For instance, if you plan to carry your weapon in an ankle holster, you will not want to purchase a large-frame pistol or revolver. By that same token, if you plan to carry your weapon in a shoulder holster, you will want to avoid very small frame weapons as these can be difficult to remove from most shoulder rigs.

Concealed Carry Weapon Weight

One of the most common mistakes both men and women make when buying their first concealed carry weapon is buying one that simply weighs too much. Carrying a large-frame .45 with a full magazine, for instance, can become a burden for many people. What generally happens when a woman buys a weapon that weighs too much is she stops carrying her weapon. If your heart is set on carrying a heavier weapon, then take your time selecting the best type of holster for carrying that amount of weight. A shoulder holster or hip holster will make carrying your weapon much easier. Also, there are a many purse holsters available today that include an interior holster that is easy to get to, as well as being perfect for those who want to carry a heavier weapon.

Best Caliber for a Woman’s Conceal Carry Weapon

The old adage “bigger is better” does not necessarily apply to concealed weapons in terms of caliber. A well-placed .38 bullet will drop an assailant as easily as a well-placed .45 bullet. The key to any caliber being effective is aim. A large caliber round is useless if you cannot hit what you are aiming at. For this reason, it is highly advisable that women spend some time actually firing a variety of calibers before selecting one. Most of the better gun shops have access to firing ranges where customers can fire off a few rounds from different types of pistols before having to make the actual purchase. This is time well invested.

Concealed Carry Weapon Feel

It is imperative that the weapon you choose as your carry gun feel right in your hands. Knowing how a weapon feels in your hands is part practical assessment and part intuition. In other words, you “know” when a particular weapon feels right and when one does not. In practical terms, the grip of the weapon should fit comfortably in your hand. You should be able to grasp the grip with your fingers solidly wrapped around the grip. If the grip is too large for your hand size, you will not be able to properly control the weapon when it is fired. This could cause the weapon to jump from your hands altogether; something no one wants to experience. If the grip is too small for your hand size, it will be hard to aim properly. Ask any experienced female shooter and she will tell you that you simply “know” when a weapon is right for you or not. Trust your instincts.

Camo Patterns and Their Origins

Camo Patterns and Their Origins

Camouflage print is instantly recognizable as being part of a military uniform. This is true all around the world, as it is the best method for troops from any nation to blend into their surroundings. Nowadays, camo patterns are becoming increasingly popular, having spread to prom dresses, jewelry and even wedding gowns, but where did it all begin?

Origins of Camo Patterns

In America, camo patterns were first introduced to the military at the time of the First Frogskin Camo PatternWorld War. Initial designs copied from European militaries were supposed to resemble foliage, and one design was made specifically for hiding in trees. However, camo patterns were not widely used until the Second World War, around 20 years later.

When it was introduced on a much larger scale, the camo print was brought in very quickly. 150,000 uniforms were requested by General D. MacArthur, and they were distributed in August of 1942. Primarily used by the U.S. Marine Corps (as well as the U.S. Army, to a much lesser extent), the uniform was reversible, having a ‘jungle’ pattern on one side and brown ‘beach’ design on the other. A similar double sided camo pattern was also printed onto waterproof fabrics, to make ponchos.

There was limited use of a leaf print camo pattern in 1953, with some clothing being worn during the Vietnam War. It was commonly known as the ‘wine leaf’, or ‘vine leaf’, print, and was once again reversible – this time with a ‘cloud’ pattern in different shades of beige and brown. These patterns were used for shelter covers, as well as for helmets towards the end of the decade.

Development of Camo Patterns

The camo pattern which was developed in 1948, shelved and later reintroduced in the 1960s, gives us the first glimmer of the camo print which we know today. The pattern was made up of patches of grass and lime green, with brown shapes and black ‘branches’, Woodland Camo Patternand eventually earned the nickname of ‘flower power’ fatigues. It is still copied to this very day, and variations can be seen worn by militaries all over the world. A variation of this camo pattern was printed in mostly brown colors, which was most suitable for mountainous or rocky areas.

Once the war in Vietnam came to an end, the use of this camo pattern diminished, although the U.S. Marine Corps still used it. It was not until the late 1970s that camo patterns were reconsidered for military uniforms, so the ‘Hot Weather Uniform’ was born. It reused old camo print fabric with the last pattern, although the colors did change slightly while in production.

This pattern was developed further in 1981, to become the ‘Woodland Camouflage’ pattern that is still known and loved today. The pattern was 60% larger than before, although the colors remained pretty much the same as they had been – a combination of brown, black, light green and dark green. Initially the pattern was designated as the standard dress uniform for both combat and everyday wear for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, but by the late 1980s it had been rolled out across all branches of the U.S. military.

When the operations known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm began in the early 1990s, for the first time there was a real need for the U.S. military to have a camo pattern suitable for desert wear, rather than just the ‘jungle’ pattern. The pattern that uniforms were made of comprised wave type shapes in sandy brown and beige tones.

Modern Era Camo Patterns

Digital camouflage is a relatively new invention, as it only came into existence less than 20 years ago. The Canadian government wanted its Marines to wear a distinctive uniform Multicam Camo Patternwhich was different from the other branches of the U.S. military, so they used computer algorithms to come up with a pixilated pattern. Three MARPAT designs were produced, so called because they are ‘MARine PATterns’.

In 2004, the U.S. Army brought out its version of the digital camouflage pattern, which was, in fact, just the same as the Canadian version, but in a different color. The idea behind it was to create a single camouflage pattern which could be worn by soldiers in any situation, regardless of the environment in which they were working: urban, desert, or jungle. However, this technique has not proved successful at all as it seems only just to be ‘adequate’ as a measure of camouflage in any one of those settings.

The MultiCam pattern is the camo print which is most widely used in the U.S. military today; it has been issued to various military personnel, including the U.S. Special Forces, and all ground troops who are deployed to Afghanistan. It was introduced just four years ago in 2010, and is copied all around the globe.

The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy also have their own designated uniforms, although it was only in 2002 and 2007, respectively, that these were introduced. The U.S. Air Force settled on a ‘Digital Tiger Stripe’ pattern, and five years later the U.S. Navy introduced a uniform which has come to be known as the Navy Working Uniform Type I, or NWU-1. The difference with the naval camo pattern in comparison to other branches of the military is that it is not intended to camouflage the person wearing it, but rather it is designed to hide oil spills, paint and stains, which are all part of the job.

Discontinued Camo Patterns

Over the years there have been several rather unusual camo patterns used by the U.S. Night Desert Camo Pattermilitary, such as the ‘chocolate chip’ pattern which was designed in 1971. Intended for use in rocky climates, it was made up of brown shapes over a tan colored background, with a sprinkling of small shapes in black and white which were supposed to look like rocks. Another unusual pattern was the ‘Night Desert’ print, which was created around the time of the Vietnam War. It consisted of a green-grey grid with several small green spots arranged on top and was supposed to camouflage wearers from special Soviet night vision equipment. However, it failed miserably and was short lived as the night vision technology was far too advanced.

Of course, while camo patterns have been developed, there have been several designs which the military experimented with, but were dismissed along the way. Some of these include patchy brown and khaki fabric covered with well-defined green spots, a very simple pattern mostly in grey (termed the ‘urban MOUT pattern’), and a tiger stripe pattern for the U.S. Air Force, which was predominantly blue in color.

Although the fundamentals of U.S. military camo patterns have remained the same since they began around 100 years ago, the designs themselves have gone through quite a number of changes and developments. As technology is improving and we are constantly finding new ways to keep troops safe and hidden from threats, who knows what the next camo pattern will be?

How to Corn Your Own Beef

Home Cured Corned Beef

How to Corn Your Own Beef

Many people think of corned beef as traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare, which originated in Ireland. Whether or not you have Irish heritage, it is still fun to get involved with the celebrations! Next time, instead of going to the store and buying pre-packaged corned beef, why not take a stab at making your own? It is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, the hardest part is leaving it alone for a few days to process! If you like the idea of having homemade corned beef which is tastier than the store-bought stuff, then give this a try.

When selecting the meat to be corned, it is important to purchase a good quality cut. The best choice is a flat-cut brisket, but make sure that the beef has been carefully reared. Organic, grass-fed beef will give you the best flavor, more vitamins, and it is healthier than other beef. In addition, for some people it is comforting to know that the meat that you’re eating enjoyed a good life!

Once you have your brisket it is time to select the rest of the needed ingredients. You may find that many recipes tell you to use sodium nitrate to cure the meat, however, recent concerns over whether nitrates are damaging to our health may change your mind. Various organizations, including the American Cancer Society and National Academy of Sciences, have declared that there is no risk of sodium nitrates causing cancer if you are using it in cooking. Therefore, it is ultimately your decision whether to use it or not. Why use sodium nitrates? The main reason for using sodium nitrates when making corned beef is to keep the meat looking pink. If you do not mind your beef turning a little grey-brown, then you can leave it out as it is not an essential ingredient, it just makes the meat look like you are accustomed to seeing it appear. Only you can weigh up the risks with the benefits!

The name ‘corned’ beef actually comes from the type of salt which is used in processing. Essentially, corning beef is just soaking the meat in brine, and the best type of salt to use has large crystals, called ‘corns.’ Whatever you do, do not use ordinary table salt, as the grains are too small. You would end up using more salt than the recipe calls for, and the dish would end up being far too salty. Generally, coarse ground Kosher salt is recommended, due to its large grains.

Spices for Home Curing of Corned BeefIn cold water, you should combine the Kosher salt with a little sugar and some pickling spices (if you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even try making your own pickling spices, as well!). The general rule of thumb is that the brine should be made up of ten parts water, two parts Kosher salt, one part sugar and half part of pickling spices. Basically, ten cups water, two cups Kosher salt, one cup sugar and a half a cup of pickling spices, but feel free to adjust the amounts slightly to suit your tastes. Mix the mixture until the sugar and salt have dissolved.

Corned beef is delicious if the flavor runs throughout the whole piece of meat, and there are several ways in which you can achieve this. The most technical method is to use a marinade injector to inject the mixture deep into the brisket’s tissue. If that sounds too complicated, then it can work just as well if you pierce the meat all over using a small-bladed knife. The brine will be able to soak into the meat through the pierced holes.

Once the brine is made, and the meat has been prepped you may add the pierced brisket of beef to the brine. Use something heavy to weigh it down so that the meat stays submerged. Then it is simply a case of covering it and leaving it in the refrigerator for a number of days.

This is not the sort of dish which you can prep the day before you want to eat it. Different recipes will tell you to leave the brisket in the refrigerator for anywhere from four to eight days. In reality, the longer you can get away with leaving it in the refrigerator, the tastier the flavor will be. If you can prepare it around a week in advance, that would be ideal. Just remember to take it out of the refrigerator after about four days and flip it to ensure that the entire brisket is marinating evenly in the brine.

When the beef is ready, remove it and rinse it under cold running water. You are then ready to cook it however you please, although boiling in water is the traditional option. If you have cured your beef well, with a selection of tasty pickling spices, then you can probably get away with slowly cooking it in plain, simmering water for a few hours. That said, you can choose to add other ingredients such as garlic, allspice or additional pickling spices to the water and the brisket before boiling.

After around three hours of cooking, remove the beef from the pan and allow it to cool. Then all you have to do is slice it and enjoy a little taste of St. Patty’s Day, made from scratch! Another twist is to smoke the brisket in a smoker after coating it with cracked pepper. You’ll end up with some of the tastiest homemade pastrami you’ve ever tasted.