Be Prepared for Life

Activity Kit Three:
"Food for Life"

Part 2. Stopping Food from Spoiling


Storing food is an ancient skill. We have been storing food for the past 10 000 years. This has allowed us to do many things besides finding fresh food each day and has made it possible to live far from the fields where the food plants grow - in cities! We've learnt to store food for times when food doesn't grow. In this kit we will look at four simple easy food secrets for saving food by drying, bottling, salting and cooling.

Bacteria cannot grow without moisture, so drying food is a good way to stop it from spoiling. Food can be dried in the air, by drawing moisture out of it with salt or making the moisture unusable for bacteria by adding sugar to it.


Project 8: Make your own Biltong


Anyone can make biltong [sun dried meat] from beef.
  1. Choose meat from a young animal or the biltong will be very tough.
  2. Cut strips with the grain of the meat. Thick strips will only dry well in warm dry weather, thin strips dry in almost any conditions.
    Keep your cuts clean and straight!


  1. Prepare this mixture to preserve 5 kilograms of biltong.
    Mix 100 g of coarse salt, 50 g of brown sugar, 6 g saltpeter, and 15 g of pepper. In damp, warm areas where mildew grows easily add 5 g of bicarbonate of soda to the mixture.
  2. Spice the meat by adding some of the following spices to your mixture:
    Ground coriander seed, aniseed, garlic salt and allspice.
  3. Rub this mixture into the meat by hand.
  4. Pack your salted strips into a plastic container overnight to allow moisture to draw from the meat.
  5. Then dip each strip quickly into a boiling solution of water and brown vinegar [500 ml vinegar to a litre of water].
  6. Hang your meat to dry in a well aired, cool, dry place, until ready to eat.


Chopped dry biltong can be minced together with dried fruit and rolled into thick slabs of pemmican. This will last for about three months when wrapped in aluminium foil.


Beef or pork can be used to stuff sheep intestine casings to make dried `boerewors' sausage. The meats must be salted first to remove excessive moisture, before being finely chopped and combined with salts, mixed herbs, rum or vinegar before being hand pressed into the casings and tied off with string. Allow the sausages to dry in a cool well aired place for about two months before eating.

Project 9: Salt your own fish

In Project 6 we learnt how to farm with fish. Many of these fish will still be small when ready to be eaten and there may even be too many to eat at once. Small fish can easily be preserved by salting.

  1. Cover the bottom of a large flat dish with course salt.
  2. Pinch the heads off the tiny fish drawing out the gut. Larger fish will have to be gutted.
  3. Pack the fish in layers of salt and leave to draw moisture for about four hours.
  4. Lay the fish on a paper towel and press dry with another towel.
  5. Dip a warmed glass preserving jar into boiling water to sterilise the inside.
  6. Pack the fish into it sprinkling them with salt between each layer.
  7. Use a water-filled bottle as a weight on the fish, allowing it to stand for a week to press out excess oils.
  8. Remove these oils.
  9. Pour a layer of hot paraffin wax onto the brine solution and seal the jar.
  10. Store in a cool, shady place. Eat within a year - soak the fish in fresh water before use to remove excess salt.

Project 10: Drying and smoking fish


  1. Fish can be sun-dried by gutting them and pinning them open on a fence or wooden rack.
  2. Salting is optional but they do need to be protected from flies. Fly screened boxes or solar driers can be made to protect the fish and speed up the drying process.
  3. The fish will become hard and woody but can be softened by cooking in water when ready to eat.


  1. Fish can be properly dried over a slow, smokey fire for about two hours, or until the fish becomes hard and woody.
  2. Simple fish smokers can be made from old oil cans and this technology demonstrated to your community.
There are so many simple skills that are within the reach of ordinary people but remain unknown unless they are demonstrated. Scouts can play an important role in showing their neighbourhood how to preserve and protect food. People who learn this type of skill will be better fed and have the time, strength and desire to care for the environment that feeds them.


Project 11: Preserving Fruit

Most of the fruit we grow in our gardens can be preserved in sugar as jam, while vegetables can be pickled in vinegar. Home-made jams are cheaper than most factory processed jams and taste much nicer.



  1. Pick 1,5 kg of firm, ripe fruit.
  2. Wash well and cut off any blemishes.
    Do not peel the fruit.
  3. Cut apricots in half and remove pips.
    [Cut plums off their pips].


  1. Weigh out 1 kg of fruit pulp into a non reactive pot with 75 ml of water.
  2. Keep the lid on and boil over medium heat, cooking till soft.
  3. Remenber to move [don't stir] the fruit constantly to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Remove from the heat when soft.
    Add 1kg of white sugar to apricots. [750-1000 g to plums] and 100 ml of lemon juice to both.
  5. Stir over low heat until all the sugar dissolves, it must not be allowed to boil before all dissolves.
  6. Do not over stir - it will crystallise!
  7. Jam should thicken in 30 to 45 minutes.
  8. Test for thickness by cooling a sample in cold water to see if it forms a ball between your fingers.


  1. Sterilise some clean warmed jam jars in boiling water.
  2. Place hot bottles on a board and ladle boiling jam carefully into the jars to within 10 mm of the top.
  3. Wipe excess jam off the rim of each jar with a clean wet cloth.
  4. Fit clean hot boiled lids immediately onto the jars and screw tightly closed.
  5. Wash and label the jars when they cool.
  6. Store in a dark cupboard away from light.


While apricots, plums and oranges are easy to make into jams and marmalades, many fruits require specialist advice from a local expert. Arrange for a demonstration from one of your local moms.


In hot climates..... peaches, apricots with loose pips and figs can be sun dried by halving them and laying them out in the sun to dry on wooden trays and bringing under cover at night, till dry and hard. These fruits can be softened again by soaking or boiling in water.


  1. Mince your fresh fruit well [eg ripe unpeeled figs].
  2. Add 5 to 7 ml of sugar for every 10 ml of minced fruit.
  3. Cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. Pour the hot mixture out thinly onto a plastic sheet greased with butter and let it stand in the sun.
  5. It should be dry within 2 or 3 days.
  6. Roll or fold before it dries completely.


The growth of bacteria in food can be slowed down by cool weather or a simple refrigerator. When water is allowed to evaporate from a surface it chills the surface and the air in contact with it. In the outdoors a camp "fridge" must keep food cool and insect free. Any design that allows slow continous evaporation from cloth walls and is closed to insects will work.

Project 12: Design a solar fridge to store food longer

  1. Make a wooden framework to hang in a tree or stand on the ground in such a way that it can exclude insects.
  2. Cover it with cloth walls made of hessian or cotton, not nylon or other synthetic material.
  3. Include a water container in the top of your design that will allow salt water to soak slowly through the covering to chill the insides by evaporation.
  4. Wrap food inside in aluminium foil to help further cooling.

Part Three: Preparing food for eating

© Copyright 1991 - 1994
Dr Frank Opie for the South African Scout Association