Resources from Video:
The Ebay Seller I bought my wax from.
(He no longer has 110 lb. listed as of this writing)
Butterfly Diesel/Kerosene Stove – See my articles.
Presto Canner in Video – Only at Walmart
Presto Canners on Ebay (Better -w/pressure gauge)
The title of this article sounds more like a scientific paper than a survival topic, and that is by design. I would prefer that the dufus brigade not read it. Canning food demands attention to detail, and though this method of canning is a fringe, do not try this at home kind of idea, it is still canning. You need to pay attention to the details. I would not suggest canning with just paraffin wax except in a genuine “use or or lose it” food survival situation, but it does work.
This idea actually came from one of the few useful comments I’ve ever gotten on this column. If you look in old canning books, it was very common 50 years ago to use paraffin wax as a cap for home preserved jellies and jams. I remember it from my childhood, and one of my readers here did too. He asked if you could use that method for canning low acid foods, which are much more prone to spoilage and bacteria fester issues than are high acid fruits. I said I didn’t know, but that I would try it. That was about a year ago, and last December I did.
In the video you will see those first cans and jars, but first I want to back up a bit and explain why canning with wax is so fringe, and why you would want to can in the first place. If you are a regular reader here, or you already know the rules and science of canning, just skip forward, or watch the video.
Use It Or Lose It
In the video I mentioned the show “The Walking Dead” because though I resisted watching it for 5 years, eventually I succumbed, and it carries a lot of good lessons for survival. There are also a ton of really bad falsehoods, but I won’t get into those right now. One one true things is that if you back up and look at the overall picture, you’ll find a stunning reminder that you have to eat, every day, no matter what other outside circumstances drive you to focus on other things.
The characters find a lot of food on the road, some of it canned and some of it just packaged, and in one of their longer term locations they eat from bags of grain like I showed you in my dry pack video. I think it’s funny that they never talk about the expiration dates on anything. Some things, like oily chips, would be pretty rank after 3 years, but edible for survival, and candy bars would probably be hard as a rock, but edible but edible for survival. As I’ve explained many times, most packaged food has a true survival life of several times the expiration date.
In this most recent season our heroes find a community that is fairly well stocked, and they show you some applesauce that has been home canned from a local apple orchard. The canning jar is the most uncommon, and not one that is even made in large quantities these days. It is the kind with the glass top and rubber gasket, with a metal clip to supply pressure.
They don’t address where the community might have found a supply of these relatively rare jars, or how many they have. Depending on the size of the apple orchard, you’d run out pretty quick. But I liked that they didn’t just show up with fresh apples and hoped that you believed they were in season. Apples have pretty long shelf life in refrigeration, but in Georgia where the show takes place, I don’t know that you could prolong the life of picked apples beyond a few weeks with even a root cellar.
That is where canning comes in.
There are very few foods that will last a long time without some kind of preservation method. Grains, dried and stored properly, will last decades. Little else will.
I’ve looked into drying and salting foods for survival, but everything I’ve read suggests that without a tightly controlled temperature range, it doesn’t work. They are now selling home freeze driers for thousands of dollars, but try doing any of that off the grid. You could probably sun dry those apples but I think you will have much more success canning them.
The problem with canning is the containers, and the lawsuits. Sounds like a funny combination right? But that is the problem when it comes to canning outside the confines of anything but a few approved systems that have survived the lawsuits. If you go into Walmart, most of them have a whole shelf of canning supplies, glass jars with single use sealing lids. They also sell a pressure canner pot, the one you see in the video, for $69.99. Every method of canning outside of what you see on that shelf has been hit so hard with lawsuits that it no longer exists, or it only exists in remote corners of the prepping world, like this one.
You need a pressure canning pot because of botulism. If you have never canned, it could even be that you were not interested because someone convinced you that canned food is dangerous due to this rare but extremely nasty condition. Botulism is caused by Botulinum toxin, which is secreted by Clostridium Botulinum bacteria, and that bacteria is pretty common in our daily life. The toxin we can handle in low doses, and most of us have some passing through us at any given time. Botulinum toxin is why you can’t feed infants raw honey. Usually the bees pick up small amounts of the toxin in their travels, and infants don’t have the ability to fight the effects yet.
For adults, the risk of botulism arises when the bacteria is left to fester in one place, producing a lot of the toxin. It likes an alkaline or neutral environment with no oxygen, and cans of low acid food, which is everything except fruit and tomatoes, present the perfect environment for that. The few cases of botulism that appear from year to year are generally from either improperly canned home food, or commercial canned food that has had the can edges compromised before someone at it. That is why you don’t want to eat food from a can with a dented edge, unless you cook it first.
That is the key to completely eliminating Botulism risk from any canned food. The Botulism toxin dies at below boiling temperatures, so if you just heat your food up to really hot, like over 185 degrees F, and hold it there for five or ten minutes, you won’t get botulism even if the food might make you wretch or get you sick for other reasons.
The Botulism bacteria does not die below 212 degrees F, or even at 212. That is why we use a pressure canner, because the only way to get food up to the temps where that bacteria dies, around 250, you have to seal and cook it under pressure. As I’ve explained in these pages before, your oven goes up to 550, but the food itself will not get over 212 without pressure.
I am not going to repeat the standard rules of canning here beyond that basic explanation. Please see my prior articles.
Canning With Wax
As I explained in the video, there are two functions in canning food for preservation. One is to sterilize, and for everything but tomatoes and fruit, that means sterilizing to 250 degrees F. The other is to seal the food from contamination in some manner than can take the rigors of environmental fluctuations, and some physical abuse. Ball canning jars with single use lids are great, when you have them. But what if you don’t?
Without the risk of lawsuit, there are a whole bunch of ways to successfully can food, for short and even long term, with varying degrees of success. I have already shown you Tattler lids, which come with a reusable rubber gasket, and this week I decided to share with you my experiments with regular old paraffin wax.
My thinking with the wax that is most important is that both the container and the seal are infinitely reusable, but this is only for extremely short term preservation. As you can see in the video, the wax does cover and protect the food when you use this simple first idea at a method, but even with a pretty good sized cap I don’t see wax as a repeatable and reliable application for keeping food more than a month or two, and the shorter the better.
The containers should also remain stationary and upright. Don’t stack them in any way that puts pressure on the wax cap, and look for problem containers from day 1, so that you can either eat the food or re-can it before it spoils.
This is what I have figured out so far:
- You can’t put the wax on the food in the canner as if it were a lid. There is a reason why Ball jars have a screw cap that you tighten to finger tight. The pressure flux between the inside of the canner and the inside of the closed jars is screwy at times, and if you don’t have that ring the jars spew their contents into the canner. But if you don’t cap the food, it stays put. I have not gone so far as to pull the pressure weight off before the pressure is down to see if the food stays put with a violent pressure drop, but feel free to experiment yourself.
- If you fill a container with wax, in the canner, is of course is pressurized to 250 degrees as well. When pressure drops, the wax is still melted, and as you can see in the video, it is even boiling. Pour the wax over the food, and let it cool.
- The thickness of the cap doesn’t seem to matter that much, over a certain point. I have not figured out a minimum thickness to give a proper bearing surface on the sides of the can, to seal out contaminants. I don’t think it has to be very thick, if you are only keeping the food for a short while. If for instance you were in a survival situation and swapped a batch of moonshine you made for twenty cases of potatoes, obviously storage life would be more of a consideration than for a deer or pig that you expect to eat completely within the next few weeks.
- I have not tried to reuse the wax yet. But as I explained in the video, melting and filtering wax is not rocket science, and I don’t expect that it would be much of a problem. If we have time to return to the topic, I will show you how I would do it, and see if perhaps there are adhesion issues if the wax is discolored. I doubt it.
- Do not try this with soy wax. Use only pure paraffin wax. There are many different grades of paraffin and I have zero clue as to what makes them different, other than the melting point. The wax you see here I bought in a 110 pound lot of 145 degree melt paraffin on Ebay for $160 including shipping. That deal is gone, but there are several others in the under $3 per pound range. You just have to wade through all the aromatherapy and candlemaking suppliers, who charge more. To try a simple experiment your local grocery store may have Gulf Wax on the shelf.
- Chicken floats, and does not seem to lend itself to raw pack canning with this method. I believe that you could precook it to get the water out, then can it with wax, and you may be able to make an extra thick cap even with raw pack, I don’t know.
- As I showed you with the asparagus in the video, this was my first attempt at vegetables. It worked, but in that particular pickle jar, the cap was very easy to dislodge. There is lots of room for further experimentation.
- Don’t use large containers. That big pickle jar was bigger than any container for which there is FDA canning data, due to high failure rates and lawsuits. The bigger the container, the longer you have to run the canner at pressure. I left this stuff on for two hours, thinking that I’d be able to leave that big bottle of asparagus for future testing, but then I pressed down and it let go. I have had #10 cans go bad on me, even with a sealed lid, using over 2.5 hours, so beware that the larger the container, the higher the failure rate.
How you view survival is crucial to actual survival I think. There is so much disinformation in the prepping world as to what the word will actually look like after the collapse that I think few people will be prepared for what is coming. The dufuses, with their Faraday cages, 30 day supply of Legacy survival food and the ounce of gold that Glen Beck told them to buy are going to die.
I might die too, and you might die, but I think those of us who have plugged into the actual skills that will harness and preserve off grid living have a much better chance. The world isn’t going to be like The Walking Dead, except in the cities. If you have the time, go read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Yes, the collapse is going to contain violence, and war, but when it all grinds to a halt, you aren’t going to have to worry about black helicopters carting you off to a FEMA camp. Soldiers have to eat too, and when the system halts, it halts. Your main concern is how can I get water without exposing myself to outside hostiles, and how can I preserve the food that I find or can kill or grow. Learn and experiment now. You don’t want to do this for the first time when your life depends upon it.