Before the invention of refrigerators, people had to find creative ways to preserve their food for longer period of times. Even though regular people weren’t familiar with the concept of microorganism until 18th century (some are not familiar with it even today), they still knew that their food gets spoiled after a while if nothing is done to preserve it. Every nation had found a way that worked best for their part of the world
In Croatia, we used to have harsh winters that would last four or five months. Even though huge amounts of snow and freezing temperatures were not fun, they were great allies in preserving food. Cold weather was perfect for protecting food from microorganism. Also, cold weather had a crucial role in drying meat. Croatia is famous for its various forms of dried meat (prosciutto, ham, sausages, etc.), and you can’t efficiently dry meat if you don’t have cold weather. Traditionally, people would slaughter a certain number of pigs (depending on their needs) during November and December. Immediately after slaughter, meat was prepared for drying and hanged in the attics where it would naturally dry on cold weather and harsh wind. Certain wood (beech or hornbeam is preferred) was used for smoking dried meat to give it that special smokey flavor and further protect them from microorganisms.
If they had access to underground caves (mountain areas of Croatia have an abundance of caves), they would use them as a natural refrigerator. Most caves have temperatures of under 10 Celsius (50 F) regardless of outside temperature. That made them perfect for storing food even during hot summers.
People who didn’t have access to caves would usually build underground cellars below their houses that were also suitable for storing food, but not nearly as effective as caves. Burying food deep in the ground was also an option since temperature was lower there.
In Canada and northern parts of Europe (Scandinavia), they were particularly fond of salted fish and meat. Salt is a superb preserver as it simultaneously extracts water from fish or meat (making it less prone to spoiling) and makes the final product delicious!
On the other side of the world, where cold weather and snow barely existed, people used spices –hot peppers to be precise. Besides destroying your taste buds, hot peppers are great for killing microorganisms as well. That’s why countries in hot parts of the world tend to have very spicy food compared to European cuisines, for example. I personally adore spicy food, but I barely survived a couple of Indian dishes I tried once. That’s a whole other level of spiciness.
Luckily, we now have refrigerators, but it doesn’t hurt to know some of those techniques. Despite all the technology in the world, you can’t get a real, authentic prosciutto without preserving it old school.