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Preserving Food 101

We talk a lot about preserving food here at Chelsea Green, but it’s not to be didactic! It’s because we believe in the possibilities of having power over one’s food supply, and being able to seek a more sustainable life, with a stocked larder. We believe in food that is affordable, in spaces for gardens even in the most urban of places, and the RIGHT to grow and process one’s own food.

Just last weekend we participated in the Weston A. Price Foundation conference, a convergence of raw-food advocates and fermentation fans. Three of our authors gave talks on the importance of taking control of your food, in small but significant ways, from experimenting with simple vegetable ferments to making artisan cheese, to fighting corporate control of agriculture on a national level.

But maybe we should take a moment and rewind, and revisit the whole idea of preserving food from a fundamentals standpoint. Let’s think about the WHY. And the HOW.

From our piece on Planetgreen.com:

There are plans in the works for the world’s largest telescope–one that can see back in time to the first stars and their formation. I know, right? Blows your mind. But while you wait for this magnificent (and seemingly impossible) invention, you can turn back the clocks of time in your own home. Starting in the kitchen. And by the way, you don’t even need to have a garden! Try something new: turn your produce into preserves, without nutrient loss. You’ll be eating fresh veggies even in the coldest of months, and as for your hors d’oerves platter—it’ll be the talk of the town.

The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante, an ecological research and education center located in southeastern France, are masters in the art of preserving food. But their technique is not as simple as stuffing food in your freezer, or storing them away in mason jars. They implement more traditional and old-fashioned methods using salt, oil, sugar, alcohol, vinegar, drying, cold storage, and lactic fermentation. In their book, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation, they give tips and recipes on how to preserve food, the traditional ways.

The History of Canning and Freezing

According to the folks at Terre Vivante: “These days, frozen foods tend to replace canned and bottled goods, since foods lose fewer nutrients through cold than through heat. But freezing is not very satisfactory either: it is expensive, consumes a lot of energy, and destroys many of the vitamins. In the home kitchen, we observe the same development as we have seen in industry: Canning, which was very popular in the 1960s (country folks each with their own sterilizers, putting up their own green beans, shell peas, and tomatoes), has given way to freezing. Emerging relatively recently (sterilization in the nineteenth century, freezing in the twentieth century), these two processes have relegated traditional food-preservation methods to obscurity, if not complete oblivion, as their scope of application has dwindled away. By far, the best example of displacement is lactic fermentation. Formerly used to preserve all sorts of vegetables, it has survived solely for making sauerkraut, and at that, more for gastronomic reasons than as a preservation process in its own right. Fortunately, the traditional methods of preservation still live on in the French countryside, although they are rapidly disappearing. There is a wealth of knowledge to be gathered here before it falls into anonymity.”

Choosing a Method of Preservation

So what to choose in lieu of freezing and canning? According to these gardeners and farmers: “Three methods overwhelmingly dominate the history of food preservation before the industrial age: cellar storage under cool, dark conditions, for certain fruits and winter vegetables (such as root vegetables, tubers, apples, and pears); drying, for fruit; and lactic fermentation for most other vegetables. Natural-state preservation in a cellar is the most basic way to preserve foods that take well to this method. Although it is possible to dry apples and to lacto-ferment carrots, winter provisions have traditionally relied on apples stored in a cellar in their natural state, and carrots preserved likewise in a root cellar, or in the ground.” [...]
Read the entire article here.


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