Preserving Today

Introduction

Unlike during ancient times, in many societies we are no longer limited in our choices of preservation methods by the climate that we live in. Instead, we are able to choose the method that best fits our needs, tastes, time, and storage capabilities. Even drying can easily be done almost anywhere. If it can’t be done by the sun, there are a number of ways available to us today; where once we needed to depend on the sun, now we can use generated heat instead to dry our foods.

You may have noticed that most of the methods discussed in Chapter 1 are methods that continue to be used today; some with minor changes, others with hardly any change at all. And added to this are the new methods that have joined the old: vacuum packaging and freeze-drying are both revolutionary techniques for preserving food for extended lengths of time (although freeze-drying is not commonly used when preserving at home).

Since almost any method of preservation you choose is available for use today how exactly do you narrow things down and select the correct method? The first thing that should be mentioned is that you do not have to restrict yourself to just one method. You also do not need to process your foods into just plain fruits, vegetables, or meats. For example: you may have many tomatoes from your harvest, but you really don’t want 40 jars of preserved tomatoes on your pantry shelf? What do you do? Think about what you use those tomatoes for throughout the year, and plan your preservation accordingly. Do you use pasta sauce? If so, then take some of your tomatoes, make up a batch or two of sauce, and can or freeze it. Prefer salsa? Then take some of your tomatoes and make up a batch of salsa. If you use sun-dried tomatoes then you can dry some of your tomatoes, either in the sun, the oven, or dehydrator. Don’t forget to save and can/freeze some whole tomatoes as well, to use for cooking.

Of course, if you are tight on time and just need to get your preserving done so you don’t lose anything, you may end up with those 40 jars of tomatoes sitting on your shelf for a while, until you can put them into direct use. The point is that you have options, in both how you preserve foods and the method or methods you decide to use. Do you know how to make milk kefir? Read up on milk kefir.

Selecting the Method for the Job

Outdoor picnic with fresh peaches, blueberries, and red wine

Since you have such a variety of food preservation methods available to you, how do you decide which one (or ones) to use? First, consider your available resources. If you are concerned about food being lost during a power failure or don’t have a big freezer readily available, then freezing would be out. If you don’t have lots of shelf space, it might make you think twice about canning. However, know that you can always store your jars in crates in the cellar or in a closet.

If you like to tent camp and/or hike, then you might consider drying and dehydrating food, this would create food requiring absolutely no refrigeration, as well as being easy to transport. Or, if you are preparing for Christmas gift giving, a combination of dehydrating, canning, and pickling could be the way for you to go.

The next thing you would want to look at is what you are preserving. You may love dried fruit, but don’t want two or three bushels’ worth. Although you could theoretically dry cucumbers, there isn’t much call for its use, so with an overabundance of cucumbers, pickling may be the better answer.

Finally, you have to take into consideration the equipment you have available. For example, you can’t smoke meat if you don’t have a smoker or a grill, although you may be able to find a smokehouse nearby. If you want to dry foods, even without the sun or a dehydrator, you can still dry foods in either your oven or, to an extent, in the microwave as well.

Canning equipment is much easier to find now, and is available in many feed and farm stores, department stores, and through a number of online catalogues and suppliers. You may even be able to find jars and lids in grocery stores. You should also check your parents’ or grandparents’ cellar, attic, or garage for empty jars, especially if they used to can themselves.

Of course, you can always purchase the equipment needed for a project if you really have your heart set on a certain preservation technique, but that can get expensive depending on what you need. If you are on a budget you will probably need to select your method of preservation based on what equipment you have at your disposal and what you can reasonably afford.

The point is that while the resources available to you aren’t necessarily subject to change, each act of preserving food is different, and the method chosen should be whichever is best suited.

Who Preserves Food

Open refrigerator with various foods and kefir milk on shelves

Today, people from all walks of life, incomes, and social statuses are practicing food preservation. And although home preserving may have fluctuated over the centuries, this is most likely the usual arrangement.

In ancient civilizations, it is likely that almost everyone did some type of preservation, as there was no refrigeration or freezing available to keep foods fresh (unless you lived in an area with winter snow and ice). In some of the more advanced ancient civilizations, where open markets were popular, some of the wealthier people may have purchased some of their foods preserved, and had their servants or cooks prepare the preserves.

In colonial America people preserved their harvests, including meats, in preparation for the harsh winters and resulting food shortages. Those who had funds and access would be able to purchase already preserved foods, and most likely did to an extent; meanwhile, kitchen servants would most likely prepare preserves as well.

Today, people are going back to basics and preserving their own foods again, in their homes. Because of the modern methods for transporting fresh produce, while they may be using fresh foods they have harvested themselves, they may also have received produce from friends or purchased it directly from the farmer. And unlike those who preserved their own foods throughout history, today’s home food preservationist has a wide variety of equipment available to him/her to make their work easier. As stated before, we are not limited to area-specific preservation methods any longer, and we have a larger variety of foods available to us for preserving. As we aren’t restricted to just the foods we harvest ourselves, the experience of preserving foods is not only much more interesting but much more fun.

The bottom line in figuring out which method(s) you’re going to use in your journey through preservation is to first consider which methods will work best for you, and what kind of storage space you have. Don’t forget that you will need to store everything you preserve somehow and somewhere. Think about how you will ultimately be using your preserved foods and then decide on your method from there.

The answer to the question of who preserves food today is a simple one. Although we have just discussed this a bit, there is one important person left off of the list: you! That’s right; most likely, you have been practicing some sort of food preservation at home for years and just never realized it. Do you buy extra meat during a good sale and then bring it home and freeze it? Have you ever made jam? Even just using the packages for pickles or jelly (available in stores nowadays to make the work easier) counts as preserving food. If you have done anything like this, you have already been preserving and quite possibly never even given it a thought.

Preserving your harvest doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as freezing some strawberries so that you can enjoy strawberry shortcake during the winter or turning some of your fresh ingredients into a prepared dish before canning, such as a vegetable soup. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be looking for new ways to preserve your foods … and maybe even new foods to preserve! Learn about lacto-fermentationx.

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