June 19, 2009

Food preservation is now in season

by Nate Rafn

Food preservation is a survival-skill as old as time itself. For thousands of years, humans have found ways to preserve various foods during times of surplus, often to be shared and consumed in periods of scarcity.

Pickling, salt-curing, dehydrating, freezing, and canning are examples of food-preservation methods that (while probably discovered by accident) were developed and refined out of necessity.

Some Preservation Methods at a Glance

The pickling process typically involves a brine with an acidic liquid or salt as the pickling agent. Commonly known pickled foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, capers, olives, pickled beets, dill pickles, corned beef, pastrami, and ceviche.

Salt is applied to all kinds of foods to draw out moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria.

Dehydration is a method of reducing moisture to prevent bacterial growth. It is used to extend the shelf-life of fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and meats. Foods can be dried using the sun, an oven, or dehydrator.

The freezing method retards the progress of bacteria, due to extremely low temperatures. It is the most familiar approach to most Americans, as these appliances are found in nearly every household. For long term keeping, freezers are typically used to preserve butter, jams and jellies, bread, ice cream, blueberries, bacon, and peas.

Canning is a procedure that requires heat processing in a sealed, airtight container. Glass jar canning was first developed by French inventor Nicolas Appert in the early 19th century as a means of providing stable foods for Napolean's army. In the following decades, manufacturers throughout Europe experimented with containers made from wrought-iron, steel, tin, and aluminum. Since then, canned and jarred products have gained worldwide appeal due to their ease of transport and extended shelf-life.

Other forms of food preservation include smoking, sugaring, jugging, and (yikes!) irradiation.

Cooperative Home Canning

Today, home-canning is as relevant an activity as ever. Families that participate in food preservation can benefit from lower food costs, food stability and security, and most importantly, a feeling of self-reliance.

"Home canning is important so we can take advantage of produce in its season at bargain prices and have it available to our families throughout the year,” says Susan Olsen, coordinator of Yes I CAN. “It's also important to know what we are feeding our families- to see the food item from the farmer to our cupboards and to our own tables.”

Olsen formed Yes I CAN as part of a women’s organization in the Keizer 1st Ward of the LDS Church. After just three meetings, the group has split into teams to share canning equipment and pair beginners with the more knowledgeable canners.

The Mormon Church has been a proponent of self-sufficiency and providence for many years, encouraging members to grow and preserve their own foods.

At a recent gathering, Yes I CAN co-organizer Pam Lomax gave instructions on pressure canning soups, tuna fish, bacon, and butter. Fourteen women attended the meeting to discuss their canning experiences, share recipes, and make plans for preserving berries, jams, and jellies this summer.

“My grandmother taught me how to can,” says Lomax, highlighting a common theme among home canners. “As a child, I would help her when the garden would be ready.”

Like their mothers and grandmothers preceding them, Olsen, Lomax, and the other women of Yes I CAN want to pass these skills and traditions to the next generation.

“Our goals are to help one another eat better and spend less, while building a food supply to help us prepare for the unexpected,” says Olsen. “We wish to bring the younger generation back to the basics.”

A Good Resource for Home Canners

Visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation online at www.uga.edu/nchfp/.

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