October 2009

A word on old canning techniques

Posted on October 25, 2009 at 9:53 pm in

If you like hanging around old bookstores, you will almost certainly come across canning recipe and technique books from all ages. They are definitely worth looking through and buying for the recipes.

Fair warning: the canning/preserving techniques in older books are very strongly not recommended. If you follow these old techniques you run a serious risk of sickening – or worse – those nearest and dearest to you. Use the recipes for guidance and inspiration, but ONLY use the USDA recommended methods of preservation.

Internet links:

USDA canning and preserving pages are here

Public domain books at the Internet Archive are here – remember, recipes only!

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Dehydration

Posted on October 25, 2009 at 5:47 pm in

Dehydration has been used as a method of food preservation since… well, nobody really knows. A long time, anyway – probably since shortly after our ancestors first discovered the big shiny yellow thing in the sky. It preserves food by removal of water – that is pretty much implied by the name – but how does removing water actually stop decay?

By removing the water, you remove any foothold for bacteria or other unfriendly microbes to start growing. All life needs water to start and maintain the metabolism – remove the water, remove the ability to live and multiply.

The process inevitably changes the flavour of whatever it is, which you can work to your advantage. I find that fruits which are heavily dehydrated but still have some water in them develop a pleasingly intense taste and chewy texture, making them more satisfying to eat – bananas and apples make particularly good “fruit chews”. Dehydrated tomatoes in a slow simmered pasta sauce or a stew will lend a very intense flavour, bursting with sweetness and concentrated “essence of tomato”.

Semi- or fully-dehydrated fruit can also make dynamite jams or preserves, with super intense flavours. The dehydration also concentrates all the sugars, making the “fruit chews” more hostile to unfriendly microbes, but they will still have a shorter shelf life than fully dehydrated foods. Vegetables also dehydrate nicely, as witnessed by the dried food on the shelves of your local supermarket and outdoors stores.

Incidentally, dehydration reduces the volume occupied by the food – dehydrated vegetables only require 1/15th of the amount of storage space required by non dehydrated food.

How do you dehydrate? There are many “do it yourself” methods listed online involving propping open oven doors, high speed fans, and whatnot, or you can buy an off-the-shelf dehydrator from amazon.com or a local store. They run from $40 in a closeout store like Big Lots, to $200 for a super shiny one which can almost make the coffee! At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you spend, so long as it does the job – filling your pantry shelves with safely preserved food you can call on at a much, much, much later date.  (Dehydrated foods have shelf lives measured in years so long as they are kept dry.)

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Basic principles of preservation

Posted on October 5, 2009 at 8:29 pm in

I am going to assume zero previous knowledge of food preservation while writing this post. I am just a little ahead of the learning curve than someone who knows nothing about it, so I feel highly qualified to write on this basis! This post is not intended to be exhaustive or scientific – it’s to help you establish a basic understanding of the hows and whys of food preservation.

BASIC KNOWLEDGE

You preserve food by addition, subtraction, or pressure. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a maths lesson. You will have already come across all these different methods during your life even if you don’t realise it.

ADDITION

You can preserve food by adding salt, sugar, and/or acidity in the form or vinegar or lemon/lime juice. Preserved foods such as jams and pickles are made by adding sugar, salt, and/or acidity. Everyone’s favourite, strawberry jam, uses a 4:3 ratio of strawberries to sugar. Bread and butter pickles (see my favourite recipe here) shows the strategic use of salt, acid, and sugar to preserve cucumbers for later consumption.

How do these additions work? Acid is obvious – when you drop something in acid it burns, which is what happens to any microbes which could spoil your food or make you sick.

Salt and sugar are strongly attracted to water – to give you a rough mental image, they “suck” the water out of the cells of the bad microbes before they have a chance to spoil your food. (Just for fun, what is the only human food stuff that requires no preservation? Answer at the end of this post!) Salted foods and fruit preserves have been part of the human diet for millennia, just look at all the references to salted pork, beef, jams, and so on in any historical novel.

SUBTRACTION

You can preserve food by removing all the water. Drying has also been a part of our food preservation efforts for most of human history. Just check any grocery store for the herbs and spices, you will be staggered by how many there are! Jerky is a dried meat that will last for months without refrigeration, showing the power of this form of food preservation.

FURTHER READING

Yes, I am setting homework!
The USDA has an incredibly useful resource available for free. Check them out at their website and have a leisurely read through – it is a very good use of your valuable time!

(Trivia answer: honey does not go off or moldy!)

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Welcome to my cooking and preserving blog!

Posted on October 2, 2009 at 1:47 pm in

I am going to be collecting tried and tested recipes and techniques, along with relevant photos, here in one place to make it easier for me to share information with everyone. Home preserving and cooking is fun, usually cheaper, and allows you to eat a lot more healthily than you can by buying all your food already prepared!

So brace yourselves, and come along for the ride – it should be a blast!

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