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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning

Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning:
Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage and Lactic Fermentation

by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante
with a new foreward by Deborah Madison

I have mentioned this book before and included a recipe, but I wasn't yet ready to review the book. Here's my review with some recipes just for fun.

If you're interested in putting food by, and concerned that there may be no electricty in the near future (or are living off-grid, or planning to) BUY THIS BOOK. The cover says $25 new, but you can get it at Amazon for about $14 or so. The book is definitely worth the money if you put the techniques and recipes into practice. I'm sure as hell planning to come harvest time. In my opinion, freezing and canning have their place and we need to put those techniques to good use, but ever since I learned about lactic fermentation, and how that preservation technique makes food alive and brimming with enzymes and probiotics (not to mention zingy flavor), I've wanted to learn more traditional methods of preserving food.

The methods presented in this book: preserving in the ground or in a root cellar, drying, lactic fermentation, oil, vinegar, salt, sugar, sweet-and-sour preserves, and alcohol are all ancient methods of preserving food that do not harm the nutritional value of the food. Frankly, I think freezing and canning does detract from the nutritional value of food, but not to the extent that we shouldn't use those methods. Rather, augment your current methods of putting food by with these old/new techniques.

I want to quote a bit from the foreword to the First Edition by Eliot Coleman:

"In the opening paragraphs of his classic Soil and Civilization, Edward Hyams decries how modern misapplication of science has caused humans to 'begin working across or against the grain of life.' Hyams notes how science, when it becomes the master rather than the servant, displaces the age-old natural wisdom that has maintained the 'integrity of life.' Without that integrity, humans begin to lose contact with the 'poet,' which Hymas describes as the instinctive understanding of wholeness that has nurtured their well-being through the centuries.

Such change is abundantly evident in our modern American diet. The business of food science is in conflict with the poetry of human nourishment. Store shelves are filled with products that keep seemingly forever, such as canned or frozen food, ultra-pasturized dairy products, devitalized flour. ...

Food preservation techniques can be divided into two categories: the modern sceintific methods that remove the life from food, and the natural "poetic" methods that maintain or enhance the life in food...

The techniques presented in this book, maintain and enhance the life in the foods you are preserving, and this is the value of it, and the value of the book. I hold with many others that one reason Americans suffer so many degenerative diseases is due to their crappy diet of fast food, overly processed additives food, canned food, frozen food, all of it with very little to none nutritional value. You can live on the stuff for a while, years and decades even, but your body will break down and degenerate into diseased flesh.

But I'm not here to lecture--buy this book and try these recipes--they are all interesting and unusual. What the folks who put the book together did was ask readers of a French organic gardening magazine Les Quatre Saisons du Jardinage (Four-season Gardening) to send in their favorite methods and recipes for preserving food. They received over 500 recipes.

The Introduction to the book is very important. It discusses preservation without nutrient loss, stopping food contamination, choosing a method of preservation and a note on food safety. Each chapter of the book, each concerned with a different method of preservation, includes a general introduction to the method and then the recipes. There are charts, drawings, and clear descriptions of the methods. The individual recipes, sent in by the readers of Quatre Saisons du Jardinage, are charming, unusual, and usually mention the best variety of fruit or vegetable for their particular recipe. The recipes are attributed to the reader who sent it in.

Before I get to the recipes, let me say that I really like this book and I can't wait to try these recipes and techniques. This year I did very little canning, but I dried vegetables and foraged plants and herbs and fruit, I fermented quite a few and preserved with vinegar and oil, and we've been enjoying the results of those methods this winter. Now, I'm ready to try all the rest and I'm very happy to have this book to guide me. I love the idea of maintaining as much of the foods' nutritional value as possible, and enhancing the flavor when possible.

From Preserving in the Ground and Cellar

Apples in Elderflowers
Dried elderflowers
box, preferably wooden

Pick elderflowers in June, allow them to dry, and store them in an airtight container so that they remain fragrant.

Place a layer of dried elderflowers at the bottom of a box (preferably made of wood). Alternate layers of apples and layers of flowers. Finish with a layer of flowers, and close the box as tightly as possible. Keep in a cool, dry place (provided it is not too damp, a cellar is suitable). After six to eight weeks, the apples may be eaten and will taste like pineapples. This method works especially well for pippins, which can be kept in this ways for at least ten weeks. If we place them on a bed of elderflowers in small open crates, they will keep longer, but the pineapple flavor won't be nearly as intense.
A. Motsh, Ambierle

Preserving by Lactic Fermentation

Bottled Swiss Chard Ribs Without Salt
Swiss Chard ribs
Canning jars and lids
Only the ribs of the chard are preserved. The green leaves are used fresh. Remove the 'string,' cut the ribs into 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch long pieces, and wash them thoroughly. Place the ribs into widemouthed jars equipped with airtight lids. Pack down and fill the jars with cool water. The next day, rinse the ribs and change the water. Repeat this procedure for four consecutive days, before allowing to ferment. Preserved in this manner, the ribs will keep easily for one year, and can be cooked like fresh ones.
Andre Foex, Cleon-D'Andran

Tomato Balls
Ripe tomatoes
A fine strainer
A finely woven cloth
A screen
Canning jars and lids

For this old recipe from Provence, pick a good amount of tomatoes that have ripened well in the sun. Cut them in half, squeezing lightly to release any water, and put them in a jar. Set the jar outside in the sun (bring them in at night) until they begin to foam and smell a bit fermented.

Pass the tomatoes through a very fine strainer, rubbing it through with your fingers. Collect the strained portion; place it in a clean, finely woven cloth; and hang it outside in the sun until you get a paste dry enought o be shaped into balls. Let the balls dry on a screen in the sun. Then add salt, and put them in a canning jar. Cover them with oil, season with herbs to your taste, and close the jar.
Jennifer Rocchia, Beaurecueil

Preserving in Oil

Baguet (Parsley Condiment)
1 part shelled nuts
1-2 parts parsley (to taste)
1 part garlic and onion mixed
a little vinegar
a few anchovies (optional)
Olive oil
Canning jars and lids

This is a recipe from Val D'Aoste, in the mountains of northwestern Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Use it as you would pesto for seasoning soups and pasta.

Grind all the nonliquid ingredients together very finely. Add the vinegar, put the mixture in jars, and cover it with oil. Without vinegar, preservation is a bit iffy; with vinegar, preservation is a sure thing.

Preserving with Salt

Migaine de Thezou (Mixed Vegetable Stock)
1 lb leeks
1 lb tomatoes
1 lb onions
3/4 lb parsley and chervil
1/2 lb turnips
1/2 lb celery
1 lb salt
meat grinder or food processor
This recipe came from a grandmother in my village. Grind all ingredients coarsely in a meat grinder or food processor. Let the mixture stand overnight in a bowl in a cool place. The next day, remix the contents of the bowl by hand. Put the ground vegetables in jars, and store them in the cellar or some other cool place.

While this mixture will keep for up to three years, it is best to use it all within the first year, since you can replenish your stock wtih fresh ingredients the following September. I add one or two tablespoons each time I make soup, tomato sauce, stews, court boullion, and so on. I prefer to toss it in raw, for a more interesting texture, but it can be cooked too.
Anne-Marie Franc, Baccarat

Fruits Preserved in Alcohol

Officer's 'Jam' or Bachelor's Ligueur

Fruit (whatever's available): strawberries, red currants, black currants, wild raspberries, peaches, plums, greengage plums, apricots, etc
Alcohol: kirsch for red fruit, cognac for others or brandy for everything
Sugar (same quantity as the fruit)
5 quart stoneware pot with lid

This 'jam' is prepared as the fruit ripens, over the course of the growing season.

Cut larger fruit into smaller pieces, and remove all pits. Then, in a very large, airtight stoneware pot (called a Rumtopf in Switzerland), alternate layers of one pound of fruit and one pound of sugar, as the harvest continues. Personally, I use less sugar: I cover each layer of fruit with sugar, and without weighing it first. It keeps as well as the version with more sugar.

Each time you add more fruit, cover it with the alcohol you've selected. Never stir. Store the pot in a cool, dark place, and wait at least six months before tasting this delicacy. However, it's much better if you wait one year.
Mrs. Defacqz, Switzerland

OK, that's it. I'm tired of typing, and I hope I've given you enough neat little recipes to get your mouths watering, your imaginations flowering, and your mouse pointed over to Amazon to get your own copy.


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