Canning / culture and farming / family / Farms / Food industry

Food Preservation: The Way of the Past and the Wave of the Future

By Clare Hyre

Canning, freezing, dehydrating, fermenting – these are all components of the great art of food preservation. But preservation was just something our grandmothers or even great grandmothers did, right? Not anymore! Countless numbers of books and articles have been written on preservation, just check out the New York Times for daily canning or preservation blogs or the millions of online sources. If you like hard copies visit a bookstore to purchase a book on preservation. My personal favorite is Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preservation by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. There are so many resources out there to help you with any preservation project you want to try.

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Salsa: Photo by Clare Hyre

When you decide you are ready to do food preservation there are several options. Freezing is one of the easiest methods. You simple blanche your produce and place it in plastic bags, making sure to let out any extra air from the bags and seal them well. Then you can place them in your freezer. Dehydrating is also quite simple but is better for products that you can slice thinly like tomatoes or apples. Just carefully slice your food and place into the dehydrator and turn it on. Or, if you do not have a dehydrator, place the foodstuffs on sheets in your oven. Keep your oven on a very low temperature overnight – you can then check to see if the food is completely dried.

Canning is really the next step up in preservation. You will need more supplies like canning jars and lids, a canning pot, and some tools to help remove your pots from the hot water. In canning the most common method is water-bath canning but you could also use a pressure canner. Canning is different for each product so instead of explaining the process here I suggest you research the individual product you want to can. Remember that canning can take time so do not rush through the process and also that sterilization is very key for canning success.

Fermentation has become really popular lately but is an age-old tradition. Pickles, kimichi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are all example of products that are fermented and each has their own process. Sander Katz’s books Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods is a great resource for fermentation projects. Ask your friends or family to come ferment with you – it’s a great way to build community and also pass the time!

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Kelila Jaffe teaches canning at NYU: Photo by Clare Hyre

Today in a world of commodity we are used to having everything at all times of the year but in the past non-seasonal products were not always available. For example, if it was not tomato season you would not find tomatoes at the store. Preservation became a way to eat products out of season and was much cheaper than going to the store and buying it. Today people are just beginning to see the economic effects of preservation, leading to resurgence in the industry.

Preservation also helps us support things that are locally grown. During the summer there are often huge harvests of tomatoes or other things that can go bad if not used quickly. Canning, dehydrating, or even freezing these products can reduce waste. Making produce into value added products can mean extra income for local farmers, or in the case of a home gardener, gifts to share with friends and family.

It can also preserve cultural remnants. The half-sour pickles made at ADAMAH, a Jewish farming program in Connecticut, bring forth memories of Yiddish grandmothers. The success of these crunchy lacto-fermented pickles is a great example the recent relearning process about the positive probiotics and microbes in fermented food. Not only are these products important for our digestive health but connecting us to our past.

So, as you can see, preservation can be as easy as filling up your dehydrator overnight or a more complex fermentation process. The choice of how simple or complex you want to get into preservation is up to you. Don’t forget that if you don’t have time to do the whole canning process it’s fine to choose a simpler method.

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Pickle Fridge: photo from Food & Ferments website, Kimchi : photo by Clare Hyre

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