Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Food Preservation- An Overview

There's a lot of information out there about canning, which is a pretty great thing, in my opinion. Often times, though, it can be overwhelming to read a story about how the writer processed and canned a couple hundred pounds of, say, tomatoes- in just two days! I love the idea of doing that, don't get me wrong- but for most people, unless you're planning on taking a day off from work and/or inviting some friends over, it's just not practical. 

I don't know about you, but for me, if something is impractical or inconvenient I find it difficult to fit it into my day- let alone make it a routine. This is where knowing your options comes in handy, and a really great place to start is over at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. There are also a number of excellent bloggers out there who focus on food preservation, but I'm getting ahead of myself already. 

Freezing. Dehydrating. Canning. Fermenting/Pickling. Curing/Smoking. These are all ways to store different foods, and in many cases can be done in small batches so that it's not a huge time commitment. Freezing can be as simple as doubling a recipe, and packaging up the extra half for another time. I do that often when I make soups- I'll freeze up individual portions in jars, so we have them for later. (Yes, you can freeze in glass. You just have to allow space for expansion- I'll go over this in another post.)

Dehydrating is a great way to preserve things- and you can do it with more than just fruit. If you're a hiker or a camper, getting into dehydrating your trail/camp foods can save you a chunk of change. Vegetables (hello, zucchini), herbs, meats and even some soups can all be dried at home. I have a dehydrator that I use, but an oven works just fine, if you're just wanting to try it out. Remember, people have been dehydrating things since long before our modern appliances came around, so you don't need fancy gear to get started. 

Canning... oh, how I love canning! Taking fresh, in-season food and making it shelf stable is practically magic, in my book. Yes, there are safety issues that you need to be aware of - like botulism - but once you know the rules it's easy to play the game. There are TONS of great resources for canning; tried-and-true recipes, that will turn out safe to store as well as delicious, provided you follow the instructions.

Fermenting and Pickling are also great ways to preserve things, and they go way beyond the sandwich pickles that you find in the grocery store. Sauerkraut, kimchi, giardiniera- I think nearly every culture in the world has their own signature fermented/pickled dish. Fermenting takes a little more time, but that's how it was done, before you could go buy gallon jugs of vinegar. Not that there's anything wrong with a quick pickle... they certainly have their place too. 

I haven't done much curing and smoking, for no reason other than I just haven't gotten around to it. I do, however, have plans to build a smoker this year. I love smoked salmon, so when that season comes around, I want to take a stab at it. Of all the methods above, though, curing and smoking do take the most time but a good portion of that is hands-off. 

Of course, these are just broad categories to describe the processes you can use to preserve things. We'll go over each one in more detail over the next few weeks, complete with recipes and links to other great sites to get you started. Until then, check out the basics over at the National Center, and start thinking about your favorite preserved foods so we can talk about them over on Facebook!

What's your favorite method of preserving? 

No comments: