Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Home Front: Perservering Preserving

 Food, and the correct storage of food is a major component of medium and long term disaster preparedness, in my opinion, not only from a pure survival point of view, but also from a morale and social well being point of view. Any starving student can tell you that you can live on beans, porridge, rice or ramen, but that it isn't a lot of fun. Same goes with MRE's and other stockpileable staples. I've read through the LDS preparedness manual, and it didn't strike me as setting an exciting table. There are ways and means to not only make long lasting supplies, but make them interesting, and also make good use of the ample times in ways that many modern folks may simply overlook. I've done a fair bit of reading on preservation, and my background in Microbiology has served me well too. There are some basic aspects that are easy to grasp, and apply to almost all food preservation; Sterilize, aseptic technique, reduce water, inhibit growth and inhibit oxygen. By no means an exhaustive list, but a good guide.
Here's how I use these aspects to preserve food, and keep it tasty, for far longer than the base products would last fresh. The tomatoes we grow in our vegi-patches all ripened at once, and faster than we could eat, so in the grand Southern European tradition, I dried them. I used an electric dehydrator with herbs also from the garden after scalding them with boiling water, and packed them in a steam sterilised jar, covering them with oil. Dehydrated, [naturally acidic], inhibited oxygen (the oil), delicious. I also make my own beef (and other meat, although I haven't been allowed to use our rabbits) jerky, which alas, I have none remaining to photograph, but, really, dehydrated meats are an awesome means of preserving them, if not making delicious snacks.

A girlfriend of mine had a lemon tree overburdened with fruit a couple of years ago, and we collected a cooler full. As well as lemon tart, lemon juice and the like, we quartered many of them, packed them with salt and covered this in juice. This salt-lemon juice slurry eventually jellified, and the lemon quarters took up the salt. Again, dehydrated, oxygen inhibited and delicious. A combination of super high salt and acidity inhibits bacterial growth. These will last for years, and make an amazing addition to my cooking.

Similarly, a glut of fruit from my partners family's house gave us the opportunity to try our hand at making quince jam. This was harder, quinces requiring a bit more preparation to being good, but as an experiment we had nothing to lose. Jam is again, a dehydrated, acidic, highly concentrated, (and if made properly, with good aseptic technique) long lasting method at turning a crop of fresh food into a long lasting  food stuff that can improve man simple recipes, add valuable calories and be utilized in a variety of ways.  We've added it to sauces, marinades, on toast and into baking. Jam-making can be laborious, but is well worth the effort, month if not years down the track. Its a skill anyone with thoughts of preparedness should ad to their repertoire.

Salting and sugaring are not always the best ways to preserve all foods though, and pickling is just as ancient, and downright tasty a means to make fresh produce last a long time. A combination of acidic and oxygen depleted environments, as well as good sterilization lets you preserve a variety of foods (eggs from our chookens here, with herbs from the garden, mustard and garlic). Looks horrific, tastes amazing. A layer of olive oil on top acts and a further oxygen barrier. Eggs, cucumbers, cabbage, fish, the range of foods than can be pickled is vast, and it's really easy to do. Just be sure to read up and follow instructions to ensure its all done safely, because as will all preservation, getting food poisoning from it would be terrible!

Which leads me to the last means by which I preserve foods, fermentation. I have a home brewing kit, and a rather large collection of Grolsch swing-top bottles thanks to my beer-drinking friends, and have turned apples, ginger, honey and the like into a variety of bacteria-free, yeast enhanced, safe to drink beverages containing anywhere from a slight tingle to fountainously foaming carbonation. The fact that these may have also been mildly to highly inebriating is merely a side effect, but after a day of converting car tyres to body armour, or fighting off waves of triffids, a relaxing home made foamy drink is a great refresher! 

1 comment:

  1. sadly, the pictured sundried tomato jar had a Tactical-baby related disaster, and went to preserve-heaven to the cackles of mirth that can only be attributed to a baby who has learned to throw bottles.


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