I am not sure exactly when it started, but sometime during the late 1940's or 1950's people stopped preserving their own foods and started relying more on the processed foods found in the Supermarkets. There were lots of reasons for this. As people moved to suburbia and women entered the work force there was less time and space for home gardens and thus the need for preserving one's own harvest. Add to this, the fact that modern shipping provided people with produce, dairy, and meats year round, preserving foods no longer became a necessity. Besides, with large companies turning out all sorts of canned and frozen goods, why waste the time and energy, especially when there were so many other important things to do?
Fast forward to the early 1990's, new trends have started to emerge. Phrases such as â€œSlow Foodâ€, sustainable agriculture, organic, artisan, and â€œheirloomâ€ help to drive a new movement in how we look at our foods, and suddenly people are thirsting for knowledge about, the almost lost art of, preserving foods. Just look at your local bookstore. Fifteen years ago you would have been lucky to find one book on how to can and make preserves, today there are dozens and dozens of books out there. And while there are many good ones out there, most seem to just be rehashing the same types of recipes, and rarely move beyond canning as a way of preserving foods. Not so with â€œKeeping Food Freshâ€. This wonderful book looks beyond the standard practice of canning to explore the various other more ancient ways of preserving foods.
To truly appreciate this book you must first understand what â€œTerre Vivanteâ€ is. They are a French nonprofit organization that promotes organic gardening, ecological agriculture, water conservation, ecological friendly development, and sustainable agriculture. Among all they do, they put out a magazine called â€œLes Quatre Saisons du jardinageâ€ (Four Seasons Gardening). It is from the collected recipes, of its readership, that this compilation has been created. They intentionally chose not to include canning and freezing in this book for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that these methods are covered in numerous other publications, they feel that these other, more traditional, methods are superior. They help to retain more flavors, more nutrients, and are less costly and more energy efficient.
What is included in this book are chapters on preserving in the ground and in root cellars, preserving by drying, by lactic fermentation, preserving in salt, sugar, alcohol, vinegar, and oil. Also included is a wonderful chart listing a number of foods and the best and alternate ways of preserving them.
Recipes range from the familiar such as how to make sauerkraut and fermented pickles (think traditional kosher dills), to the insightful, such as storing apples with dried elderflowers to give them a pineapple flavor, to the off-beat such as fermented tomato balls, rose petal dried in salt, and grapes in vinegar. There are also a variety of low sugar jam and jelly recipes in the book. These â€œold fashionedâ€ jams and jellies are not quite as thick as we are used to, but the flavors are superior since there is less sugar to deaden the fruit's natural flavors.
I consider myself pretty well versed in the â€œartâ€ of preserving, but each page brought new lessons and delights, and I was reminded of how far removed our modern society is from our culinary history. It is easy to forget that, not so long ago, most foods were not year round commodities. Our ancestors worked hard to preserve foods during times of plenty so that they had food to eat during the long, hard, cold winters, when food could not be grown. But what amazes me the most is the fact that the foods they preserved, not only sustained them but tasted great also. A big thanks goes out to Terre Vivante, and all those who contributed to this book, for helping to keep alive traditions that have almost been lost to us.
Note: Though these farmers have been using these methods for hundreds of years, some are safer than others. Not all these methods are recommended by the USDA. Preserving in oil and preserving low acid foods do carry slight risks. I urge you to use caution when trying some of these recipes and read up on these methods. Also many of these preservation techniques are not meant for long term storage (more than 1 year). Most were developed to get people through the winter until new crops could be harvested, so take that into account