Summer’s lushness! How we welcome the rains and warm, sunny days! Our vegetable gardens have begun to beckon. They teem with abundance. We cannot consume it all now, so must find a way to preserve it for the long, hard, winter months ahead. Why preserve? Long ago it was to stave off the harsh reality of starvation. Now it’s for the security of having it to bide over tough times when food cannot be grown or gotten. Food, by its very nature once harvested, begins its slow process of spoiling and ways to prevent this depended on where one lived. In frigid climates snow was a natural preservative in the coldest months. During cooler times immersing in cool water served the purpose. If living was in very dry, desert-like conditions, then drying was the norm. In areas with sodium deposits, salting was the way to go. To improve the taste, salt was also added before drying or smoking. In addition, pickling, poring salted brine in jars, and “potting” meat between layers of fat were the most expedient ways of food preservation.
As the quest for ownership of the new world which was accidentally discovered, became competitive among the British, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese, many with their captains braved the rough seas to conquer for their respective rulers the riches - land and its bounties. However, there was a growing restlessness among these seafarers. They were simply tired of the preserved salted meat and fish they endured for months at sea. What happened?
A quick thinking merchant, Peter Durand in England, was granted a patent in 1795, for his idea of preserving food in glass, pottery and in cans, and after fifteen years of hard work, a compatriot, Bryan Donkin from Bermondsey, England, decided to notch it up one higher in the name of food preservation. Mustering as much courage as he could and putting two previous years of further experimentation to the real test, Donkin received official word for the go ahead, and tin canning of meat made its debut on May 3, 1813. Finer palates delighted in the delicious results of his industrious efforts. However, the cream of the crop, was the letter received from the Duke of Kent, extolling the enjoyment of Donkin’s canned beef, by his (the duke’s) regal kindred. Though not for foolishly basking in the limelight, it was the blessing to go ahead and produce the world’s first commercial tin canned meat. A choice! Now, the seamen had either salted, or the much heralded canned meat. The rest is history, and 200 years later it still holds its fair market share on the shelves of our food stores.
Simultaneously, right across the Straits of Dover, heading for Massy, France, Nicolas Appert ingeniously demonstrated to his Gallic countrymen another preservation method - foods sealed in glass bottles placed in boiling water. The implication here is, well before Pasteur’s rigid research revealed that heat was a form of killing bacteria, this healthier food preservation process was to be known years later, by the word sterilisation. Further to this, a tried and true method was for placing the glass jars in cold water building to boiling point with their lids not too tightly screwed on.
Pioneers in the then New World began to craft and upgrade the above methods, and the greater rural inhabitants of the Americas witnessed more evolutionary ways of food preservation. Root cellars, barrels of pickled or salted meats, and smoke houses began to take a back seat to the newer “upstarts” like Mason jars, with screwed on reusable lids. This method of food preservation, though it enabled farm families and housewives to enjoy almost fresh foods during the winter, had its faults, as when not properly sealed, food poisoning resulted. The root cellar, though at times smelly, but still sturdy and reliable for preserving next - to -fresh, tasty carrots, potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables, was also home to such critters as snakes and mice. Quietly, among and between all of this, with a step up from the ice box, the first refrigeration technique was being developed. This involved the use of evaporation of a liquid to absorb heat where the liquid or refrigerant evaporates at low temperatures causing the freezing inside the fridge. So foods once placed in cold water in spring, summer and fall were now preserved in the fridge. But what about long term cold storage?
Look around! They embraced the idea of what is so abundantly and naturally endowed in these vast lands for most of the year, especially in northern climes. The idea of making an apparatus effectively capable of freezing its contents year round was aided by modern technological development forced on us by two world wars. The freezer held its promise. It allows us to savour the succulence of summer on cold, dreary January days. Very conducive to today’s lifestyles, preservation of vegetables, meats and other foods, it was, and still is a heaven-sent time saver.
Root vegetables can still be brushed off and stored in cool dry places, but the best preservation method might just be what a person is comfortable with, having done research on the different methods of preservation and the logic behind the chosen method. One may wish to use a combination of the above preservation methods for different periods of time, or perhaps venture to newer, advanced ones like irradiation.
The fact remains that your food preservation style is simply the maintaining of the best, next to fresh nutritional content, flavour and texture of foods you harvested from summer’s bounty. Just preserve it!