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How to Preserve Food - Take control of your pantry

 

"That fresh flavour and satisfaction of growing produce yourself just cannot be beaten! With growing your own there will always be times of abundance and times of leanness and that is where preserving your own food comes in handy."

The glass jars were in neat rows and all correctly labelled with a name and date. The jars contained more than just pickles, sauces and spreads. They contained care, consideration and love. 

Once a necessity for survival; drying, salting, pickling, smoking, fermenting were all common skills that every household knew how to undertake, or knew someone who could assist them. Before the invention of freezers and modern farming practices, food was grown according to its peak season and eaten seasonally. Excess produce would be preserved with the above methods to allow the households to store food for special occasions or for leaner months of the year, such as winter. Not to mention most families didn’t have the money to buy fresh food all year round.

In a diary entry of Susan Pettibone dated November 1852 (1) , she details how she and her sister spent several days working sausage meat, making brine and preparing their beef for the brine. Imagine if it took that much effort to make and store meat these days. I think we would be waiting a very long time at the drive-thru for our hamburger!

It can often be quite apparent that as a society we look back at history and at our ancestors and think that we are ‘so far advanced’ that we are ‘superior’ but what if the truth is there were some things that our ancestors understood that we simply don’t.

Even our precious reusable food wraps were originally used by the Egyptians who would coat cloth in beeswax to store their food for longer!

These ‘old-fashioned’ practices may seem unnecessary, right? I mean, most of us have a fridge, freezer and in some cases another bigger freezer in the garage or butlers pantry. Freezers are great at storing food for lengthy periods of time, but what if the problem wasn’t ‘storing’ food. What if the problem was ‘getting’ food in the first place.

Recent events have placed some of these thoughts into our heads. What if there is no food in the supermarket? What if we experience another emergency as a nation or community that once again makes us vulnerable and reliant on the supply and demand of the supermarket? Instead, how about we take control of our own supply and demand.

Growing and preserving our own food may just be the solution we have been looking for!

Here are some tips from our lovely Worker Bee Nicole to get you started on your food preserving journey:-

I’ve always had a vegetable garden wherever I have lived, even if it was only a small bed with a few herbs and veggies. That fresh flavour and satisfaction of growing produce yourself just cannot be beaten! With growing your own there will always be times of abundance and times of leanness and that is where preserving your own food comes in handy. I am also a sucker for bulk fruit or veg on sale at our local fruit & veg market and will often come home with a box of something to preserve that I don’t grow or grow enough of, or given produce from people who know I preserve, this being an economical way to get fresh food when it is in season if you aren’t quite up to growing your own yet. 

When you start preserving it is best to start out small, just focus on one method or one type of produce and gradually build your skills from there! I started out making jams, tomato sauce and chutneys and moved up to the Fowlers Vacola method a few years later. With any method it is best to do your research and seek out some resources (I have listed a few in this article that I have found handy!) or even do a course online or in person.

I have been preserving for around 10-15 years but am learning new things every day! Take it slow and focus on the things that you will use the most and in no time you will have a cupboard full of the fruits of your labour! 

The Fowlers Vacola Method

This method is used for preserving high acid fruits, jams, chutneys, pickles and tomatoes (citric acid required). You will need a Fowlers Vacola Preserving unit (I started with an old second hand simple natural preserving unit) and jars. You can use the Fowlers jars which you can buy new or second hand and you will need stainless steel lids and clips which are reused and rubber rings for the size of your jar (generally a 3 or 4 size). You can also use Mason Ball jars and standard jars (but it is advised to purchase new lids for them).

The Fowlers Vacola Users Facebook group is a great resource for this method and has an a-z list of recipes! There is also a Fowlers Recipe Book and a book by Sally Wise - A Year in a Bottle which has my go to tomato sauce recipe!

One of the favourites in our house is pickled cucumbers. I grow a cucumber that is specifically for pickling (it is small and prickly and doesn’t taste great fresh but is amazing pickled).

My cupboard is full of jars which I have preserved using this method including peaches, apples, pickled beetroot, pickled cucumbers, quinces, figs, nashis, pears, plums, passionfruit pulp, bruschetta in a jar, tomato sauce, tomato chutney, tomato salsa, tomato passata, chilli chutney and various jams, pastes (quince paste anyone?) and jellies. 

Dehydrating 

This is very popular in my house with 2 young kids! I can make a fruit pulp at any time of the year using either fresh or preserved fruit, spread it on fruit leather trays and voila healthy roll ups! I store them in an airtight container such as an upcycled Moccona jar. 

The dehydrator is great for things like herbs and my latest craze is to dehydrate celery leaves and blitz into a powder making a great flavoured seasoning for cooking with. 

You can also use this for things like banana chips, jerky, ‘sun’ dried tomatoes and apple rings. As long as you check the moisture is completely gone most things are then safe to store. 

I am yet to try it myself, but I am seeing lots of people dehydrating meals for camping as well as soups and broths to be easily re-hydrated for quick and nourishing meals.  

Fermenting

Fermented foods have fantastic benefits for your gut health and there are a couple of different types of fermenting. I highly recommend doing a course or reading a good book such as Ferment For Good. I had tried sauerkraut several times with mixed success but then I attended a course at my local health food store and felt much more confident with the science behind it and the correct process, to ensure what I was fermenting was safe to eat!

I ferment kombucha in a fermenting crock designed for kombucha so that I can drain off and use at any time and just top up about once a week, however I did start out just using big jars and doing whole new batches every time so it is up to you what suits you best!

Pressure Canning  

Pressure canning is a great way to preserve low acid items such as vegetables, legumes, meats, broths and make ready to go meals including soups and stews. Pressure canning works by heating the food to a higher temperature than is possible with normal Fowlers Vacola preserving or water bath preserving, by using pressure, bringing the food into the safe preserving zone and thus eliminating any possibility of bacteria and spoilage in the low acid foods. Personally, I am yet to purchase a pressure canner although it is on my wish list! There are some great American sites about pressure canning safely and I’m told the Mason Blue Ball book is a fantastic resource for starting out and recipes.

Freezing

Freezing is a very handy option especially when you are time poor as you can quickly process the harvest and pop it straight in. I have found that most things don’t really need the blanching step but you can do this if you want. Until I have a pressure canner this is my go to method for storing things like beans, peas, carrots, leafy greens like kale and silverbeet and also things like pesto, herbs in oil in ice cube trays and even quartered figs ready to be popped on a cake!

The downside to this method is that you often need a big freezer especially if you bulk buy meat and finding a plastic free way to freeze becomes a bit tricky. I have used glass jars for broth and am trialling them for berries (make sure you leave plenty of head space for expansion). I have been slowly increasing my silicon pouch collection and I like them because they are tough and reusable. I also use plastic takeaway containers, because at least I can reuse these. My handy tip for the freezer is to use a piece of masking tape on containers and pouches and label them with a sharpie. When you wash the container the marker normally comes off and you can keep the tape on there for the next item!  

Work Bee Nicole’s Recipes for success!

My Tomato Passata

Gather as many tomatoes as you can grow! (at the end of summer, we usually do a batch a week and this gives us enough passata for a year plus for a family of four) I like the sauce type varieties of tomatoes (like the grannies throwing tomato from the Diggers Club) but will throw any type in, even cherry tomatoes. 

Bring a large stockpot filled halfway with water to the boil. 

Add about 6-10 tomatoes at a time to soften them and start the process of the skins splitting. This is about the time it takes for water to come back to the boil. 

Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a bowl and add your next batch of tomatoes to the pot. Using a tomato machine/mouli put the tomatoes through to separate the flesh from the seeds and skin.

I then tip the flesh into a second stock pot to boil down for a few hours to get rid of any excess water and thicken the passata. 

In the meantime, prepare the bottles (I use size 27 for passata) with rings. I then add citric acid (1/2tsp but depends on size of jar using) and a couple of basil leaves. Once the tomato is at your desired consistency, let cool and then fill the jars leaving around 1cm airspace at top of jar. Put on the lids and clips and place jars into the preserver and fill to top with water. (each preserver model may have slightly different instructions so you need to find these out for your model, but mine is 92℃ for 1hr 15min. Once time is up I drain hot water over the sink and remove jars. Don’t remove clips for a least a day to allow a vacuum seal to form. These will keep on the shelf now for 1 year plus.

But what about those waste skins and seeds? Never fear! Pop them on a dehydrator fruit leather tray and once dry blend them up into a tomato powder which is great for seasoning! 

My Kombucha Method

You will need a Scoby (Facebook Marketplace often has people selling for cheap or free), loose leaf black tea and sugar.

Boil 1 litre of water and add ¼ cup sugar (a touch more if you like your drink a bit sweeter). Turn off heat and add around 2tsp of tea leaves. I then let this sit for a few hours until it is cool. You can then pour into a jar or crock containing some kombucha from a previous batch (or the liquid that comes with the Scoby from a friend or shop), floating the Scoby on top. Leave for around 7 days and taste. When it is to your desired taste, pour into a bottle and pop in the fridge. You can then start your next batch!

This year I tried fermenting cucumbers, corn and green beans as something new! The corn was nice, the green beans I love especially in a rice paper roll, but my cucumbers were a bit of a failure as they weren’t submerged enough and I left them for too long in warm weather so they were no good. My next fermenting investment will be glass fermenting weights!

I am also experimenting with apple cider and apple cider vinegar made from roadside collected apples. The cider is maturing in a dark cupboard and the portion of cider destined for vinegar had some existing apple cider vinegar (with the mother) added and has been left to ferment in the pantry, fingers crossed!

Sourdough is also another fermented food and something I have been making for the last year or so. I usually get my starter out on a Friday night from the fridge, give it a feed then I can use it to mix the bread dough on Saturday. Once the bread has been bulk fermented, gone through a few stretch and folds, shaped and put into bannetons, I pop it into the fridge overnight for baking on Sunday morning. The sourdough Australia Facebook group has been a great resource and has some wonderful recipes.

Handy Resources

Sally Wise - A Year in a Bottle

Sharon Flynn - Ferment for Good 

Fowlers Vacola - The Secrets of Preserving

Fowlers Vacola - Ultimate Dehydrator Recipes & Instructions

Homesteading Family - YouTube videos & preserving/canning courses 

Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving

At Little Bumble we believe that progress is better than perfection and we want to encourage you to take things one step at a time. It is important to allow yourself time to learn and grow. Food preservation isn’t a race… you have time to learn and make mistakes… or ferment if you need too! Just enjoy the process!

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about food preservation and that you might introduce these traditional methods into your home to help take control of your pantry and food supply!

~

References: (1) https://recipes.hypotheses.org/9276)

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