Foodie Food Storage

Sharon January 22nd, 2009

One of the questions that comes up a lot is how people who are accustomed to eating mostly high quality, fresh foods adapt to a diet of stored and preserved foods.  People are concerned that this means an inevitable shift towards canned, processed and lower quality food than a fresh diet would allow for. 

My own opinion is that this is actually a false dichotomy – and not a trade off I’d personally ever accept.  The problem, IMHO, is not the issue of fresh foods vs. processed, but of making a real dietary shift that actually means that you are eating the best of your seasonal, preserved and fresh foods, rather than trying to reproduce your old diet.  “Foodie” food storage – food storage for people who love to eat and to eat delicious, high quality meals –  begins from the recognition that it is truly a way of eating, and one that changes with time and season.

Consider a summer meal – grilled chicken skewered with rosemary, sweet roasted corn with butter, new potatoes with parsley and lemon and lightly steamed green beans dressed with garlic vinagrette.  Now imagine, if you can do so without becoming ill, the industrial food storage parody of that meal.  Skewered canned chicken cubes, sprinkled with dry rosemary.  Aged potatoes steamed and sprinkled with dry parsley.  Canned green beans with garlic powder and cream style corn.  I suspect all of us have had something like this in a hospital or cafeteria somewhere.  This, of course, is the nightmare of all foodies ;-) .

But the question must arise – why on earth would you try to duplicate a meal that is fundamentally rooted in place and time – in the garden summer?  The same is true about foodie pantry eating – it begins, as all good artistries do, from its limits.  Like a sonnet, it is shaped in part by what you cannot do - but the limits can be freeing as well as restrictive, opening new kinds of art that aren’t possible when everything is open. 

The weak links in food storage are meat, milk and eggs.  Most of the non-fossil powered methods of long term storage aren’t something you want to work with every day – salting, smoking and sausaging result in food products that are extremely tasty, but not really healthy for everyday inclusion in your diet.  Powdered eggs and milk taste little like the alternatives. 

But then again, it is worth remembering that the peasant cuisines that we base much of our best food upon never contained meat, milk and eggs in the quantities we have them now, never ate them all year round.  That is, no one ever ate osso buco nightly, or cassoulet daily.  And the cassoulet was born as a way to extend small amounts of meat with beans and other foods.  That is, the perception we have of most cuisines is a false one – few societies as disconnected from agriculture have ever eaten animal products as we do – as a universal, seasonless food. 

So the first reality of food storage is that we’re headed back to the peasant cusines – as they existed for ordinary people.  That means fewer animal products all around – maybe none, since it is perfectly possible to produce brilliant, delicious food without it, or perhaps eaten as we once ate them, as the foods of France, Italy, Turkey, China, and other places evolved.  This involves sorting through the perceptions we’ve created of those cuisines – the cookbooks are written mostly for Americans and their huge, seasonless quantities of milk, eggs and meat, and the restaurant menus emphasize these foods that were once special. 

This is not a great loss, quite honestly.  It isn’t just that the cheap meat available to most of us is a pale imitation of real meat, thin of flavor and not very good for you, but those peasant cuisines were good as they were – we don’t need the sugar and fatted up versions – osso bucco every night is no treat.

Fresh vegetables can continue to be part of your meals, but seasonally so – and that means for those of us in cold climates, learning to love our winter vegetables, and to appreciate the cuisines that evolved around winter vegetables – around kales and cabbages, turnips, appples and squash.  This is not a loss, it is merely different. 

Diets rich in staple foods – rice, potatoes, wheat and oats are ones where highly seasoned foods shine – and that’s the place for home preservation.  The accent of carrot-ginger chutney against the plate of rice, dal and palak paneer, homemade cinnamon-tomato ketchup with baked sweet potato fries, the intense flavors of soy, garlic, vinegars, hot sauces, pickles, kimchi, mint, sweet fruit sauces and chutneys – these are the transformative accents that make simple superb.

One of the reasons I live the life I do is to eat well – we were never wealthy, could never afford all the good things that we most enjoyed – until we began to grow our own and raise our own we could never afford all the raspberries we cared to eat (and that’s a lot).  Until I foraged I never had all the morels I could want. In fact, I’ve never understood why it was that people who consider themselves “foodies” so often think of good food as something that you can buy – the truth is that many of the best tastes are things that literally cannot be purchased in most places – parsnips dug in a February thaw, with all their staches turned to sugar, corn picked after the steaming pot of water comes to boil, bread baked in a wood burning oven.  The peasant life isn’t just a practical strategy for dealing with less of everything – it is a way of getting more on your dinner plate.

  I don’t see any contradiction between being a foodie and storing food – but I do think that the degree to which you extract pleasure from your food storage diet depends on your willingness to shift the foods you are preserving and storing to the center of your meals at the times that suit them.  It is one more step in a seasonal diet – the experimentation with recipes that don’t involve eggs when eggs are not abundant, or which do take advantage of your abundant quinoa, your potent dried hot peppers and the very best of your local harvest, preserved in its essence to carry the warmth of the summer season into the coldest, darkest tastes of winter.

 Sharon

22 Responses to “Foodie Food Storage”

  1. KatJ says:

    Okay, that just made me really HUNGRY! And that much more determined to have a lovely, productive and varied garden this year! This winter we have made do with store-bought, canned items which, of course, taste nothing like the real thing. We have already cut way back on our meat consumption. I am glad that I read Depletion and Abundance when I did, and started reading your blog, because I began then to stock up and get ready. Although my husband still has his job, he seems pretty sure that he’ll be the first to get the ax when the time comes because he is the top estimator and therefore makes more money than the others. Food has gotten so expensive, too, but I don’t need to go to the store as often because we eat out of our pantry. I read today that producers of several food items that most of us would consider relatively healthy are being watered down with other ingredients to make them less expensive to produce – olive oil (cut with soybean oil), honey, maple syrup and wild-caught salmon (they dye farm raised salmon pink to substitute it for wild-caught). I also read where companies are reducing the amounts of their canned and boxed items, but charging just as much, or more. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, but maybe I am naive enough to think that our government has agencies to protect us from that kind of fraud. So I am more than ready to become a seasonal garden gourmet!

  2. homebrewlibrarian says:

    I’m going to hold this thought for next season. I did not produce nearly enough of anything to make it into something to eat later. A few small cabbages, a few pounds of potatoes, a couple of cups of fava beans. What I do have is a great deal of kale that was stored outside and stayed frozen until we had a 60 degree F temperature rise that lasted five days (-10 to +50) and everything thawed. I’m now in the process of drying all the thawed kale before it goes bad.

    But I’m all over the seasonal eating thing. I’ve only purchased vegetables I did not store and/or were out of season twice since the CSA ended for the year. But I don’t lack for variety even if it’s kale, kale, kale (yes, I grew three different varieties), cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions. I’ve got plenty of dried beans, blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries, apples, kale, chard, collards and zucchini. I’ve got canned chicken and turkey broth, apple pie filling, applesauce, pickled beets and snowpeas. All of which were locally grown or produced. I’m also up to my eyeballs in salmon, ground turkey, a few chickens, a duck, more beef than I know what to do with , some Italian sausage and butter all in the freezer. Most locally produced. That gives me plenty of variety and getting bored with food is not going to happen at my house. I don’t pine for fresh tomatoes or lettuce or beans or citrus or peas (although I did freeze about 10 pounds of locally grown ones I bought during the growing season). When it comes around next season, it will be a joy and delight to eat them again.

    No palate fatigue here!

    Kerri in AK

  3. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Foodie Food Storage One of the questions that comes up a lot is how people who are accustomed to eating mostly high quality, fresh foods adapt to a diet of stored and preserved foods. People are concerned that this means an inevitable shift towards canned, processed and lower quality food than a fresh diet would allow for. [...]

  4. Deb says:

    Sharon, I’ve been reading your thoughts for a good year now and have always been struck by how much of what you say reflects what my mother practiced every day. She was raised by parents who lived on a small parcel of land in the country, without runnining water or electricity and during the Depression and War with no money. We always had a huge backyard garden. She would tell me how it was her job to get into the kitchen before her mother was up and get the fire going to heat the water so the family had water to wash with when they got up.l

    My favorite memories of summer are spending time with my Dad in the garden picking and weeding–having contests to see who could pick the most bean or cukes the fastest. And then canning with my mother in the kitchen. Or going early in the morning to the strawberry patch and coming home with flats of bright red strawberries still warm from the sun. I learned invaluable skills just by watching and doing the prep work for her. We never threw anything out and in the winter we ate from our shelves in the basement.

    There is something immensely satisfying about spending a day over a hot canner and then seeing the beautiful colors of the jars as they cool on your counter. That’s only dwarfed by going down in the basement and deciding what it is you want to eat and figuring out which jar of pickles you want to have with your meal when the snow is flying and it’s warm in your kitchen from the bread baking that day.

    Mother always said that anything you preserve in the warm months was summer sunshine for those cold winter days.

  5. Karin says:

    I consider myself a foodie but maybe not in the same sense as foodie is considered. I have worked as a cook for a caterer. I have gardened for years. I have lived a metropolitan life where there were all sorts of specialty/ imported food shops; and great restaurants.

    As my own process of growing my own food and eating more seasonally has evolved, I find that the process of cooking with the seasons has helped me grow a greater appreciation for the food I cook. I look forward to cooking with winter squash in winter. But I would not want to be baking a winter squash in summer when there is a fresh salad steps from my door. I would not have an appreciation for fresh greens if I didn’t understand exactly what is required to have those greens appear in early spring.

    Cooking with the seasons also makes this quiet time of year easier in many ways. Loaves of Bread and Pots of soup prepared in a cooking flurry means that there is more time to knit, read and play games with my kids and daydream about next season’s garden. It will be busy soon enough.

  6. kathy says:

    I do can a lot of meat when it is local and available. It is, of course, not the same as fresh but on a gloomy January evening, chicken and dumplings is fast (everything has been pressure canned so it is already cooked) and delicious. I would not get away with serving my kids canned vegetables on their own but they eat them without a problem in stews, soups and pot pies. In fact, I can some things, like carrots, even though they store so well, just to have the option of throwing a bunch of stuff in the dutch oven with some stock (home canned) and a roux and calling it dinner. The fruit I can in season becomes cobblers and crisps and I swear the kids prefer them to any too-sweet dessert. Last night we ate pot roast in gravy-i canned the roast in September- potatoes from storage, applesauce from wild apples, grape juice I canned last summer from wild grapes, home made bread, pickles, and rehydrated peas. It was a feast and all from stored food. Only the wheat for the bread, sugar, yeast, cornstarch, vinegar and some of the spices came from the co-op rather my yard.

  7. MEA says:

    Does anyone know if you can make a cassoulet in the slowcooker with raw beans? I stopped making them years ago because of the time in the oven, but would like to find a way to make them again. The only recipes I can find use tinned beans (and not always white ones!).

    Thanks,

    MEA

  8. Ginny in WI says:

    I’ve been working towards seasonal eating for some time and no longer buy fresh fruits and veggies shipped over long distances in the dead of winter. I always laugh when I see the fruit from Chile in the “organic” produce section in January.

    Did some canning, dehydrating, and–for the first time–root cellaring. The problem is that none of my family care much for sweet vegetables, those staples of the root cellar. Beets, forget it–even tried them grated in a spice cake and I was the only one who ate it. DH does like squash, but not the rest of us. Tried cooked cabbage served in sour cream sauce–how can you not love something covered in sour cream? Not a big hit. Even carrots–raw, it’s yum–cooked, not so much.

    Anyone have recipes to share, or cookbooks to recommend for hiding the sweet taste of winter vegetables?

  9. Deb says:

    I cook sweet potatoes in a gratin with lots of onions and an apple to round out the flavors, especially if the onions are hot rather than sweet. It goes over quite well in my house. I have also just sliced rutabagas and turnips, put a little olive oil and garlic on them in a baking dish and baked them in the oven. We salt them at the table and eat them like chips with horseradish.

  10. Claire says:

    My DH and I have been doing our best to eat seasonally for quite a few years. It’s gotten easier since we moved to our 1 acre lot with small (1300 sq ft) house. The size of our veggie garden is limited only by the time I want to put into it and the space I can protect from rabbits ;) .

    Here’s my vote for a good, non-sweet storage veggie: radishes. I mean the old-time storage radishes, the big round ones, though the Asian daikon radishes should work as well. The two storage radishes I grow are Black Spanish Round and Red Meat. The first has a black skin and white flesh. I grew some that were softball-size this fall, and I think they’ll grow bigger. The ones I grew this year were milder than in past years. Even my parents and siblings liked them. The Red Meat radishes are simply gorgeous: green skin and a red flesh. Another name for them, Watermelon, will give you some idea what the cut slices look like. These aren’t quite as big: my biggest were near baseball-size. They are somewhat hotter, but again, my parents and siblings ate and liked them. They both taste like standard salad radishes.

    These radishes aren’t grown in the spring. You start them after the summer solstice, when you still have at least 60 or so days of growing season left. They are a radish, so they like growing in cooler fall temps the best. Here in Missouri, nights are quite warm in the summer. I wait until sometime at the end of July or the first half of August when the nighttime lows will be in the 60s for several days. (They are more likely to be 70 or above during the summer in these parts.) Then I sow the seed right in the garden, just like the salad radishes. Space them 6 inches apart since they grow big!

    Earlier today I dug a few pounds of Jerusalem artichokes out of a bed which is covered in several inches of leaves. Despite quite cold weather (the soil is frozen elsewhere), the leaves keep the soil unfrozen, and I can dig the chokes anytime I like. We use the chokes in stir-fries or roast them; you can eat them raw too. We still have one squash, some sweet potatoes, and a few more radishes, turnips, and leeks in storage, plus lots of garlic. My DH dried shiitake mushrooms (lots of those left), and we have some homegrown peaches and peppers in the freezer. It’s a good start. In the years to come, we’ll increase what we store. Seasonal eating is the best!!

  11. MEA says:

    Found the answer to my question:

    http://www.centralbean.com/cooking.html#Crock%20Pots%20(Electric%20Slow

    Or at least the answer to why there isn’t an answer.

    Seems the best solution would be to pressure cook the beans, then shift them to slow cooker with rest of stuff.

  12. Fern says:

    MEA, I’m sure you can – you can do beans in a slow cooker, so cassoulet should be fine.

    Fern

  13. Ginny, my family wasn’t too keen on sweet vegetables either until I started roasting them with a mix of savory vegetables and a touch of balsamic vinegar or vinegary Kombucha. The potatoes, rutabagas, celeriac, and garlic balanced the sweetness of the beets, carrots and parsnips. The roasted vegetables are still quite sweet, but there are so many different flavors mingling that it isn’t the same as a large serving of sweet.

    We have been using a lot of cabbage this year in quick stir frys, and fixed that way, it is to everyones liking. Since going with a more seasonal garden, I think we have a greater variety of foods to eat, which changes with the season, and I am doing less preserving. But, I still do have to harvest every week, even during inclement weather, but that beats going to the store!

  14. Rosa says:

    MEA, now I use my pressure cooker, but in the past I cooked the beans in the slow cooker during the day, then used them in the cassoulet after I got home from work.

    I just can’t eat grocery store vegetables most of the time anyway. My home-canned tomatos are so much better than the tomatos they have at the store, and I’m not even going to talk about apples from the grocery store. Ick.

    I really don’t get the attitude that “fresh” produce that was picked not-ripe and shipped for days and days is going to be better than canned, frozen, or otherwise preserved food.

    Though, we’re out of fresh local produce now, except for a few squashes. So we’re entering into that time of year when I do sometimes fall for the spinach from California…except then half the time it tastes *bad*. But for anyone in a climate that’s less like Siberia, I don’t see the allure.

  15. Chase Saunders says:

    I want to offer a counterpoint on the theme of return to diets of the past: the diet you describe is one that humans have been eating for only a brief time in evolutionary time… yes, briefer than the modern diet but still too brief for our genes to catch up to it. What we are really adapted to is a Paleolithic diet, one consisting of over 50% meat and quite a bit of fat.

    an introduction:
    http://www.healingcrow.com/dietsmain/paleo/paleo.html

    more detail, with footnotes:
    http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/hb/hb-interview1a.shtml

    Fortunately, there is evidence that although the peasant diets you mention are harmful to us, they are a lot less harmful when food is not abundant (see the book by Gary Taubes for more on this) Because unless a lot of people die we won’t all be able to return to our natural diet. It’s also good news that while our genome is very similar to the Paleolithic one, much of the evolution that has been occurring seems to be oriented around making us more tolerant to a neolithic diet.

  16. Laurie in MN says:

    Rosa:
    You’re in Minnesota too, right? :) I understand the temptations — just picked up a lovely yellow zucchini. *sigh* I’m trying so hard to at least be aware of where things are coming from, but I’m still new to a lot of the concepts many folks here have been practising for a while. And I have a picky, picky eater for a husband. *sigh* I’m working on him, anyway. But I definitely feel the “fresh veggies would taste SOOOO good right now!” feeling.

  17. Chris says:

    Great post, Sharon. I have been thinking a lot about traditional annual food cycles myself lately. For those of us from the North, I’m guessing our ancestors ate fresh cuts of meat in the fall and winter, while they could be kept cold/frozen naturally, and then started eating their cured/smoked meats as the weather warmed. Old hens who didn’t return to laying as the days lengthened probably found themselves in the early spring soup pot. Other hens would be laying and soon the first chickens would be old enough to eat.

    We have cut back on our meat eating over the last year or so, going from the American average to about half. This time of year, I cook 5 pounds of beef, pork, or lamb or up to an 8 pound chicken on Sunday or Monday, make some stock with leftover bones, make soup, casseroles, or salads with leftover meat. We eat meat about 4 evenings out of the week this way, with virtually no meat before dinner, a couple of vegetarian days (usually an egg-based dinner one night and a legume & grain-based one another), plus fish on Fridays. I have found this method simplifies meal planning, yet offers amazing variety.

    I blogged about the many fresh foods that are available here in the Northwest. It’s quite a long list: http://lostartskitchen.blogspot.com/2009/01/dark-days-challenge-eat-local-this.html

  18. Jen says:

    Wow! What a fabulous piece! Particularly helpful for a foodie just beginning to get involved in GOOD FOOD storage. Thanks for sharing this educational blog.

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  20. Todd says:

    I have seen hundreds of food storages. I have helped organize & consult on what to have
    included in your food storage. I share the ideas that I have accumulated over the years.

    Along with your wheat, beans & rice, your canned foods etc. Some even have MRE’s & freeze
    dried items. Whatever it is you have in your food storage, I just want to give you a few
    ideas & suggestions. I am also open for suggestions, after 17 years, I still come across
    great ideas.

    First, make sure you have a good variety of spices. You can eat the same beans or rice a
    lot easier when one day they taste like taco spices & the next day curry etc. A variety of
    spices will make anything easier to eat long term. I personally have many bottles of
    tobasco. I can eat bugs with tobasco, crickets, worms etc. I am serious.

    In many emergencies clean water is a big problem. You will go through hundreds of gallons
    of water in just a few short weeks. Make sure you have a good water filter with your food
    storage. You use a lot of water to cook with & drink. A water filter that you hand pump will
    turn rain water, canal water or saved water from cooking etc. into good drinking water again.

    Have some good vitamins. Make sure they are good natural vitamins that your body will
    digest & absorb. 90% of vitamins pass through you & end up clogging the sewers. True.
    I came across Lifecaps, that is what I have in my food storage, 72 hour kits & bug out bags.
    They digest & get in your system within 20-25 minutes. All natural.
    You can survive on lifecaps & water alone for months. They have all the vitamins & minerals,
    also iodine & a little natural sugar to keep your blood sugar level stable. I bought 25
    bottles before I found a coupon code & then bought 75 more bottles. The coupon code is
    “healthcap” (save 33%) & you can find out more at lifecaps.net.

    Keep hand sterilizer with your food storage & hydrogen peroxide. In an emergency people get
    sick & die from simple infections. In an emergency, you lose your appetite & forget to drink
    water, under stress. Your immune system suffers tremendously & small infections grow large.
    Under stress TAKE YOUR VITAMINS & DRINK WATER! You will have more energy to deal with the
    emergency & have a healthy immune system. Keep your hands clean when dealing with food &
    use the hydrogen peroxide even on small cuts as a precaution. It can save your life.

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