Portuguese-style Cured Iberian Ham - delicious!
For quite some time, I have been intruiged with the idea of food preservation, specfically historic food preservation. Humans have preserved food for thousands of years to make it through lean months, most often for the Winter. It is only in the last generation or two, and really only in "modern" cultures, where we have lost this vital knowledge. The reason? Electric refrigeration. The modern refrigerator and freezer are amazing pieces of technology, and I will have and use them as long as I have electricity. However, I think it is important not to lose the knowledge and skills to preserve food. I have a few reasons for this. (I'll be dramatic and outline my reasons in reverse order of importance):
Fifth - We may not always have electricity.
Therefore, we may not always have refrigerators and freezers. Don't worry. I do not think we are going to have some apocolyptic event or some Mad Max-type world, but I do think we have already reached Peak Oil on a global scale. How much time before we start feeling global oil depletion is still up for debate. Alternate energy sources are still not nearly as readily available as electricity from a city or county municipality. There may be a period of time when petroleum-based electricity is waning and alternative-energy-based electricity is phasing in where we may have gaps in service or the price of electricity is just not worth running high electritical use appliances (i.e. refrigerators, freezers, dryers, air conditioners, etc.). The probability for this may be pretty low, but since it is possible, I would like to be a bit better prepared. Reading about food preservation is one thing, actually doing it is another.
Preserved Lemons... so easy to do!
Fourth - Preserving our own food saves money.
Let's look at blackberries. When you are buying blackberries out of season for your local area, they are very expensive. If you buy berries in the Winter, they are imported from overseas, and are going to cost a lot more... and not taste nearly as good. However, if you buy the blackberries during your local blackberry season, then the cost will be much lower, the taste will be much better, and you can preserve them yourself in a variety of ways... as jams, jellies, preserves, or even frozen. Even with what I just said about electricity and freezers, a freezer is a great tool. If you buy and freeze blackberries during the peak of your local season, you will save significant money. Now some will argue that buying already frozen blackberries from the store can be cheaper than doing it all yourself. Sometimes this may be true, but most often it is not. If you grow your own blackberries, the cost goes down even more. And if you pick wild blackberries and preserve them, then the cost is next to nothing other than time. Spending time outside in nature, preferably with friends and/or family, walking and harvesting wild foods... this is not wasted time, and it is probably a better activity than what many now do on their weekends.
Third - It is fun!
I love to cook, and I really enjoy preserving foods. Fortunately I know I am not alone. There are so many different aspects that make it enjoyable. If you have an interest in cooking, baking, gardening, foraging, history, anthropology, homesteading, preparedness, or health, then you can find some aspect of food preservation which will be enjoyable.
My red cabbage sauerkraut... simple and delicious.
Second - It is healthier.
If you have recently looked at the label of almost any food in a grocery store, especially one that does not require refrigeration, then you know that these foods are full of chemicals we would never add to foods prepared in our own kitchens. In Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, he states a few general rules on buying food. One of these rules states that if you cannot pronounce an ingredient on the label, then you probably shouldn't eat it that food. I whole-heartedly agree. When we preserve our own foods, we know exactly what is it in and why. We can choose to add, or not add, ingredients based on our own tastes and health opinions.
First - Flavor! Flavor! Flavor!
This is my number one reason. Homemade preserved foods can taste far superior to what you can buy in the supermarket. We have the ability to use the best ingredients instead of the leftovers. We have the ability to use homegrown ingredients. We can preserve meats that were organically raised or grass fed or both. We can take the time to "do it right" or make things traditionally, which often take a bit more time and is why mass-produced items don't taste the same. With the widespread use of refrigerators and freezers, we don't need to produce preserved meats or fermented vegetables or even preserved fruits, but we still do. Why? Because we like the taste. When we produce it ourselves, the flavors are better. When we take the time, we can taste it, and we will savor every bite.