Wednesday, 7 October 2009
People have been preserving food as long as they have been eating – drying, fermenting, pickling, smoking – but in the last few decades people have abandoned all these in favour of one device: the refrigerator. Fridges and freezers remain handy, of course, but they have limited space, require constant electricity and cost money, so we might find it worth our while to remember how to preserve food in other ways if necessary.
You can dry all kinds of food, for example -- vegetables, fruits, meat, fish – and keep it for months, years or even decades. Many people think that dehydrated food is found only in Army field rations or survivalist kits, but in fact we encounter dried food every day. All grains are dehydrated, for example – rice, oats, popcorn – along with powdered grains like flour or cornmeal, and most beans and lentils. Most people also are familiar with raisins, sultanas, sun-dried tomatoes, dried herbs and, of course, tea.
Drying, however, can go much further than that. In a few months, most people will have a glut of excess fruits and berries around them, most of which will go to waste. Dehydrated, however, and they can last the rest of the year – apple rings, blueberry raisins or whatever you like. Most fruit, like apples, can be dried over a fire or in the oven; with a dehydrator, you can also dry mashed fruit into fruit roll-ups. Either result makes a nutritious source of vitamins through the winter, and a dessert-like snack for children.
Vegetables can also be dried, even those part we don’t ordinarily eat fresh. Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, kale – all these can be dried and saved indefinitely as ready-to-go soup ingredients. The dried vegetables can also be ground into powder and mixed into soup or bread, adding to its nutrition. Meat is difficult to dry in this climate without a dehydrator, but if you have one you can make jerky, a source of protein that can last for months at room temperature.
Herbs can be dried, of course – basil, oregano, thyme and dozens of others. Other plants can be dried for teas – nettles, dandelions, mint, and chamomile.
Many foods could simply be dried by hanging them in a ventilated area, like herbs, although this is easier in California than in Ireland. Many fruits can be dried over a fire or in an oven set on low, with the door open slightly. If you need a dehydrator, there are some available online for around 50 euros and up, and if you use it regularly it should pay for itself in short order.
Photo: Our kitchen table, with bowls of lemonbalm, elderflower, lavender, mushrooms, corn, peas and redbush.