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Food Preservation: Past, Present, and Future

Food preservation was a way of life before the times of refrigeration and freezing. When not all food was available all year round, people had to learn how to process what they could from their farms and gardens to be able to extend the shelf life and feed their families during the cold season in harsh climates. The methods used to preserve these foods obviously changed their nutritional content, but what it does to their flavor is where it gets interesting.

We all see the most common forms of food preservation every day in the grocery stores and in our pantries. Canning as a process dates back to the late 18th century in France when the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. Canned items can have a shelf life of a year or more if done properly. This is most often used for things like vegetables, fruits, soups, sauces, and pickled items.

Pickling is in and of itself a preservation method. The history books can date its use back to 2030 BC in India, although I’m sure they were not the first to try it. To pickle something means to submerge a product in brine and replace the original liquid with a perfect ratio of salt, sugar, and vinegar. Pickles in the American sense seem to just be the pickled kosher dills. Across several cultures other vegetables and even fruit are pickled. Russian pickled apples, Vietnamese pickled carrots, radishes, and cucumbers, Italian Giardiniera, and even pickled herring from the Scandinavian region. There is no limit to what can be pickled!

Drying and smoking are other popular forms of preservation. Smoking is most often used with animal proteins for things like jerky or fish. It can also be used to extend the life of cheese and create a wonderful flavor combination in the process. Smoking can either be done at a high temperature while cooking an item or left at a cold temperature so as not to change the physical structure but only to preserve and infuse flavor. Drying can be used in combination with the smoking process like with lap cheong chinese sausage and chipotle peppers. Drying has also been used as a simple form of preservation with things like fruits, vegetables, and even things like pasta for ages. Most pasta we use and know of today is in fact a dried product.

Fermentation is another extremely common, yet very old form of preserving food. The most popular style of fermentation used world wide is of course the fermentation and distillation of alcohol. Beer and wine are simple grains, sugar, and fruits that have been treated using a fermentation process. Within this process the yeast is being fed sugars and converts them into alcohol and carbonation. Other forms of fermentation include kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, soy sauce, miso paste, lacto-fermentation, cultured dairy products(yogurt), and many more.

Other forms of preservation include vacuum sealing, freezing and so much more. These techniques are no longer a way of life, but a way to change and add flavors to our food. World renowned chefs have been using these techniques to put their food and even their historical food culture back on the map. One example is shown in this video of Chef Magnus Nilsson from Faviken.

If you want to learn more about food preservation check out our upcoming Seed to Plate Series Kitchen Days that will include Canning, Dehydrating, Pickling, Fermentation, and anything else we can do to preserve the bounty of our community gardens!

September 27th - Seed to Plate Workshop Series: Preservation

September 28th - Seed to Plate Workshop Series: Canning

October 16th - Seed to Plate Workshop Series: Preservation 2

October 17th - Seed to Plate Workshop Series: Canning 2

September 26th & 27th and October 16th & 17th

from 10-3 900 Saint John St., Casper, WY

Free Workshops! Come when you can! Donations for the experience are accepted and individual items will be available for purchase.

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