adventures in craft beer and real food

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Saving the moment

Like practically everyone else in my generation -- and probably yours, too -- I grew up with little dependence upon foods that had been preserved at home. Yet, people have been figuring out ways to slow down the inevitable decay of foods for thousands of years. And people have been canning foods since Nicolas Appert figured out how in 1809. I concede our forebears preserved food more out of necessity than for taste, which I hope you know by know is one of the leitmotifs throughout all of my writings for Pint and Fork.

However, there are good reasons to preserve food today. When we capture a product at the peak of its season, we have that vegetable at its seasonal prime all year. This is the overarching reason why I intend to can large amounts of tomatoes this year including derivative sauces such as pasta sauce and tomato salsa. Francis Schott and Mark Pascal, of The Restaurant Guys fame, swear by this approach at their flagship restaurant Stage Left.

Moreover, so much of our food comes from thousands of miles away by anonymous growers. Reducing the energy consumed schlepping food around the globe has to be a good thing. And furthermore it gives me an excuse to support local farmers to a greater extent. Call it sentimental hogwash, but I like knowing the names of the people growing my vegetables.

Of course, I'm also just curious and eager to try something new. That's why this year I'm going to put more emphasis upon food preservation in hopes that I'll have some good eats this winter. Throughout the summer I hope to show off all the food I've put aside. And besides, maybe canning is going to become cool the way knitting is these days.

I bought five pounds of asparagus from the Priske family at the Dane County Farmers' Market this last weekend. Since asparagus has very little acidity, it has to be autoclaved ... I mean pressure canned (i.e. not water bath canned). To prepare, I cut the spears so that they would fit inside my widemouth pint-size mason jars. I fit as many as I could inside the jars. Then I added boiling water and half a teaspoon of canning salt to each jar. After attaching the lids, I processed the cans under 11.6 psi for thirty minutes and then allowed the pressure to attenuate naturally over 25 minutes.

As the provenance of canning recipes is important (unless you want to get botulism, which you don't), I followed these directions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Next time I get my hands on fresh asparagus, I think I'm going to try pickling it.


xenobiologista said...

Do you need a pressure cooker to do that or what?

Nicholas said...

Yep, you need a pressure cooker/pressure canner. If you simply use a water bath canning method, you could very potentially end up with some unsafe results.

I picked a small one up at Orange Tree Imports for $80.