Lee Valley Treasure Trove
In North America, the most common methods of preserving a harvest are freezing and canning. However, there are numerous old-world alternatives.
Drying is probably one of the simplest ways of preserving foods. Many foods, including apples, tomatoes, grapes, plums, apricots, cherries, bananas and currants, dry well. Stringdried apples are great for snacks and for baking. Peel, core and slice crisp apples. Our apple peeler/corer (EV120) can perform all three operations in about 5 seconds per apple. Thread the apple slices on a string and hang to dry for several days, then store in containers for up to a year.
Sauerkraut is one of the most popular lacto-fermented vegetables. Lactic fermentation involves no cooking or preheating; grated vegetables are seasoned, then left to soak in their own juice and ferment in naturally occurring lactic bacteria. The sugar content of vegetables is transformed into lactic acid. Vegetables preserved this way are high in vitamins and minerals and retain their color. This process is a simple, safe and effective way to preserve cabbage, cucumbers, beans, radishes, onions, Swiss chard, zucchini, and more.
For pickled cucumbers and beets, vinegar is the most common preservative used in North America. A salt brine mixture, though less common, is a perfect way to preserve beans because the salt can be removed again before cooking. Salt is also ideal for preserving a vegetable soup stock mix. To make this, coarsely chop 1 pound each of fresh leeks, tomatoes and onions, and 1/2 pound each of parsley, turnips and celery. Mix all this together with 1 pound of salt. Let stand a day, mix again and then store in glass jars for up to 3 years. Use a couple of tablespoons (or enough to taste), instead of salt, in soup or tomato sauces.
Sugar has been used for hundreds of years to preserve fruits and vegetables. Sweet and sour (sugar and vinegar) recipes are less common but give a delightful combination of flavors. Just try tomato-apple-onion chutney over new potatoes for a savory delight.
With the proliferation of imported foods, root cellars are rarely used now. Their function is really quite simple, merely storing vegetables and some fruits in a room or container that is kept just above freezing and with high humidity. A room in a modern basement will also work if it is insulated and has a window to cool the room during the fall and winter months.
More details about these and other old-world methods of food preservation can be found in a book called Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by The Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante and Deborah Madison.