I’m a bit nervous about preserving food. We have been enjoying our grandma’s homemade raspberry jam for years, and one of the saddest parts of the liquid limits on plane flights now is that you can’t carry that delicious stuff in your carry on anymore. (On the other hand, a good break for Grandma–hauling bags full of heavy jam around various airports–because you can’t get a direct flight to Oklahoma from anywhere it seems–is a lot of effort!). She’s also made strawberry, boysenberry, and the amusingly named, but irresistible, marionberry–so I’ve had an appreciation for the more unusual varieties of fruits and veggies for a long time.
The point is my Grandma knows what she is doing. On the other hand, since noone learns how to to these “old fashioned” methods of food preparation they seem a little exotic. My Grandma is of course from another generation and grew up on a farm. A good friend of my grandparents (and indeed of our family), Mike Toly, also preserved food–he put up little jars of homemade pickles. But again, he was my grandparents generation. Who knows how to do this today? In fact I find it pretty intimidating (in particular since I’m terrified I will poison everyone with botulism, though I suppose this is kind of silly–but on the topic of botulism, why oh why would you stick that stuff in your face?)
As I’ve said before, I have a strange fascination with these “old-fashioned” and “do it yourself” ways. In fact, I’ve been getting some books from the library to see how this whole canning thing works (in an hope that I will have tons of tomatoes for preserving, which is seeming foolishly optimistic these days). In fact there is also a great resource put out by the USDA that you can download here. I’m still intimidated, but hopefully will get up the nerve to give it a go.
In the meantime I have tried my hand at perhaps the easiest preserved food there is: preserved lemons! So much acid, and so much salt, that I think nothing can grow in there. Of course you have to properly sterilize the jar first (i.e. boil it for 10 minutes) but then it’s just a matter of stuffing all the ingredients in and covering with lemon juice. The lemons need to stay submerged–I suppose otherwise they could rot. You shake every day to redistribute the salt while curing, and various recipes differ in how long they take to mature. I have used this recipe from Mark Bittman but I also consulted the Ball Guide as well (their recipes are tested, so that assuaged my nerves a little). There’s not much to report for now. I’ve been diligently shaking, but have had to reopen the jar as I think I dislodged the lemons and they were not staying covered by the juice. (I certainly hope that was what happened–otherwise it was more than a momentary exposure to air!). We’ll have to wait and see.
Besides being a good entree into the concept of pickling, preserved lemons are a pretty cost-effective item to make, if you consider what it costs to purchase in stores. I’ve been intrigued by these for a while, having seen them in my beloved Claudia Roden cookbook (three types!), Deborah Madison, Judy Rodgers, and of course Mark Bittman. Since I like Mediterranean food, I come across lots of recipes that call for these. But I’ve never gotten around to making it until now. Perhaps the final straw was seeing a 4 ounce jar for 9$ at Whole Foods. My jar is one pint, that’s 16 ounces, and cost 6$ to make (only because I used organic lemons, but since it’s the peel that you eat, it seemed worth it). Also, since this is a condiment, one jar can last you a while (if 6$ seems a bit extravagant, even!). What’s fun is, a this is a traditional recipe, there are endless permutations on the same basic theme to try!
Plus, isn’t it just so beautiful?