Knowing how to preserve food has been essential throughout our history as humans. Consider that before the advent of refrigeration, which was originally devised in the 18th century, but was not perfected and widespread until the 20th century, most of civilisation had to make do without refrigeration and freezing.
Many of these techniques are still in place today and are used for preserving the bounty of produce during the summer months. Here's a look at the most common ways of preserving food:
Food Preservation Methods: Drying
Drying, arguably the oldest food preservation method, is a great way of preserving herbs, fruits, vegetables and meats. Since the beginning of time people have used the sun and nature as a preservation technique for removing moisture. This practice is used throughout the world, for example, Southern Italy is known for drying tomatoes, while India is known for drying chilies, mangos and a host of spices using only the powerful rays of the sun. If you've ever eaten a deliciously sweet, sun-dried tomato, you'll know just how much flavour this technique can add to ingredients.
To dry herbs, simply tie them together and hang in a sunny spot away from any humidity. To dry fruits or vegetables, set them out on a clean surface and keep them in the sun for a few weeks (this only works well in dry, warm climates). A more modern method of drying is to use an electric dehydrating machine.
Food Preservation Methods: Salting
Salting is a sub category of the drying method. The main difference here is that salt is added to products, mainly meat and fish, to draw out moisture. This lowers the bacteria content and makes food adaptable for later use. Adding salt to animal protein turns it a bit leathery. Popular foods made in this tradition are beef jerky and dry salted cod.
Food Preservation Methods: Canning
In order to can foods, you need heat. The canning technique was developed by a French chemist in 1795 and was used to preserve food for Napoleon's army. Canning is a popular way of preserving fruits, vegetables and meats.
Both cans and glass jars are suitable for canning. The important thing will be to sterilise your equipment in simmering water for a few minutes (this includes lids). Then they will be ready to be filled with things like jam. After filling, place the lid on firmly, but not too tight. To finalise the process lower the jars into a pot full of water, cover and bring to a boil. Process for about 10 minutes. Pull the jars out of the hot water and let cool. They will vacuum seal as they cool. Cooking times vary per recipe.
Food Preservation Methods: Pickling
The main difference between this category and canning is that you need two things for pickling: salt and acid. Pickling requires you soak your produce, most famously cucumbers, in a brine with salt. When they have pickled for the desired amount of time you transfer them to a jar full of vinegar. At this point you can use the canning method to produce a vacuum seal, if you wish.
A bonus of pickling is that it does not change the texture too much. The vegetables undergo a fermentation process, which also results in a vitamin boost. Pickled vegetables are known for having an increased level of vitamin B6.
Food Preservation Methods: Freezing
In the olden days, people would carry ice down from a neighbouring mountain. Of course, now we use electric freezers to preserve our foods. Freezing changes the texture of most fruits and some vegetables, but meats and fish fair well. In the summertime, you may want to freeze your berries so that you have them available for smoothies or baking later in the year.
The best way to do this is freeze fruit in batches (the same method would apply to vegetables). For instance, scatter fresh berries on a baking tray and put it in the freezer. After they have frozen solid, put them in a bag. This will avoid clumps of berries that are impossible to separate without thawing.