Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Urban Harvest - Preserving

I see in the new issue of Saveur (#113 September), Eugenia Bone has written an article called "Urban Harvest" that is a very good example of the movement afoot in this city and certainly reflects my sensibilities as you have seen them here, in particular with regard to pickling and preserving.

She starts the article out by saying:

"Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed with the pace of life in New York City, I go into the pantry of my apartment..."

And I can't help but think "who the hell in New York City has a kitchen big enough that it has a pantry that you can WALK into?" (In truth I do, but it's a fluke.) And if life is so busy and hectic where on earth did you find the time to make all those damn preserves!? (I'm unemployed, so that's not my problem.)

Is this kind of life just for people with money? Can a poor person buy market goods and put them up in a way that is affordable? Funny, isn't it, that something that was the domain of the working and middle class for some many years (preserving) has now gotten somehow fancy and expensive, something for the "leisure class"?

What will it take for us to regress as a culture, as a nation and start to be old fashioned again?

These days I find myself always looking at how much food is: $5 for a cantaloupe, $7 for a pint of cherries, $3 for organic cabbage (a small one) and on and on . It's no surprise that people think it is out of their reach when they can get some third world toxic cantaloupe for half the price. But then is it really a deal? And if we were to step back and think "well I have maybe 4 or 5 weeks to eat cantaloupe, so it's worth the splurge", do we really need to have everything available always? What would happen if we couldn't get red Bartlett pears in March?

Michael Pollan does an interesting cost analysis in, I believe, "Omnivore's Dilemma" about the reality of how much more expensive it is and concludes that in the long run it is actually cheaper, especially if your diet is predominantly vegetarian. What it has made me aware of is the need to eat at home, and not eat take out or delivery food, but food you make. Spend good money on good luxury protein (meat, fish, cheese) and eat less of it and eat it less often.

I go to this website called HOMEGROWN.ORG that had a banner up today that read:
"Bring back the potluck!" I think that it is a great idea! I'm all for anything that brings people together over homemade food.

It's also clear that eating with your family* everyday is a good thing. I put an asterisk next to family because I feel the need to say clearly that family can be anything you want it to be. We seemed to be living in an age where we are recreating and reinterpreting what it is to be a family. I think it is any interdependent group of friends, lovers or blood relations, there is no ideal - the ideal is to be loved and love one another (can you tell I just saw Hair in Central Park?)

OK, I digress...so pickling and preserving is not cheap and is time consuming, but it is so worth it.

In reality there is no substitute for garden vegetables that you put up yourself.

Lost in your pantry in the dark days of February, after weeks of snow, you reach down past a cobweb you discover, behind a jar of chestnuts from the south of France, a bottle of crunchy, sour, sweet, bread and butter pickles you made last July!

If you haven't had a freelance gig in two months and are on a very tight budget you are well on your way to having a cheap meal! Make a grilled cheese with some nice Grafton cheddar and if you can find in your vast pantry a last jar of tomatoes you put up you might also want to make some tomato soup.

OK now I'm just being silly.

My culinary observation and what got me started on all of this is that a lot of times recipes call for you to salt your Kirbie's, onions, cabbage etc., for several hours before you start the pickling process. Now to you old timers out there this may not be a revelation, but you really need to rinse these suckers way more then you might think. I have had two instances now where I have soaked and soaked and rinsed and rinsed and the final product has been a little bit saltier then I would want - which is such a drag.

So my first pickling tip for today is MAKE SURE YOU GET THE SALT OUT.

This of course is tricky because you need some salt. But better to take too much out and add some later.

Second tip: don't make pickled beets without sugar. Had a recipe that suggested it and it was a very bad idea.

And third: buy Saveur it's a great magazine and Bone's article really is very good.

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