***Giveaway below! Comment to win your own copy of Yes, You Can!*** EDIT: Nicole won! Congrats, Nicole.
Daniel Gasteiger charmed me recently when I asked him to tell me about his new book, Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too: The Modern Step-By-Step Guide to Preserving Food.
The most mind-bending moment I had with the book was the day I fished a cucumber out of a fermentation tank – about 6 weeks after dropping it in – and bit into it. It was so amazingly pickle-y; exactly as it should have been. But there’s something about fermenting vegetables that makes you expect them to taste… spoiled.
Finally! A food-preserving expert who gets it. That is TOTALLY what is stopping me from fermenting, canning, and pickling – I have this irrational fear that I’m going to do something horribly wrong and it’s going to be gross.
He went on:
The idea of the book is that you’re thinking it might be a good idea to preserve your own produce but you’ve never tried. So, I give you a lot of good reasons to preserve your own, explain the many methods available, and we get together in my kitchen to try them step-by-step. I also suggest ways you might use the foods we preserve together and share some of my favorite “recipes.”
Daniel was kind enough to provide a few excerpts for those of you who might be interested in learning to preserve your own food, including his “how-to” on using frozen blueberries in pancakes (yum!).
Nature’s Preferred Preserves
Dehydrated food is incredibly versatile. We use so many dehydrated products that we may not even recognize them as such. For example, you might find some of these dehydrated foods in your pantry:
Coffee creamers and hot chocolate mixes
Dried fruit (well, yeah!)
It may seem contrary to nature to preserve fresh produce by drying it, but dehydration is actually nature’s way of saving food to feed animals in winter. Meadow grasses dry in place, providing hay for foraging mammals. Berries and fruits dry on the branches of bushes and trees to feed birds and rodents throughout the cold months.
Imagine the relief our ancestors must have felt in late winter to find desiccated cherries, apples, or grapes still clinging to their respective plants. The prehistoric genius who decided to gather and dry fruits, vegetables, and grains under controlled conditions and then store them away from foraging animals probably commanded the type of respect we reserve today for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.
While you can still rely on prehistoric methods to dehydrate produce for long-term storage, modern methods are more reliable. Dedicated dehydrators maintain a constant temperature while moving air over the food to remove moisture. Even with no previous experience, everyone can succeed with a home dehydrator. You can also dry food in a conventional oven or a toaster oven.
On using rehydrated fruit:
Rehydrated Fruit? Please, No!
Is your larder full of dehydrated fruits? Are you pining away for a fruit salad? Well, I hope your freezer is full of frozen fruit, or that there’s at least one shelf of canned fruit in that crowded larder.
You can rehydrate fruit and use it to create something very like a fruit salad. And if you imagine the worst, you might be surprised at the result: uncooked, rehydrated fruit tastes amazingly like fresh fruit. Unfortunately, it has a most unpleasant texture; it’s a bit like a soggy sponge that has soaked up a little slime.
Rehydrated fruit becomes more palatable when you chop it into small pieces and mix it into products such as cottage cheese or yogurt, but even then, you might do better to simply mix in the dried fruit, without rehydrating it.
Rather than rehydrate fruits for salads, use dried fruits for cooked desserts such as cobbler, stewed fruit, and pie filling. Fruits may need to simmer a long time before they resemble their fresh-cooked equivalents.
And his blueberry pancake how-to:
Blueberry Pancakes: His and Hers
I freeze about 2 gallons of blueberries each July, which is peak blueberry season in central Pennsylvania. My family goes to a “u-pick” berry farm and returns with 25 to 30 pounds of hand-picked fruit (which is about 25 to 30 quarts of berries). Many of the berries end up in pies, but we love having a bunch of individually frozen blueberries to get us through the rest of the year.
How do we use frozen blueberries? Pancakes.
His pancakes: Normally, I cook pancakes at a medium-high temperature: 6 on a stove knob that tops out at 9. When I put frozen blueberries in the pancakes, I turn the temperature under the skillet to medium, about 4½ out of 9. The pancakes cook slowly, giving the blueberries time to thaw and the batter around them time to cook completely.
Her pancakes: When my wife makes pancakes, she takes a cup or so of blueberries out of the freezer and lets them sit in a bowl for twenty or more minutes before she cooks the pancakes. When she spoons batter into the pan, the blueberries are half-thawed and a bit mushy. Even with the skillet at a medium-high temperature, the pancake batter cooks all the way through.
My wife has explained to me repeatedly how I should thaw the blueberries before I use them, but I never seem to learn. On the other hand, my wife has never rejected one of my slow-cooked blueberry pancakes.
I was excited to hear on Twitter that Katie Elzer-Peters of The Garden of Words had gone rogue and fermented some collard greens after getting inspired by this book. At first, I was all grossed out, like, who eats fermented collard greens? Then I realized, with some prodding from Daniel and Katie, that fermented collards are like the sauerkraut of the south. I’m German, and I think southerners are adorable, so… I’ll definitely be fermenting some of my own collards once my copy of Daniel’s book arrives!
Ready for your own adventures in food preserving?