Sunday, June 5, 2011

Preserving food for later use or transportation

See salt harvest - France
Rolf Süssbrich -own work
One of the most used method of preserving food in the past, before freezers and fridges was salting. Salt was a very popular item that everybody need it in quite large quantities.

Sea salt was obtained by flooding specially set constructed fields near a sea. The water evaporates and at the bottom was salt (with grit and other impurities) This salt was cheap to obtain and cheap to sell and could be produced at large scales.

More pure salt was obtained from natural springs that run through salt deposits in the ground. A series of pipes were set to capture the water of such springs. Then the water was boiled in huge kettles till evaporation leaving a better salt behind. The third way to get salt was by digging it in the salt mines.

Salt was used to preserve meats and fish, cheese and  butter.

Fruits were dehydrated on large wooden surfaces, often placed outside, under direct sun but also indoor, in a room with opened windows to allow air to circulate. They dried grapes, apricots, apples, dates, figs, pears, peaches and many other fruits. Some fruits were coated with sugar and dried again.  Some vegetables, like beans, peas and lentils were harvested already dried, others, specially the root vegetables and potatoes were stored in a cool dry place and sometime buried in sand in a sheltered place. They also dried all the herbs used in cooking (or healing practices).

For preserving the meat texture they also used brine (a mixture of salt and water). The meat or fish was sunken in brine and let there until consumption. The same kind of mixture was used to preserve cheese. Also, many vegetables were pickled the same way.

A brine mixture with wine or vinegar plus spices and seeds was most often used for pickling.
Wine was also used in combination with sugar and turned into syrup for preserving fruits.

The oil preservation method was wildly used for packing olives. Animal fat was used to preserve cooked meats. Fried or roasted meat was immersed in liquid animal fat and preserved until ready for a meal. Sometime, instead of fat, they used gelatin obtained by boiling hooves and feet from animals.  

People mainly preserved food for later consumption. Winter was especially hard since no vegetable could grow. The fruits and vegetable were picked and dried at the end of the season. The roots were collected at maturity and sored in dark, cool and dry places. Meats were preserved mainly at the end of fall, when most cattle were slaughter. Pigs were sacrificed even later, when the people exhausted the fodder.

People also preserved food for preventing it to spoil during transportation. As roads developed, more and more goods were trade between different parts of a country or between continents. Spices and exotic fruits were coming to Europe and later coffee and tea.