Monday, August 13, 2012

"Obsolete Ways" of Preservation

There are many ways of preserving food that are considered "obsolete" yet are still used to some extent in our modern day. Most are considered obsolete simply because they are not used to the same extent that they were in centuries past. They were done away with with the invention of refrigeration and freezing. These are the methods we are going to cover in today's blog.


Salt preserves food by drying it out (everything needs water to grow) and killing the bacteria that causes disease and fermentation. Most bacteria cannot grow where the salt content is above 10 percent. Most things do not have a salt content this high. To give you an idea, a piece of beef jerky only has a salt content of 2.2 %, ham has a content of 1.2%, and a dill pickle only has a salt content of 0.9%. Salting in and of itself does not preserve food, but the added methods used, including the drying in jerky and the acidity in pickling, also help to prevent spoilage. Many salt-preserved foods require refrigeration after they are opened.

In the old days, people preserved their vegetables by soaking them in a 50 or 60 gallon-size barrel covered with a heavy lid and left all winter. This is called wet curing, or brine curing. A form of this is still the most popular way of producing hams.

Dry curing is the method of using a mixture of salt and other ingredients to completely rub the meat being preserved, which is then allowed to cure for four to eight weeks. With ham, a mixture of twenty-five pounds of salt, two pounds of brown sugar, and two ounces of potassium nitrate is rubbed into the fresh ham, then tightly packed in salt and placed in a curing tub for six weeks. A curing tub has holes in the bottom, which allows the water produced while the meat is drying out to drain out. It is then followed by two weeks of smoking.

For more information on salting, I found a book on called The Joy of Smoking and Salt Curing: The Complete Guide to Smoking and Curing Meat, Fish, Game, and More (The Joy of Series) that might be helpful.


 This is the type of preservation I want to focus on. Pickling is not just for pickles! You can pickle many meats, fruits, and vegetables. It is a great way to preserve many foods that would otherwise spoil.

Pickled foods provide many benefits. They are high in fiber, contain antioxidants, and, depending of the vegetable you are pickling, contain calcium, magnesium, and iron. Pickled foods lower the fat in the bloodstream, improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and more.

You can pickle just about anything that you can grow, including: beets, beans, carrots, bell peppers, banana peppers, onions, and okra. You can also pickle some fruits, including watermelon, some meats, and eggs. Cucumbers, of course, can be pickled according to many different recipes, which include dill, garlicky, spicy, bread and butter, and sweet.

When pickling cucumbers, you want to pick the darkest, firmest, and wartiest cucumbers available. As cucumbers age, they get lighter and lose their warts. A good size for pickling cucumbers is four to six inches long.

My husband's favorite type of pickles are SWEET PICKLES. For that reason, I am including the recipe from that I used to make them, although I tweaked it somewhat. This is a very simple recipe, however, it requires patience, as it takes eight days from start to finish.

For this recipe, you will need:
* fresh pickling cucumbers, scrubbed well and cut into 1/4" slices (discard the ends)
* water
* pickling salt (I used Kosher salt. When using this, simply use 1 cup + 2 TBSP of Kosher to every 1 cup of pickling salt called for.)
* Alum (This is what gives your pickles their crunch.)
* Apple Cider Vinegar
* Pickling Spices
* Granulated Sugar
* Canning Jars
* Tongs
* Patience :-)

Like I said, this is an eight day process. 

On DAY ONE: Put your cucumbers in a large metal bowl. Boil water in a separate container, and pour the boiling water over your cucumbers. This will scald the cucumbers. DO NOT put a lid on the cucumbers, as you DO NOT want them to cook.  Take note as to how much water it takes to cover your cucumbers. This will help you to know exactly how much to use in the future days so you do not waste any of the future ingredients.

On DAY TWO: Drain off the water. In a separate pot, boil however much water you ended up needing from day one and pickling salt (1 1/2 cups of pickling salt to every gallon of boiling water. If you choose to use Kosher salt, like I did since I had this in the pantry, use 1 1/2 cups + 3 TBSP of Kosher to every gallon of boiling water). Pour the boiling water over the cucumbers. Salt is used to help preserve them.

DAY THREE: Drain off the water and salt mixture. DO NOT RINSE THE CUCUMBERS AT ANY TIME DURING THIS EIGHT DAY PROCESS! Boil water with a mixture of 2 1/2 TBSP of alum to each gallon of water. Pour the boiling water over the cucumbers. The day of soaking in the alum water helps the pickles to maintain their crispness.

DAY FOUR: Drain off the alum water. Boil enough apple cider vinegar and pickling spices to cover the cucumber slices (You should already know how much of the mixture you need from the measurements you made on Day One.) You will need to mix 3 TBSP of pickling spices to every 1 gallon of cider vinegar. Some people do not like the spices themselves in their pickles later. If you are one of those people, you can use a tea ball or cheese cloth to put the spices in during this process. I personally like the look and taste of the spices, so I put them directly into the mixture. Pour the boiling cider mixture over the cucumbers.

For DAYS 5-7: Let the pickles continue to soak in the cider and pickling spice mixture. You can leave them uncovered, but I covered mine with a cloth napkin. In order to keep the cloth napkin from falling into my mixture, I crossed some utensils over the top of the bowl and taped them down so they would not fall inside from being bumped or moved. I placed the cloth napkin over the top, which I also secured in place. I tied a length of yarn around the outside of the bowl right under the ledge, but over the napkin, then folded the corners up and secured them in place with tape so the yarn would hold secure, but could not fall downward.

On DAY 8: Wash and boil enough canning jars, lids, and rings for the amount of pickles you have. Drain the cider vinegar off of the cucumbers, and discard it. You will not need this again for this process. Tightly pack the cucumber slices into the jars, adding about a quarter of cup of sugar after every dozen or so slices. Yes, it uses a lot of sugar. Put lids on tightly. As the sugar dissolves, it will pull the vinegar out of the slices and make a sweet, sticky syrup. The syrup should completely cover the pickles once the sugar has completely dissolved. I periodically slightly shake the jars and turn them upside down and then, later, upside right until it has all dissolved. Be sure the lids are tightly screwed on before you flip the jars upside down, or your hard-worked-for liquid will leak out!

I can my pickles, but you do not have to, as the process used in making these pickles will preserve them well. The salt, the alum, and the sugar are all used for preserving, so you can just place the pickles in a dark, cool place, like on your pantry or on a shelf in your basement, if you wish.

Let them sit for a week, then enjoy! We really enjoy these pickles, and they are wonderful when served cold! (NOTE: This picture also features the pear butter I made the same day.)

I am also planning to make PICKLED BANANA PEPPERS this week. This recipe is from

* 1/2 lb banana pepper, seeded and sliced crossways into rings 
* Pickling Juice: 
    - 2 cups white vinegar
    - 2/3 cup white sugar
    - 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
    - 1/2 teaspoon celery seed 

1) Sterilize 2- 1/2 pint jars. 
2) Bring the vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed to a rolling boil. 
3) Place peppers in the 1/2 pint jars. 
4) Pour on the hot pickling juice, and bring liquid to within 1/2" of the top. 
5) Be sure the edge of the jar has no juice on it. 
6) Place lids, and screw on bands finger-tip tight. 
7) Seal jar, and leave for 2 weeks.

Read more at:

You can find more pickling recipes in this book, The Complete Book of Pickling: 250 Recipes from Pickles and Relishes to Chutneys and SalsasI hope you enjoy pickling as much as I do!

Your Fellow Preserver,
Nishoni Harvey
Author of "The Fanatics"

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