#OneBookWednesday: Preserving Past Methods of Food Preservation

By Samantha M. RSS Wed, February 17, 2016

In the Cold Mountain era, people had to live off the food they grew and the meals they made at home. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, refrigeration wasn’t available to preserve food. Instead, people used preservation methods like canning, fermenting, and pickling to cut down on food waste and to ensure their food kept. These methods are still alive today and link us to the past. Yesterday in the Culinary Literacy Center, Marisa McClellan, author of three cookbooks and the blog Food in Jars, led a group of teens in a canning workshop in which they made spiced apple jam and canned it as part of the One Book, One Philadelphia program.

Canning, as Marisa explained, is a way to make food shelf-stable, and making jam is a way to extend the life of many types of fruit and vegetables. Pectin is naturally found in fruits and creates the jam texture; sugar, also found naturally in fruits, is a preservative as well as a sweetener. The class went through each step of the canning process: peel and core a variety of apples; cook them with water and sugar; add lemon zest and spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; and boil glass jars to sterilize them. The glass jars should be hot like the jam before filling them with the jam. Homemade jam like this would make a great gift!

Marisa created this spiced apple jam recipe, which can be tweaked by using different fruit or spices. She explained how she invented and tested all the recipes in her cookbooks, a process that started with hunches and moved toward precision. This mirrored the ways recipes have developed over the course of time. At first there were informal recipes, passed by word of mouth or scribbled on paper, without separate ingredient lists. Instead, the ingredients would be found in the narrative of the recipe, in descriptions like “an amount of butter the size of a walnut.” Recipes standardized and became more formal, just as the means of passing along the recipes developed.

You can try your hand at one of the many recipes on Marisa’s blog (she recommends her tomato jam or pear vanilla jam). You can also further explore this year’s One Book selection through food by attending A Cider Tasting with Strangelove’s Craft Beer Bar on Tuesday, February 23, or by learning to make chicken and dumplings at the Culinary Literacy Center with Chef Valerie Erwin of the former GeeChee Girl on Monday, February 29. There’s also A Taste of African Heritage, an ongoing cooking series at the Culinary Literacy Center on Tuesdays!

For a full list of events, visit our online calendar or download our printed guidebook.

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