Thursday, March 11, 2010

Preservation of food

Preservation of food has always concerned the women of the household in the old days.
Now as women and men both cook, it is shared equally by everybody.

Remember the days without a refrigerator?
The food that went bad in summer was quickly categorized: milk, potatoes, lentil dishes especially sambar.
There was a way to deal with everything:
Potatoes were cooked for one meal, the remainder kept near an open window where a lot of air came through. Lentils got the same treatment.
Milk was boiled 3-4 times a day and the vessel it was boiled in washed thoroughly, inspected carefully and then water boiled in it and discarded before the milkman arrived.

Then came the first Frigidaires and Kelvinators and life changed. The freezer compartment was so small though that other than making ice and ice cream, it had no space for anything else.
It wasn't till I came to America that I realized how much could be and was frozen.
As life got busier, I too cooked in large batches and stored food in the freezer.
I used it for storing food that we grew in summer: chopped tomatoes, fried eggplant, blanched green beans.
Besides freezing,bottling, canning, drying and salting food also help extend it's life.
In India my mother used the summer months to make pickle with limes and mangoes.
I remember my surprise when my mother told me people from Rajasthan and Sindh pickled every vegetable imaginable. I later realized it was because they didn't get these things all year round like we did in the South.
How intelligent they all were.

The main question about extending the shelf, refrigerator, or freezer life of any food is how long can we keep it after that.
Spices have been found beside the bodies of entombed Pharaohs that are still usable.
Pickles my cousins tell me are usable upto three years...these are the ones that are made the traditional way and stored in jars.
Once I got here, I had my own way of keeping things...I got all the spices, pickles and powders I could when I visited India and then kept them refrigerated till my next trip home. I still do that till someone brings me replacements or I buy them.
As far as I can remember nothing has spoiled.

How long should one keep things is the main question?
When the dals I bought started showing signs of insect infestation, I would throw them out. Then I got this tip: store the bags in the freezer for two weeks, then take out and all the eggs will be killed. I went two steps further: one I put every single item from the Indian grocery store into the freezer for two week, even flour and rice, two I store it all in my spare refrigerator. I have noticed that the two week freezer treatment prevents the spread of tiny insects which make all good cooks go UGH!
While veggies get moldy or change color or start smelling, dry ingredients don't have too many signs.
With dry ingredients, I'm careful to store properly and then check carefully before using. The slightest change in appearance or smell and the packet is off to the trash can.
With meat and fish in the freezer, the rule is now three months at the mo though I know people who buy and store their meat for a year or more.

Recently my niece sent me a link to a site which should help us all with this ongoing question.
Here's the link:

Here's to healthy eating!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

my first time here...really nice blog u have here..will be back for more!