With a chop-chop here and a chop-chop there, I did something I’ve never done before. Under my friend, Sherry’s, mentoring and supervision, I produced a dozen jars of homemade salsa.
Lesson number one: Salsa requires hours of cutting vegetables with a very sharp knife and it’s really, really important not to get your finger in the way.
Lesson number two: It’s not much more difficult cutting vegetables when your finger is covered with a band-aid and your hand is covered with a rubber glove because it’s bad form to bleed into the salsa.
Sherry knows her stuff, but I’m still a little worried about my execution of her directions. The salsa looks the way it’s supposed to look, and a sample tasted good. But when a jar is opened six months from now, will it be edible? Well, I’ll answer that question in six months, if I live to tell you about it.
The canning session got me to thinking about how our ancestors preserved food to tide them over during the cold shivery months of winter. After all, people still had to eat even when snow and ice covered the garden.
Not surprisingly, I found early practices were related to location.
People who lived in frigid climates froze their food. People living in tropical climates let the sun and wind dry it. Soon there were some “Aha!” moments that cultivated other methods such as the use of salt, brine, and sugar mixtures to keep food edible at a later date.
However, a pesky little problem with botulism still made eating preserved food a bit risky. It was generally assumed that exposure to air was the enemy ruining a safe culinary experience. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century when Louis Pasteur discovered the impact of microorganisms on illness and food preservation, that canning methods started to look more like they do today. Boil, sanitize, and seal became the mantra for safe eating.
I happened to stumble across a book that looked both interesting and a little bit frightening to an unsure canner like me. It’s called Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods by Gary Allen, for those who’d like to read more on the subject. The book contains information on ancient methods of food preservation along with more modern ones. It was released in July and looks like it could be an interesting read for foodies or historical buffs.
Well, here’s hoping my salsa contains more pleasures than perils.
By the way, even though this marked my first time canning food, I have successfully used the dehydration method of food preservation. Here is my one and only “drying” recipe.
Slice a sweet potato lengthwise into one quarter inch slices. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake slices in a 250 degree oven for about three hours. Keep an eye on the slices toward the end of baking time. Less time is required for chewier texture, slightly longer for crispy. Remove from oven and cool. Keep slices stored in refrigerator.
Why, you may ask, would anyone ever want to dry sweet potato slices?
For one thing, they’re quite cheap to make, and although I have never personally tasted a dried sweet potato, I have it on good authority that not only are they nutritious, but also quite delicious.
Note my taste tester’s demonstration below. His rating: two paws up.