The Big Organic Preserve-In : Food and us
Lynda Brown - 06 September 2011
I have an infuriating need to go one step further, be it on the dance floor or anywhere else. It drives me mad but last Saturday's Organic Food Festival found me at it again, determined to do something different from the usual cookery demonstration. You see, I hold the view that recipes don't teach you much - they have their place, but basically it's what I call the Sat Nav approach to food. Practice helps of course, but to have the confidence to be your own cook, I believe all you need is to understand the basics: it's the why's and how to's that empower you, not a list of ingredients and watching them all being tossed around in a pan. As people generally seem to be nervous about preserving, and I think it is so important, it seemed an ideal opportunity to go for broke and tackle preserving know- how. Not my most brilliant performance (too ambitious, and hadn't bargained for the rock band belting it out next door, which meant I had to shout so loud I lost my voice half way through) but as we're about to enter prime preserving time, I thought I'd kick start everyone off by discussing the two things that matter most to me.
First off, as we know preserving has lots to offer , but the reason I'm so missionary about it is because it's one of our iconic age-old skills : who knows, if we hadn't learnt how to preserve food, we might still be in caves rubbing two sticks together. And the way I see it, what makes us human - ie the skills we need to survive and be a social animal - is just as important as preserving the biodiversity of the planet. Letting them languish, and relying on supermarkets or Face Book, just doesn't cut the mustard for me at all.
In short, preserving in our DNA and whether we realize it or not, that instinct to preserve, store and survive is deep within us -that's why, too, I'm sure it brings so much satisfaction and pride; but like many of our natural skills we've acquired over the ages, we either use it or lose it.
Using it, however, doesn't necessarily mean doing it the way our ancestors did. I maybe missionary about the need to preserve, but I'm equally missionary about not having to do it in the traditional way. For me, small is beautiful every time (speaking personally, five jars of anything at a time is about the maximum I can cope with). So, you can if you want, but especially if you're new to preserving, please don't believe you have to slave over a hot preserving pan all day, make huge quantities of anything, use traditional quantities of sugar if you don’t want to, aim to keep them forever, or even that you need special equipment. You don’t. For me, it's about capturing the seasons and I see preserving as my seasonal treat, one jar of this, a few jars of that. That way, it becomes part of everyday life, something I can easily fit in (takes less time etc) and which personally gives me just as much pleasure and pride as bottling a year's worth in one hit.
And if this hasn't convinced you, remember , as Alys Fowler once wrote, preserving is pure bottled love. It simply doesn't come any better than that: the best edible gift to yourself and others I know - not to mention the perfect way to celebrate this year's bumper harvest and Organic September.
Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.