Our grandparents and great-grandparents ate locally, seasonally and sustainably. But they had to in an age before modern supermarkets and jet transportation made a fresh tomato possible in January.
Today people are willingly cooking, eating and preserving as their ancestors did for health, economy, flavor and DIY satisfaction.
“[It’s] a modern version of a pre-World War II approach” to food, says Eugenia Bone, author of the new cookbook “The Kitchen Ecosystem” (Clarkson Potter, $27), named after her website.
“There’s a direct correlation between the amount of homemade and preserved stuff you have on hand to cook with, and the tastiness of your food,” she writes on that site.
Your ecosystem amounts to what you have in your kitchen, she notes. For some, that just might be a refrigerator stocked with a few open wine bottles and Chinese takeout. Bone’s ecosystem, however, has evolved into an efficient means of enjoying fresh foods at their seasonal peak, prudently preserving some foods for later, and transforming kitchen scraps, like peels and bones, into flavor builders.
Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns, the San Francisco restaurateurs and authors of “Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes” (Chronicle, $40), devote the first half of their book to preserving, fermenting, curing and sprouting. They say they are inspired by what their parents and grandparents cooked.
“We grew up eating foods that were spicy and sour,” Balla says. “We wanted to use more sour, more funk and more spice. We wanted to make things using local ingredients and not made elsewhere.”
“I think of how quickly the world moves today,” says Burns, when asked why people are so interested in preserving now. “People are making things to slow down and put food back on the table. They are making things from scratch to feed and save and take care of others and out of a genuine curiosity for the things of the past.”
What can you make yourself? Pretty much whatever you have a hankering for — and the right equipment. You can marinate artichokes or bell peppers, dry herbs, vegetables and fruits, candy citrus rinds, put up the fixings for a beef pot pie, and even make your own version of a cream of chicken soup usually found in a store-bought can.
Balla says the couple came to this style of cooking gradually. No one, he says, has to start off making their own cheese or building an entire spice larder from scratch.
Bone writes in her book that it took her 25 years to get her kitchen ecosystem running right. And in “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry” (W.W. Norton, $35), author Cathy Barrow outlines how she moved from canning to meat curing to cheesemaking and changed her life.
“Now we just live this way, without thinking about it much,” writes Barrow, the Washington, D.C., food blogger behind the website Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen. “Food preservation is a part of the household routine. A walk through the weekend farmers market is a chance not only to shop for the week ahead but also to plan for the winter months.”
Don’t be scared off by this kind of commitment. Do what you can do.
BUILD A PANTRY
Whether you have an actual walk-in pantry of old, a dedicated spot in the laundry room or even just a closet, here are tips for building and storing your own preserved food items.
Have the ingredients on hand for the five dishes you most love to cook, says Jennifer Chandler, author of “The Southern Pantry Cookbook,” so you can make those dishes whenever you need them.
Use a few ingredients or condiments repeatedly in your cooking? Consider making your own, says Bone, slowly replacing the foods you love to eat with homemade items. If you buy and use canned tomatoes fairly often, she suggests you can some tomatoes next summer. “Everything you cook will taste better,” she adds. “That’s one pantry item that reflects you.”
Preserving doesn’t have to be a huge task. Go about it as you do your daily cooking, says Bone, who will put up a half-pint or two of strawberry jam when making a strawberry pie, or simmer chicken bones to make a small amount of stock while the bird cooks. While cutting up lemons for a lamb dish, she slices a few extra in half and puts them in salt to make preserved lemons.
Don’t feel that you have to do everything from scratch right away, says Balla. “It can be one thing, like sauerkraut,” he says. “It can be something you are curious about and want to experiment with.”
Prep: 30 minutes. Cook: 1 hour, plus canning time. Makes: 3 pints.
When canned, these peppers from Eugenia Bone’s “The Kitchen Ecosystem” keep up to one year in the pantry. You can refrigerate them instead, but plan to use them within 10 days. Eat them on their own, or use them to bolster dishes like the pimiento cheese spread here. Save the marinating oil for a quick chicken thigh saute.
6 pounds red bell peppers (about 12 large peppers)
2 cups white wine vinegar (5 percent acidity)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 large lemons)
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons each: minced garlic, dried oregano
11⁄2 teaspoons pickling salt
Roast the peppers under a broiler, turning several times, until charred and softened; allow to cool to room temperature. Peel peppers; remove seeds, pith and stems. Chop the peppers or slice in thin strips.
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano and salt; heat to a boil over medium heat. Off the heat, add the peppers; toss them in the marinade.
Have ready 3 clean pint jars (or a combination of half-pints and pints) and bands, and new lids that have been simmered in hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Spoon the peppers into the jars; cover with the marinade, making sure the garlic and oregano are distributed evenly among the jars. Leave 1⁄2 inch headroom. Wipe the rims, place on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight.
Process the jars in a water bath for 15 minutes. If the jars seem a little greasy, it is OK. Just wipe them down with a bit of vinegar. The peppers may float at first but don’t worry; they will settle down.
In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat until as smooth as possible: 1⁄2 cup each mayonnaise, grated sharp cheddar cheese, soft goat cheese or cream cheese (or a combination) at room temperature. Add 1⁄3 cup chopped marinated peppers, drained, and salt and cayenne to taste. Pour into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator. Makes about 13⁄4 cups.
Chicken with marinated pepper oil
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season 1 pound skinless, bone-in chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Brown the chicken all over, about 15 minutes. Add 1⁄2 cup white wine and cook for 15 minutes more or until the thighs are cooked through. Add 1⁄4 cup pepper marinade and cook for about 5 minutes, flipping the chicken thighs to coat them in the marinade. Garnish with 1 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.
CREAM OF CHICKEN CONDENSED SOUP
This recipe from Jennifer Chandler’s “The Southern Pantry Cookbook” makes just over 1 cup, the equivalent of a 10.75-ounce can of soup, she writes. Use it in casseroles and other dishes, instead of canned versions. For cream of mushroom soup, cook 1 cup finely diced mushrooms in the butter before adding the flour, milk and stock.
2 tablespoons each: unsalted butter; flour
1⁄2 cup 2 percent or whole milk
1⁄2 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the flour; cook, whisking, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. While continuing to whisk, gradually add the milk and the chicken stock. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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