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Preserving seasonal food and culinary techniques

Thursday - 5/16/2013, 8:15am  ET

Canning.jpg
Chefs, home cooks and diners are returning to dried or cured meats, house-infused beverages and handmade treats over modern approaches. And one technique that has gained traction in the culinary and home kitchen arena is canning and preserving. (Thinkstock)

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Put away the liquid nitrogen. When it comes to food, more traditional techniques are taking the spotlight.

Chefs, home cooks and diners are returning to dried or cured meats, house-infused beverages and handmade treats over modern approaches. And one technique that has gained traction in the culinary and home kitchen arena is canning and preserving.

Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of "Put ‘em Up Fruit," explains that the technique is less of a trend, and more of a way to prolong the food supply in a cost-effective and healthy way.

"We're really just going back to the way things used to be," Vinton explains. "And these techniques -- canning, infusing, fermenting and drying our food -- aren't rocket science and they're not new and hip. They're the way that humans have extended their food supply since we began eating."

Vinton says canning is especially helpful in climates, like D.C., that don't have 12-month growing seasons. Jarring the season's freshest produce makes it easier to enjoy the same fresh flavors, months later.

She also explains that canning is a great way to control the ingredients that go into your food -- especially for people with allergies and/or special and restricted diets.

"I know exactly where it's coming from, I don't have to add anything in there that I don't want -- no preservatives, no additives, no coloring," Vinton says.

Vinton says her goal is to convince cooks -- novice and advanced -- that canning and preserving is easy, economical and accessible.

"I think food preservation, and even home cooking, has such a bad (reputation) for being complicated or difficult," she says. "You don't need to be a chef to feed yourself or to do any of these processes. They're just sort of the tools that every home cook had in their repertoire not so long ago."

Vinton also stresses that preserving foods and flavors does not take a long time.

"Infusing, for example, takes less than 15 minutes and gives you a wonderful, flavored vinegar or a homemade liqueur."

The equipment required for canning is minimal and includes a large pot, canning jars made of extra thick glass so they can be submerged in boiling water, canning tongs and specialized lids that allow the jars to be sealed.

Vinton says canning equipment is available in most hardware stores or online.

"For me, preserving your own food is just a natural extension of supporting local agriculture," she says.

One of Vinton's favorite preserving recipes is a strawberry balsamic glaze, a recipe she says is perfect for this time of year, since strawberries are in season. Try the glaze over pan-seared pork chops at any time of the year -- even past strawberry season.

Strawberry Balsamic Glaze

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts strawberries (about 3 pounds), washed, stemmed and hulled
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup fruity red wine, such as a burgundy or pinot noir
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Prepare

  1. Combine the berries and water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes, mashing the fruit with the back of your spoon to break it down and release the berries' juices.
  2. Add the sugar and wine and return to a boil. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the solids and return the syrup to the cooking pot. Add the vinegar and salt and simmer until the syrup is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 10 minutes.

Preserve

Refrigerate: Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Can: Use the boiling-water method for canning. Ladle the syrup into clean, hot 4-ounce jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head-space between the top of the syrup and the top of the lid. Run a bubble tool along the inside of the glass to release the trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center the lids on the jars and screw on jar bands until they are just finger-tip tight. Process the jars by submerging them in boiling water to cover by 2 inches for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars rest in the water for five minutes. Remove the jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check the seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

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