Tuna, Spam, baked beans, Campbell's soup: All are iconic foods that have fueled generations.
Though I'm concerned about the migration of toxic substances — so-called endocrine disrupters such as bisphenol A — from can to canned food in many brand-name products, I continue to rely on canned stuff at least weekly, though I admit I'm not partial to the name brands listed above. I add canned beans to salads and other dishes and eat wild-caught, canned tuna, salmon and sardines. Canned convenience can't be beat.
Canning was developed in the 19th century as a method to preserve food for land armies. Since then, it's become a do-it-yourself staple, though most people today use glass jars to do the preserving. Glass works just fine if you're storing food in a cupboard or cellar, rather than a bunker.
Because many of you are gardening, it may be time to start planning for canning. There are numerous online resources for canning today, and Web surfers can go to the source, watching a webcast or YouTube video on canning from the manufacturers of Ball or Kerr jars.
When trying to preserve foods, different techniques based on the type of food are important. For example, the acid, sugar and salt in foods aid in preservation, so we need to adapt canning techniques to the characteristics of the food, perhaps adding more salt, sugar or vinegar than we'd normally prefer.
Another great preservation technique is dehydration. Though it's also somewhat labor-intensive after picking, and perhaps coring, pitting and chopping, drying in a dehydrator is an overnight affair that doesn't require as much attention as canning on a stovetop. My friend in Talent has a couple of older dehydrators he keeps humming during the late summer and fall when his fruit trees hopefully will yield plums, pears and apples way faster than he can eat them. He snacks on them all winter long.
Winemaking is another simple way to preserve fruit. Of course, wine comes with the added benefit — or liability — of alcohol. Nevertheless, alcohol is a great preservative that helps give wine shelf life. Wine doesn't have to be limited to grapes. One of the best I've ever made was from wild beach plums when I lived in New Jersey.
Another preservation technique that involves fermentation is making sauerkraut and kimchi, the spicy, fermented foods of Korea. I love fermenting because nature's microorganisms do a lot of the work for us. We start with native strains of yeast, and in the case of homemade sauerkraut, we end up with beneficial bacteria that support human health.
Eating fresh, seasonal, home-grown food is a treat — in the eyes of many, a blessing. We plant a seed, it grows and then we can harvest it. Preserving food gives it an afterlife: food for thought.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.