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Preserve us

Yesterday, Harriet taught me how to make sauerkraut and pickles without fear.

Harriet is the proprietor of Preserve, a school of food preservation that she runs out of her house and garden here in the 'hood. Yesterday's class was Fermentation and Pickling.

We're all sitting in Harriet's former garage, now a screen-house, in amongst her beautiful vegetable garden. We have cups of coffee, we have sweaters (it was chilly yesterday morning), and we have clipboards. Harriet's into her talk, about how much food preservation lore is being lost, how we have to recover it, and how she's going to teach us the basic science behind safe fermentation and pickling, when one participant pipes up about botulism.

Now, of the eight people in the class, seven have wound up in Stumptown from points east and south by conscious choice. No one has driven a car to get to the class. Two of the participants are chefs. We're slow-foodies all. Simplifiers. I feel right at home.

But this woman? Very afraid of botulism. Seems to believe that before Science Came Along, people routinely dropped dead of botulism. She's in the class to find out, definitively, how to protect her family from botulism.

When Harriet assures her the methods we're about to learn will produce safe food, Botulism Lady argues that botulism can survive hours in a boiling canning kettle. Her fear of botulism is bigger than Harriet's experience and wisdom. It's bigger than physics and chemistry.

To make a long story short, Botulism Lady becomes upset, asks for her money back, and leaves the class midway through.

Harriet, though a little shaken, carries on. We make up our own jars of quick-pickled vegetables, and go carefully over the hows and whys of fermented-food safety. The lids on our jars go "snick!" as they cool, proving a good and botulism-excluding seal. We all taste the sauerkraut that Harriet's been fermenting--completely uncooked and unrefrigerated--for a couple of weeks (smooth, nutty flavor and crispy crunch, and here I am, still alive!).

Bad bugs can't survive in the salty, acidic, anaerobic environment of pickles and ferments. And fermenting adds enzymes and stuff to the food so that it's even better for you than it was raw, which is why every human culture (hah! culture, see?) has a tradition of fermented live food.

We conclude by reassuring Harriet that the class was awesome and that if Botulism Woman had been a plant from County Extension or the FDA, she'd have stayed, taken notes, and kept her mouth shut, so don't worry and we'll all be back in the fall to learn how to make cheese.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 20th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
You're right--botulism likes an anaerobic environment, but it can't live in an acidic one. Non-acidic foods need to be pressure-canned to be safe.

The beauty of pickling and fermenting is that they're both highly acid processes, so botulism isn't a problem to begin with.

Cooking for five minutes at around 180 degrees F will kill any botulism.

I'm about to embark on my first batch of sauerkraut. Whee!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Awww, Simon. Still have a couple of icons.

To my chagrin (emphasize the "grin"), I haven't outgrown my fannish squeeing at all. There's this whole massive trope in DS fandom about Fraser and Ray in the Northwest Territories, in the snow, which Fraser is used to, and which Ray is dangerously unprepared for.

So now I'm toying with icon ideas along the lines of "My freeze-Ray I will stop the world."

I am SUCH a geek.
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:19 am (UTC)
Botulism Lady will probably meet a bad end when she's run over by a semi-trailer loaded with canned goods...
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:21 am (UTC)
You have an evil mind.

I like that in my friends.
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:28 am (UTC)
I've been told that by more than a few people. :)
Jul. 21st, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
Mmmmm, I love sauerkraut. But I've never tried making it.
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Me neither! In point of fact, I've never really liked it, but the stuff we tasted at Harriet's house was so different from anything my dad used to eat out of a jar with hit hot dogs.

It's an interesting journey of discovery, this food thing.
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
I'm envious: I love all kinds of pickles and preserves.
Jul. 21st, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
How totally awesome! (Except for Botulism Lady.)

And you're going to learn to make cheese? EVEN MORE AWESOME. (I read about that in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and really want to try it.)
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
That book is very much on my To Read list. I keep hearing about it.

I'm not sure I'll ever really be serious about making cheese. Yogurt, maybe. But it would be cool to know how it's done, and understand that whole world better since, like Wallace and Grommit, I love the stuff.
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, I loved it, it was one of the top five books I read last year.
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Have you read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan? I've heard that it covers some of the same ground as Animal Vegetable Miracle.

Since Omnivore was one of the very best books I've ever read, more like it would be a good thing!
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
I tried, I couldn't get into it. (I'll try again, and I'm also planning to read his "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto".

But I devoured the Kingsolver, I couldn't put it down!
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:38 pm (UTC)
Pollan is a journalist and Kingsolver is a novelist, and I've heard that their respective books strongly reflect those different writing roots.

I find Pollan very readable and deeply engaging--also really intellectually honest. If you decide to give him another try, it's a rewarding read. In Defense of Food is a much shorter and more accessible work, and I read it first, but Omnivore just blew me away.
Jul. 21st, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
Good points! I just could not get into Omnivore when I tried it. (And I had it from the library, so it had to go back.)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )



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