|Dried Thai chili peppers. Throw them in stir fries.|
When I told a good friend I would be giving a talk about food preservation - freezing, drying, pickling, canning, etc. I think she responded in a way that I could only describe as...scoffing. If I didn't adore this woman, I'd be really offended. Here's where I think she's coming from: being a former farmer, canning and other forms of food preservation were a part of her household duties. Sow the seed, weed, harvest, figure out how to save the abundance to feed your family the rest of the year. As a relatively new canner, I've mentioned how "cool" it is to be able to cook and process food so that it's shelf stable. It's kind of miraculous, no? I mentioned how "fun" it is. "Fun", she did not like. That's the difference between us, she said. I do it for fun, she did it because she had to.
|Holy basil. Dried leaves are great made into tea.|
Yes, I live in the burbs. I have a small garden plot - far from being able to sustain my family. I'm not sure I'd even be able to feed my pets on what I'm able to grow. Gardening for me is for fun. It's actually soooo freaking fun. So is being able to put together a gift basket with some good olive oil, a crusty loaf of bread, and a jar of bruschetta made from my own heirloom tomatoes. I love to pull my bright red lingonberries out of the freezer to top my Irish oatmeal in the middle of winter. It's totally fun to dry my own peppers and announce over a nice spaghetti dinner - red pepper flakes anyone? However, in my defense, it does go a bit beyond fun.
|Dried Chinese dates. Throw in soups, cut and use to decorate breads, or rehydrate in water.|
My father is from a rural, but educated, well-off family. No one would know this though because with the onset of Communism, all material wealth was stripped, and villagers in Shantung, China starved for decades. My father tended a farm and a smaller garden plot solely for survival. Napa cabbages, radishes, turnips and a few other crops did well in their climate, but there were certainly no pantry items, no means for jarring tomato sauce, no freezer to store berries. Before the ground froze, my father and other villagers would dig giant pits in their nearby family garden plots. In the pit would go all the cold weather harvests for winter storage. Each week, he would remove the snow and dirt cover and dig out a few cabbages to feed his brother and mother.
|Gigantic winter melon. Stores up to 6 months in a cool dry area.|
A few summers ago, I was given the task of running out to the pier over my parents' pond to bring in the fish before it started raining. These fish, wrapped loosely in paper towels, had been sun drying for days now. After drying fully, they would be preserved in salted oil. I had never had this salted fish before, but they said it was a thing. A simple, homely dish - a little bit of salted fish with each bite of a plain, white, steamed bun. We all looked forward to it. It was delicious.
What my parents don't know is that despite the salted fish with steamed bun being flavorful, simple, and satisfying, each bite also brought me closer to the life and part of China that I would never know. A life that is told to me in fits and starts, but never really as a joyful reminiscence. Eating the foods they ate, saving foods in the way they did (despite the fact that my survival does not hinge on it) brings me closer to them and their world in a way that words cannot bridge.