There is something deeply satisfying about preserving, especially when you have grown the produce yourself. In today’s modern world of fridges and freezers, and the availability of almost everything at almost anytime of the year, it may seem an unnecessary skill and yet I’ve seen a steady increase of interest in preserving. The move away from preserving in the last few decades is not surprising – a generation who had no choice but to preserve fresh produce when in season no doubt felt liberated when new technology liberated them from that chore, and the availability of produce flown or shipped in from around the world made seasonality less relevant.
What this stole from the generations to follow was the pleasure that comes with eating seasonally. I don’t imagine any of us would want to go back to an era where we could eat only that which was grown locally during any given month – supplementing these with staples and imports is no bad thing when it comes to pleasurable variety – but at the same time, I know that I get much joy from anticipating and then enjoying British-grown produce such as fresh asparagus, early sprouting broccoli, strawberries, sweetcorn, tomatoes, winter squashes and much more when they are at their peak. I miss them when they are gone, but that makes the pleasure next year all the greater.
Being contrary creatures, now that we no longer need to preserve many of us have voluntarily returned to it. Perhaps it gives a more personal connection to how food is produced, not to mention a connection to our ancestors of many, many, many millennia.
There are many books on the market for those who want to preserve, but I’m particularly excited about Ferment Pickle Dry: Ancient methods, Modern meals by Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinksa-Poffley, published this month by Frances Lincoln.
The authors are passionate about growing, preserving and cooking using traditional techniques which they share and teach at their Walthamstow workshop, The Fermentarium.
What I love about the book is the way it’s organised and presented. As the title suggests, the book is divided into three broad methods of preservation, fermenting, pickling and drying.
Fermentation involves a metabolic change that converts sugars to acids, gases or alcohol. Many of the fermented foods you are familiar with have a distinctive sour taste that is down to the lactic acid produced by fermentation – foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi. Most of us enjoy the fermentation of sugar to alcohol that creates beer, cider and wine.
Pickling uses an acid solution to preserve the produce within it by killing or vastly inhibiting the growth of the bacteria that cause food to spoil. In some cases, pickles are also partially fermented, and salt also contributes to the preservation process.
Drying foods simply means removing moisture, either by use of the sun, or man made heating. Since most of the bacteria and yeast that cause food to spoil or change thrive in moisture, dried foods discourage such spoilage.
In each section, you will find a very varied selection of recipes taking inspiration from the preserving traditions of countries all around the world. For each of these recipes, the authors also provide ‘partner recipes’ which offer clever and delicious dishes making use of the various preserves.
This is the aspect that excited me most about the book – I’m a great one for making preserves but often lacking in ideas and inspiration for how best to make use of them.
In the Ferment section, plain live yoghurt is used in blackcurrant yoghurt ice cream, fermented gherkins & grapes are used in a sour grape pickletini and in fermented gherkin & nasturtium caponata, long-fermented pizza dough is used to make peppe rosso 10-inch pizza onto which several fermented toppings are also used, cabbage & apple sauerkraut is used in sauerkraut bubble & squeak, preserved lemons feature in preserved lemon cous-cous and amazake is used in drunken rice pudding. Of course, this section also includes guidance on sourdough starters followed by a selection of sourdough bread recipes.
The Pickle section includes a vast array of pickled fruits and vegetables. Pickled cherry tomatoes feature in a Greek salad, pickled plums are used to great effect on a pickled plum flammekueche, pickled oranges lift a dish called pickled oranges, spice cuttlefish & squid ink linguine. I’m particularly drawn to honey-pickled garlic and the subsequent pulled pork with swede mash, grilled nectarines & honey-pickled garlic. We’re too late this year but next year I’m keen to use our pickle our homegrown French beans and use them to make pickled bean falafel. As a huge fan of Japanese miso, I love the sound of miso pickled mushrooms and miso pickled eggs both of which are used in misozuke and soba noodle salad. There are also herrings pickled in a variety of different ways. Whilst most recipes in this section are savoury, there are also dried fruit pickled in brandy which can be used in a decadent coffee meringue cake.
The Dry section includes funghi, vegetables and fruit. I will be using my dehydrator (more on that soon) to make dried wild mushrooms for use in both wild porcini soup and dried mushroom sauce. I’m utterly intrigued by the various vegetable ‘barks’ such as sweet potato crackling which then features in a potato crackling fritata. A honey-glazed Chinese beef jerky strikes me as an unusually delicious flavour of dried beef. Many dried herbs are used to great effect in a variety of infusions and teas. And dried fruit are used in a delicious and healthy nutty fruit bar.
Note that not every recipe has an accompanying photo, but a fair number do. My only minor negative about the book is the photography; the dishes are very small on vast empty backgrounds – I appreciate negative space as a design tool but here it seems to have been taken too far and leaves me peering intently at the dishes wishing I could zoom in to make out more detail.
Preceding the recipes, the introductory chapters of the book provide suggestions for basic equipment that you will need, a guide on how to sterilise and seal correctly and an introduction to a few key ingredients. These, together with the straightforward recipes, make this a suitable book for those new to preserving, as well as those who simply want to expand their repertoire.
Recipes from Ferment, Pickle, Dry
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Kavey Eats received a review copy from Frances Lincoln.
Ferment, Pickle, Dry (RRP £20) is currently available from Amazon UK for £16.59