Spare a Nickel with these Preserved Foods & Pickles

Words: Robyn Samuels

Back in the day, dashing to the grocery store for a pack of bacon was not an option. People kept inventory of their produce and poultry to see them through the seasons. Luckily, our ancestors were smart enough to harness the power of the sun and rely on colder climates to extend the shelf-life of foods. They invented effective ways to outlast natural disasters and increase food security, in fact, many of these methods are still used to preserve foods.

If you’re interested in pickling and curing, then you’ve come to the right place. We explore the history and different types of preserved foods, and share some recipes. Whether you want to make gin-cured trout, rooibos kombucha or tamatie sous, we have just the ‘cure’.

preserved foods tickle your pickle and spare a nickel

Benefits of Preserved Foods

Today, we live in an age of convenience and don’t have to meal prep months in advance like our forefathers did. Most of us own fridges, meaning we don’t have to suntan our meat and can procure prosciutto from our local butchery. Even so, a plethora of reasons still make preserved foods an agreeable option.

Sure, preserving foods might sound like a complicated process,  but it’s actually pretty simple. With economic instability and inflation on the rise, it’s also great practice to get the most out of what you buy, while sparing a nickel or two in the process. Instead of letting that cabbage shrivel in your fridge, make kimchi. Not sure what to do with those wrinkled apples in your fruit bowl? Jam it and can it! You could also naturally extend the shelf-life of foods, and sustainably enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables, all year round. Here’s all you need to know about different methods of preserving foods.


Curing

Had it not been for curing, we would have an unimaginably bland charcuterie selection. Curing isn’t exclusive to salting meat, but rather refers to different methods of preserving foods, including brining, smoking and the dehydration of foods. Before money existed, people bartered edible goods as a form of currency. In fact, Roman soldiers were famously remunerated with salt, which they called ‘salarium’, better known as ‘salary’ today.

charcuterie board

In ancient traditions, curing involved covering the meat in honey, which has antibacterial properties. Studies show that propolis – a mixture of bee saliva and beeswax (yum) – has bacteriostatic properties and actually inhibits the growth of E. coli in vitro, making honey a natural preservative. The purpose of salting and alternative curing methods is to extract moisture from meat, as microorganisms thrive in water. This involves applying salt to meat and covering it with a muslin cloth to help prevent bacterial growth and botulism.

Curing lends more flavour to the meat with the addition of spices.

Curing is an effective method for the long-term storage of meat, especially in hotter climates. But, before you get any ideas about making your own bacon or selling cured meats, it’s important to note a couple of things. Iodated salt isn’t recommended for curing meat as it lends an unpleasant aftertaste, instead, Prague powder or curing salt should be used. This allows the meat to last longer due to the nitrates/nitrites, which also give cured meat its characteristic red hue. There are many ways to cure meat, these are a few…

cured meat
cured beef

Cured Beef & Fig Salad

The cured beef, fig and labneh combination is everything and more! Not to mention, the pickled carrot adds the perfect amount of acidity and crunch to this dish.

Recipe for Cured Beef & Fig Salad

Spice Cured Beef

Aside from making meat last longer, spices add more flavour to the meat. Toasted Szechwan pepper, ginger and lime leaves infuse the beef with tremendous flavour.

Recipe for Spice Cured Beef

summer meal ideas
summer salad recipe ideas

Gin Botanical Cured Trout

Other methods of curing fish involve alcohol, otherwise known as ‘gravlax’. This curing recipe uses gin botanicals, enhancing the natural, piquant taste of the salmon.

Recipe for Gin Botanical Cured Trout

Citrus & Fennel Cured Franschhoek Trout

The acidity, sweetness and flavour of lemon and orange juice both cure and season the trout. We love that this recipe includes another preserved fave – pickled cucumber.

Recipe for Citrus & Fennel Cured Franschhoek Trout


Fermentation

Remember that time when Jesus turned water into wine? Well, he basically performed rapid fermentation. While we can’t substantiate these claims, we do know that fermented foods have been around for yonks.

 fermented drinks beer

The anaerobic process involved in fermentation converts sugary carbs into either alcohol, carbon dioxide or lactic acid. But in order to do this, the fruits, vegetables or grains used require the help of yeast or healthy bacteria to develop lactobacillus bacteria – the same culture found in the yoghurt you eat with your morning muesli.

The anaerobic process involved in fermentation converts sugary carbs into either alcohol, carbon dioxide or lactic acid.

Lacto-fermented foods provide loads of beneficial enzymes, fatty acids and probiotics, which generally aids ease of digestion. Fermentation facilitates the preservation of some of your favourite foods – turning cabbage to kimchi, starter into sourdough and barley into beer. Fermented foods taste a lot better than they sound, and are definitely worth embracing the funk.

homemade rooibos kombucha recipe
easy kimchi recipe

Rooibos Kombucha Tea

Westerners have recently woken up to the benefits of kombucha – it’s been labelled the ‘tea of immortality for good reason.

Rooibos Kombucha Tea recipe

Pantry Cupboard Kimchi

Salting is one of the methods used in the fermentation of foods, which facilitates the process of osmosis in drawing moisture, thus allowing food to be stored for longer periods. This Korean condiment is packed with loads of benefits and instantly adds umami to the simplest of dishes. It’s also a great way to use that leftover cabbage in your fridge.

Pantry Cupboard Kimchi recipe


Preserving

Salt has come a long way in the preservation of foods, but sugar is an equally lauded ingredient in the history of preserved foods. Certain preserves use the method of sweetening to concentrate fruit with either honey or granulated sugar, facilitating a hypertonic environment, while dehydrating bacteria.

preserved foods

In ancient Greece, quince (kwepers) was mixed with honey and left to dry in the sun before being stored in jars for preservation. The Romans later discovered that cooking quince and honey together produced a better texture.

Preserving naturally extends the shelf-life of foods, and you get to sustainably enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables all year round.

At the turn of the sixteenth century, food preservation became more popular and people needed more effective means. One of those people include French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, who sought more effective ways of storing food long-term to sustain his army when they invaded countries. Napoleon actually offered a reward of 12000 francs to incentivise the public to create more fruitful methods for preserving foods.

In response, confectioner Nicholas François Appert determined that the extraction of air, as well as boiling, heating and sealing food in airtight glass jars enabled its successful preservation. Appert won the award fifteen years later, but he didn’t realise the chemistry behind his method. It was only fully understood when Louis Pasteur studied the relationship between microorganisms and food spoilage, coining the term ‘pasteurisation’.

At the turn of the sixteenth century, food preservation became more popular and people needed more effective means to preserve foods.

Manufacturers now preserve food for us, but there are also risks associated with preservatives. Granted it might take a little more time, but the joy that comes from making your own preserved homemade goods is priceless.

preserved foods
preserved foods

Minneola Orange Curls

Before you even think about chucking your orange peels away, try making these minneola orange curls. They’re the perfect candy or condiment for those sweet cravings.

Recipe for Minneola Orange Curls

Preserved Lemons

When life hands you lemons, add sugar and preserve them for the perfect salad dressing.

Recipe for Preserved Lemons

homemade tomato sauce recipe
onion and tomato jam

Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce

This recipe shows you how simple it is to preserve food and make your own ‘tamatie sous’.

Recipe for Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce

Red Onion and Tomato Jam Jar

Apple cider vinegar and sugar are great for making just about any jam. All you need to do is cook your onions and tomatoes, bottle them up and slap on a label.

Recipe for Red Onion and Tomato Jam Jar

atchar
fruit preserve

Curried Green Beans

If you’re a lover of atchar and all things pickled, this is the perfect addition to any meal.

Recipe for Curried Green Beans

Vinegre de Piña (Pineapple Vinegar)

This three-ingredient vinegre de piña is the ideal salad dressing or marinade for meats.

Recipe for Vinegre de Piña


Pickling

Pickling is another preservation method, either using vegetable oil in a method called ‘confiting’ or through the process of anaerobic fermentation. Conventionally, pickling involves soaking foods in vinegar, brine, sugar water and lemon juice. The combination of acidity allows microorganisms to produce lactic acid, which absorb natural sugars in pickled foods, while preventing vegetables and fruit from turning rancid.

pickled foods

With colonisation, fresh produce, new foods and spices were ‘brought’ to Europe and used to infuse pickled products. Certain spices used in pickling have a twofold purpose of flavouring the food, while staving off bacterial growth. Peppercorns, mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon sticks and cloves all have antimicrobial properties, which help draw moisture from high water-content vegetables and foods.

Spices used in pickling have a twofold purpose of flavouring the food, while staving off bacterial growth.

Interestingly, metal pots were originally used as vessels for preserving foods, but people quickly discovered that the vinegar corroded metal pots and that’s when the shift to glass jars came about. Clever clogs, John L. Mason, patented the Mason jar, which many of us still use to store our atchar and gherkins in.

pickled foods

Today, our consumption habits continue to spur food wastage to whopping heights. Truth be told, we could learn a thing or two from our ancestors who found ways to repurpose food and its byproducts. Take pickled fish for example, a Capetonian staple — it’s no secret that the fish and the pickled onion are what most go after, leaving nothing but the pickle sauce.

The Romans were also fans of pickled fish, and found that concentrated pickled fish sauce imparted loads of flavour when added to other dishes. This fermented condiment was very popular in ancient Rome and known as ‘garum’. Pickling not only alters the taste of the food, but also the texture, as you may have noticed. Here’s some of our fave pickles…

pickled fish
pickled red onions and peppercorns

Curried Pickled Fish

The tangy and spicy flavours in this pickled fish marry beautifully. The mustard seeds add a lovely heat, while ensuring your fish stays fresh for longer.

Recipe for Curried Pickled Fish

Pickled Red Onions

Whether you’re making shawarmas, a refreshing salad or some roasted potatoes, this pickled red onion instantly makes it better.

Recipe for Pickled Red Onions

garlic confit
pickled vegetables

Confit Tomatoes with Whole Garlic & Thyme

If you have a surplus of baby tomatoes, confiting is a great way to make use of them before they expire. All you need is four simple ingredients to create the ultimate dip.

Recipe for Confit Tomatoes with Whole Garlic & Thyme

Crispy Pickles Three Ways

Enhance the flavours of almost any meal or even sandwich, with these three different types of pickles. The pickled vegetables add a nice bit of acidity and crunchy texture.

Recipe for Crispy Pickles Three Ways

Looking for ways to minimise your food wastage?

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