Preserving Traditions

Preserving fresh foods so they will provide lasting sustenance through the cold season has been the stuff of daily life since the beginnings of human civilization—nowhere more so than in the mountains and other places where winter lingers. Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Cured, dried, smoked, and salted meats and fish. Buttermilk, kefir, and cheese from fresh milk. Wine, spirits, beer, and cider. Pickles, krauts, jams. Tea, coffee, and kombucha. Many of our favorite foods and drinks are created through preservation and fermentation.

Cultured heritage

Passed down through generations, these basic methods served as important tools for surviving lean times. They also served, and can still serve, as familiar rituals that weave and strengthen family and community ties—and enliven our palates, hearths, and communal tables.

Your grandmother may have canned, but with the industrialization of food in the past half-century, many of us have lost touch with this inherited knowledge. Today, people around the world are paying more attention to what they eat and where it came from, tuning in to seasonal foods grown where they live, and reclaiming the simple labors and rewards of growing, preparing, and preserving some of their own food.

Sour beers, probiotic-rich fermented foods, and artisan pickles and preserves are now mainstays at craft breweries, farm-to-table eateries, even grocery stores. In many ways, it’s the rebirth of a more handcrafted, gastronomically rich world, one you can share with your family and generations to come.

"In many ways, it’s the rebirth of a more handcrafted, gastronomically rich world, one you can share with your family and generations to come."

Craft, quality, and connection

Everyone is evidently busier than ever these days. So why this nostalgic look backward at earlier ways of life and at “slow-food” traditions? Amidst the rush, we intuit the importance of slowing down every once in a while to can, pickle, or bake a pie... or to savor a nice bottle of wine or a great cup of coffee. It’s the only way we actually live in the moment. Instant gratification is rarely authentic and ultimately without value.

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Preserving basic foods is often done when there’s a surplus of a food: peak season or a bumper harvest. Gathering in a kitchen with a group of people committed to one project, like jarring ramps or canning tomatoes, is a good source of inspiration. Making your own food and creating foods you can’t easily find elsewhere creates a potent connection. People will always gravitate toward craft and quality.

"Making your own food and creating foods you can’t easily find elsewhere creates a potent connection."

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Flavor alchemy

Preserved foods are transformed through alchemical processes that yield bright, distilled flavors that shift, soften, and deepen over time. They are living, breathing things. You never know exactly what you’ll get when you open the jar or the bottle.

"[Preserved foods] are living, breathing things. You never know exactly what you’ll get when you open the jar or the bottle."

Food pros like Boulder-based Chef Colin Kirby (El Bulli, Spain, 2008) know a secret: Preserving makes foods more interesting. Done right, simple methods add new life to the most basic ingredients. For instance, savory fruits pickled with varied vinegars make inspiring elements of a complex dish. The key? They create a balance between fat and acidity, a too-often-forgotten flavor component.

Here, the minimalist chef introduces a few techniques:

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

White Balsamic Pickling Liquid

INGREDIENTS white balsamic vinegar: 2 parts sugar: 1 part salt: 1 part

DIRECTIONS Heat all ingredients to 82° C (180° F) or higher to dissolve sugar. Let cool and set aside

Red Wine Pickling Liquid

(for Cherries and Radishes)

INGREDIENTS red wine vinegar: 1152 g (38 oz) water: 535 g (19 oz) sugar: 254 g (9 oz) peppercorn bay leaf

DIRECTIONS Heat all ingredients to 82° C (180° F) or higher to dissolve sugar. Let cool and set aside

Apple Cider Pickling Liquid

INGREDIENTS apple cider vinegar: 2 parts sugar: 1 part salt: 1 part

DIRECTIONS Heat all ingredients to 82° C (180° F) or higher to dissolve sugar. Let cool and set aside

Rice Wine Brine

(for Green Strawberries and Gooseberries)

INGREDIENTS rice wine vinegar: 340 g (12 oz) sugar: 340 g (12 oz) water: 200 g (7 oz) lime juice: 90 g (3 oz) bay leaf mustard seed peppercorn

DIRECTIONS Heat all ingredients to 82° C (180° F) or higher until sugar is dissolved. Let cool and set aside.

A note on processing, storage, and safety

The vinegar and spices in these recipes make all the difference. They give fruit and vegetables new life and provide inspiration to any chef. Pickling unique ingredients such as green strawberries and gooseberries gives great acidity and texture to classic dishes like duck and chanterelles.

The vinegar also allows for processing (boiling and sealing the jars to prevent spoilage) to occur, and it ensures the pH is below 4.6. This is very important. When any of these recipes are used for long-term storage, please follow basic canning rules: Sterilize jars and lids, test the pH (general rule is below 4.6), and carefully boil the jars before setting aside. Once these rules are followed, start canning. △


Recipe: Muscovy Duck Breast with Chanterelles, Pickled Radish, and Foie Gras Gastrique

A fine duck dish starring mushrooms and pickled garden gems preserved from summer. Go to recipe »

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Recipe: Whiskey Preserved Apples

Bag summer a little while longer. Go to recipe »

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Recipe: Alpine Hot Toddy

Enjoy a warming drink in memory of the summer harvest. Go to recipe »

Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen

Recipe: The Alpinist's Larder

A preserved whiskey drink spiked with the taste of the summer passed. Go to recipe »

The Alpinist's Larder / Photo by Ashton Ray Hansen