Humanity's eternal problem... or a few words about food preservation

Humanity's eternal problem... or a few words about food preservation

Today, food preservation has a bad connotation, and for good reason. The advances of modern science have provided food manufacturers with a wide range of tools used in food processing and preservation. There has been an overuse of preservatives and a shift in society toward the natural methods used in the past. What was it like in the past?

Attempts at food preservation have been made throughout the world since the dawn of time. They have accompanied people for thousands of years, and skills associated with them are a marker of social status. Even the hunter-gatherer peoples manifested many varieties of forms of food production, with different intensities and aspirations than those of agricultural peoples. Examples include attempts to heat treat food by cooking meat with heated stones. Some scholars believe that early pre-agricultural peoples of the Near East were characterized by the storage and possession of food surpluses, which contributed to their development and building of social power and superiority over other peoples.

grain storage

Grain storage. An engraving from the 17th century

Food storage certainly became widespread with the agricultural population, which led a sedentary lifestyle that allowed for the accumulation of goods, including but not limited to food supplies. Crop surpluses, livestock meat, or the products of dairy farming had to be processed or preserved in an appropriate manner so that there would be enough to last for the long run.
Most of the basic processes used for preservation have been used throughout the world for millennia and are still used today, with some modernization of course. These include chemical methods such as salting, pickling, curing, and fermenting; physical methods such as drying, cooling, and freezing; and physicochemical methods such as smoking. Many of these methods have their mirror image in natural processes and probably observation of these phenomena gave primitive people an example which they used and began to apply to their own needs. We are talking about such processes as natural drying under the influence of atmospheric conditions, fermentation taking place thanks to natural enzymes or freezing.

Lucyna Ćwierczakiewiczowa from the cover of her book "365 Dinners".

And what from old methods can we smuggle into modern needs? Probably a whole range of recipes for preserves of fruits and vegetables. Below I present a timeless recipe for pickled cucumbers according to Lucyna Ćwierczakiewicz:

"If you want to have quickly soured cucumbers for immediate use, you should, after rinsing, peel off the ends on both sides, put them in a stone or glass jar, sprinkle them with salt, put fresh dill over them and pour slow water, into which pour one-fourth part of white rye borscht, or if there is no such, put a piece of wholemeal bread, and placed in a warm place, literally in 24 hours the cucumbers are ready for use. Of course, you have to take them to the cellar for a few hours to let them cool down".

Author of the text: Ewelina Więcek, archaeologist, culinary historian. In everyday life she is a curator in the Archaeological Research Department of the Museum of Warsaw.

About the site

All about food from all around the world, cool recipes and ideas for tasty and healthy dishes.