The Milkweed Diaries

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review, Transatlantic Gift Economy, and Cherry Tomato Art Installation

One day sometime in the past year, I issued a plaintive call to friends across the intertubes for someone to lend me a book I had built up a powerful urge to peruse: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante. My Internet Friend Annie Levy* (who is always referred to like so by her full title) promptly responded by GIVING me a copy! A woman who I have never met, who lives far across the ocean in Wales sent me a present in the mail! A really good present.

As soon as the book arrived I promptly read it from cover to cover and then commenced to re-reading, savoring, and luxuriating in each of its 197 pages. With prefaces by no less luminaries than Eliot Coleman and Deborah Madison, this dense little treasure of a book is a new favorite kitchen reference in our house.

The recipes and descriptions of techniques are simple, practical, and clearly held dear by the gardeners and farmers who offer them. Each entry includes the contributor's name and place of residence, and sometimes also information about growing, harvesting, or wildcrafting the ingredients and/or using the finished product. Over 100 people contributed to the book, and the brief personal notes that accompany their contributions make reading the book feel like sitting around a table sharing stories and techniques with other gardeners and cooks.

Some of my favorite entries are the simplest:

Plums, Variation 2.

Small crate
A pane of glass

Place whole plums in a small, well-ventilated crate, covered with a pane of glass. Keep the crate in the sun (ideally against a wall facing south).

~Annie Dijoud, St Joseph-de-Rivi


The book begins with a section on root cellaring and other methods of in-ground preservation, including pits, trenches, and packing apples in elderflowers to impart a pineapple flavor. That is the sort of tidbit that I love. It continues on with chapters on drying; lactic fermentation; and preserving in oil, vinegar, salt, sugar, and alcohol. All of these methods are ancient, pre-electric food traditions that retain flavor and nutrients far better than modern methods. The flavors, textures, and look of these preserved foods remind me of shopping in open air markets in little towns in the South of France: encountering simple, delicious, and beautiful foods handcrafted with old-world grace.

I pulled this lovely little book down today when I was considering the abundance of cherry tomatoes coming out of the garden, and envisioning how nice they would look packed in a jar. But how to preserve their beauty and sweetness without compromising their vitamin-packed nutritional punch?

I looked up "cherry tomatoes" in the index of PFWFC and discovered this recipe:

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes
Small onions or shallots
Cider vinegar or lemon juice ( 1-2 Tbs per 16-oz jar)
Fresh basil, tarragon, oregano, etc. (to taste)
Coarse salt
Olive oil
Canning jars and lids

"You must start with cherry tomatoes that are very firm and ripe. ...Wash and dry the tomatoes. Peel...the onions or shallots.

Prepare scalded or serilized 16-ounce jars. Fill them with tomatoes, alternating with a few onions and herbs. When the jars are filled to about one and half inches from the rim, sprinkel with a pinch of coarse salt. Add one or two tablespoons of cider vinegar or lemon juice, and cover with olive oil.

Close the jars with a very clean lid, and store them in a rather cool place (10 to 15 C/50-59 F). The tomatoes will be ready to eat in two to three months and will keep for up to a year."

~Anne Duran, St. Front

Jars ready for capping and storing: Pearly Pinks packed in oil with basil and mixed cherry tomatoes packed in oil with pearl onions and basil.

One of the great things about simple, heat-free preservation methods such as this one is that you can quickly process small batches without lots of effort -- I packed two 16 ounce jars and an 8 ounce jar this evening and I'll continue packing more as the tomato season continues.

The jars of little jewel-tone tomatoes are as lovely as I had hoped. They feel like a little art installation on the top shelf of my fridge.

Thank you, Annie Levy, for your generosity. And thank you to the gardeners and farmers of Terre Vivante.

*I met My Internet Friend Annie Levy via the Wild Fermentation facebook group. A wonderful resource for fermentation lovers, and it turns out, a place to encounter lovely, facinating, and generous people.


Dana said...

Puttin em up old school over there in the valley. Good job, Beth. Don't forget to offer some of your harvest to the river (or whatever other entity you revere) for Lughnasahd today! A few of us will be floating flowers (and probably ourselves) down the French Broad in Hot Springs this evening around dusk. I will think of you good people over there at RWF and remember when we did our sacrificial raft a few years ago on that there Swannanoa...

Penryn said...

Hi Beth! I think of you every time I put up some 'maters with this recipe! Today its some lovely grape and mini-romas with fresh herbs and shallots. What lovely vestiges of garden past these will be this winter! My love to all, Penryn