That title sounds facetious but I’m actually dead serious. Somebody has to get out there and stump for Harriet Fasenfest’s excellent DVD, Preserving with Friends, because she just won’t do it for herself. Harriet, whom you may know as the author of The Householder’s Guide to the Universe, is a contrarian urban agrarian, householder and social critic following in the footsteps of Wendell Berry (if Wendell had a lot less land and a lot more jam).
At Preserve in Portland, Harriet teaches food preservation, and in her book she expands into the art, science and philosophy of being a Householder. Part of that philosophy is that the economic pool in which we all swim isn’t filled with the cleanest water. And so, despite the value and legitimacy of her products, one gets the feeling Harriet would prefer to keep her feet dry and sell fewer DVDs than splash around in the dirty water of salesmanship. Luckily, I have economic hip-waders and I’m happy to slog in on her behalf.
So, here’s what I can tell you: if you are new to food preservation, this DVD is the equivalent of a three-and-a-half-hour-long class on most of the major food preservation techniques, with some of the most respected people in food preservation as your teachers.
Preserving with Friends gets into the concepts of jam-making, pickling, hot water bath canning, pressure canning, dehydration, fermentation, freezing and root cellering so that the viewer learns how to safely and most effectively preserve their harvest. It shows and tells, and as such is a particularly valuable introduction for the beginner.
I am not a complete novice at food preservation, but I am not an expert either, and I took several valuable things away from the DVD. Chief among these was the tutorial on homemade pectin. I have never made jam without a box of pectin, but after seeing the process of making crab-apple pectin (other high-pectin fruits like quince or currant can also be used) I doubt I will ever buy a box again.
First, I like the concept of DIYing pectin, and using the thinned unripe apples from my trees to do so. But more than that, I see how using homemade pectin will free me from the boxes rules about how much sugar I must use. Since I would prefer to use less sugar in my jams, I am quite excited about this revelation.
Although this DVD is not a series of recipes and is more about the techniques of preservation, it does include printable recipes for most of the items made on the DVD, along with several tip sheets and handy charts on the acid and pectin levels in various fruits.
Because Harriet is literally joined by her friends, who all happen to be experts in their area of preservation, the tone is conversational. After Harriet explains jam-making and water bath canning of fruits and preserves, she is joined by Linda Ziedrich, author of The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves, to discuss pickling. Linda covers quick and fermented cucumber pickles. The discussion of fermented pickles (also called brined, sour or crock pickles) is a good introduction to preserving with ferments.
Most well-known among the guests on Preserving with Friends is probably Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. Wild Fermentation inspired my (and many other peoples) obsession with lacto-fermented everything from cucumbers to turnips, and Sandor’s section doesn’t disappoint. He covers saurkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha, and covers the general concept of fermentation so that the viewer understands the role of microorganisms (good and bad) in food preservation.
Harriet’s former partner in Preserve, Marge Baker, discusses pressure canning for low-acid foods. Much detail is given to the safety and equipment of pressure canning. For people interested in low-acid canning I believe this section would prove extremely valuable. Although I personally have as little interest in home-canned green beans as I have in commercially canned green beans (which is to say, none), Harriet has convinced me of the value of the pressure canning technique with three words: homemade chicken stock. Yes, I now have visions of jars of homemade stock, soups and stews lining my pantry shelves, ready when I am for a quick meal.
The final section of Preserving with Friends covers drying, freezing and root cellering. The drying section is completely dedicated to preserving with a food dehydrator. Harriet’s location in Portland Oregon is at least partially to blame: the Maritime Northwest is a poor environment for sun-drying. Nonetheless, a brief discussion of the process of drying without a food dehydrator, utilizing sun-drying, homemade solar dehydrators or even car-dehydrating would have been appreciated from an energy-use standpoint.
There is such a wealth of information in Preserving with Friends, I hesitate to point out what isn’t in the DVD. That said, I would have appreciated additional information on some of the more traditional, less energy-intensive methods of preservation, such as curing through salting and sugaring, and preserving in oil or alcohol. I highly recommend Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning as an excellent adjunct to Preserving with Friends for people who are interested in low-energy preservation techniques.
Preserving with Friends isn’t cheap at $25, but it is an excellent value and a highly cost effective way to gain a working knowledge of basic food preservation techniques. Compared to food preservation classes it is a downright bargain. I’d highly recommend this DVD to beginning and intermediate-level food preservers.
Besides, your purchase will keep Harriet free to plot her next step in sticking it to the corporate machine.
Straight up disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this DVD. I was uncompensated for my review, and my views and opinions are my own.