When gardens are producing vegetables faster than we can eat the produce the logical thing to do with the surplus is to preserve it for winter use. Doing so was extremely important in earlier times and the primary ways to preserve vegetables were drying and pickling. In this week’s posting we’ll have a look at the drying process.
[Portrait of Rudolf II by Italian artist, Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593). Some of the vegetables found in this painting may be surprising. Using the painting is a rather whimsical way to point out the rather large variety of vegetables which were available in the 16th century and what they looked like.]
Perfecting food preservation methods was promoted through the agricultural fairs with premiums paid to those whose processes were considered improvements or new methods, thus the fairs of earlier decades did much for perfecting various aspects of agriculture.
Drying Vegetables for Long Keeping. At a late meeting of New York farmers specimens of various vegetables were presented, soup made from them exhibited, which had been dried by a secret process, so that they could be kept for an indefinite length of time, with a perfect retention of flavor. They are cut into thin slices before subjected to the drying process, but this is all the information on this point that we are favored with. The process originated in France, where for some years it has been in successful practice. It has been tried with satisfactory results on all common vegetables, except potatoes and beets. The New-York Agricultor says: ‘We tasted (imported) cabbage, and found it as good as new-to our taste’. Cabbage loses about fifteen parts of water out of sixteen, by the operation,–carrots about nine parts out of ten. The cost of preparation is said to be about two cents for each pound of the dried articles. They have already remained uninjured during a four years sea voyage. Vegetables dried in this way, we should think, would form an excellent accompaniment for meat biscuit. – The Country Gentleman. Vol. 2. July 28, 1853. Albany, NY.
Drying fruits and vegetables was always an important safeguard against shortages once the growing season ended, but in times of war that importance increased ten-fold. As men took up arms the labor force on the farms shrank but the need for large amounts of food increased as efforts were made to send all that could be spared for the use of the military. The following account urged Southerners to dry any vegetables at their disposal and ship all they could to feed the troops during the Civil War.
Almost every kind of vegetables may be preserved by the simple process of drying at a low temperature. Peas and beans require no preparation. Okra and tomatoes should be sliced thin and dried thoroughly in the sun. Fleshy roots, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and even cabbage, may be preserved in the following way:
Wash the roots clean, and grate them on a coarse grater, such as is used for horse-radish. Spread the pulp thinly on trays and dry in the sun, or in an oven heated to a temperature not above 125 to 130 deg. F. A greater heat will injure the result. When perfectly dry, the mass should be compressed into as small a space as possible, and packed in paper like smoking tobacco. A coat of varnish would render the paper water-proof. Green corn could probably be kept in the same way, though the writer has never tried it. Vegetables, thus preserved, lose none of their nutritious properties, and make an excellent ingredient in soup. Everything depends on the entire exclusion of moisture. Frequent exposure to the sun, is very desirable…Those who have abundance of vegetables, cannot render a better service to their country than by thus preparing them for the use of the army. J. D. Easter, Ph. D. Rome, GA, June 1863. – Southern Cultivator. Vol. 20-22. Nos. 7 & 8. July & August, 1863. Augusta, GA.
Below are two common early receipts for using dried vegetables which were published in multiple cookbooks.
TO MAKE A HARRICO OF FRENCH BEANS. Take a pint of the seeds of French beans, which are ready dried for sowing, wash them clean, and put them into a two-quart sauce-pan, fill it with water, and let them boil two hours; if the water wastes away too much, you must put in more boiling water to keep them boiling. In the mean time take almost half a pound of nice fresh butter, put it into a clean stew-pan, and when it is all melted, and done making any noise, have ready a pint bason heaped up with onions peeled and sliced thin, throw them into the pan, and fry them of a fine brown, stirring them about that they may be all alike, then pour off the clear water from the beans into a bason, and throw the beans all into the stew-pan; stir all together and throw in a large tea-spoonful of beaten pepper, two heaped full of salt, and stir it all together for two or three minutes. You may make this dish of what thickness you think proper (either to eat with a spoon, or other ways) with the liquor you poured off the beans. For change, you may make it thin enough for soop. When it is of the proper thickness you like it, take it off the fire, and stir in a large spoonful of vinegar and the yolks of two eggs beat. The eggs may be left out, if disliked. Dish it up, and send it to table. – Glasse, Hannah. First Catch Your Hare. 1747. London. This receipt was retained in her subsequent book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. 1774. London.
TO FRICASEE ARTICHOKE BOTTOMS. Take either dried or pickled artichoke bottoms; but, if you use dried, you must put them in warm water three or four hours, shifting the water two or three times. Have ready a little cream, and a piece of fresh butter, stirred together one way till it is melted. Then put in the artichokes, and dish them up as soon as they are hot. – Williams, T. The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook. 1797. London.
I hope this bit of information will be of interest and spur the gardeners to be thrifty with the last of the garden’s bounty.