Fish fermentation allowed the ancient Romans to store their fish surplus for long periods, in a time when there were no freezers and fishing was bound to fish migratory patterns. [Read more…]
“As we experiment with cultivating a greater agrarian connection, it’s time for us to revisit the age-old wisdom of the root cellar. Traditionally, root cellars are underground structures used to store vegetables, fruits and other foods. Because the earth’s mean temperature hovers around 60 degrees, a root cellar serves as the perfect natural refrigerator.
Although building a root cellar may not be practical for everyone—especially for those of us who live in urban areas—we can still apply some of the same concepts and techniques utilized in traditional root cellars to keep our harvest naturally fresh and lasting longer. The design of this urban root cellar, by Elliott Marks, was inspired by an exhibition by Jihyun Ryou, called “Save Food from the Refrigerator.”
The design incorporates key elements of a good root cellar — a variety of shelves, humidity, and air circulation — while also being small and portable. It is easily achievable by anyone and we encourage you to adopt this design or create a version that works for you. The general concept is to create a storing space specifically designed to preserve the garden harvest using grandparents’ know-how.”
Read more: Make your own urban root cellar, Mother Earth News.
“Extracting nutrition via the bacteria and yeasts that live on the surfaces of food sources has traditionally enabled people all over the world to make use of seasonal abundance for leaner times. In a climate-constrained future, when the use of fossil fuels (and thus refrigeration) will need to be greatly reduced, fermentation could play a key role in preserving both our food and our cultural diversity.
Before refrigeration came into our houses and global supply chains, most of our winter stores were salted, pickled, and dried. Many of the strong compelling flavors found in European delicatessens come via fermentation: cheese, salami, gherkins, vinegar, olives. Likewise the mainstays of Oriental cuisine—soy, miso, and tempeh—and the whole of the world’s drinks cabinet, including everyday luxuries such as coffee and chocolate.
If you were wary of venturing into this unknown territory alone, you could not hope for a more enthralling guide than Sandor Ellix Katz: “My advice is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. You can do it yourself.” There is no recorded case, he assures us, of poisoning from fermented vegetables.”
“Bog butter is butter that has been buried in a peat bog. Over 430 instances of bog butter have been recorded. Of these, 274 have been found in Scotland and Ireland since 1817. The earliest discoveries are thought to come from the Middle Iron Age (400-350 BC), though this does not exclude the possibility of much more ancient roots. More recently one firsthand account tells of butter being buried for preservation in Co. Donegal 1850-60. In 1892, Rev. James O’Laverty, an advocate of the argument that the butter was buried for gastronomic reasons, dug some butter into a ‘bog bank’ and left it for eight months. His experiment was carried out in much the same spirit as ours – for analytical purposes and not for a cultural or preserving motive.”
“Peat bogs are, by their nature, cold, wet places; almost no oxygen circulates in the millennia-old build-up of plant material, which creates highly acidic conditions (our site had a pH of 3.5). Sphagnum moss bogs have remarkable preservation properties, the mechanisms of which are poorly understood. Early food preservation methods have been researched extensively by Daniel C. Fisher, in relation to the preservation of meat. In an attempt to recreate techniques used by paleoamericans in North America, Fisher sunk various meats into a frozen pond and a peat bog.
“A key finding from his research is that after one year, bacterial counts on the submerged meats were comparable to control samples which had been left in a freezer for the same amount of time. In fact, suitable foods can probably be aged in many types of soil: salt-rich that will provide dehydration, very cold/freezing that will freeze foods or slow degradation, or, as in our case, anaerobic and acidic conditions to prevent microbial action and oxidation. To our canny ancestors, this preserving characteristic provided an ideal place to bury foods.”
Update: Root Simple links to an interesting video about this primitive food storage technique. Thanks to Ruben Anderson.
This traditional smoke house for fish, photographed in the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia, is made from a scrapped boat hull. Pictures by No Tech Magazine.
It works on the principle of evaporation. Water from the upper chambers drips down the side, and gets evaporated taking away heat from the inside , leaving the chambers cool.
The top upper chamber is used to store water. A small lid made from clay is provided on top. A small faucet tap is also provided at the front lower end of chamber to tap out the water for drinking use.
In the lower chamber, two shelves are provided to store the food material. The first shelf can be used for storing vegetables, fruits etc. and the second shelf can be used for storing milk etc. Cool and affordable, this clay refrigerator is a very good option to keep food, vegetables and even milk naturally fresh for days.”
MittiCool Refrigerator. Thanks for the tip, Joseph. See also:
Ngo Practical Action is working with communities to make zeer pots – very clever fridges made using clay, water and sand. They consist of two earthenware pots of different sizes, placed one inside the other. The space between is filled with damp sand that’s kept moist by adding water, and the smaller pot is filled with food. The top is covered with a damp cloth, then as the water in the sand evaporates towards the outer surface of the larger pot, there’s a drop in temperature of several degrees. This keeps the contents of the smaller pot cool. A zeer pot can keep 10kg of food fresh for up to 20 days.
“Coastal Northern California is blessed with a very moderate climate, generally on the cool side, especially at night. Before the refrigerator became common in households, denizens of this region took advantage of the cool weather by storing perishable foods in a special kitchen cabinet that brought in air from the outside – the California Cooler.
The cooler cabinets were designed to hold fruits, vegetables, and other staples that needed to be kept cool but didn’t need to take up critical space in the era’s tiny ice boxes. The coolers were open to the basement to draw in cool air, which then wafted up and out a chimney or a wall vent.
When the refrigerator came along, it seems that, over time, the vents were boarded up and the California Cooler was all but forgotten. Today, if you walk the streets of my hometown, Berkeley, where most of the houses were built in the 1920’s, you will see many homes, and even apartment buildings, with the exterior vestiges of these vents.”
Korean artist Jihyun Ryou, a graduate of the Dutch Design Academy Eindhoven, translates traditional knowledge on food storage into contemporary design. She found the inspiration for her wall-mounted storage units while listening to the advice of her grandmother, a former apple grower, and other elderly. Her mission: storing food outside the refrigerator.