Monday, February 3, 2014

Dear friends and neighbors,

I've always had this fascination with the idea of living off the land. From my love of growing potatoes at four years old, to collecting berries and mint leaves at age 12, to boasting about my ability to craft and use a fire bow in college.

Working for Historic Wagner Farm has only expanded this fascination of mine. Each new thing I learn at the Farm is one more thing added to my lifestyle wish list.

I mean, sure, I always wanted an herb garden on my window sill. Who doesn't? But never before did I dream of having cows and chickens. Never before did I spend hours researching how to make a root cellar in my apartment. Never before did I turn my freezer into a graveyard for vegetable and chicken scraps for batches of homemade stock.

Recently, my kick has been learning to use every part of whichever food I'm working with, be it storing rendered fat for matzo ball recipes or saving carrot tops for chicken stock. So of course, at a time like this, when I have filled my freezer to its capacity... my refrigerator breaks. Even worse, delivery of a new refrigerator was delayed by nearly two weeks.

I had a new challenge, then: learning to live without refrigeration. After all, temperature control is not the only way to preserve food.

One of the oldest methods of food preservation is by drying. Removing the water content, and therefore the ability for bacteria to grow, many foods can be preserved indefinitely. Dried fruits and vegetables retain nearly all of their nutrients and are about 1/15 the size of their fresh counterparts.

Without a refrigerator, I was forced to learn how to live out of my pantry entirely.

It didn't go very well. I exhausted my stores of dydrated foods (read: Ramen noodles) quickly, and from there was forced to move on to the canned goods. At the end of two weeks, I had tried nearly all of the take-out options in my neighborhood.

While I didn't really eat out of my pantry for two weeks, living without a refrigerator did teach me to look at food differently. It made me appreciate the diversity of food preservation methods we have access to, and reflect on the ways in which people handled food just a handful of decades ago.

Did you know that farm wives spent 44 hours per week preparing and cleaning up after meals in the 1920s? While refrigeration was becoming more popular, many families had small ice boxes that would be dwarfed by today's refrigerators. Dehydrated, dry and canned foods were the basis of most family diets.

While many families today have better stocked cupboards than I, our shared reliance on refrigeration is no secret. And so, my lifestyle wish list has added to itself one more line item: learning to make better use of my pantry.

Lucky for me, Historic Wagner Farm will be hosting classes about food preservation methods and recipes using dehydrated foods beginning this month. Click here to see the winter issue of Wagner Tales and find more information about our upcoming classes. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Yours truly,