Friday, March 09, 2007

mead bottling

When we drank mead in December, we decided that making a lot more was a good idea.

Bottling underway

Rinsing the bottles (so they're not sticky)

A full complement

A change in drinkware

The babies have broken a lot of glasses recently. Luckily they haven't gotten cut, but we still needed to find something to drink out of.


- Sturdy, so babies can't break them easily

- 12-20oz seems like the right size

- fits comfortably in the dishwasher

- Not plastic, for reasons I described before.

- Cheap, ideally something that we can get used.

This turned out to be an easy one: we're using pint, regular-mouth mason jars. The meet all of the above, plus they can take a secure lid, so babies won't spill my pint of milk on the carpet.

I'm wondering how well they would work for tea and coffee, especially since you can get them with a handle. Will they cope with the thermal stress?

Storing leftovers

The babies are getting better at opening drawers and unloading the contents on to the floor. That means that all the things stored down low are now stacked on top of the things that are already stored up high. It's a mess.

The lowest drawer contained the plastic food storage containers. Even before the babies, this drawer was my nemesis - hard to keep organized, difficult to put things away, hard to get out what you need, and impossible to find a lid & container that match.

Now, those items are stored on a shelf that really didn't have the room to spare. (The picture on the right is the result of a dedicated organizing effort on that shelf; many of the items are either holding food in the fridge, or scattered around the house.) Frustrated by the chaos I can't control, I'm looking for something better.

Today I use mason jars for liquids (kombucha, milk, yogurt, kefir, and low-viscosity soups), as well as for fermentation, but they don't work well for, say, cheese. They're also a bit heavy and fragile for carrying in a backpack to a festival or something, and of course, they don't stack.

nesting. Nesting keeps things compact. You can often buy sets of plastic food storage containers that nest, but they only nest in one way. I want a set where each item nests in another of the same size & shape.

stacking lids. I need lids that have a sensible home, too. They should stack.

only a few sizes. Instead of a set of 20 items, each one of them different, I want only two or three sizes/shapes. This way it's easy to find a lid & a container that match, and I don't have to think very hard to select a container for the job. If I had two sizes, I'm guessing they'd need to be about one cup and one quart.

transparent. I want to be able to see what's inside without opening the lid.

durable with secure lid. Putting the container in my backpack shouldn't mean that everything else gets a taste of the contents. On a related note, removing the lid shouldn't be so hard that the contents go flying.

no sharp edges. I'm surprised I even have to write this, but my "disposable" Glad containers have rough edges, as a consequence of being made out of minimal materials.

glass or ceramic. I find that hand-washing plastic is hard - it never really feels clean. I am concerned about the chemical reactions between acidic foods and plastics, as well as the leeching of plastic compounds. I don't own a microwave, but I've heard concerns that microwaving in plastic can be dangerous, too.

Looking at my list, I don't think it's possible to find one item that can meet all of these needs. Right now, the best plan I can think of is a composite one:

  • Mason jars continue to do what they're doing today.

  • Keep a few of the plastic Tupperware-style containers for the backpack, in various sizes.

  • A set of glass 1c and 1qt containers with good lids, similar to:

    That's the best that I can come up with. What do you recommend?

Food storage of the past

Thinking about food storage lately, I want to write what I know about how people did things before refridgeration:

Fermentation. Fermentation produces acids and alchohols that inhibit spoilage, thereby increasing the useful life of food. The classic example is sauerkraut (and cousins such as kim-chee) which, if made in the late fall, can keep all winter long, supplying the dinner table with tasty vegetables. It's not just about veggies - salamis and cheeses have been a big part of the European diet for a long time.

The cellar (and related spaces - stored winter ice, cool stream houses, etc.). The cool food cellar was important in the summer, when everywhere else was warm. But even in the winter, they allowed produce to keep longer in closer to ideal conditions.

Heartier crops. The fruits and vegetables we eat today are not the same strains that people ate a century ago. With the commercialization of the food supply, it made economic sense to pick foods for their shelf lives, durability, and appearance, vs. flavor and nutrition. One obvious example comes from apples:
in the 1970s, you could either get red "delicious" or golden "delicious". The "delicious" brand apples were chosen (and subsequently bred) not for their flavor, but for their color and their ability to last in cold storage until the next fall, providing "fresh" apples all year round.
When I switched to organic produce a few years ago I noticed a similar change - the food didn't look as smooth, uniform, shiny, and perfect, but it tasted so much better.

While the "delicious" strains had a long shelf life in cold storage, we also see that today's fresh produce doesn't last as long because of our farming practices. Healthy crops grown in rich soil are able to resist spoilage longer. I keep thinking of a blue-water sailing book from the 1970's, where the author suggested carrying produce on board in well-ventilated space, because it would last for months. That's unusual today.

On the shelf. I've seen a couple historical examples of keeping foods right on the shelf at room temperature, instead of refridgerating. One comes from the movie Big Night - in the last scene, Secundo picks up a bowl of eggs that were just sitting out, and makes breakfast. Another comes from the Aubrey/Maturin novels I've been reading, where a character will often pick up a peice of meat that sat out all night (or longer), put it in his pocket, go for a long hike, and eat the meat for lunch.

I'm not sure what to make of these examples, other than a suspicion that our ideas about what is required for safe food storage may be a bit overzealous.

Dump the fridge? I've been looking at listings for houses built in the 1920's and before. I find them beautiful. I also see that the fridge never fits. It sticks out in to the middle of the kitchen, or it's in the next room. I think it would be interesting to move towards fridgelessness one day. For the meantime, I'll try to take comfort in the thought that I only need 1/5th of a fridge, since I share mine with 4 others.
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