The recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, along with Japan's earthquake have all started, or restarted my thinking about why I blog away in the way that I do. For one, my stated purpose for this blog is so that you all have the tools to counteract some of the bullshit fear-mongering preventing folks from knowing and loving their food processes. All well and good. But, the attitude I do wish to reflect on is the way in which many treat the skills I outline here more as notches on their collective belt - something like a unique way to start an interesting conversation orbe an interesting person. Now, I don't want to disparage such an attitude in too serious a way, because I employ it all of the time. Rather, I want to be reflective about skills like making your own butter, smoking, brining, and rendering animal fats - in light of disastrous situations that cause all of us to reflect on life and living.
Taking an historical step backwards, I was talking with my MIL the other day about the Great Depression. For all the complaining about the current economic situation, things don't seem to be all that terrible comparatively speaking. Now, maybe this is because everyone has credit cards and the ability to take out loans in a way not possible in the 30s. Economy aside - I was struck by the simple fact that folks in the Depression likely had a pretty good knowledge of all the processes that are now considered 'artisan' or 'novelty.' Maybe some had begun buying various victuals from their local grocer, but nothing like the present.
So, when folks had to 'stretch' soap - it probably didn't simply mean buying a value jug of dish soap at the grocery and watering it down. It meant making a batch of soap and watering it down, because they had no money for the value jug. However, they did have valuable knowledge of two ingredients that, when combined saponified, as well as sources for these ingredients that were either free, or were byproducts of what little they could purchase. I have hard time imagining the same widespread resourcefulness in the present, especially in affluent societies that see convenience and technological ease as the solution to most problems.
Back to the present. Whereas the skills and processes I outline on this blog surely create delicious results with which you can impress your friends, and allow you a modicum of imagination worthy of a rustic homesteader - I don't want it to stop there. Things were probably going fairly well in Japan on March 10th, one day later, thousands died, those who didn't have only intermittent or no electricity, no clean water, and little food. I am not trying to be an apocalyptic alarmist, and I'm not even talking about the cataclysmic end of the world (because we'll all be dead and won't have to worry about whether or not our butter is fully washed). What I am talking about is the fact that I think a lot of these skills are not just for artisan chefs or people with a lot of time on their hands. They are for everyone.
A few illustrative examples:
- If you were faced with an extended electricity outage and a freezer full of meat/food what would you do? Most people eat like 35 pounds of steak in two days because they think the only options are to let it rot or eat it. Incorrect. You could smoke some, brine some, preserve some in fat (more on this soon), and can some (more on this later). These methods have varied lengths of preservation, but would keep you fed and sustained for days, weeks, or years.
- Same deal with dairy products. Dairy does not automatically go bad at room temperature (especially not raw milk!). You could keep a yoghurt at room temperature for days. Kefir for longer. Cheese? "Milk's leap toward immortality."
- Though great for pastries and crusts, rendered animal fat has far more uses (I doubt there were too many folks eating artisan chocolate cupcakes with lavender-buttercream frosting and gold leaf during the Depression). You can combine tallow with potash (from your smoker) and water and have a basic soap. If you live near the ocean, you can burn dried seaweed and add tallow for another kind of soap. You can also preserve meats for long periods of time encased in fat (aka the ever-pretentious confit).
I don't want to belabor the point here. In a nutshell: These processes are fun. They have delicious results. As good as things are (generally) right now, fortunes can change overnight. Therefore, these processes are also necessary, among many others, for post-fortune-change survival. Also, they should be roughly memorized, because if there is no internet, there is no Prolefood blog.