Classes teach traditional to modern food preservation techniques

Pickling and fermenting, pressure-canning and freezing were among the topics covered over three days of courses last week as members of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service taught food preservation classes in Wrangell.

Wrangell Extension Days were held from May 24 to 26 and offered nine workshops and a Certified Food Protection Manager exam.

Attendees at each workshop varied in skill level, with some just beginning their preserving journey to others who have been using some form of food preservation for many years.

"I do a little (fermentation) at home and I want to expand my knowledge," said Deanna Horner, who attended a workshop on pickling and fermenting vegetables. "I learned some really important things I wasn't aware of."

Some of those things, Horner said, was the mixing of certain food stuffs, including olive oil and garlic.

"I put devil's club buds in olive oil, and it sat on the counter and turned black," she said. "Obviously, we didn't eat it and threw it away, but I learned why that chemical composition happened. Now I know how to be really safe and preserve it properly."

Along with the hands-on experience, Sarah Lewis, a Juneau-based Cooperative Extension agent, gave attendees some history and evolution on food preservation techniques during a workshop on May 24. Lewis and Jasmine Shaw, a program assistant based in Sitka, both taught classes over the three days.

"We are all here because wherever in the world our people started, they preserved food," Lewis said. "Over the millennia, it's gone from just freezing or chilling to dehydration. Those are the passive food preservation methods. Then you get into things that are a little move active like pickling or acidifying foods, which changes their chemistry to make them less susceptible to microorganisms."

Lewis pointed out that canning is the most recent method of food preservation. Water-bath canning, which uses a pot of boiling water to help seal cans or jars, was invented when Napoleon Bonaparte put out a call for someone to find a way to keep food from spoiling and killing his troops.

Every food contains a certain amount of acidity, and the amount determines what preservation techniques need to be used. For example, Lewis said all meat, fish and un-pickled vegetables, which are low-acid foods, should be pressure canned in order to remain shelf-stable and safe to eat.

"The risk if a jar of salmon, for example, is not pressure canned according to USDA/Extension recommendations, is the formation of the botulism toxin, which is very dangerous," she said. "This is not a risk for high-acid foods like berries and rhubarb, so they can be safely water-bath canned in boiling water without pressure."

Along with learning various preservation techniques, attendees were able to have pressure-canning gauges tested and adjusted for accuracy.

"Food preservation in Southeast Alaska is a super-popular topic," Lewis said. "Some important factors (as to why) include the high cost of food, the unreliability of shipping, the lower nutritional value of fresh foods that come from far away and the seasonality of all our wild food resources."

Lewis said food preservation not only has financial and nutritional benefits, but also increases food security.

Ted and Georgina Danowski had attended several of the classes, picking up techniques and learning different recipes, like sauerkraut.

"I've always been interested especially with herbs because we cook a lot, like Indian food, Thai food, all that kind of stuff," Georgina Danowski said. "(The class on preserving herbs) was great because I got to make my vinegar-infused rosemary sauce."

Valerie Massie, the Wrangell Cooperative Association IGAP coordinator, said the WCA is working on bringing Lewis and other instructors back to teach more classes as soon as possible.


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