June 27, 2013
Imagine if you will: Agropolis, a supermarket where all your produce is hydroponically grown right there in the store. Even living in dense, urban areas you’d have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It eliminates the issue of transportation, further driving down costs, and because you’d pluck what you wanted straight from the farm/store display, there’d be less waste in the form of plastic bags and cartons. Unfortunately, Agropolis is purely conceptual, the idea of a team of Danish designers who wanted to take the farm-to-table concept to a new level. Their grown-in-store model, while fun, has its drawbacks, namely that the technology required to make an Agropolis-like market a reality is prohibitively expensive. So while these idyllic urban markets remain a figment of the human imagination, grocery stores are finding ways to innovate and make use of technology to create better shopping experiences. Here are five ways in which you may presently see the supermarket of the future:
Same-Day Delivery: Many food retailers now allow customers to fill a virtual cart online and have their order of goods delivered directly to their doorstep; however, there is a delay between the time you place your order and the time you receive your goods—as much as a few days depending on the delivery time slots available. If you’re ace at planning ahead, this works great. Google is looking to change that. In April, they began testing a new service dubbed Shopping Express in the San Francisco Bay area. Customers can order from big box stores—like Target and Walgreens—as well as from participating local stores, which means a person doesn’t have to build their pantry up through a series of trips to different stores. At Slate, Reid Mitenbuler notes that this service could be revolutionary in how it allows a person access to better food, “A lot of times I’m looking for specialty goods—higher quality seafood, some specific ethnic spice, fresh roasted coffee beans, high-end local bread, a snooty variety of coconut water—that requires a trip to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, the Chinese or Indian market, or some other out-of-the-way place.” Not to be outdone, both Amazon and WalMart are each testing same-day and next day delivery services.
Receipts in the Cloud: Cloud computing has been promoted as a means to break the bonds of your hard drive and to access your data—music, movies, documents—from anywhere as long as you have access to a data connection. Grocery stores are starting to jump on the bandwagon. This June, Booths supermarket in the UK started phasing out paper receipts, instead sending them to a customer’s cloud-based account. The idea of e-receipts, where a retailer will email you a receipt in lieu of handing you a paper one, isn’t new; however, Booths cloud refines the idea in such a way that digital-only receipts has advantages for the consumer. Shoppers have an account so they can track not just how much they spend on each shopping visit, but also their expenditures by category, allowing them to make budgetary—and dietary—adjustments as needed. There’s also the ecological bonus of eliminating an estimated 100,000 rolls of receipt paper per year.
Scanning With Your Smartphone: Scan It devices have been around for a few years already. On entering the store, shoppers pick up a device that looks like a remote control with a monitor built in and can scan items as they shop, keeping a running total of their purchases that is designed to make the checkout process faster. Some chains, like Giant and Stop and Shop, are taking that concept a step further by publishing apps that turn your smart phone into a barcode scanner. Though these apps are usually free to download, you may get hit in the wallet elsewhere: stores are also using mobile technology to get shoppers to spend more money by offering app-exclusive coupons to spur impulse buys. A supermarket in Paris, however, is taking this a step further. Customers use their phones to scan the item and, in addition to maintaining a running tally of the grocery order, but they will be provided with nutritional information and other data about the item before they decide to place it in their cart.
No More Typing in Produce Codes: While smart phones may be the new barcode readers, Toshiba is figuring out how to do away with barcodes altogether by developing a scanner savvy enough to tell the difference between your Fuji and Granny Smith apples. Unveiled in spring 2012, the Object Recognition Scanner hones in on patterns and colors in food much in the same way that facial recognition scanners use certain criteria—like the distance between a person’s eyes and nose width—to identify people. But here, the scanner can discern between fresh produced and prepackaged goods. While this technology could one day spell the end for barcodes, as of this writing, the scanners have not yet been tested outside of a demo environment.
Shorter Waits in Line: Infrared cameras used to detect body heat are a tool traditionally used by police and the military. But food retailer Kroger sees a use for them in the grocery store. By mounting the cameras at the entrance to the store and at the cash registers, the cameras work with in-house-developed software that records supermarket traffic at different times of day, allowing managers to know how many lanes need to be open and when to open them. Currently in use at some 2,400 stores, the average customer wait time has been reduced from 4 minutes to 26 seconds.
June 20, 2013
Mold in the kitchen has an overwhelmingly negative public image. There’s nothing like opening the fridge and seeing fuzzy welts on your long-forgotten leftovers, and that momentary pang of dread as you feel that you’ve committed some cardinal sin in your housekeeping. (Or maybe I’m just a neurotic.) But fact is that mold spores are everywhere, and given a moist environment, said spores are able to thrive. In many cases, molds are are an easy visual signal that you are in the presence of food that is rotting and is best left un-ingested.
Nevertheless, some molds are perfectly fit for consumption, if not desired to produce fine dining fare. Part of the trick is knowing how to tell the difference between good molds and the molds that will do you some harm. The other part is to overcome some of your reservations try some of the following foods that benefit from a little fungus. (However, it should be noted that if you see mold growing on the following after the point of purchase, you should consider said foodstuff unsafe. The USDA has a handy cheat sheet if you need a refresher course on how to handle fungi in the kitchen [PDF].)
Cheese: Certain cheeses rely on bacteria and mold for their unique flavors and textures. Usually introduced during the finishing phase of the cheese-making process, once applied to the surface, molds penetrate the cheese and breaks down lactic acid, which in turn softens the fats and proteins therein. Strains of penicillium—the same genus of fungi used to create antibiotics—are frequently used. In soft cheeses, Penicillium candidum is what produces the characteristic hard, outer rind as well as the garlicky and earthly flavors those cheeses are known for. Without the mold, brie would be a sour and rubbery cheese, but a little fungus allows the cheese to take on its signature soft, creamy texture. Blue cheeses benefit from Penicillium roqueforti, which provides those cheeses with their hallmark blue veins and bold flavors.
Wine: In the realm of viticulture, rotting is a good thing if induced by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. Under the right climate conditions—dry, sunny days followed humid nights—the fungus’ growth and metabolism induced a “noble rot” in the fruit. Once infected, the grapes dehydrate and shrivel on the vine, increasing the concentration of sugar therein and providing the fruit with honey-like flavors. Vintners have been intentionally infecting—or “botrytizing”—grapes since at least the mid-1500s and these moldy grapes are used to produce some of Germany’s Rieslings, France’s Sauternes and Hungary’s Aszù wines. In incredibly rare cases, however, this mold can also harm people by causing “winemaker’s lung,” a hypersensitive pneumonitis where a person’s lungs become inflamed upon inhalation.
Salami: Health regulations here in the United States have placed some tight restrictions on the manufacture and sale of moldy meats. By and large, this is a good thing. But mold plays a vital role in how European butchers make dry-cured sausage. Here, the desired mold is penicillium, the same genus of fungi used to create antibiotics. When encouraged to grow on the outer casing, the penicillium serves several functions: by occupying all the physical real estate on the sausage, it prevents bad molds from developing; by consuming oxygen it inhibits oxidation of the meat and lastly it protects the fat from going rancid. Although it’s a centuries-old process, finding meats cured in this style are increasingly difficult to find here in this country. (In 2006, health inspectors destroyed the handmade, dry-cured meats at New York’s Il Buco restaurant. The USDA stipulates that meats should be cured in a refrigerator at 40 degrees or colder in order to stave off microbial growth. The “contraband” meat was stored at a little above room temperature.) So if you want to try the real stuff, you can try finding a place that imports dry-cured sausage, or you can make good salami an excuse for a trip overseas.
Corn Smut: Corn is susceptible to the pathogen Ustilago maydis, commonly known as “corn smut,” which infects the kernels and causes bulbous, gray tumors to grow. In this country, corn smut growth is a sign of diseased crops and is something to be eradicated. South America, however, has long regarded the fungus—known there as huitlacoche, Mayan for “excrement of the gods”—as a delicacy. When processed, it’s a slimy, black substance that can be used as an ingredient in Mesoamerican cuisine or as a standalone quesedilla filling. The appearance and colorful nicknames have made it hard for huitlacoche to break its niche market status, although some chefs are trying to do some re-branding by using more plate-positive terms like “corn mushrooms” or “corn truffles.” But there also seem to be some nutritional benefits to eating this fungal slush: a 2010 study showed that huitlacoche is rich in beta-glucens, the same cholesterol-reducing fiber found in oatmeal. And flavor? It’s been described as a cross between corn and mushrooms, earthy and fungal. But there are a few factors that get in the way of widespread huitlacoche production. In addition to being known exclusively in
South American Mexican cuisine, the fungus is highly perishable, making it difficult to get from field to market. And while canned versions are available, the flavor doesn’t compare to the fresh product. Furthermore, if you’re not expressly looking to cultivate this fungus, it can be highly destructive. In addition to decreasing total corn yield, infected ears need to be immediately removed lest mold spores go airborne and effect adjacent plants.
Smith, Tim. Making Artisan Cheese: Fifty Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen. Boston: Quayside Publishing Group, 2005.
Jackson, Ronald S. Wine Science: Principles and Applications. Elsevier, Inc. 2008. Burlington: Elsevier, Inc. 2008.
Ruhlman, Michael and Brian Polcyn. Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012.
Deutsch, Jonathan. Ed. They Eat That? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food From Around the World. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
June 10, 2013
Curt Jones, founder and CEO of Dippin’ Dots, was always interested in ice cream and science. He grew up on a small farm in Pulaski County, Illinois. As a child, he and his neighbors would get together and make homemade ice cream with an old hand crank: he’d fill up the machine with cream and sugar, add ice and salt to lower the temperature below zero and enjoy the dessert on the front porch.
When he first made Dippin’ Dots in 1987, the treat required a little more than a hand crank. By flash-freezing ice cream into tiny pellets with liquid nitrogen, Jones made the ice crystals in his dessert 40 to 50 times smaller than in regular ice cream—something he marketed as “the future” of the classic summer snack. Today, the company sells about 1.5 million gallons of dots a year and can be found in 100 shopping centers and retail locations, 107 amusement parks and more than one thousand stadiums, movie theaters and other entertainment venues across the United States.
But, 26 years after its invention, can we still call it the “Ice Cream of the Future”? Now that competitors including Mini Melts and MolliCoolz caught on and began shaking things up with their own versions of the flash-frozen dessert, has the novelty begun to fade?
In the mid-2000s, when the recession made it difficult for the average amusement-park-goer to drop the extra dollars for the fun dessert, Dippin’ Dots plummeted in sales. In 2007, Dippin’ Dots entered a patent battle with the competitor “Mini Melts” (Frosty Bites Distribution)—a legal defeat that would ultimately contribute to the company’s financial struggles. A federal court jury invalidated Jones’ patent for “cryogenic encapsulation” on a technicality: Jones had sold the product for over a year before filing for the patent. The New York Times cites a memo prepared by the law firm Zuber & Taillieu:
One of the arguments that Mini Melts used in undermining Dippin’ Dots was that the company committed patent fraud by not disclosing that it had sold its ice cream product one year prior to applying for its patent. Technically, an inventor of a new product (or process) is required to apply for a patent within one year of inventing the product or the product is considered to be “public art” and the right to file for a patent is forfeited.
In the suit Dippin’ Dots, Inc. v. Frosty Bites Distribution, LLL aka Mini Melts, it was determined that Jones had sold a similar version of the product he eventually patented to more than 800 customers more than one year prior the filing of the patent, making the company’s claim against Mini Melts unfounded. The Federal Circuit Court ruled that Dippin’ Dots’s method of making frozen ice cream pellets was invalid because it was obvious.
In 2011, Dippin’ Dots filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Kentucky. Again, according to the Times, the company owed more than $11 million to Regions Bank on eight different promissory notes. In 2012, Dippin’ Dots secured an offer from an Oklahoma energy executive that would hopefully buy the company out of bankruptcy for 12.7 million dollars. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The deal would preserve the flow of colorful flash-frozen ice cream beads to baseball stadiums and amusement parks across the country…Under the new ownership, the company would continue to pump out the dots from its 120,000-square-foot Paducah, Kentucky, manufacturing plant…
Even with the new owners, the plan was to keep Jones actively involved in the product. To stop the “Ice Cream of the Future” from becoming a thing of the past, the company tried a few twists on the orignal ice cream beads that eventually helped drag the company out of its crushing debt. These days, the company has a few spin off products in the works—a fusion of dots and regular ice cream called Dots N’ Cream and a Harry Potter-themed ice cream at Universal Studios, for example. And by August, Dippin’ Dots will have close to a thousand locations with 40-degrees-below-Fahrenheit freezers installed in grocery stores.
But in the late ’80s, the company was still in its nascent stages. Jones was a Southern Illinois University graduate with a degree in microbiology—a solid foundation for his futuristic idea to take shape. After graduating in 1986, he took a job with Alltech, a biotechnology company based in Kentucky. The science behind the invention is impressive, even 30 years later.
His main responsibility at Alltech was to isolate the probiotic cultures found in yogurt, freeze-dry them into a powder, and then add then to animal feeds as an alternative to antibiotics. Once ingested, these “good bacteria” came back to life and helped with the animal’s digestion. Jones experimented with different ways to freeze the cultures, and he discovered that if he froze the cultures in a faster process, the result was smaller ice crystals. After many attempts, he found that by dipping cultures into liquid nitrogen (a staggering 320 degrees Fahrenheit below zero) he could form pellets—making it easier to pour the small balls of probiotics into different containers.
A couple of months after this discovery, he was making homemade ice cream with his neighbor when they started a casual conversation about ice crystals. Jones loved homemade ice cream since childhood, but he never liked the icy taste—he wished they could freeze the dessert faster. “That’s when the light bulb came on,” Jones says. “I thought, ‘I know a way to do that better. I work with liquid nitrogen.’” Jones immediately began working on this budding business.
In 1988, Jones and his wife opened their creamery in Lexington, Kentucky with zero restaurant experience under their belt, and their rookie mistakes were costly, at least at first.
“There just weren’t enough customers coming through the door,” Jones says. “We got by because we sold one of our cars and we had some money saved up.” In that same year, he began converting an old garage on his father’s property into a makeshift factory (pictured below). With the help of his sister Connie, his father and his father-in-law, the Joneses were able to make the conversion.
By 1989, undeterred, Kay and Curt closed their failed restaurant and tried their luck at county and state fairs instead. Success there brought them to Nashville, Tennessee, and Opryland USA. At first, Jones sold the product to the park in designated kiosks throughout Opryland. They were just barely breaking even. The employees at Opryland working the stands didn’t know how to answer questions about the product. “It totally failed the first few years,” Jones says. “The people that tried it liked it, but at that time Dippin’ Dots didn’t mean anything—we didn’t have the slogan yet.” (Sometime between 1989 and 1990, Jones and his sister Charlotte came up “The Ice Cream of the Future” tagline that would help raise the product’s profile.) After two years of terrible sales at Opryland, a new food service supervisor at the park gave Dippin’ Dots another shot. Jones could sell and sample Dippin Dots himself on a retail level and explain the technology to customers himself.
When sales at Opryland took off, Jones pitched the product to other amusement parks, and by 1995 Dippin’ Dots made their international market debut in Japan. In 2000, the company’s network spanned from coast-to-coast.
It’s strange to embrace the nostalgia of a product that garnered a name for itself as a thing of the “future” —ironic even. But for anyone who pleaded with their parents to buy them a bowl of Jones’ straight-from-the-lab ice cream, it’s difficult to imagine Dippin’ Dots going the way of the Trapper Keeper and hypercolor T-shirt.
April 15, 2013
When we think about pigs today, most of us likely imagine the Wilbur or Babe-type variety: pink and more or less hairless. Mention pig farming and images of hundreds upon hundreds of animals crammed into indoor cages may come to mind, too. But it wasn’t always like this. Prior to the industrial revolution, pigs came in an astounding variety of shapes, sizes, colors and personalities. And the ham made from their cured meat was just as diverse.
“The tale of ham’s innovation began around 200 years ago, and it paved the way for how ham is produced today,” said Nicola Swift, the creative food director of the Ginger Pig, a company of butchers and farmers that specializes in rare breeds of livestock reared in England’s North York Moors. Swift presented a talk on the history of ham at the BACON conference in London last weekend, which sadly was not devoted to bacon but to “things developers love.”
One family in particular, the Harrises, almost single-handily changed the way England turned pigs into ham, she explained, and in doing so, they inadvertently laid the foundations for large-scale, homogenized pig farming.
Mary and John Harris were pig folk. Their family hailed from Calne, a quiet town in Southwest England. In the early and mid-1800s, they played a small but important role in providing London with pork. At the time, much of London’s pork arrived by way of Ireland. But without refrigeration, transporting large amounts of meat was impossible. Instead, pig handlers would literally walk the animals to the Irish coast, corral them onto boats destined for Bristol, and then continue to trek to London by foot.
But a deliciously fat pig forced to trot more than 100 miles would soon turn into a lean, tough mass of muscle. To make sure the ham, chops and bacon that those animals were destined to become remained fatty, tender and flavorful, pig herders would make pit stops along the way to give the animals a rest and fatten them up. The Harris farm was one such destination. The family also supplied Calne with meat from their small shop on Butcher’s Row, founded in 1770.
The Harrises were by no means well off. If they butchered 6 or 8 pigs in a week they wrote it off as a success. Still, they got by all right. That is, until tragedy struck. In 1837, John Harris, the relatively young head of the household, died suddenly, leaving his wife, Mary, to manage the business and look after the couple’s 12 children. A few years later, just as the family was getting back on its feet, hard times fell upon them once again. It was 1847, and the Irish potato famine arrived.
In Ireland, potatoes fed not only people but their pigs, too. As season after season of potato crops failed, the Irish could not feed themselves, much less their animals. The supply of pork to the Harris’ farm and butcher shop stopped arriving. In desperation, Mary and her son, George, hatched a scheme to send George to America by ship. The idea, they decided, was for George to strike up a pig business deal with American farmers and figure out a way to transport their slaughtered animals across the Atlantic in boxes packed with salt to ward off spoilage during the long journey. On its way to England, that meat would cure into ham and George’s entrepreneurial venture would save the family.
Not surprisingly, George failed in his mission. But while in the States, he did learn of a remarkable new practice the Americans were pursuing called ice houses. In the U.S., this method allowed farmers to slaughter pigs not only in months ending in an ‘r’ (or those cold enough for the meat not to rot before it could be cured and preserved), but during any time of year – even in steamy July or August. Curing, or the process of preventing decomposition-causing bacteria from setting in by packing the meat in salt, was then the only way to preserve pork for periods of time longer than 36 hours. Such horrendously salty meat was eaten out of necessity rather than enjoyment, however, and it often required sitting in a bucket of water for days at time before it could be rinsed of its saltiness to the point that it would even be palatable. ”This all harks back to the day when people had to preserve something when they had lots of it because there were other times when they didn’t have much,” Swift said. “This type of preserving goes back hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Ice houses, specially constructed sheds with packed ice blocks either collected locally or imported from Norway, offered partial relief from that practice, however. Charcoal acted as an insulator, preventing the ice from melting quickly and trapping the cool air within the small room.
When George returned home, curly tail between legs, he immediately got busy earning back his family’s trust by experimenting with ice house design. By 1856, he had succeeded in constructing what was likely the first ice house in England. The ham that resulted from slaughtering pigs in that cool confine was more tender and tasty since it didn’t have to be aggressively cured with large amounts of salt. Eventually, the Harrises shifted to brining techniques, or curing in liquid, which led to the creation of the massively popular Wiltshire ham.
The family patented George’s creation, and it soon began spreading to other farmers and ham producers who licensed the technology around the country. The Harris’ wealth increased so quickly and so dramatically that they partly financed the construction of a branch of the Great Western Railway to their village in 1863. Several decades after that, they helped bring electricity to Calne.
While the Harris’ tale is one of personal triumph, their mark on England’s ham production did not come without cultural costs. Prior to the ice house, each region in the UK and Ireland enjoyed their own specific breed of pig. In Lincolnshire, for example, Lincolnshire ham originated from the Lincolnshire curly coat, an enormous beast of a pig that was around twice the size of the animals typically bred today. It’s long, thick curly white coat kept the hardy animal warm throughout the damp winters, and its high fat content provided plenty of energy for the farm laborers that relied upon its exceptionally salty ham for sustenance. After a long decline, that breed finally went extinct in the 1970s thanks to industrialized farming.
Other regions once boasted their own breeds and unique ham brews. In Shropshire, people made “black ham,” which they cured along with molasses, beer and spices. This created an exceptional mix of salty sweetness, with a tinge of sourness from the beer. In Yorkshire, a breed called the large white – which is still around today – inspired a method of steaming cured ham in order to more efficiently remove the salt, while in Gloucestershire people preferred to add apples to their ham cures. But after the Harris’ ham empire took off, a massive advertising campaign that followed painted a picture of what ham and bacon should look and taste like, largely removing these traditions from kitchens around the country. “Most of the regional variances are sadly not known any more except to ham geeks,” Swift said.
In addition to stamping out ham variety, the Harris’ factory – which soon employed hundreds of staff and processed thousands of pigs each week – and others like it began favoring homogenized mass-production methods of indoor pig rearing. Older residents in Calne recall the factory’s unmistakable reek in the 1930s. Eventually, public protests caused its closure and demolition in the 1960s, but for local pigs and ham, the damage was already done. Between 1900 to 1973, 26 of the unique regional breeds of pigs and other livestock went extinct, with others surviving only in very small numbers.
To try and preserve pig and other livestock heritage, concerned citizens formed the non-profit Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1973, which maintains a sort of endangered species list and conservation group for farm animals on the fringe. In addition, farms such as Swift’s Ginger Pig specialize in breeding and reintroducing some of these lines into restaurants and local butcher shops in London and beyond, and in introducing traditional curing techniques through their upcoming book, the Farmhouse Cook Book. “Innovation is awesome and brilliant, but there’s also a dark side,” Swift said. “That’s the history of ham.”
February 22, 2013
In 1994, Julie Languille lived at the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake, which struck the Los Angeles neighborhood with a magnitude of 6.7. She and her family were without power for two weeks, and the long lines at nearby grocery stores soon began to shrink as food ran out.
“It just became really important to me as part of my feeling of security and good planning for my family to have meals on hand,” Languille says.
The Puget Sound resident, who also runs a dinner planning website, has been canning meals since, and her recipes, ranging from oatmeal and macaroni and cheese to braised chicken and pulled pork, are featured in a cookbook published next month. Two years ago, Languille installed a full-scale food storage unit in her home, filling it with almost 100 jars of basic ingredients like meats and veggies to complex ready-made recipes for baby back ribs and chicken noodle soup. Besides canning and sealing tools, an assortment of jars and enough room in the kitchen, the only other ingredients necessary are water and some heat.
In her cookbook, Languille writes that her bags, jars, and boxes of shelf-stable meals are “insurance against hardship or hunger.” Aside from earthquakes and hurricanes, ready-made meals significantly cut prep time for dinner on a busy weeknight. No washing, cutting, chopping and measuring—that was done weeks or months ago. Jars contain 100 percent of the ingredients necessary (other than water) for any given recipe, which nixes an extra trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item.
When stored in a cool, dry and dark place, dry meals can last for decades. Almost every fruit or vegetable can be dehydrated, a 24-hour process at high temperatures, and freeze-dried meats, which Languille says she buys online, have a long shelf life. But does the flavor of the ingredients hold up?
Languille says the answer is yes. When water is added, powdered eggs transform into fluffy beaten eggs and sour cream powder into dollops of the real stuff. Dehydrated apples, peaches and plums turn into gooey cobbler filling in the oven. Ground beef, once browned in a skillet and pressure-canned in a sterile jar for 75 minutes, becomes hearty chili when deposited into a pot of boiling water.
“The meals that I have on hand are tastier than the commercially prepared dried foods,” says Languille, who doesn’t use any artificial flavoring, coloring or preservatives in her recipes, save for a few packets of oxygen absorbers, which keep food from changing color or growing mold.
Languille replenishes her inventory four times a year, churning out nearly 40 canned jars in one weekend after a Costco-sized shopping trip. Whole meals are stored in quart-size jars and can produce soups and stews for parties of six to eight. Hamburger meat and chicken go in pint-size jars, which hold about a pound of meat and can serve four people
Languille uses a vacuum sealer to suck the air out of pouches filled with food. A dehydrator sucks out moisture from meats and vegetables, reducing their water content so they won’t spoil. A pressure canner preserves low-acid foods like meats, beans and vegetables.
Canning works in two ways. Pressure canning is used to preserve low-acid foods like meats, beans and vegetables. For example, a jar containing a piece of chicken is placed inside a pressure canner, which increases the pressure of the contents, causing steam to push out all of the air trapped inside. Then, the chicken remains stable at room temperature for long periods of time.
Water bath canning is used to preserve high-acid foods like fruits and tomatoes. Food is stored in sterilized jars, topped with warmed lids, and then boiled. This method works well for making jams and fruit butters and preserving spaghetti sauce and salsas
Canned and dry ingredients are packaged together in many of Languille’s recipes. Meat and sauce are cooked and canned together, then tossed into a jar with a sealed bag of pasta sauce and placed in a cupboard. Chicken canned with vegetables can be packaged with noodles to make chicken noodle soup or paired with flour and pie crust ingredients to produce a chicken pot pie.
Read on for the recipe for chicken noodle soup, which Languille says is her favorite, and others, featured in her forthcoming cookbook “Meals in a Jar: Quick and Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes.”
Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 8 servings
For soup mix: In each of 8 quart-size canning jars or retort pouches, add, seal, and then pressure-can for 75 minutes:
• 1 cup chopped lightly browned chicken
• ¾ cup chopped onion
• ¾ cup peeled and chopped carrots
• ¾ cup chopped celery
• 2 tablespoons chicken soup stock
• 1 slice dehydrated lemon
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• Water, to cover and leave 1 inch of headspace in a 1-quart jar, or 2 inches in a retort pouch
For noodle packet: In each of 8 vacuum bags, add and then seal:
• 2 cups egg noodles
In each of 8 Mylar bags, tote bags, or vacuum bags, store:
• 1-quart jar or retort pouch chicken soup mix
• 1 packet noodles
Combine the chicken soup mix and 12 cups of water in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and add the noodles. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Remove the bay leaf and lemon slice, and serve.
Omelet in a Bag
Makes 16 (2 to 3-serving) meals
In each of 16 zip-top quart-size freezer bags, package:
• ¼ cup powdered eggs
• 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon dried chives or thyme
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 pinch pepper
Heat a medium pot of water over medium heat to just simmering. Add ¹⁄₃ cup of water to the bag and squish the bag to combine (or put in a bowl and stir with a fork). Place the bag of omelet mixture into the water and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until solid and just cooked through. Divide the omelet into portions and serve.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 6 batches (about 3 dozen cookies each)
For cookie mix: In each of 6 vacuum bags, Mylar bags, or jars, add and then seal:
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered eggs
• 1¼ cups flour
• ¾ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
For peanut butter: In each of 6 vacuum bags or disposable 4-ounce containers, add and then seal:
• ½ cup (4 ounces) peanut butter
For shortening: In each of 6 vacuum bags, add and then seal:
• ½ cup shortening
In a Mylar bag, tote bag, or vacuum bag, store:
• 1 jar or pouch cookie mix
• 1 packet peanut butter
• 1 packet shortening
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, combine the shortening, cookie mix, and 2 tablespoons of water until a stiff dough forms. Roll into small balls about the size of walnuts and flatten with a fork in a crisscross pattern. Place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly brown.