We don’t have any problems string food these days – or we shouldn’t have, with our fridges and freezers and detailed instructions on food items telling us exactly how to keep things in the best way, and also advice on when it should be consumed by. There’s a whole other story to be told about best before dates – but that’s another hobby horse which I will leave in the stable for the moment. In the past, before electric appliances were not a luxury but something nearly everyone has as standard, people still stored food and kept it so it was good to eat. We didn’t have a fridge when I was a child – and when I first went to do my degree I lived in places with no fridges either. Dried foods and things like cakes and buns were kept in tins with lids, or bottles and jars with lids, we had a meat safe which was a wooden box with a door on one side and the other sides were open for the air to circulate but covered in a fine mesh. When things had gone slightly past it they were used in some other way, sour milk turned to cottage cheese, squidgy fruit used in puddings, stale bread used to make bread and butter pudding (for some reason my mum never made bread pudding, although her sister did)
In my little 1944 cookery book, Cookery To-day and To-morrow, there’s a whole three pages on storing food, including information on methods of preserving eggs (‘waterglass’, and ‘with wax and oil’).
When it is not convenient to bottle, dry or jam fruits, or to process vegetables with a pressure cooker or home canning outfit, they must be stored with care so they will still be in perfect condition when required for use. The other everyday foods in the larder and store cupboard also require careful storing if food is not to be wasted; a cool, dry atmosphere is necessary for the storing of most foods.
Here’s the suggestion Nell Heaton, author of the cookery book has for foods from B for Bacon to D for Dried Fruits:
- Bacon and Ham should be hung up and covered with muslin. It should hang where a current of air can flow all around it.
- Baking Powder should be stored in a tin or glass jar with a screw top.
- Biscuits should be storied in a jar or airtight tin
- Butter should be stored away from any highly smelling food and it should be covered with a damp cloth, the ends of which dip in water (but do not put the butter itself in water)
- Candles should be dried well before use
- Cereals should be stored, when possible, in screw-top jars
- Cheese should be wrapped in greaseproof paper and then in a moist clean cloth. Or put a small piece of apple peel in the cheese dish, and if the lid has no hole in it, raise it slightly.
- Cocoa and Coffee should both be stored in airtight screw-top glass jars or tins.
- Dehydrated Eggs and Milk should be stored in airtight jars or tins, and care should be taken when they are opened not to allow any moisture to get into them.
- Dried Fruits (currants, raisins, sultanas) should be stored in a dry place in screw-topped jars. They should be well washed and dried before use, or cleaned by being dredged with flour and rubbed with a clean cloth.
- Dried Fruits (apple rings, pears, prunes, apricots and peaches) should also be stored in a dry place in screw-topped jars. They should be washed thoroughly and soaked for 48 hours before use.
I can’t imagine where I might hang my ham or bacon wrapped in muslin, or how I would cope with butter covered with a damp cloth trailing in water, and why wipe candles? I’m sure many, if not most people would not understand the instruction about the cheese dish with a lid and either having a hole – or not having a hole and raising it. It’s an interesting insight into how our grandmas would have worked in their kitchens to keep food whole and not waste any.