Store in a cool, dry place

It’s been beautiful hot weather recently and today it has been particularly warm. I put the washing out on the line and then I did a tiny bit of tidying in the garden but it was far too hot to be doing that in the sun. In the kitchen, food which we normally have on the side, tomatoes, butter, cheese, eggs were in the fridge. Over the last couple of days I’ve been sharing helpful hints on how to store food from nearly eighty years ago, when most people didn’t have fridges, and hardly anyone had a domestic freezer. A lot of families grew their own fruit and vegetables in their back gardens and on allotments; I didn’t realise that allotments were such an old established thing – I knew people might have plots of land to grow vegetables etc, may be shared with others or rented from a land owner, and Wikipedia tells me that there’s an early eighteenth century engraving of allotments near Birmingham. The oldest allotment in existence is the Great Somerford Free Gardens which is in the  village of Great Somerford in Wiltshire which were created in 1809 for the benefit of the parish poor.

The problem with growing your own, even today is what do you do with the abundance you may be lucky enough to harvest. This was our problem when we had raised vegetable beds in our garden. Only I really like cauliflower, for example, and one person can only eat so much – I did make delicious piccalilli, but I was the only customer for that too.  I had a disastrous attempt at salting beans – the resulting failure is too dreadful to think about, cabbages all went to seed apart from the couple I munched my way through, we didn’t have enough room to grow enough potatoes for us, and other root vegetables were a fail, as were the hoped for broad beans. We gave up on the raised beds and are now in an attempt to turn them into wild flower areas.

I’ve wandered away from storing foods, and the suggestions for storing food from the little book ‘Cookery for To-day and To-morrow’, written by Nell Heaton and published in 1944, when the was was on and people had to grow their own fod when they could because of rationing and shortages. Here is how Nell suggests you should store foods from Jams to Tomatoes (I wonder if she has a recipe for tomato jam?)

  • Jams. Remember to label all home-made jam with its date, and when storing bought jam keep the new season’s away from the old, so that the old may be used first. Store in a cool, dry place. If jam crystallizes it may be boiled up again quickly and re-potted in a hot jar.
  • Meat, if not being kept in a refrigerator, should be covered with a piece of butter muslin, to keep off the flies. In hot weather, it is wise to par-cook the meat, cool it quickly and sprinkle with pepper.
  • Milk should be kept in a cool place and the jugs or glasses thoroughly scalded after use.
  • Nutmegs should be stored in a dry place. The dark ones are the best to choose.
  • Pepper should be stored in an air-tight tin or jar.
  • Spices and flavourings should be stored in an airtight tin.
  • Soap should be stored in a dry place and left to become really hard before being used.
  • Soda should be stored in an airtight tin.
  • Salt should be stored in a dry place.
  • Tea should be stored in an airtight tin or a screw-top glass jar.
  • Tinned foods should be stored in a cool place and they should be turned occasionally so the contents do not settle at one end of the tin. They should be used in rotation. If a tin is bulging, care should be taken to see that the contents are fit for consumption. (See “Useful Information.”)
  • Tomatoes. Green tomatoes may be stored wrapped in newspapers or packed into small boxes with layers of straw, hay or sand.

More helpful and interesting advice, some useful today, some a glimpse into a time gone by; I’d never heard of sprinkling anything with pepper to help keep it fresh – maybe in case it began to deteriorate the pepper would conceal the flavour? An old lady I knew called meat that tasted a bit off ‘faint’. Milk in jugs must have been bought from a milkman who went round the streets with a churn of fresh milk on his cart I’m guessing!

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