OHIO VALLEY — Anyone opening a jar of preserved produce knows there is nothing quite like the flavor of homemade fruits and vegetables. What was once called “canning” and “freezing” is now referred to as “farm-to-table preservation.”
As health benefits from eating fresh fruits and vegetables are becoming apparent, there is a growing trend to once again prepare and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables at home.
In the past, a lot of work went into growing your own food. From tilling the soil and planting the seeds, to harvesting and preparing the produce, the efforts were vital to a family’s food supply. Preservation was essential to ensure families had food stored for winter months.
There were no grocery stores with fresh, canned and frozen foods as a backup. It was not uncommon for past generations to “put up” 100 quarts each of beans and tomatoes. Jars of carrots, beets, corn and pickles lined cellar shelves. Tree fruits and berries were canned as well, some whole and others in jellies and preserves.
Farmers markets were popular and gave people an opportunity to buy and trade seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat, cheeses, baked goods and jellies.
With the industrialization of food preservation beginning in the 1950s, what Americans could put on their tables was no longer dependent on the availability of produce in their area, or their ability to preserve quantities of foods; now there was a selection of fruits and vegetables year round at their fingertips.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the turn of the 20th century, most food came from within 50 miles of where it was eaten.
As families moved from rural to urban areas, many local food sources were lost. The convenience of purchasing canned and frozen foods at the grocery store became a way of life and much of the art of preservation was lost.
Now, there are efforts under way to teach preservation methods and a farm-to-table movement is growing. It would be difficult to find anyone more dedicated to the farm-to-table movement than Alfonso Contrisciani, academic dean of hospitality at Hocking College.
Contrisciani is passionate about his work at the college and understands the importance of hands-on experience for the students. He uses as much local produce in the program as the season permits and prefers artisan-grown products to those that are factory-grown.
Having worked in all areas of the food industry, he brings his numerous talents to the Hocking hospitality program. Constrisciani is an artisan grower currently farming 70 acres of crops, including wheat for his use in baked goods. He advocates for participation in local farmers markets in the area and encourages partnerships between the hospitality and farm programs at Hocking, local farmers and schools. With Constrisciani’s encouragement, the college is moving forward with farm-to-school programs and classes in food preservation.
Contrisciani was proud to present artistically arranged seasonal fruit and pastries prepared by his students for a faculty function in Hocking President Betty Young’s office. He points to the pastries and notes that fresh berries from local farmers were used in the fillings.
His efforts to encourage farm-to-table by individuals, restaurants and schools has introduced many to the idea that “fresh is best.” By putting programs in place at the college level to teach fresh food preparation and preservation, students and the community are learning proper methods, making it easier to incorporate fresh foods into their menus.
With the resurgence of interest in fresh and locally grown foods, the number and popularity of farmers markets are growing . While most consumers will never give up prepackaged and non local produce completely, introducing a generation to the benefits of farm-to-table and the fun of shopping at a farmers market may be a move in the right direction.
And this winter, when the snow is falling and you are having soup made with vegetables you preserved last summer and apple butter to put on those warm biscuits fresh from the oven, you will know the time spent to “put away” some of summer’s treasurers was well worth the effort.
Contact Lorna Hart at 740-992-2155 Ext. 2551