She's a jar, with a heavy lid.
December 2, 2010 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How do other developed nations home-food-preservations differ so wildly from the US? Are their methods safer?

A friend of mine spent some time woofing in France last summer, and came back with a bunch of stories about air cured hams, and home fermented wines, etc. None of her food preservation stories ever really struck me as odd, until she told me about how the farm she stayed at preserved their chicken stock.

Apparently, they ladled chicken stock into jars that had been sterilized, and...well. That's it. Just chicken stock into jars. They apparently lasted for upwards of a year.

I have a pretty extensive canning background and have always followed my local state college's extension service, or my grandmother's advice (which usually coincide with each other). And the extension service would say that you have to obliterate that jar of stock with 20 minutes at 12lbs water bath canning for stock.

Is this safe? Do developed nations home food preservation techniques differ THAT wildly from the US?

If this is the case, do countries like France have higher rates of botulism and other home-canning related illness? Is it a wash?

This has kind of thrown my home canning paradigm upside-down. Any help hivemind?
posted by furnace.heart to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
France isn't on this ranked list of "foodborne intoxications per capita"--and the small sample sizes of Iceland and Luxembourg are probably why they're outliers--but the US does seem to be quite low per-capita compared to the European countries that do report there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:46 PM on December 2, 2010

Ah! here's an EU report on botulism incidence.

It looks like France's per-capita botulism incidence is a tiny bit higher than the US's, but not significantly so. Apparently, the Republic of Georgia is the place to go if you're looking for high botulism rates.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:51 PM on December 2, 2010

Also, one farm is not a statistically significant sample. Someone who has, say, Je sais cuisiner ready to hand might check to see what they recommend for preserving stock.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:54 PM on December 2, 2010

Is it possible that your friend didn't entirely understand what was going on? Or that this was a first-time experiment doomed to fail when they opened a jar and realized it was completely rank?
posted by Sara C. at 8:01 PM on December 2, 2010

Anecdote filter: I know a lot of people in my little US farming circle, including one canning instructor for our extension, who have family recipes that are decidedly *not* FDA approved. None of them will serve any of this food without specifically warning the potential eater and the instructor, I can only assume, doesn't talk about this in class. I also know folks who are of the air-dry-and-cut-the-mold-off school of meat curing. And one person who makes blackberry wine by crushing the berries and leaving the resulting juice in a crock on the porch.

Maybe the circles you travel in don't reflect the diversity of food preservation practices in the US?

A further anecdote, my grandmother went to college to study home economics in her youth. As a result, all of the recipes handed down by that particular grandmother are shiny examples of the new modern era of labor-saving and scientifically proven packaged and processed food.

Note: I do not advocate fucking around with canning. It's a bad idea. Unlike most forms of spoilage, botulism is tasteless and invariably serious.
posted by stet at 9:19 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have I Know How To Cook, the English translation of Ginette Mathiot's Je sais cuisiner (it sounds so much nicer in French) done by Clotilde Dusoulier.

(It's a great book, by the way.)

Page 846 says:
To preserve food in sterilized jars, the same method should always be followed. Choose young, unblemished, very fresh vegetables. [etc etc blanch them, chill them, pack and cover with brine of 1/4c salt to 4c water.] Seal and sterilize according to the jar manufacturer's instructions.
It also says to sterilize (I assume this means "process"?) green beans and peas for 2 hours?? And asparagus for 1.5?? These seem WAY long to me ...

That said, I've heard about American grandmas and moms using non-processed pickling methods, for example -- hot jars, hot brine, pack your jars and pour the brine and put the lids on, and call it good. I made some pickles this way this year, and the jars all sealed, but I have put them all in the fridge anyway just to be safe. I do intend to eat them whenever I get around to it, though, so I guess I'm splitting the difference?

On preview, I didn't know stet, sitting next to me on the couch, was also replying to this thread, and he did not give any of his grandmother's "shiny examples of the new modern era of labor-saving and scientifically proven packaged and processed food." My favorite is the one for hot fudge. It goes like this: Fill a coffee cup halfway full of chocolate chips. Cover with cream. Microwave.
posted by librarina at 9:25 PM on December 2, 2010

IIRC, the 'standardised' US processes appeared during the 1940s, when everybody got extremely interested in 'putting food by', even though many had never done it before. If you look at old cookbooks (say, from the early 1920s), you'll see a lot more slack in the procedures. Some of that is familiarity with the organisms in the environment, but some of it was "let's be careful out there" from the extension offices....they didn't want inexperienced canners to get into trouble by following the procedures outlined in their books, so they erred on the side of caution.

And, if those sealed jars of French stock were stored in the root cellar next to the wine, they may last longer than jars of stock stored in a US pantry -- pressure canning didn't exist for many years after Mr Kerr invented the canning ring, and people canned meats and sweets for *years* before safe residental pressure canners existed.
posted by jlkr at 9:27 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

It depends on what you mean by "safe" or "safer?" I mean, the USDA sternly warns me about runny eggs, and I think that's batshitinsane. I'll occasionally inversion-can jams or pickles that I'm not going to leave on the shelf for very long. But I wouldn't preserve chicken stock with just a water bath.

But you sound like you're already adept at balancing grandma's recipes with recommended guidelines? Do what you think is right, err on the side of caution when the risk to reward ratio is sharpest.
posted by desuetude at 10:19 PM on December 2, 2010

For a bunch of great examples of old school European preservation techniques, check out this book. It's a collection of home recipes collected by a French gardening magazine, none of which use pressure or boiling water canning. Most have some other barrier to botulism: they aren't sealed (botulinum toxin is only produced in anaerobic environments), they're salty or vinegary or alcoholic, etc. My guess is that the chicken stock at that woof farm in France was probably boiled hard after opening.
posted by cali at 12:07 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My guess is that the chicken stock at that woof farm in France was probably boiled hard after opening.

That would have zero effect upon any botulism toxin. It isn't the Clostridium botulinum that hurts you but the toxin it produces. If you kill the bacteria and leave the toxin you are still dead.

I still can't explain what is going on with the stock though. I imagine that there is fat on top which forms a seal but could that really suffice? Chicken stock is just about a perfect growth media for potentially harmful bugs. You didn't mention whether it was refrigerated but even that would not seem to get you to a year without proper canning. Who knows? These folks don't refrigerate their eggs either.
posted by caddis at 3:47 AM on December 3, 2010

I believe MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf (circa WWII) includes a description of this sort of canning method used in France. Caddis has it right that the fat rises to the top and seals the container; it's essentially the same as the method of sealing w/a layer of paraffin wax. The seal is fragile, of course, so they've got to be careful with those jars until they're used.

Using wax to seal jars is no longer recommended in USDA guidelines, but I think it's still pretty popular with low-risk foods like jam, since it lets you preserve food in any old jar you've got sitting around.
posted by jon1270 at 5:16 AM on December 3, 2010

librarina writes "It also says to sterilize (I assume this means 'process'?) green beans and peas for 2 hours?? And asparagus for 1.5?? These seem WAY long to me ..."

That's what you have to do if you don't have a pressure canner.

On the stock: I wonder how much salt is in it. Make stuff salty enough and it retards the growth of bacteria. Or they could be adding a lot of acid. I probably wouldn't eat it that way but I do hot pack Borscht.
posted by Mitheral at 6:21 AM on December 3, 2010

@caddis: I disagree. Botulism toxin is destroyed by boiling. For real.

(From wikipedia, which tends to be fairly reliable on stuff like the durability of botulism toxin in heat: "The toxin itself is rapidly destroyed by heat, such as in thorough cooking.[25] On the other hand, the spores that produce the toxin are heat-tolerant and will survive boiling water for an extended period of time.[26] Fortunately, ingestion of the spores is safe, except in infants, as the highly oxygenated and highly acidic environment of an adult human digestive system prevents the spores from growing and producing the botulinum toxin.")

Also, my best friend keeps thirty chickens for egg purposes. I can report with certainty that chicken eggs keep perfectly well for a week or two at room temperature, assuming they have not been washed after being removed from the laying nest. The eggs you buy at the store, even the dated ones, are three to four weeks old. Freshly laid eggs have the following characteristics: extremely tight and well-connected whites (do not spread out much in a pan), high and firm yellows that do not break easily (so separating them is really easy and making eggs-over-light without breaking the yolks is super easy), and a COMPLETE INABILITY TO BE PEELED WHEN HARD BOILED. The shell comes off in eensy teensy little pieces, like size-of-rock-salt pieces, with egg attached. The older the eggs are, the better they peel.
posted by which_chick at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2010

A lot of its cultural. If you ask people to rank food attributes (taste, safety, cost, etc.) in order of importance, Americans usually put safety first, whereas the French will reliably put taste. To many Europeans the US emphasis on sterility and cleanliness seems ridiculous, while to Americans, the earthiness of some European foodstuffs may seem gross.
posted by rhymer at 6:44 AM on December 3, 2010

Where I grew up, at the KY/IN border, we would preserve pork meats by slicing them, frying them, and then layering the slices in crocks with their own grease before putting a muslin cover over the crock - just layers of fat and meat. My Gma used to can beef roast in a dry oven with bail top jars: sterilized the jars, got the roast hot, then ladled it into the jars in the dry oven on racks. When it had boiled in the jar for a bit she would then just flip the top, clamp it, and let it cool on the rack.

The only things I remember going through the trouble of pressure canning were green beans and these relatively acid free Panamanian tomatoes we grew.
posted by Tchad at 8:43 AM on December 3, 2010

Alabama 1980's: My mom (raised in NY and AL in the 1950-60's) would frequently make jam and do other home canning. I know there was a lot of water bath canning of vegetables, and probably pressure canning. But jam? always always poured into sterile jars - not just canning jars but any glass container saved from store-bought anything - then melted paraffin wax poured over the top. I loved how the wax would make a deep dimple as it cooled, and I remember fighting my brother to lick the jam off the back of a freshly opened wax plug. We did try to use jam up within a year or so, though, not like the ancient prized tomatoes in my gran's basement that she insisted were still good...
posted by aimedwander at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2010

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