Annabel Langbein: Well preserved (+ recipes)
I was listening to a podcast the other day, one of those interesting TED radio sessions that Radio NZ produces on Sunday evenings, and caught American food journalist and author Mark Bittman talking about the con of convenience. Well he didn't phrase it exactly like that but the fact of the matter is that the industrialisation of the food chain that has occurred over the past 100 years, has resulted in all manner of products that we think of as food but that aren't real food.
Taking the dictionary definition of food as something that sustains and nourishes, and nourishment as something that increases your health, Bittman argues that if something doesn't increase your health then it doesn't qualify as food. On this basis, he suggests that more than 40 per cent of what is sold as food in American supermarkets is not actually food.
Roll back 100 years and everything people ate was an ingredient, everyone was a locavore, there were no processed foods and few foods existed with more than one ingredient - as everything came into the home as separate ingredients, to be combined and cooked to order.
There were no numbers or additives or preservatives - apart from salt and sun and air.
Perhaps in New Zealand the industrialisation of our food chain is not yet as extreme as it is in the United States (then again, maybe it is if you look at our obesity stats), but the reality is, that for most of us it's an ongoing challenge to manage the busy-ness of life against the trade-offs of convenience. When its 5pm and you still haven't figured out what's for dinner, the chances are you'll go for what's easiest rather than what might be good for your body and the planet.
Over the years, in trying to juggle that particular dilemma, I have found one of the great ways to get dinner on the table easily, as well as saving some money while feeling that I'm doing my bit to reduce wastage, is to preserve some of the season's harvests for winter. A few bottles here and there take up the season's excess harvests and can be made in less than an hour. Right now is a great opportunity to capture some of autumn's rich flavours for later in the year when harvest offerings are meagre. The virtues of having homemade preserves go way beyond money. Making a few special things that you can't buy in the shops (or that are expensive) is a great springboard to effortless cooking and entertaining. It becomes more a matter of assembly to create yummy starters, fillings, condiments, slow-baked casseroles and even dessert, with ingredients that have your individual stamp.
One recipe that delivers two treats - use the syrup to make a crystal-clear ruby Quince Jelly and the quinces to make a melt-in-the-mouth Quince Paste to enjoy with cheese. Get the recipe
This recipe works equally well with trimmed asparagus spears and can be scaled up if you have a bumper harvest. Get the recipe
You can make this chutney with pears or even peaches - each will offer its own slightly different flavour. Adding 500g dates or raisins in with the fruit at the start gives a sweeter result, which is good for peach or mango chutney.
For peach chutney I also like to throw in a couple of cinnamon quills, a handful of cardamom pods, a big handful of grated ginger, 2-3 fresh chillies and 500g dates. The mixture needs to cook until it is a rich dark brown and is thickened - take care near the end that it doesn't catch. Get the recipe
Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips — on sale at Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and all good bookstores or visit annabel-langbein.com