DO Something New #3: Preserve Your Food
This month, in the third instalment of our DO Something New series – a collection of journal posts inspired by the zest for home crafts cultivated in our community during the Covid-19 lockdown – we spoke to cook and DO/Preserve co-author Anja Dunk.
Anja grew up in rural Wales, where her parent’s productive allotment meant there was always bountiful produce to preserve to enjoy all year round. Her work as a freelance cook and caterer means she now resides outside of London with her young family. She believes taking the time to value our food can reconnect us with the cycle of the seasons, and so instil a greater appreciation for our natural world and environment. Since we’ve had the time to bake, grow our own vegetables, and reconnect with nature this year, we spoke to Anja about how the art of preserving can be a rewarding ritual which nourishes our body, mind and soul.
What encouraged you to write a guide about preserving food?
I watched my mum and grandmother preserve from a very early age. Marmalade making, picking blackberries and plums from the hedgerows for jam and pickling cucumbers are in fact some of my earliest childhood memories. Living in the Welsh countryside, preserving was as much a way of life as it was about putting something delicious on the table, so I suppose it’s in my blood.
I cook for the DO lectures each year alongside my catering partner and DO Preserve co-author Jen Goss. Chutneys, jams and pickles are a big part of each mealtime, sometimes they’re even the highlight, so it seemed a natural subject for us to write about (alongside our other co-author and DO-USA cook Mimi Beaven).
Anja, you’re a cook, and ‘someone who’s grown up in a house full of pickle’. What have you been doing during this time in isolation?
Aside from homeschooling, I’ve been in the kitchen preserving the Spring harvest. I’m lucky to have an allotment, which has kept us busy – mostly it’s full of weeds, but the rhubarb crop is abundant every year and so I’ve been busy preserving that – mainly jam but also chutney and gin.
We spent a lot of time picking wild garlic in our 1-hour outdoor slots at the start of lockdown – this was mainly used to make ferments with, including kimchi. We also made pesto and wild garlic butter and pickled some of the bulbs and buds to use later on in the year. The elderflower was fantastic this Spring and so I made vinegar, cordial and champagne with it. (Nearly all of these recipes are in DO/preserve).
What are your top three tips for trying pickling as a form of preservation?
Start simple – vinegar, salt, sugar (optional) and one vegetable. Work out the right balance of acid, salt and sugar to suit your tastes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Pickling in vinegar isn’t expensive, and the only way to learn is to try different flavour combinations. Try adding a couple of spices to your vinegar mix, or maybe add another vegetable or two to the jar.
Avoid using metal lids – they will corrode!
If you had to choose one, what would be the recipe first-time preservers should try from DO/preserve, and why?
Sauerkraut. It’s so easy to make and a great way to enter into the world of fermentation. Once you get a taste for it and realise the health benefits it’s something you don’t want your fridge to be without. It’s so handy in sandwiches, used as a soup topper, as a side dish or mixed into a salad.
During the lockdown, we’ve seen a surge in people participating in ancient rituals of gardening, foraging, baking and cooking. How do these traditional practices benefit us, and what can we learn from preserving food in particular?
All of these traditional practices bring us closer to nature and the earth. They help us slow down and appreciate the rhythms of the day and the seasons. There is something quite magical about opening up a jar of bottled damsons in mid-winter or spreading strawberry jam on your toast when it’s snowing outside – adding a touch of summer sweetness to days when the fields and hedgerows aren’t as abundant.
I think preserving in small batches at home makes us all appreciate growing, foraging, farming, harvesting and sustainable living a little more. Preserving produce ourselves adds value to what we eat – if we put time and effort into the jam we’re spooning onto our porridge we will without a doubt appreciate it more than a supermarket equivalent. It’s fulfilling and rewarding, as well as being better for us and tastier than any commercial version would be.
How can preserving food encourage us to slow down, and indulge in more quality time and self-care?
You can’t rush a jam, it needs to reach a setting point before it can be jarred up. You can’t rush a liqueur as the alcohol needs time to soak up the flavours of the fruit. You can’t rush a ferment because it takes time for the bacteria and yeast in the air to do their thing. Slowing down is just part of preserving and it speaks for itself in terms of engaging in more quality time. As far as self-care is concerned – anything that is made with love and thoughtfulness tastes better. Eating well and feeling good about what we eat is all part of looking after ourselves.
Even when the pace of life quickens once more, how can food ‘inspire ideas, change and doing’ and support our wellbeing?
Well, if we’ve all been preserving more during lockdown we will be able to appreciate the fruits of our labours for many months to come. And when the last jar of jam or pickle is empty hopefully we’ll want to start the whole cycle all over again and break the habit of convenience (buying a jar of jam off the shelf) that we might have been into before. A jar of jam is made for giving! Pass a jar of homemade jam or pickles on to a friend and maybe it will encourage them to try their hand at it too, and if it doesn’t, it will at least put a smile on their faces; and that’s a wonderful thing.
Tempted to try out pickling and preserving for yourself? DO/Preserve is your pocket guide to making your food go further. It’s available alongside other titles designed to inspire action at The DO Book Co, and you can relish 10% off your selection with our exclusive code. Just enter GATHER10 at the checkout. Packed with over 80 recipes, the book will encourage you to transform nature’s bounty into delicious pickles, chutneys, jams and cordials to enjoy and share. For more home-cooking inspiration from Anja, follow her on Instagram @anjadunk.
In our forced isolation, our social and professional obligations were replaced with new rituals of cooking, foraging, preserving, gardening, designing, creating and making. These centuries-old practices offered us a sense of purpose, and even defiance, in quarantine. As we’ve inched out of lockdown, we’ve been indulging in Q&A’s with four DO Book authors, in order to do something new, and benefit from this time investment in our personal wellbeing.