Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Pumpkin Harvest in Sunderland, MA. (Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

It’s that time of year when the fall harvest begins to wane and a golden light fills the landscape, shining on the incredible bounty that is about to enter our homes and be served on our tables.

Nothing marks New England more than its seasonality.  A sudden chill in the air and the warming spices of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider take over our hearths and palate as we prepare to embrace the beginning of winter – only just around the corner now!

Traditionally, the harvest season was seen as a way to prepare for the oncoming colder months when the land hibernates and the growing season becomes dormant.  This is the season of food – a time to gather, prepare, preserve and share in many ways.  Whether it’s the gathering of the harvests or the gathering of family and friends to eat together, this season is about self-reliance, community, fortitude, and the preservation of cultural heritage through the culinary arts. It’s a beautiful season, one to relish and enjoy in the spirit of friendship, sharing of abundance, and preserving and processing our crops and animal food sources.


Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

 

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History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

In New England, a common cured meat was dried and salted cod.

Isn’t it amazing how cultures have so much in common through the universal need of food?  Like the prosciutto in Italy, the cod in New England was traditionally dried and salted.  When the cod was ready to be used, the fish was placed in cold water to be rehydrated with the water being changed every few days.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preservation: Curing

Preservation: Curing

Canning and preserving the season’s produce is a wonderful way to enjoy the harvest year-round.  In Western Massachusetts, canning and food preservation has become a part of our cultural identity given the incredible amount of farms and local CSA’s that allow community members to purchase local food and support agriculture at a grassroots level. While it’s a part of our modern culture today, food preservation is actually an ancient practice rooted in our human history.  In fact, one of the oldest forms of food preservation is the drying of food.  In addition to drying, there are many methods of food preservation used throughout the world, including: freezing, fermenting, pickling, curing, jam and jelly, and canning.

Take prosciutto for example.  You might have tried this Italian cured meat on a sandwich, on pizza or as a part of a cold cut platter.  Prosciutto is made from ham, and the process to cure it is quite laborious. The most famous prosciutto is Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy.  The ham is not cooked like a baked ham in the oven.  Instead, it is cured raw.  The sodium from the salt helps to slow down bacteria growth and prevents the meat from going rancid.  Curing meat has been around for thousands of years and is still a common practice today. In Parma, Italy, curing the leg of pork requires a lengthy salting process.  The ham absorbs the salt, thereby drying it out and preserving it.

Watch this video to see how the ham is preserved to make prosciutto in Italy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Preservation: Jams & Butters

Preservation: Jams & Butters

A common form of preservation is making jam!  It is a traditional way to preserve those delicious summer fruits (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches) and the fall harvest (pumpkin butter, apples and cranberries).

Making jam can be an intergenerational activity that allows for skill-sharing between family members and across generations.  It’s a tradition that can be passed between friends, or passed down from grandparents to grandchildren or parents to children.  It encourages self-reliance and harmony with the seasons.

Remember Lydia Maria Child, the author featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of “Learning Ahead?”  Her book, The American Frugal Housewife, includes many recipes for jams and preserves.  By preserving the fruits and vegetables from the harvest, you are also preserving a piece of cultural history here in Western Massachusetts by participating in this traditional heritage.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Preserving the Harvest

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