Tin Cans and Ice- The Quest to Keep Food Fresh

I have been reading a book by one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Bill Bryson. He has some fascinating facts about the history of food. Did you know that canning of food was invented between 1810 and 1820? The first cans were made out of wrought iron. They had to be opened with a hammer and chisel, or a bayonet, if you happened to have one handy. By 1880, machines could mass produce about 1500 cans a day. But it was still dicey and dangerous to get the food out of the can to eat it. It was not until 1925 that a modern can opener was invented.
The first ice for food preservation was cut from frozen rivers in the mid 1840’s and transported by train or ship across great distances. The U.S. was shipping ice to England, until the Norwegians stepped into the game. Sawdust was used an insulator for the humongous chunks of ice, and only about 30% melted down along the way, once custom officials figured out how to classify 300 tons of dripping cargo. Americans embraced ice on a larger scale than Europeans and Manhattan alone consumed 1 million tons a year. Soon, refrigerated rail cars were carrying Maine lobster to Chicago and transporting meat and poultry from the heartland coast to coast. Small local farms started disappearing and agriculture started to become big business.

Today you could probably buy food from abroad any day and never eat from your native land. But should you? In the 1800’s there was no way to measure the nutrients in food. While meats may travel well, vegetables and fruits have to be picked before ripe to be transported great distances. The hardy strains are bred for toughness, not flavor or nutrient value.

So, eat local as much as you can when it comes to fresh food. Talk to the growers who bring their wares to Farmer’s Markets. They can teach you the secrets to choosing the freshest and most flavorful produce. You can squeeze and sniff live food that will reward your taste buds. I don’t think it is possible to be healthy eating out all the time. If you cannot cook, take lessons, pay someone to cook for you, or eat raw. But you have to eat freshly prepared food or pay the price with your health. Restaurant food is not high enough quality these days. Too many microwave ovens and cheap substitutes. Fall is a great time for the Farmer’s Market. You can enjoy the harvest and unwind from your week listening to live music and sampling a variety of ethnic foods and rare treats. Raw milk is available at the Hollywood market. At all the markets you can dip into some amazing olive oils. Buy some and make a homemade dressing. You will never accept bottled dressing again.

My favorite recipe for salad dressing is 1/2 olive oil, 1/3 cup vinegar (balsamic, reduced balsamic, white balsamic or apple cider vinegar) 1/2 tsp of your favorite mustard, 1/4 tsp sea salt. Shake well in a jar. Add crushed garlic, rosemary, chili pepper flakes or any other seasoning you like. You can use fresh lemon juice instead of vinegar for a change. Enjoy!