Friday, November 7, 2008

From the Can to the Pan: part 1

The canning process dates back to the late 18th century in France when the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize of 12000 Francs to whomever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized that if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it will not spoil. An Englishman, Peter Durand, took the process one step farther and developed a method of sealing food into unbreakable tin containers, which was perfected by Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, who set up the first commercial canning factory in England in 1813. As more and more of the world was explored, and as provisioning armies took on greater importance, the demand for canned foods grew. Thomas Kensett, who emigrated to the United States, established the first U.S. canning facility for oysters, meats, fruits and vegetables in New York in 1812. More than 50 years later, Louis Pasteur provided the explanation for canning's effectiveness when he was able to demonstrate that the growth of microorganisms is the cause of food spoilage.

Last night I opened a gift that I received, a can of Cassoulet au Canard (a duck, bean and sausage stew) from France. It actually tasted homemade. Upon looking at the ingredient list the reason was quite evident.

Lingot beans 35%
Grilled pork sausage 33%
Containing: pork, pork liver, water, salt, pepper.
Duck 20%
Containing: water, tomato, duck fat, garlic, salt, pepper

Pretty basic, right? Why then are the majority of canned foods that we get here loaded with products that, up until 25 years ago, did not exist.? Why are preservatives used in a process that doesn’t require any? My parents used to talk about cooking during the depression and substituting oats for half of the meat when making chipped beef. Today the food processors, thanks to the corn and soy based farm industry, have cut costs by incorporating fillers that serve no nutritional or flavor purpose. I thought that it would be interesting if I could find a domestic equivalent. Or, maybe it’s best to can my own main course meals. Canning isn’t just for jams, relishes and vegetables. Part 2 of this article will be a report chronicling my search and part 3 will have the details and recipes of my own entrĂ©e canning project.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I spent a week in Languedoc, making it a point to sample cassoulet - the signature dish of the region. I ordered it in a little place on the square in Limoux, perhaps 20 kilometres south of Carcassonne. I was unimpressed.

Earlier in the week, I'd bought a tin of the exact same Castelnaudary cassoulet pictured in your blog post. The purchase was more or less a joke - we intended to eat the tinned stuff if we couldn't find it in a restaurant.

Well, the next night, we opened the can - still in the spirit of a joke. After all, if the restaurant cassoulet was so bland and uninspiring, how bad would the tinned stuff be? But the joke was on me: it was delicious.