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1899 and After

Preparing and Preserving Food


SmokehouseStandard methods of preparing food involve boiling, frying and cooking over an open fire. While most country foods are consumed fresh, a number of preservation methods have been developed for meat and fish. The most frequently used methods involve dry-curing and freezing.

Another method is to 'hang' large chunks of meat - commonly a hind quarter of moose - to dry out in the summer sun. Thus, the meat is hung in the open in a screened enclosure to protect it from predators. As the air circulates around the meat, it forms a crust approximately 12 mm think as a kind of natural protection. The meat inside the crust is protected and naturally cured and tenderized. When a portion of the 'hung' meat is wanted for food, it is cut off the chunk and cooked in the usual way. A new crust forms on the exposed surface of the main chunk and the tenderizing process continues. While this method is not commonly followed, it does illustrate how meat may be preserved. There is a loss of edible meat in this method, but the outside, hardened crust may be used for soup, fed to dogs or just discarded.

The more popular way to cure meat and fish is by smoking it. In this method, a drying rack is set up in a conical tent made of canvas or hide. The drying rack is constructed of willow tree branches. The meat or fish to be dried is hung on the rack and exposed to a smoky fire underneath. Soon the tent is full of smoke, and a small opening at the top lets it escape slowly.

fish being cured or smokedThe curing meat picks up the flavor of the smoke as it dries out. In this way, the flavor of the cured meat or fish can be controlled by selecting particular species of wood or mixtures of woods for the fuel in the 'smoking' fire. Dry-rot willow-root flavor is a favorite, and parts of other trees may also be used, including bark, to arrive at a particular flavor. A tent or hide-built smokehouse may be found at the home base of a many a trapper-hunter.

Smoke-curing generally takes three to five days - less if the food is preferred 'rare' and more if very dry. Well-cured food is preferred. Dry-cured meat or fish will keep for several weeks.

Curing is useful in the first instance for preserving the food, but it is additionally useful in that it reduces the weight of the food without lessening its food value. Reduced weight is especially important for hunting trips and long-distance travel. Thus, in both winter and summer travel, much more dry meat than raw can be transported for a given loading. Reduced weight is not the only advantage - dried meat can be eaten without further cooking, and this is important while traveling, both for snacks and for main meals at stopover times. [continue]

Reprinted from Bush Land People with the permission of the author. Copyright Terry Garvin, 1992-2002.

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