At Legume, preserved foods are prominently featured in its seasonal menu. In one evening, dishes may feature a range of pickled vegetables — daikon, peppers, beans and turnips — as well as sour-cherry preserves and kimchi.
On Sun., Nov. 3, the Oakland eatery's chef/owner Trevett Hooper addressed a small crowd gathered at the new Pittsburgh Public Market. His question — "Why preserve food?" — is one that he'd joined with the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange and Slow Food Pittsburgh to answer.
The fledgling Pittsburgh Canning Exchange connects novice and experienced canners for hands-on education. Only two-and-a-half months after the group's first home-canning party, this canning swap served as its first public event. "In 2014, we're going to have a lot of opportunities for people to experience canning," promises Gabe Tilove, one of the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange's four young founders.
Ten participants swapped goods ranging from the expected (tomatoes and jam) to the exotic: fig mustard, lemon curd, goat's milk soap and peach chutney. The crowd nearly doubled for Hooper, who aimed to answer his own question simply: "For me [preservation] is about being a participant in our local foodshed."
But there are other advantages, too. It's healthier, said Hooper: "We know what's in everything we jar, and there's nothing mysterious." Also, canning takes advantage of good deals at harvest time, when perishable crops are at a surplus.
Perhaps most importantly, preserving food helps support farms and farmers, especially those growing crops that have short seasons, like cherries. Legume, for example, purchased 500 pounds of cherries this year, turning them into everything from jams to juice, compared to the 80 pounds the restaurant would have bought if the fruit were limited by its three-week season. This inspires a "better relationship with the farm" says Hooper.
The Nov. 3 event also included a pickle contest hosted by Slow Food Pittsburgh, charcuterie from the Crested Duck and a beet-canning demo. All in all, it was a well-rounded celebration of a growing food trend that is entrenched in old-school techniques.
"It's a really important thing that you're all doing," Hooper told the group. "It's really empowering."