Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Conservation Alimentaire

You can't go antiquing in France without running into varied examples of food conservation. Best known in recent years, the beloved yellow Pot a Confit from the Languedoc, (image from All the Best)~

The Romans used ice and snow to transport fresh fish from the Mediterranean to Rome. Up to the 19thC, food was mainly dried, smoked or salted to preserve it; at a 15% or more salt content, bacteria will not grow. The confit pot was used for storing meats, to prevent the oxidation of the fats, which would cause the meat to become rancid.

A full 60 years before Pasteur brought us the process of Pasteurization, a French inventor and confiseur brought the world the process of sterilization using heat and glass jars; tin cans were introduced later; I give you Monsieur Nicholas Appert (b. 1749 d. 1841), the Father of Canning & Jarring~ He started with peas in a champagne bottle, corked it and boiled it. He perfected the process, and in 1810 the government financed the delivery of information regarding la technique d'Appert to all French households.

One of my favorite Paris Flea vendors sells all kinds of antique cookware, food storage and kitchen-related items. I bought a few items here this trip; here is his collection of confit pots, in the case on the back wall~
In Burgundy, I showed you this selection of jars; these would have been used to store all manner of foods, using Appert's technique. One of these jars is called a bocal and the plural is bocaux~
Many elderly French people have told me that as children they used old wine bottles a lot to store food; punishment for bad behavior would be to be tasked with removing green beans one by one from the narrow neck of a upside-down wine bottle, with an oversized dish towel below. If possible, households would have these wide-necked glass "jars" which of course make it easier to remove the food and clean the jar~
And of course, before glass, there was terra cotta. Here are two fantastic jam jars that will come home with me; the large one is hand made and slipped in a buttery yellow glaze; it will be perfect for holding someone's kitchen utensils. I think these are 19C but I forgot to ask the details; I have access to more and I will surely be buying more...~
le petit still has the label: "Comme a la Maison" it says at top left~
Glass eventually replaced terra cotta completely; there was first a conical shaped glass jar, an example of which I will find on this trip to round out the collection; here I have a range of early glass jam and conserve jars with straight sides~
These are still used today for jam; the jam is cooked then poured into the jars; cover with a disc of paper soaked in alcohol or just plastic wrap and seal with a rubber band and put on the shelf. This is still the French way to store jam. Eventually, Appert's corked bottle was replaced with a couvercle or top, in this case, in porcelain; two brand names predominate: L'Ideale and Le Parfait~
The SGDG by the way means "without guaranty of the government; that's another post! Here are a few of the bottles I found so far that I will bring home; I love the varying heights, some with couvercle, the older ones are without~
I also have an oversized bottle, wine or liquid or perhaps for food storage, who knows...? The clear bottle is also old, with a hand cut top; it is interesting because the shape is flattened, so it takes up much less space on the shelf while showing a nice shape~
We are off to see the insurance office now, and a tasting at 11am at Michel Gros. And I have to go see Marie-Paul. Another post later today.


  1. Andrea, this is so fascinating!! And I love the confit jars. But I'm becoming a huge food history buff and all this information is wonderful.

  2. Fabulous Post! Andrea, can't wait to see the magic happen with your new venture.xo Lidy

  3. I love all the jars! The older "Comme a la Maison" is particularly wonderful...oh the textures of these...very nice!

  4. Ok, the top picture has me swooning and wondering. When I went to the French antique store in New Orleans the confit were out my price range.....
    I would love to see Affordable French Antiques.

  5. Laura, I have not seen a confit pot in years that is anything less than $400....that is amazing and sooo out of my range...!