Rethink’s food production model is not a novel idea. We’re simply returning back to a time when the vast majority of food preservation was done in-house. A time when instead of going to the grocery store to buy prepared foods, people would salvage overripe cherries from the trees in their backyards into pie fillings and transform batches of bruised apples into applesauce. By going back to basics and focusing on ways to maximize every part of every ingredient, we not only generate more meals per pound of food donated, we get the opportunity to cook truly innovative, interesting food. Food that is made with love and served with dignity, and which we believe has the power to inspire individuals to rethink their own relationships with food and waste in their daily lives.
Undoubtedly the simplest example of preservation throughout history has been the drying of foods. Inhabitants of early agrarian civilizations weren’t necessarily aware of the science behind the naturally occurring rapid microbiological growth of bacteria in fresh foods that causes them to decay, but they had enough common sense to realize that when food was left out in the open for too long or got wet, it would start to smell and attract bugs and thus began opting to sun-dry grains such as rye and wheat, as well as fruits, and — in places like Scandinavia where sub-zero temperatures acted as a virtual freezer — gutted cod, before storing in a dry place. Other ancient preservation techniques still commonly used today are salting — which works by drawing out moisture and killing bacteria, fermenting, and our personal favorite — pickling.
The first known pickles — fresh fruits or vegetables immersed in an acidic liquid or saltwater brine until they are no longer considered raw or vulnerable to spoilage — came from the Tigris Valley back in 2040 BC. They proved a convenient food source for sailors, provided sustenance to homesteaders during the long winter months when fresh foods became less plentiful, and would go on become one of the most popular preservation methods the world has ever seen. Even before the Jews brought over Kosher dill pickles to America from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, the English had their own sweet pickle recipe — vinegar, sugar, and spiced syrup — which they exported to the new world in the early 17th century. In the Middle East, pickled peppers, olives, and onions have and continue to be popular side dishes, while the Koreans have their Kimchi and the Japanese their pickled plums.
And right here in the heart of Brooklyn, the Rethink team has been doing some experimenting with pickling ourselves! One of our go-to salad dressings, created by Chef Hai, features lightly pickled lemons and ginger. By swapping out the vinegar for a bit of sugar water, that very same excess donated lemon and ginger combo (courtesy of the ever so fabulous Annie’s Ginger Elixir) can also be used as a simple syrup base for fruit juices. Soon to be soured milk paired with vinegar and boiled makes for a fresh, creamy cottage cheese, while egg yolks cured with salt have become a popular, protein-packed salad topper here at the Rethink kitchen. With an endless array of premium ingredients and time-tested preservation methods to choose from, Rethink is ripe with culinary innovation — a philosophy we hope to instill throughout the non-profit food world at large. It is our belief that creativity in the kitchen should no longer be the exclusive right of high end establishments. Every human, regardless of socio-economic status, deserves meals that are crafted with passion and care.