I'm no expert in the kitchen, but as I've spent more time there, learning by doing, reading, or phoning Mom, I've realized that my skills are greater than I thought. While Mom was feeding and calving out cows, melting snow for wash water, helping put up hay and build a house, and shooing the three of us kids outside, she still managed to teach me some fundamentals.
One of these is the power of air.
There are very few cleaning products in my kitchen. Strictly for cleaning, there are just two: dish detergent and hand soap. For both cooking and cleaning, of course, there's baking soda and there's vinegar. I don't use anything labelled "anti-bacterial" or "kills 99% of household germs." For disinfection, I rely on a few simple habits and the power of air.
Bacteria and other maligned and mistrusted microbes are living things. They need food, and they need water. Take away one of these needful things, and they won't grow.
Simple washing takes care of the bulk of it, by removing most of the material that could be food for microbes, and sending many of the microbes themselves down the drain at the same time. Still, there are undoubtedly a few microbes left clinging to dish and sink and counter surfaces, no matter how clean those surfaces look.
It only takes one bacterium, lingering on a surface when the next round of food arrives, to grow and multiply into a problem. It might be a smelly problem, or it might be an invisible, scentless, tasteless, toxic problem. How do I dare live without powerful disinfectants?
I don't. There is a very powerful disinfectant all through my kitchen, all the time: air.
All I need to do is make sure it has a chance to work.
When I wash dishes, I set them in a rack to dry, and make sure they are not nested closely or holding any puddles. When I put them away, I check to be sure they really are dry - no films of water get trapped in the stack of plates.
When I store jars and water bottles, I leave the lids loose. If you tighten them, you may trap just enough moisture in there to keep some microbes alive, and when you open the lid weeks or months later, there will be an odor. (I'm lucky to live in a dry climate - I don't know if this trick would work where it's humid.)
I launder the dishcloths often, but if I'm going to reuse one before laundering it, I rinse it (to take away the microbes' food) and spread it out over the faucet so it will dry quickly. Watching how others treat the dishcloth made me recognize my own habit of pursuing dryness. Sometimes they would leave it in a damp mound in the bottom of the sink; once someone hung it with its edge trailing in dishwater left to soak! Didn't they know it would never dry out that way? Did they even know the reason for letting it dry?
My mom got us through years with no running water and no refrigerator, with never a single case of food poisoning. She was careful with leftovers, holding them in a somewhat cooler spot in the house or sometimes in a pail dug into the ground outside and covered with an insulated lid, and using them up quickly. She did her canning in a pressure cooker, following instructions to the letter, and never used any canned food that seemed even slightly off. But there were subtle things she did, too. Without even realizing it, I picked up her habits of keeping things reasonably clean and getting them thoroughly dry between uses.
I can never remember how to make a white sauce, though she recited the three ingredients to me often, but that's okay, it's in the book she gave me for our wedding. What's more important is the stuff I didn't even know she was teaching me, the stuff I will never forget.
6 days ago