A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is a hefty Mid-West cookbook and instruction manual on how to preserve your fruit and veg in jars. It’s most definitely written for North Americans, by a Master Food Preserver no less, as there are many remarks about what ‘Europe’ does (the Finns and the Italians and the Croatians are all alike in their preserving practices, it seems). It also has a near-hysterical attitude to Food Safety and pathogens (‘rinse your preserving tools in a dilute solution of bleach before using’: are you KIDDING?), that I think must be a product of litigious US culture. The publishers don’t want to be sued by some idiot not canning or preserving correctly and then coming down with botulism, so they have to trumpet these caveats at the opening of every section of the book.
I don’t blame them, but the warnings are relentless, and just a bit shouty. I don’t like being told I’m doing things wrong when I haven’t done them at all, but perhaps this is what the readers of this book expect. I also object to the slur on ‘European’ and British preserving cookbooks (all of ‘em) that apparently don’t warn their readers to boil their jars before sloshing in the fruit. That’s because their authors expect their sensible readers to do this as a matter of course, unlike the anticipated readers of this book.
Once you get past the exclamation marks, this is a fine reference work for the kitchen in which just making jam has become a bit boring and needs inspiration to be exciting again. There are several excellent chapters on the science of food preservation, and a lot of detailed guidance on what equipment is needed and how to choose and find it. By this stage the readers still on board are probably really committed preservers, who already know what a pressure canner looks like. The lists of resources are invaluable for further investigation, and the Center for Home Food Preservation blog is very good.
The one thing missing from the book are photographs of the essential and indispensable canners, to aid easy identification in the shops. They seem to be tall stockpots with lids and a rack to stand the jars on, but it would be a lot more helpful to have actual photos rather than the single schematic diagram demonstrating ‘head space’. Many other tools are mentioned. I now wish to own a ‘kraut hammer’, which is apparently a three-foot wooden mallet with which to beat the juice out of shredded cabbage before fermenting it.
The recipes are the really good part, and have introduced me to a completely new form of cooking: fruit leather, anyone? I now know what fruit cheese is (had often wondered), and how it’s made, and why fruit butter is so intense. I now have a quince jam recipe that Nostradamus first published (‘updated for modern safety’), and I know that it will take longer to boil jam for setting in Denver than in Milwaukee because Denver is 5000 feet further away from the centre of the earth and that’s got something to do with specific boiling points. Or air pressure. There is a lot of extremely useful information about pepper hotness, and how to avoid this in the preparation stage: wear latex gloves, do not touch any part of your face, and wash the knife in cold water, otherwise the pepper oil will aerosolise in hot water and produce pepper gas. What pepper gas will do is not explained, but it sounds dangerous.
Some recipes do not sound appetising: the ‘slippery jims’ sound like decayed cucumbers, but since the whole point of canning / preservation is to arrest decay, I’ve no doubt got the wrong impression. But almost all the recipes sound entrancing. Mango salsa! Green tomato pie filling! Peaches in brandy syrup! Pear walnut conserve! Cranberry mustard! Caponata! Pickled Brussels sprout halves! (OK, maybe not.) Blueberry Guinness jam! This book is indeed a treasure-house and a master-class, if you put ear-plugs in first.
Christina Ward, Preservation: The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation and Dehydration (Process media 2017), 11 July 2017, ISBN 97819341700694, $24.95