- Food and Cooking
Best Cookbooks for Preserving the Season's Bounty
At the corner of our front lawn, there is a grand tree with purplish leaves, which offers abundant shade and a gorgeous silhouette against the autumn sky. But come July, this tree’s marvels truly begin to become apparent. Glossy, tiny sweet-tart plums softly rain from its branches into the waiting baskets of my children, who laugh and scurry like squirrels gathering nuts for the long winter. After we have eaten our fill, our mouths sticky and red with juice, we always turn to each other with the unspoken question, “Now what will we do with the rest?” Often, the simplest answer is the best: we know that in the dimly lit days of December, our memories will turn to that moment of sticky heat in the midsummer sun, and we will crave a taste of that sunshine. So, we will choose a volume from the shelf of cookbooks, line up the preserving jars and the canning labels and get to work. These are a few of the books that will most likely grace the sticky, juice-spattered countertops at that steamy moment where the gifts of nature’s bounty are bubbling away in large pots on the stove, filling the kitchen with that aroma that can only be called ‘summer’.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
No discussion of canning cookbooks could be complete without including this book, which is a comprehensive guide to all things related to canning and preserving. With over 400 recipes, there are multiple versions of almost any jam, jelly, or preserve you might want to make. There are conversion charts which will help you determine how many pounds of fruit provide how many cups, a useful but often overlooked piece of information. The description of the science behind canning is at once accessible and complete, good for the novice and expert cook alike. If you want to make a jam that at once tastes of summertime and the smokiness of autumn, the Spiced Golden Plum Jam is seductively delicious. As in many canning recipes, some of the yields may vary dramatically, depending on the water content of the specific fruit or vegetable you are processing; when tested, many of these recipes didn’t correspond to the yields listed in the recipes, but that is why we always have extra jars for canning on hand!
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook
This book is a newcomer to the canning literature, but it has been a regular in our kitchen since its release. A relatively slim volume, it selects its recipes with care; because of the authors’ British heritage, you will find recipes here that do not appear in other books, such as the intriguing ‘Elixir of Sage’. One of this book’s most useful features is a comprehensive chart which gives very specific timing instructions for both water bath and oven canning methods for each type of fruit to ensure safety, which has allowed us to confidently compose our own recipes. And the recipe for ‘Liz’s Luscious Raspberries’ is not to be missed; it is resplendent in its purity and simplicity.
The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round
Ideal for the cook who wishes to preserve the taste of the season without breaking the bank or having enough jam to distribute to the whole neighborhood, this book focuses on recipes with a relatively small yield. I love this book because I can go to the farmers’ market, buy around four pounds of fruit (which is the average required for most of the recipes) for a reasonable price, and preserve just enough for my family to enjoy. It is also perfect if you have a slightly immature tree that doesn’t produce huge amounts of fruit, as many standard canning recipes don’t halve well. Additionally, this book presents an entire chapter on freezer preserving as an alternative method to more traditional canning methods. Several of the other recipes call for refrigeration, which can be an asset if you are concerned about food safety issues or intimidated by traditional preserving, but can be a disadvantage if your refrigerator space is limited.
Although this book is no longer available new, we use our battered copy continuously during harvest season. The first hefty chapter, ‘Model Methods’, provides step-by-step descriptions of ten different preservation methods, ranging from the standard, such as making jam, to the more unexpected (making pâté and dry salting). Along with the detailed instructions, photos clearly illustrate every step of each process. The author devotes quite a lot of space to recipes using the preserved products themselves, which is a waste of space in my opinion (does anyone actually have difficulty using up homemade jam?), but some of the primary recipes are so good, the book is still a very worthy addition to any collection. If you try the Freezer Raspberry Jam recipe with the suggested vanilla sugar substitution, you will be hooked on the fresh and ebullient flavor.
Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber
Written for the sophisticate, not the novice or the faint of heart, this book is perfect either for those who are expert canners looking for new inspiration, or for those who read cookbooks as novels (as I frequently do). The titles of the preserves alone are dazzling and intoxicating, among them ‘Strawberry Jam with Black Pepper and Fresh Mint’ and ‘Nectarine, Pear and Vanilla Jam’. However, the recipes are logistically daunting, so much so that I have not yet created a single recipe from this book, though I frequently leaf through it, hoping to inhale a phantom scent of one of Ms. Ferber’s intriguing concoctions. The author relies on green apple jelly as the base of many of the recipes, adding many steps, even days, to the preparation times. However, the use of homemade jelly instead of commercially available pectin does maximize the natural flavors, eliminates preservatives, and often allows for a reduced amount of added sugar. The gorgeous photography alone is worth the price of this book, and I have promised myself that someday I will find the time to try the Black Cherry with Pinot Noir preserves with my morning baguette.
With so many canning and preserving books available, these represent but a few of the possibilities. Be sure to buy a ‘nuts and bolts’ canning guide to guide you through the general process, then add one of the ‘boutique’ volumes for inspiration. Next, head outside into that radiant sunshine, gather your produce from your local market or from your yard, and when evening falls, head back inside with your wooden spoon in hand, preparing to ensure that the summer never ends.