This is my first ever real live product review. (In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing it here at the Booth.) Last February I bought my very first boiling water canner used on ebay, so I've been looking forward to trying it out. So this book looked like a great chance to do that...
If you don't feel like reading the rest of the review, I can probably sum it up in three words: This Book Rocks. It's one that, if I had borrowed it from the library to see how I liked it, I would probably go right out and purchase as soon as it was due; I can't imagine wanting to preserve anything and not finding more or less how to do it in this volume.
It's divided into fairly clear sections: a basic overview at the beginning with general info on canning, fruit spreads, and pickling. Then come the recipes: Jams and Jellies, Preserves/Conserves/Marmalades, Sweet Butters and Curds, Pickled fruits and Vegetables, Salsas/Relishes, Chutneys, and Condiments and Sauces. Finally there's a reference section with step by step home canning instructions, information about pectin, some additional recipes, and techniques and yields (stuff like how to pit a peach, what to do with the kernel, and how many make a pound). For the most part, it gives not only the how but the why of the chemistry lesson that jellies and pickles have always represented to me--the chemistry and complexity that have always intimidated me from wanting to try them.
The recipes cover the bases from the very simple and basic ("Mixed Berry Jam" to the more exotic and complex ("Pickled Fennel with Orange Zest"). Many of the preserving recipes also come with recipes for how to use them--after the Meyer Lemon Jelly recipe, for example, there's one for Jelly Doughnuts. After the Peach Barbecue Sauce recipe is one for Grilled Pork Ribs with Peach Barbecue Sauce. (I know a lot of cookbooks do this; honestly, most of the time I don't really care for it, but this book was fairly judicious in its inclusions and I didn't feel like "Well heck, I wanted to make applesauce, if i wanted an applesauce cake recipe I wouldn't have gotten it here!") (The Spiced Applesauce Cake recipe, by the way, looks very nice but I would probably never make it--after going to the trouble of making nice healthy applesauce, the last thing I would do is put it in a cake with white flour and a whole cup of butter...) (But I digress.)
Since it's plum season around here (er...which unfortunately in Illinois means we get really good plums from California and they are cheap), and since even conventional plums grown in the States are fairly far down on the "Dirty Dozen" list (34 or so; imported ones are much higher on the list, residue-wise!), I bought a bunch and determined to give the "Plum-Lavender Jam" on page 36 a try. I washed the plums good (with soap, baby!) to get off as much residue as I could, since the skins are where the pectin is found. Something I hadn't known before reading this book. Chemistry lesson.
The details of my adventure will go on my own blog, but suffice it to say that the sample jar I made just to test it out was gone within 24 hours. We're talking spoon here, not actually spreading it on anything. I just ate it. It was amazing. I'd never made jam before--it always seemed too scary for some reason. In reality--not so hard. Messy, but not hard. And amazingly delicious.
Next on my list will be the Eggplant and Tomato relish (page 172), since eggplants and tomatoes are about the only successful things in my garden right now; the Pickled Zucchini Relish (page 173) looks fun too, if I ever get any squash. There are recipes for herbal vinegars, preserved lemons, homemade ketchup, candied citrus peel--way more than I would ever have expected a book on "preserving" to have in it--I figured we were talking jams and jellies and stuff and that would be it. But there's a lot more.
If I had any complaints or reservations about the book, it might be that it doesn't seem to be very "out there" about why some fruits and veggies are safe to do in a boiling water bath and why others absolutely should not--it does say that "high acid foods" are appropriate for home canning, and I have noted that every recipe suggested for the boiling water bath is very well acidified, if not by the primary fruit or vegetable then by the addition of lemon juice or vinegar--but it never actually says, "okay, look, we don't care if you'd prefer your plum jam without the extra lemon juice, if you leave that out and can it you could get botulism and die, so put the lemon juice in, okay?" at any point in the book. (Unless I missed it.) Which for me and lackadaisical-recipe-followers like myself might be an important addition. And I can only trust that the authors of the book did their pH homework in creating the recipes--which do look quite sensible to my inexperienced eye, based on what I've heard elsewhere about which fruits and veggies are acidic enough to be safe to can. (As usual, the disclaimer: I'm just reviewing the book, I don't know enough about safe canning procedures to be someone who's advice you should take about anything, so if you ever should follow any advice I give and get sick or have some bad result, please don't blame me. Do your own homework.) In any case, I will drop a note back to the woman who sent me the book and ask the question about the acid level of the recipes and how they were developed; I will update this post when I hear back from her.
I also sort of wish it had some concrete temperatures for jelling points and such--for example, if I know that jam's "jell point" is 218 degrees, that's the kind of info I like to have. The "wrinkle test" is helpful, of course (that's where you put a glob on a chilled plate and refrigerate it for a few minutes, and if it wrinkles when you poke it, it's ready), but from what I've read in other places, the few minutes between the globbing and the wrinkling could be enough for the jam to turn into candy and go too far. But these are just little quibbles--it's a very solid book, with plenty of really good info for the novice canner.
I'm not a big recipe-follower. For me cookbooks are often an exercise in getting ideas and deciding how to sort of piece together different possibilities that look nice. But this one I can see myself using as a reference for years.
Anyone have any other fabulous references you use for home canning, pickles, jams/jellies, etc? The pickyourown.org website is a great basic site with lots of basic info, and that's what I've used in the past. Any other sites or particular books that are your go-to ones for preserving?