Tuesday, February 05, 2008

One of the questions I receive most often concerns where I find the recipes I use for jams and pickles. With more and more attention being paid to seasonal enjoyment of locally-grown produce there is also a great interest in preserving whatever excess is available. This makes a great deal of sense to me and I have often declared that my interest in canning and other methods of preservation have less to do with saving money than it does with having better - in every sense - products for the money I do spend. My pickles don't contain artificial food coloring, my jams are free of high-fructose (or any) corn syrup, and my mushrooms aren't processed a world away from my own kitchen. None of these variables guarantee perfect food every time, of course, and that I truly enjoy the time involved is an excellent bonus.

Since I've begun chronicling my canning adventures (way back in 2002), I've seen a marked increase in interest in canning among people who may not have ever before considered it. In exploring that interest, the first question is often what do I need. The second question is what do I make? I insist to all comers that we ain't doin' your Grandma's canning here, but if this is food preservation for a modern cook with modern sensibilities, were are the good recipes?

Very good, basic recipes can be found in every box of pectin and on every carton of jars. These tend to be very straightforward - strawberry jam, dill pickles and so on - and consist of just a few steps. These days I've pretty much left pectin behind in favor of other types of jams (I don't make much jelly of any kind) but I still maintain that a new canner could do worse than to buy a box, read the insert, give it a go and see what happens. Once you've more or less got the hang of the recipes that come with your gear, you can branch out a bit.

The mother of all canning books surely is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. I don't actually own one myself, but I've had a bash at a read and it really is very comprehensive. The recipes are meticulously prepared and cover just about every type of product one could conceivably produce. It's a little heavy on old-fashioned varieties for my taste (and really heavy on the much-avoided sweet-and-sour stuff) although one could certainly do worse to start out.

I adore Edon Waycott's Preserving the Taste, which is sadly out of print. The blueberry marmalade is a standard in my kitchen, as is her marinated mushrooms. Ms. Waycott specializes in providing jams to restaurants in southern California and so she uses a number of fruits not available to me, but I don't hold this against her because her text very clearly demonstrates how to use what you have to make something truly delicious.

Another out of print gem is Helen Witty's Fancy Pantry. I Google Mrs. Witty from time to time hoping to find that she - or a fellow fan - has put together an omnibus website, but no. Anyway, from jerk sauce to hot sauce to melba sauce, Fancy Pantry offers some kind of nibble or condiment for ever imaginable occasion and scores of little treats to enhance even the plainest, most workaday meals. I can't recommend it enough.

If the abundant creativity of Waycott and Witty don't tempt you, look to the classics Stocking Up and Putting Food By. How the authors of these books manage to keep updating and keeping new editions coming, I'll never know, but they do and I am forever grateful. Beginning with the science of food preservation and ending with recipes for a nice selection of outputs, neither will steer you wrong and both should have a place on a canner's shelf.

Then there are the surprises, the sources you couldn't predict and which in my experience provide the neatest little recipe treasures. Community cookbooks often hold a jam recipe or two and these can often be relied on quite seriously - no one submits a bad recipe to the preschool cookbook committee, do they? And last year my girlfriends and I decided to use the last of the blackberries and peaches to sort of wing a jam, just to minimize waste and leftovers. The result was incredible and something that I only serve very, very special guests. Not all experiments work so well - my flirtation with Orangina jelly never panned out (and, truthfully, the whole idea kind of amazes me - what was I thinking? I can only blame the fact that I was pregnant at the time) but I'm still thinking that beer jelly holds interesting promise.

So you never know. Start somewhere, master the basics and develop a sense of what can be done safely and then...well, just about anything is possible. I hope that when you develop that killer jam or noteworthy pickle you come back to share the news with me.


Deirdre said...

I've been working out of a book called "Small-Batch Preserving". I've made the cranberry conserves several times - two versions. Delicious.

Jams and conserves are my favorites - there's a meditative quality to making jam, and beautiful jars to look at when I'm done.

I'm still unsure about proportions and naturally occuring pectin and would like to learn about fruit preserves with little or no sugar. I don't like the artificial stuff.

ntsc said...

Joy of Cooking has some instructions on canning, and there is a Joy of Cooking:All about Canning and Preserving.

There is The Joy of Pickling and Ball has a second title Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, also Ball Blue Book canning and recipe book, which is different from the one you cite and of course the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning and preserving.

Marsha said...

Deirdre - I've heard of that book, but haven't seen it yet. You've tempted me, though, with the cranberry conserve idea. I wonder if it's similar to the chutney I make from time to time? I'll have to check it out - thanks for the tip.

ntsc - Ball certainly is prolific, aren't they? I find that there's a lot of overlap amongst the volumes, but none of them would steer a newbie wrong. Your point about the Joy of Cooking is a good one, too - I've found quite a few good recipes in Southern Living cookbooks as well as old volumes of the Settlement Cookbooks (these require a bit of updating for modern methods). General use publications are good sources, too.

ntsc said...

I've the small batch perserving also and that cranberry confit is good.

I'm at work and of course my preserving books are all at home.

I can, both hot water and pressure, dry, freeze and am getting into dry cure, mostly from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's book: Charcuteire. My blog has pictures and the first link: 'What's for Dinner' has weekly menus in our house going back a while and more pictures.

Deirdre said...

I'd be happy to send you the recipes - there are actually two for cranberry conserve and they're both very good. And they're just stupid-easy. I like that in a recipe.

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