Sunday, November 21, 2010

Canning Book Review Part 1

Part one because the rest of the books we use regularly are at my canning buddy Lisa's house. On twitter recently, the topic of the best canning books came up. I must admit that is a tricky question for me. As I sit here today, I have 6 books in front of me and I know that Lisa has at least as many and probably more at her house. Part of that is that I am a book person. That said, though, we have not found one book for all of our projects. I also find that the more we can, the more we alter recipes, taking care to maintain safety practices such as acid levels proper processing times, etc. We'll find a idea or flavor combination in one or more of our books and then experiment.

Just a note on buying canning, or any other books, before I start. As some of you know, my mother owned an independent bookstore for over 35 years. I strongly believe that if you have a good independent bookseller in your community, you should support them or soon enough they may no longer be there. Personally, I buy most of my food books from the wonderful Omnivore Books, located just a few blocks away:  Call or email them and they are happy to ship. I'm including Amazon links here because I know that many are not lucky enough to have such a store nearby and that many stores stock only one or two canning books.

That said, on with the books:

Despite my thought that one book is not right for everyone, if I had to choose one book, it would without a doubt be The Ball Complete Book of Preserving. I was skeptical of this book at first. After all, Ball produces the canning supplies many of us use and I assumed that their book would be dull and rather uninspired. Much to my surprise, it is both our most used general resource with excellent charts and a glossary and a source for both classic recipes such as the much loved Dilly Beans, but also more creative ones like Peach Barbecue Sauce and Cherry Chutney. The other plus of this book is that it features both sweet and savory items and includes multiple variations for many of the recipes. I can't imagine canning regularly without it.

Eugenia Bone's Well-Preserved has gotten a lot of worthy praise. The joy of this book is twofold, one the small batch emphasis makes it much less intimidating for a beginner and second, she includes recipes based upon the preserves. This is very helpful for people like me who one day realize that they have an entire shelf of marmalade and no idea at all what to do with it. Two of my favorite jams are based on recipes from this book: Apricot-Amaretto and Strawberry-Balsamic. I've also used her crushed tomato recipe with good success. Although much more limited in scope than the Ball, I think this is also an excellent beginner book.

Even before I started canning regularly, I had a copy of Jan Berry and Rodney Weidland's Art of Preserving on my shelf from my days spent working at Ten Speed. At the time, I wanted a copy simply because it was pretty. Now that I can, I've found that the recipes are both well-written and creative. Favorites we have tried from this book include Cranberry Gin, Blood Orange Pomander Brandy, and Apricot Jam with Kernels.

When I first asked a baker friend of mine for book suggestions she immediately said Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber A French jam maker living in Alsace, Ferber has a lot of fans for her creative and commercial pectin free recipes. Her combinations are extremely appealing. But, most recipes call for a 2 day process. And I am a lazy canner. So rather than using her recipes as they are, I have found that I tend to take her ideas and use them with simpler recipes found elsewhere. But as a jumping off point for flavors and as an inspiration, it is a delight.

I have been a fan of many of the volumes in the River Cottage series and was delighted to learn that Ten Speed was bringing out American editions of some of them, including the Preserves Handbook.  Much like the Ferber, this is a European book that is a joy to simply leaf through. The illustrations are lovely and the instructions are clear. There is also a good reference section. For those of us who like to can with alcohol there are some simple and appealing recipes. The one difficulty with this book is that you may find yourself on a quest for hard to find ingredients like currants and gooseberries.

My mother sent me a copy of Carol Costenbader's Preserving the Harvest a few years ago.  I have to say that I don't think we have used a single recipe from it. But what I like is that it is a useful reference not just for canning but for freezing, drying and other methods of food storage as well. It also includes nutritional information on all of the recipes, which is both unusual and would be incredibly useful for anyone on a restricted diet.  If I had a pressure canner, and one is at the top of my holiday wish list, I'd be making the cranberry lime curd for holiday gifts.

More to come. . .

1 comment:

  1. I still have jars to give you!

    I like _Well-Preserved_ because I got sick of making two tons of this and that.

    Great review!