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Cookbooks: Modern Pressure Canning

For years now, I have been wishing that someone would write a cookbook that would expand the boundaries of what we know about pressure canning. A book that would make it possible to preserve more things than we are currently able. With Modern Pressure Canning by Amelia Jeanroy, many of my hopes have been realized.

This book does a number of things very well. It demystifies the process of pressure canning and makes it accessible to canners of all stripes. It offers up a full range of pressure canning possibilities. And it includes a recipe for bacon jam that can be processed, which is something I’ve often been asked about.

One thing that surprises me about this book is that it includes a number of recipes that could be processed just as effectively in a boiling water bath canner as a pressure canner. While the actual processing times are shorter than in a water bath, the time necessary to bring the canner up to pressure and then bring it back down means that there aren’t major time savings when processing things like canned peaches or cranberries in a pressure canner.

Still, there’s much in here that I’m excited to make. The corn relish pictured above is something I’ll be trying this summer (perhaps even this week, if I can get a good deal on corn). And I can’t wait to cook up that vegetable soup for easy lunches and dinners.

I do wish that there were some dips or spreads in the book, but I understand why there aren’t. Because there aren’t tested recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation that enable these sorts of things, there wasn’t anything for the author to work with. And doing the kind of scientific testing necessary to forge truly new ground would have been prohibitively expensive. Still, a girl can dream.

The bottom line on this book is that it is an excellent resource for home canners. If you’re looking to get more out of your pressure canner, you should treat yourself to a copy immediately.

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Cookbooks: The Fruit Forager’s Companion

There is little I like more in life than discovering a free-for-the-picking cache of fruit, somewhere in my neighborhood. When I was growing up, we would gather wild blackberries from a field around the corner from our house and windfall apples from a pair of gnarled apple trees planted in the parking strip. These days, I stalk wild mulberries and wineberries in the parks of Philadelphia and seek out fig trees that lean out of yards and into public areas.

If this sounds like you as well, then you must check out The Fruit Forager’s Companion by Sara Bir. This book is part memoir, part cookbook, and part journey through the always-growing, edible landscape that so often we miss in our hurry from one place to another. And if it’s not yet you, a few moments with this book and you’ll forever be scanning your neighborhood trees and shrubs for signs of pickable fruit.

The book is ordered alphabetically by kind of fruit. It starts with apples and wraps up with sumac. Each chapter is filled with stories, history, and recipes, as well as tips on harvesting, storage and culinary uses.

Truly though, the thing that makes this book special is Sara’s voice. She is a delightfully good writer, with a literary personality that is smart, funny, and none-too-precious. The following two sentences about figs on page 129 made me laugh out loud.

“Figs are nutrient-packed, offering more minerals per serving that other common fruits. They’re also high in fiber and sugar, keeping people on the move in multiple senses.”

A book that is useful, charming, and includes a tasteful poop joke? Sign me up!

If you’re looking for ways to connect with your local landscape that is both meditative and productive, let this book be your guide.

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Cookbook: Jam Session

 

Today, let’s talk about a new preserving cookbook. Called Jam Session (can you believe that no one had yet used this name for a canning book?), it is written by chef, author, and restaurateur Joyce Goldstein. Joyce has been an active preserver for more than fifty years and this book sings with her experience and expertise.

The first thing you notice about this book upon opening it is its beauty. The photography is well-lit, balanced, and does a fantastic job of letting the texture and quality of the produce be the star. The recipes are organized in a way that is usable and readable. And the recipes are appealing, varied, and run a range that includes both classics and inventions that are unique to Joyce.

The book is organized by season and within each quarter of the year, the recipes are then ordered by kind of fruit. I like the organizational structure, but do question the fact specific months have been included as subheads under the seasons. One of the things I’ve learned in my years as a preserving writer is that by the time we see strawberries in Philadelphia, the Florida season has been over for months. Why add something that makes the book feel exclusive rather than inclusive?

That said, there are a huge number of recipes I’ve marked in this book that I am interested in trying (or, at least, borrowing concepts from). In addition the preserves pictured in this post, I want to make the Apricot Ginger Jam (how is it possible that I’ve not combined those two before?), the Raspberry Rose Jam, and the Whole Spiced Figs in Tea Syrup.

Now, for a couple hesitations about this book. Joyce only uses homemade apple pectin when recipes need help setting up. Her reason is that commercial pectins can impart a bitter flavor. I struggle with this reasoning because requiring homemade pectin will surely create an insurmountable stumbling block for a number of home cooks and the recipes included in this book all appear to include ample sugar to combat any potential bitterness.

My other hesitation about this book is in the processing instructions. Current guidelines require that jars are processed at a full, rolling boil. This book instructs the user to process at an active simmer. While this might not seem like much of a difference, I worry that a difference of 10 to 15 degrees could be enough to put some jars at risk of spoilage.

I don’t mean to be overly critical. Truly, there is much to love about this book. It’s gorgeous, the recipes are appealing, and it makes me itch to hop up and head for the kitchen. Perhaps it will find a place on your shelf!

Disclosure: I received my copy of Jam Session as a free review unit from the publisher. No payment was provided for this post and all opinions expressed her are entirely my own.

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Cookbooks: Pretty Simple Cooking

I have been feeling a little lost lately. I’m in the strange place where a book I’ve written is nearly finished but there’s still nearly a year before it will be out there in the world. I am turning 39 in a few days and am finding that my life looks much different than I thought it would at this age. And, after seven years of working by myself in my living room, I’m starting to wish for a place to go and be each day.

During times when I feel out of sorts like this, one of the first things that often slips away is my grasp on useful, utilitarian, daily cooking. I still manage to make preserves and turn them into breads and bar cookies, but the alchemy of making dinner feels impossible to master.

When this happens, I find myself casting around for culinary lifelines (because one cannot live on take-out alone, even in a neighborhood as rich in fast casual joints as mine is). I shop the farmers markets. I allow myself to spend $10 on plump, purple asparagus. And I read cookbooks for hours, until I spot a recipe that hooks onto my soul and compels me to return to the kitchen.

One cookbook that has performed that trick for me lately is Pretty Simple Cooking by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. They’re the pair behind the blog A Couple Cooks and their breezy, vegetable-forward style proven to be the exact right thing to help me stitch myself back together again (Alana Chernila’s Eating From the Ground Up has also been working double-time on this front).

I think part of the reason Pretty Simple Cooking is working for me is that the food is a whole lot of stuff that I enjoy eating, put together in ways that I’d not thought of. It’s easy to love a book when you can open it, say yes to a recipe, and not have to do a lot to track down the components (I’m looking straight at you, Roasted Cauliflower and Black Bean Tacos on page 190).

Another fun thing is that Joy sat down and interviewed Sonja for our podcast recently, and the episode containing their conversation went live today. Give it a listen, if you’re so inclined!

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Cookbooks: Southern From Scratch

I have spent more than a few moments in my life wishing that I came from a place or background with a well-defined food culture. My culinary identity is a decided hodgepodge of mid-century Jewish cooking, hippie whole grain, and 1980s west coast home cooking. While the food that issues forth from these influences is reliably good and occasionally exceptional, it isn’t really grounded in place or culture.

Because I feel culinarily untethered, I often find myself gravitating to cookbooks that offer insight and exposure to more rooted ways of bellying up to the stove or kitchen table. One such book that appeals to me both on this level, and on the preserving front, is Ashley English‘s latest, called Southern From Scratch.

This is Ashley’s most personal book and it does a gorgeous job synthesizing her own food experiences with the Southern kitchen know-how taught to her by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Truly, from the moment you open up the cover, you feel like Ashley is there, guiding you along through the recipes.

This book is organized by pantry category (Pickles & Relishes, Sauces & Vinegars, Fats & Meats, etc.). Within in chapter, you’ll find a collection of master recipes (depending on the chapter topic, you’ll find as few as four and as many as twelve). Each master recipe then has a couple-three sub-recipes, designed to help you make the most of it.

There’s quite a lot in this book that speaks directly to my preserve-loving heart. There’s the Sweet Onion Relish (page 35 – I’m forever on the hunt for the best onion preserve), Muscadine Jelly (page 71 – we get these for a brief window each summer), Chile Sauce (page 107 – this recipe has a particularly lovely headnote), and the Southern Shakshuka with Hoecakes (page 123 – this just sounds delicious).

I think you all are really going to like this book!

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Cookbooks: Bring It!

I have long believed that when it comes to entertaining, most people can roughly be broken down into two groups. There are potluck people and dinner party people. My friend Cindy is most decidedly a dinner party person. She likes to control the menu and create an experience for her friends. I am more of a potluck person. I love the uncertainty of inviting people to bring with them whatever they’re moved to make.

I have definite opinions of what makes a good potluck dish (ideally something that can be served at room temperature and can be eaten from a plate with a fork). I’m forever curious about the recipes that other people prefer for potlucks and so make a point of checking out new potluck cookbooks whenever one is published.

The latest book on the topic to come to market is Ali Rosen’s Bring It! Ali is the force behind Potluck Video, a video series that you can find online and on NYC Life on Thursday nights.

This book is broken up into seven chapters. It opens with an introductory section that offers tips on How to Bring It. From there, it moves into Hors d’Oeuvres and Dips, Salads, Casseroles/Pastas/Tarts, Meats and Fish, Veggies and Grains, and Desserts.

There’s plenty of appealing food in this book (though I find the photography style a little unsettling. The lighting feels excessively artificial). In addition to the dishes pictured throughout this post, I’ve marked the Grits Casserole (page 106), the Cherry Tomato Tart (page 117), and the Farro with Charred Vegetables (page 188) as things I hope to make.

If you’re someone who attends regular potlucks and needs new inspiration, this book will certainly be of use!

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