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Cookbooks: Canning, Pickling, and Freezing with Irma Harding

Irma Harding cover

In the 1940s and 1950s, the company International Harvester had a fictional spokesperson named Irma Harding (much like the beloved Betty Crocker). She was the face of their refrigeration division and helped women across the country learn to prepare food for the fridge, freezer, and the canning pot.

Irma Harding spine

In recent years, Irma Harding was mostly forgotten, but in a new book by Marilyn McCray, her memory has been heartily revived. Canning, Pickling, and Freezing with Irma Harding is a volume that serves up the history of Irma herself, along with chapters detailing a number of food preservation techniques.

Irma Harding testing page

Each chapter features both a words of wisdom from Irma, along with relevant and up-to-date information about how to safely pickle, jam, can, ferment, and freeze food. Many sections also have useful line drawings instead of pictures for illustration. They are both whimsically vintage in look, but entirely accurate.

Irma Harding fermenting

If you want a little dose of canning history with your instructions and recipes, this book would make for a fun addition to your preserving library.

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Cashew Curry Savory Granola from OATrageous Oatmeals

Oatrageous Oatmeals

Oats are one of my staple foods. I eat them throughout the spring and summer in the form of granola or simple muesli and the once the days get chilly, I make daily bowls of warm, creamy oatmeal (topped with generous dollops of jam or fruit butter).

I often grind rolled oats into flour in my Vitamix to use in baked goods, and I regularly use them to add bulk and fiber to turkey meatloaf (it’s a trick I learned from my mom). Oats! They can do so much!

When Kathy Hester told me that her next book (she’s also the author of The Vegan Slow Cooker, Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You, and The Great Vegan Bean Book) was going to be all about oatmeal, I got kind of excited. So excited, in fact, that she invited me to be part of the blog tour for OATrageous Oatmeals. And so here we are.

curry cashew savory granola

I’ve spent a couple weeks with this book now, earmarking recipes to try and mentally depleting my stash of oats. In the very near future, I’m planning to make the Southern-Style Oat Biscuits (page 28), the Baked Meyer Lemon Steel-Cut Oatmeal (page 43), the Cinnamon Roll Overnight Oats (page 69), the Pepita Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Bars (page 96), and the Slow Cooker Black Bean Oat Groat Soup (page 104). Of course, there are more recipes that speak to me, but those are the ones that are currently topping my hopeful hit parade.

However, I’m not coming to you entirely empty-handed. I have tried the Cashew Curry Savory Granola on page 90 already and it is so good. Crunchy, salty, and slightly spicy, I made a batch yesterday and have been nibbling ever since.

savory cashew granola

I picked that recipe as the first one to try because I’ve long been a fan of savory granolas. They are an easy way to add a healthy layer of flavor, texture, and protein to homemade soups and salads. They keep well. And they are one of those things that give you a whole heck of a lot of bang for your buck.

I came up with a recipe for a savory granola a couple of years back when I was still writing for Grid Philly (the roasted tomato vinaigrette in that piece is also delicious) that I’ve returned to many times when I’ve needed a little crunchy, hearty snack, but I think it has now been supplanted.

jar of savory cashew granola

There is just one thing I’ll change next time I make this granola and that is that stir the raisins into the granola after it is finished baking. I find that they got just a little bit too cooked and ended up sort of acrid and a little too chewy for me. But it’s a minor quibble and one that’s easy enough to fix next time around.

Do you have a favorite savory granola?

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Cookbooks: Pick a Pickle and Pickles & Preserves

two pickle books

We are in the thick of the canning season now. Pickling cucumbers are appearing in heaps at the farmers markets and orchards are selling summer stone fruit by the bushel basket. If ever there was a time to add a new recipe or two to your repertory, now is it.

This summer, there have been a few books that keep floating to the top of my stack as I search out a fresh crop of preserves. Two that I haven’t yet mentioned here on the blog are Pick a Pickle and Pickles and Preserves.

pick a pickle splayed

Pick a Pickle comes to us from celebrity chef and regular Top Chef judge, Hugh Acheson (he’s also a spokesperson for Ball). This charming but unwieldy paint chip-style books contains 50 recipes for a wide array of pickles, relishes, condiments, and vinegars.

I like the looks of many of the recipes in this book, but I find it so hard to physically maneuver that I keep getting frustrated and surrendering before ever managing to cook from it. I also find one element of the recipes slightly strange, in that he never gives processing times. Instead, we are told for all canning-safe recipes to, “Cap with lids and bands, cool for 2 hours, and then either refrigerate or process according to the jar manufacturer’s directions.”

classic chow chow

Knowing that processing time varies depending on density, acid content, and the size of the jars, it seems impossible to me that the jar manufacturer would have processing times available for the specific recipes Acheson has included in this book. It’s as if we are not actually expected to preserve from it.

Still, I find the ideas compelling enough that I regularly pick it up, read a few cards (just until inspiration strikes), and then head for the kitchen with a kernel of an idea that was born thanks to Pick a Pickle.

pickles & preserves

Next up is Pickles and Preserves by North Carolina-based food writer Andrea Weigl. Published by the University of North Carolina University Press, as part of their Savor the South series, this slim hardback book offers a carefully edited array of beloved southern preserves. You’ll find everything from sweet potato butter to a flexible batch of vegetable relish, designed to help use up odds and ends from an end-of-season garden.

corn sweet pepper relish

The only flaw that some might find in this book is its lack of photography. However, I found that Weigl is such an able writer that her words painted images enough to illustrate this collection. For lovers of southern preserves, as well as those looking for accessible recipes with a no-nonsense attitude, this book is a good one.

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Giveaway: Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English

handmade gatherings cover

I have long been of the believe that when it comes to entertaining, people break down into just two groups. There are the dinner party people and potluck people. The dinner party folk like to have a certain amount of control over the menu and flow of the evening, whereas potluck people are fully content to put out a stack of plates and just see what happens.

handmade gatherings interior

However, with her new book, Handmade Gatherings, Ashley English offers up a middle way. With 16 seasonal gatherings, including recipes and crafts, these festive events give the dinner party people some structure while encouraging them to involve their guests in the process. For the potluck people among us, the book serves as encouragement to up the game ever so slightly.

handmade gatherings cake walk

Ashley opens the book with a little peek into her own entertaining history and then offers some insight about how to communicate with your guests, how to pick a location, and how to plan so that no one goes hungry (always have a back-up plan!). She also offers useful instruction on how to be a good guest, including a most helpful reminder to bring a serving utensil with your dish.

handmade gatherings canning

Because the parties are seasonally grounded, you’ll find things like egg-centric events, canning afternoons, ice cream socials, and even cookie swaps. The recipes, activities, and crafts are delicious, engaging, and fun (and manage never to cross the line into overly cutesy territory).

handmade gatherings morocco

What I find so nice about this book is that it is written so that every reader can take what they need from it. Some folks will recreate Ashley’s parties down to the very last dish, while others will use it for the inspiration it has to offer. I do like an entertaining book that adapts to the reader.

handmade gatherings spine

Thanks to Ashley and the team at Roost Books, I have one copy of Handmade Gatherings to give away. Here’s how to enter!

  • Leave a comment on this post and share a tale of a favorite party or potluck
  • Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, July 13, 2014
  • Giveaway open to United States residents only.
  • One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review and photography purposes. All opinions remain entirely my own. 

Cookbooks: Asian Pickles by Karen Solomon

Asian Pickles cover

I have been looking forward to the release of Karen Solomon’s new book, Asian Pickles for at least two years now. Karen is a friend and I stayed with her when I came through San Francisco during my first book tour back in 2012.

During my brief visit, we spent a goodly amount of time talking about our upcoming projects. I told her about Preserving by the Pint (which at that point was nothing more than an idea and a list of possible recipes) and she talked about Asian Pickles.

Asian Pickles spine

At that point, the book was actually mostly finished, because her publisher was trying something new with it. Instead of simply publishing the physical version, they were going to periodically release smaller ebooks, featuring approximately half of the recipes from the five main chapters.

Asian Pickles intro

I saw each of the ebooks as they came out. They were gorgeously designed, bursting with useful recipes, and made me ridiculously excited to get into the kitchen and start pickling. I made her Pickled Asian Pears with Lemon for the blog and tried a couple other things that were wonderful but just never made it into post form (it happens).

Asian Pickles water kimchi

Back in early January, I spent a solid two days reading through a xeroxed manuscript of the book, dog earring pages and trying to craft a quote for the back cover. It’s was nearly impossible to squeeze every complimentary thing I wanted to say into two sentences, but I think I managed. Happily, this blog post gives me the opportunity to gush just a little bit more.

Asian Pickles cucumber kimchi

What I find so delightful about this book is that it gives me the chance to dive into a world of pickles that had previously been veiled and mysterious. Karen starts each section (Japan, Korea, China, India, and Southeast Asia) which an introduction to each region’s unique pickle culture (truly, it makes the North American pickle tradition look puny).

Asian Pickles chutney

Once the stage is set for the flavors and techniques you’ll encounter, she leads you into the recipes. The headnotes are both entertaining and full of useful information, and the recipes themselves are clearly written but not so deeply technical that you have to read and reread to unpack the instructions.

Asian Pickles glossary

One adjustment that most North American preservers will have to make with these pickles is that for the most part, they are not safe for boiling water bath canning. Many of the pickles are ferments, which will lose both their texture and happy bacteria when heat processed. While there are others that are made with vinegar, the concentration of acid is typically not high enough to make them safe as a preserved pickle.

I do think you’ll find that the recipes make pickles delicious enough that you won’t begrudge the refrigerator space necessary to keep them.

Asian Pickles back

The final word is that I recommend this book for anyone who loves pickled things and wants to move beyond the array traditionally found in western cultures. I have a long list of things I plan on making from it and love that it has both recipes that can be made quickly and longer term projects. If you think of yourself as a homemade pickle aficionado, this book should be on your shelf.

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Cookbooks: Put ‘Em Up, Love Your Leftovers, and Starting from Scratch

cookbook stack

One of the things I haven’t been doing enough of lately is sharing some of the excellent books that regularly land in my mailbox. The stack next to my desk is getting precariously tall and so I’m going make a concerted effort to bring the Friday afternoon cookbook feature.

This week, there are three books that I want to share. One is a book that contains the answer to every canning question you’ve ever had. The next is a paen to the humble leftover. And the third wants to inform young cooks and help them get excited about getting into the kitchen.

Put 'em Up answer book

First up is the final book in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s excellent canning trilogy (the first and second books were Put ‘em Up! and Put ‘em Up! Fruit). Called The Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book: 399 Solutions to All Your Questions, this spiral-bound volume packs a mighty punch when it comes to useful canning knowledge.

While you’ll find a few recipes in this book, it’s not designed to be the book you turn to for inspiration on what to make. Instead, it plays the role of reliable canning teacher, who is always there with a helpful suggestion to make your preserving process better, faster, and more fun. You’ll find everything from tips on how to improve the quality of your seals, to the design for Sherri’s ideal canning porch (I want one!).

I think this book should be a required resource for all new canners, as it dives deep while also managing to be accessible and unintimidating.

Love Your Leftovers

Next up is Nick Evans’ book, Love Your Leftovers. Some of you might remember an earlier version of this book, called Cornerstone Cooking. The core of Nick’s concept is that instead of making meals from scratch every single day, once or twice a week, you make a large amount of something (like a couple roast chickens or a braised pork shoulder) and then use those items as central players in any number of other dishes.

I thought it was a great concept in Cornerstone Cooking and I’m so pleased to see that Nick got a chance to expand on the idea in Love Your Leftovers and make is even prettier and more user friendly. If you’re in the market for some fresh culinary inspiration, check this one out.

Starting from Scratch

The last book on today’s stack is Starting From Scratch. Written by food journalist Sarah Elton, this book wants to teach kids everything they need to become informed home cooks in today’s dizzying culinary landscape.

While the book does include some basic recipes, the emphasis is more on building knowledge about the properties of flavor, how to read a recipe, and even how to pick the right tool for the job. There’s even a short section devoted to various food preservation methods, which delighted me.

This is the kind of book that I would have devoured when I was seven or eight years old and I plan on buying copies for all my friends who have kids in that age group.

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