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The Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Books, mostly about canning

Last night, I found myself in a Twitter conversation with an acquaintance about canning books. She was looking for something to take her beyond the simple freezer preserving she did last summer into something more ambition and jar-based. I first told her to check out the cookbooks she already had. Any edition (even the most recent and modern volumes) of the Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks will detail the basic steps of canning. If you’re good at following written directions (admittedly, not everyone is), there’s enough there to get you started. You’ll find sensibly written instructions with a nice-sized collection of recipes.

After recommending that she check those all-purpose cookbooks out, I gave her list of some of my favorite canning, pickling and preserving books. However, I inadvertently left one of the best (and cheapest) canning resources around off the list. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, which has been continually published in yearly editions since 1909, is a terrific book for someone who wants to expand into more exotic recipes and pickling techniques. It typically costs somewhere between $4.95 to $8.95, depending on where you buy it, which keeps it fairly affordable. It’s also often sold right in the grocery store next to the canning jars, lids and pectins (if you live in the city, I warn you that you’re going to have a harder time finding an in-store copy. I found mine at Giant in Lancaster).

One thing to keep in mind about any canning instructions you follow is that it’s always a good idea to cross-check the details with the latest safety recommendations, like those that you can find here.

And, if you’re curious, some of the other canning books I recommended last night were Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition, Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (although I have the older edition), Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects and So Easy to Preserve, a plastic-bound book out of the University of Georgia’s extension service that has a bit of folksiness that hearkens back to the days of truly useful community cookbooks.

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Grape Catchup

clean grapes

I have something of a problem when it comes to vintage cookbooks. I can’t walk by a used bookstore or thrift store without stopping in to scan for some interesting new title. Some I buy just for their kitsch factor, but I find that many older cookbooks I pick up haven’t lost their utility to age and have quite a lot to offer, particularly for a girl who’s interesting in reviving the waning art of canning.

One of my favorite volumes is the New York Times Heritage Cookbook. It was originally published in 1972 and was written by long-time NYT food writer Jean Hewitt (she also wrote the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, which was a staple of my childhood). It’s an unembellished book, but it manages to capture the many distinct faces of regional food that were once present in this country (fast food, national grocery brands and TV have homogenized us in so many ways).

5~ cups grapes

I pulled it off the shelf a couple of nights ago, in my search for pickled lime recipes. While it didn’t yield any helpful recipes in that direction, I discovered a very intriguing recipe for something called Grape Catchup (yes, spelled just like that) in the Mountain/Northern Plains section (the book is organized by region of the country). It seemed both easy, calling for nothing more than grapes, apple cider vinegar, sugar and spices, and strangely appealing.

I made it last night, filling the apartment with the pungent smell of hot, fruity vinegar (sounds like the name of a band made up of pickle makers). What came out was a really tangy, sweet/sour condiment that would make a great dipping sauce (I also think it would be amazing on baked chicken or roasted pork – oh god, a pulled pork sandwich with this instead of bbq sauce would be amazing). It has sort of a runny consistency, as the recipe doesn’t call for any pectin or thickener beyond the grape skins (which do contain some natural pectins).

Grape Catchup

Being that I now have four pints of this grape catchup in seven separate jars, I’m giving away two half-pint jars to a couple of lucky readers. If you want to try this tasty condiment that you absolutely won’t be able to find on your grocery store shelves, leave a comment by Sunday at 5 pm. And, if you want to make a batch yourself, the recipe is after the jump.

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A Winner, a Book and Some Links

pasta in jars

Last Friday, I offered up a copy of Catherine Friend’s memoir A Compassionate Carnivore as a fun little giveaway until I have a fresh batch of jam ready to go. I’m a little behind posting the winner, but better late than not at all, right? The random number generator spat out the number five, which corresponds the comment left by Holly, the blogger over at The Unintended By-Products of Domestic Bliss. Hooray Holly!

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A couple of months back, I heard tell of a book that sounded very much like one I hoped to write someday. Called, Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, it tries to make jams, pickles, basic salumi and other kitchen crafts accessible and available to the people out there who have never committed fruit to jar, or veg to brine. When I got my hands on a review copy, I was delighted by the book (and relieved to see that it wasn’t entirely the same volume I imagined myself writing on the topic). I have yet to cook or craft anything out of it yet (mostly because I’ve been happily making up my own recipes of late), but I’ve been keeping it on my coffee table for inspiration, as well as a reminder to write about it.

Another reminder that this book deserved a mention came today, when I noticed that Erin (of Erin Cooks!) had made the Toaster Tarts on page 98. Erin did a great job with the recipe, altering it slightly from the neat squares that author Karen Solomon recommends to charming heart cut-outs.

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I’ve had a couple of open pages in my browser for weeks now and it’s time to finally commit their links to this blog, so that I can close those tabs without forgetting their contents. Both are from Kevin of Closet Cooking and, if you’re like me, fond of both mangos and putting food in jars, they are most certainly for you as well. The first is a recipe for an aromatic and spicy Mango Chutney and the second is a Mango and Cardamom Jam. Don’t they sound good? Both have been added to my “Must Make” list (which grows longer by the day).

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A Giveaway and Lancaster County Extension Workshops

More Jars

One of the things I was totally unprepared for, when I first started blogging at Slashfood, was the fact that it would turn me into a desirable target for PR people trying to get their products noticed. Within my first month there, I was being contacted on an almost daily basis and by the time I left, I was getting upwards of 7-10 pitches a day. The flow has quieted a great deal since my departure, particularly since I’ve been diligent in pointing those eager PR folks in the direction of Kat, Sara and Alex.

However, occasionally a box or envelope still shows up and recently, a paperback copy of The Compassionate Carnivore landed on my doorstep. It’s a memoir by Catherine Friend, about finding a way back to a more humane and sustainable approach to animal farming and consumption of meat. It’s a good book. I know, since I read a reviewer’s copy of it last spring when it was first published. It has an ethos that goes hand in glove with the food in jars lifestyle I’m trying to live. So I thought I’d have a giveaway. I realize this book might not be quite as popular a giveaway as a jar of homemade jam, but isn’t it just as important to feed your mind as it is to feed your belly? Leave a comment by Sunday at 5 pm to enter. I’ll be in touch if you’re the lucky winner.

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Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about canning and food preservation, but I’ll be the first to admit that I still have much to learn. That’s why I’ve signed up for a couple of advanced food preservation classes this summer through the Lancaster County Extension Service (it’s the closest extension service to Philly). I’m going to be taking their pressure canning class on Thursday, July 16th at 6 pm (I’ll be leaving work a little early for that one) and their high acid canning class on Saturday, August 15th at 10 am. The classes both run two hours and cost $10. If any Philly folks are interested in riding out there with me for either of these classes, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. More information about those classes is after the jump.

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Book: Fruits of the Earth

two-cookbooks

Ever since the idea of starting this blog entered my mind (many months before I actually committed pixel to template), I’ve been acquiring books about canning, pickling and preserving at a steady clip. Since my collection of cookbooks is already stored in every room of the apartment (this in large part thanks to the tide of preview copies I got for Slashfood’s Cookbook of the Day feature), I need to put the kibosh on this habit quickly (it’s also getting painfully expensive).

I haven’t been buying these books for general canning information, as I’ve found that any comprehensive cookbook written in the last 75 years has a more-than-ample section on canning (and I’ve got plenty of those from every era as well). I’m particularly fond of the no-nonsense language found in the 1942 edition of the The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, as the instructions don’t coddle or baby the reader, but instead assume that any cook worth their pickling spices has some working knowledge of homemade preserves.

No, I buy these glossy new cookbooks for their ideas and images, as well as for the sense of comradeship they lend (there just aren’t that many people out there interested in investing the bulk of their disposable income in canning jars, vinegar and pectin, especially in Center City Philadelphia), so I need all the community I can muster.

One such inspiration book that I picked up just today (I need to learn to stay away from the cookbook stall at Reading Terminal Market) is called Fruits of the Earth and was written by Gloria Nicol. Ms. Nicol lives in the UK, runs a company that trades in vintage homewares and writes a charming blog (unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since the end of 2008).

It contains 100 recipes for jams, jellies, curds, marmalades and compotes. Since I’ve been on a marmalade kick of late, I found that section particularly inspiring, as she suggests a series of unconventional pairings that set my brain spinning (Apple and Black Currant Marmalade, for instance). I’m also intrigued by her recipe for Rhubarb and Lime Jam, particularly since I nearly squeeze lime instead of lemon into my last batch of rhubarb.

The pictures in this book are also breathtakingly lovely, full of gem-like jellies lovingly preserved in vintage jars and breakfast tables I long to join.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but I’ll be certain to share it here as soon as I do!

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